Following Ohio State’s loss to eventual national champion Quinnipiac a couple weeks ago, a number of Buckeyes have signed professional contracts. Unlike the NFL and NBA, which see players drafted after their college careers are over, many hockey players are drafted early on in their college careers.
Hockey players can be drafted as early as 18 years old, which is why you see players drafted and then go on to play college hockey while the teams that drafted them hold their rights. A team possesses the rights to any player they have drafted until 30 days after they leave school. If a player doesn’t agree to a contract with the team that drafted them within 30 days after their college career ends, they are then free to sign with any team.
The Columbus Blue Jackets had a couple players that joined their team last year that can perfectly illustrate how the NHL draft process works. Michigan’s Kent Johnson was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft by Columbus when he was 19 years old. Johnson went on to play his sophomore season with the Wolverines before signing his entry-level contract in early April, which allowed him to play a few games for the Blue Jackets last year before the end of the season.
Defenseman Nick Blankenburg also signed Columbus after Michigan’s season ended last year, but he was able to sign with any team in the NHL since he previous went undrafted and was over the age of 20.
Mason Lohrei - Providence Bruins
On March 31, the Boston Bruins announced that Ohio State defenseman Mason Lohrei to an AHL amateur tryout agreement. Lohrei was drafted by the Bruins with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Since agreeing to the ATO, Lohrei made his debut with Providence last Wednesday, and earned his first professional point on Saturday.
With a secondary assist on Didier's goal, Mason Lohrei has his first professional point!#AHLBruins— x - Providence Bruins (@AHLBruins) April 8, 2023
The Bruins can take their time with letting Lohrei get his legs under him at the professional level since Boston has put together one of the best seasons in league history, and will enter the NHL playoffs having earned the Presidents Trophy, which is given annually to the team that has accumulated the most points in the league during the regular season. While Boston tries to win another Stanley Cup, Lohrei will be a key addition to Providence as the Bruins’ minor league team competes in the AHL playoffs.
Jakub Dobeš - Montreal Canadiens
On the same day Lohrei signed an ATO with the Providence Bruins, goaltender Jakub Dobeš inked a two-year entry level contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Dobeš was drafted by Montreal in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft. Along with his entry level contract that covers the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons, Dobeš also signed an AHL contract that will allow him to play the rest of the season with the Laval Rocket. Unlike Boston, Montreal has already been eliminated from contention for the NHL playoffs.
Jakub Dobeš dressing in his first pro game tonight! https://t.co/6h5rR4VULI— Ohio State Men's Hockey (@OhioStateMHKY) April 7, 2023
Dobeš hopes he’ll be able to replicate the success he had at Ohio State, where he was a two-time semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, which is given annually to the best collegiate goaltender in the country. The Buckeye goalie’s 2.29 goals against average is the fourth-best in school history, and his 42 career wins rank are tied for eighth-most at Ohio State. If Dobeš impresses, he could find himself in the NHL sooner rather than later since the Canadiens are in the middle of a rebuild, and don’t have any great prospects at goaltender.
Cole McWard- Vancouver Canucks
McWard agreed to a two-year entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks on April 4. Just a week later, the former Ohio State defenseman was playing in his first NHL game. Just a few weeks after scoring two goals for the Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament, McWard netted his first career NHL goal, scoring on Saturday when the Canucks took on the Calgary Flames.
"My parents got to watch this game so that was awesome they got to see that one. Definitely happy I got to score in front of them."— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) April 9, 2023
Cole McWard speaks postgame after scoring his first NHL goal against the Flames.@theprovince | #Canucks pic.twitter.com/tiDhvQ2uiC
Vancouver has already been eliminated from playoff contention, which means McWard will only have one more chance to take the ice for the Canucks this season, as Vancouver will play the final game of their season tonight. Even though he was only able to play a few games for the Canucks this year, McWard at least was able to make his NHL debut, score his first goal, and give the Vancouver brass something to think about during the offseason when they are trying to shape their defense.
Gustaf Westlund - IK Oskarshamn
The fifth-year senior’s final season at Ohio State didn’t go exactly as planned, since Westlund spent much of the season recovering from an injury that he suffered in the fifth game of the season. Westlund was able to return to the ice just in time for the NCAA Tournament, where he recorded a goal and two assists in Ohio State’s blowout win over Harvard.
While a number of his teammates will be playing in the United States and Canada, Westlund will be heading to Sweden to play for IK Oskarshamn of the Swedish Hockey League. In the most recent SHL season, IK Oskarshamn finished in the middle of the standings, losing in the SHL’s version of the NBA’s play-in games. With the SHL season concluding before Ohio State’s season ended, Westlund will have to wait a little longer to get back on the ice than his teammates that have signed professional contracts.
Jake Wise - Charlotte Checkers
Another Ohio State fifth-year senior has found a home in the professional ranks. On Tuesday, Jake Wise inked a professional tryout with the Charlotte Checkers, who are the top minor league affiliate for the Florida Panthers. Wise was a second-team All-Big Ten selection this season, as he was second on the team with 39 points this year. Wise led the NCAA with 493 faceoff wins.
Wise will get a chance to take the ice for the Checkers quickly. Charlotte has two regular season games left, and has already earned a spot in the AHL playoffs. Wise also has lucked out a bit since Florida has already clinched a playoff spot, so he won’t have to worry about the Panthers sending some of their players on their roster on two-way contracts down to Charlotte, which Florida likely would have done had they not earned a playoff spot.