Dallas Stars first round pick Julius Honka played last season with the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL. The year before he played with JYP U20 in Finland. But where will he play next year? While this question may seem like it has an obvious answer it isn't as clear cut as you would think.
The Canadian Junior Hockey Leagues have begun to hold their training camps and play pre season games in the build up to their regular seasons. The WHL begins its regular season on the 19th September. With that being nine days away you'd have thought that Julius Honka would have been training with the Swift Current Broncos.
A quick look at their website shows that he was not at their camp and he is not on their pre season roster either. They still have one import slot open so would still have room for Honka if he was assigned back to the WHL.
This absence wasn't completely unexpected because Jim Nill had made it clear in his post draft comments that he hoped to see Honka in Finland.
"He's possibly going to play next year in the men's league over in Finland. We are going to discuss that with him over the next couple days. That would be great for his development. He is going to play against men. He is going to realize how important it is to get stronger. It's a great league. It is really going to help his development. It will make him closer to making the American League in a couple of years and we'll see how he develops."
Yet Julius Honka has yet to join any Finnish team for their training camps or their pre season games. The SM-Liiga regular season starts today so if he was to join a Finnish team he's leaving it quite late. He might be in Dallas for the Traverse City tournament but you'd still think that he would have been in their pre season before hand.
Yes, the Dallas Stars had said that a decision wouldn't be made on where he would play until training camp but that would be several weeks after seasons have already begun. It would be logical for the Stars to already have a place in mind for Honka to play and be at that training camp and with the team.
Is it possible that something else could be going on?
It would appear that may be the case, but it depends upon the conditions of Honka playing with the Swift Current Broncos.
Was Julius Honka signed to the Broncos? Was he on loan to them from JYP? This difference could be crucial when it comes to the CHL-NHL agreement. Players who are drafted from the CHL cannot play professional in North America, except in the NHL, until the year they turn 20 or after they have played four year in the CHL.
It would appear, however, that it's possible for players on loan from European clubs to the CHL could avoid this to a degree. It is a complicated loophole and one that hasn't been explored much.
Whether Honka is on loan to the Swift Current Broncos depends upon the terms of his contract with them. Unfortunately the terms don't appear to be public. Those terms would answer many of the questions about where he is eligible to play next year.
Can this loophole really be used by the Dallas Stars in the case of Julius Honka? It's possible but the territory is murky at best. The technicality might be there but whether it can actually occur in practice is another question entirely.
Why does this loophole matter? If they can successfully argue that he was on loan and abides by this loophole Julius Honka could play in Europe but, more interestingly, possibly in Cedar Park as well next season for the Texas Stars. There is precedent for this.
Nicklas Jensen was allowed to leave the Oshawa Generals and join a Swedish club before returning to North America to play with the Vancouver Canucks AHL team at the age of 19. The argument made was that Jensen was already signed to a professional contract in Sweden and therefore was on loan to the CHL. This was accepted and he was allowed leave to join AIK before returning to play in the AHL.
It meant that when the Swedish season ended he wasn't contractually obliged to join the Generals if he were to play in North America, instead he could play 20 games with the Chicago Wolves. With Honka it is likely that the Stars are hoping for him to spend the season in Finland and play a good chunk of AHL games at the end. If he is still contractually linked to the Swift Current Broncos then he wouldn't be able to play in the AHL while the WHL season was ongoing.
It is possible, though I'm not completely certain, that the Dallas Stars could be hoping he starts and plays in the AHL. How likely is this? I asked Mark Stepneski on Twitter about what was going to happen to Honka. I particularly asked about the possibility that he could be AHL bound next season. This is what he had to say:
@HuwDBD There was talk it could be a possibility, but I haven't heard anything recently. I am not holding my breath.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) September 3, 2014
It doesn't seem to be in the cards at the moment that Julius Honka will be heading to Cedar Park, not until late in the season anyway. Where he will play next season is still up in the air until training camp. While this could be good to evaluate where he would fit the best it does leave the question of where he will play unanswered until quite late. Does this matter? It might when it comes to where he fits into a roster and developing chemistry with his team.
There's always the possibility that the Dallas Stars are considering whether his skillset, in short supply at the NHL level, could be utilised in Dallas. Again, I find it highly unlikely that Honka will play in the NHL this season but it is still a possibility.
For now it is a curious mystery. Will he suit up in the WHL? Will he return home to Finland? Can he sneak through a loophole to play for the Texas Stars in Austin? Could he even have a chance to play in Dallas?
Those questions will be answered at the conclusion of training camp.