A few different organizations in the world of hockey development were shaken up today as aptly-named 2018 NHL Draft prospect Blade Jenkins announced that he had signed with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. Jenkins had been selected fourth overall in the 2016 OHL Draft by Saginaw, but played this past season with the United States National Development Program U-17 Team.
For Saginaw, this is a major transaction. The team took a big risk last year in drafting Jenkins, who they had no guarantee would ever play for them. A Jackson, Michigan native, Jenkins had committed first to the U.S. National Team and second to the flagship school of his state, the University of Michigan. It is not often that American players who have committed to play college hockey instead choose to play Canadian juniors, but Jenkins is an exception. It may have helped that Saginaw is in fact an American-based team in Saginaw, Michigan, less than two hours from his home in Jackson and less than an hour further than Ann Arbor, where he would have gone to college.
Saginaw’s gain is the Michigan Wolverines’ loss, as NCAA bylaws prohibit Canadian major junior players from ever later playing college hockey. In an effort to preserve “amateurism”, a choice must be made and Jenkins decided he wanted to play at a higher level of hockey sooner rather than later, opting to join the Spirit for 2017-18 rather than join the Wolverines in 2018-19. This also means that the U.S. U-18 team will also have to adjust, as they planned on having Jenkins around next season.
Jenkins, who is still just 16 years old and already 6’0″ and 172 lbs., is developing into a big, two-way center. Jenkins earned his OHL draft slot and U-17 roster spot after scoring 36 points in 22 games at the midget level in 2015-16 and adding some noteworthy tournament performance along the way. Yet, in his first season playing against high-end competition, the offense disappeared as he had just eight points in 56 games. Jenkins is still very raw and has quite a bit of developing to do, but has the physical tools to become an elite player down the road. Saginaw hopes that he can begin to develop into that future star in 2017-18 after inking an unlikely contract today.