Detroit's Ken Holland knows prepubescent talent when he sees it.
By Ken Devine
BOSTON—The Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings aren't playing nice in claiming way-too-early draft rights to Oliver Wahlstrom, the 9-year-old forward from the Portland Junior Pirates who became an Internet sensation last week.
Wahlstrom scored a jaw-dropping, lacrosse-style spin-o-rama goal in a shootout competition at Boston's TD Banknorth Garden last Wednesday, in which he swept up the puck in stride, spun around, rotated the blade of his stick with puck on end, and whipped a backhand past a frozen, dumbfounded goalie.
With a buzz circulating throughout hockey circles, many have compared the precocious player to a pre-teen Jeremy Roenick, or even Sidney Crosby, who is now out of his teens. Walhstrom's pee wee team mostly consists of 12-year-olds.
Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli wants first dibs on Wahlstrom for the 2018 NHL Draft, which is shortly after the Cumberland, Maine native is legally allowed to drink in Canada. Chiarelli is claiming ownership solely on the basis of home ice, since TD Bank's Mini 1-on-1 Challenge occurred at the Bruins' TD Garden arena.
Peter Chiarelli's biggest pet peeve is a tangled phone cord.
"We saw him first, we saw him first" insisted the 45-year-old Chiarelli, now in his fourth season as Boston’s GM. "Finder's keepers."
But the Detroit Red Wings are also laying claim to the third-grader, arguing that they are even more justified than the Bruins are.
"Oliver likes our team better than their team—he's said that the Red Wings are his favorite," Detroit GM Ken Holland pointed out. "If he wants to play for us, he'll have a spot here waiting for him when he can hold a stick firmly with two hands."
Chiarelli, however, decried Detroit’s need for Wahlstrom in building the relatively distant future of our franchise.
"The Wings have been loaded for years, and there’s no sign of them getting any worse," Chiarelli complained. "We'll need him more than they will."
There is no legal precedent in the NHL's bylaws to stake a player almost a decade in advance on grounds of territory or fandom, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. However, Bettman has publicly mentioned that he's open to amending the draft articles.
"Rules are rules, but they should never prevent the next Gretzky or Crosby from living their dream," he said. "We'll take a look at things and see if there's not some resolution we can reach before 2018."
Holland added weight to his argument by noting that the famed Mike Legg, who first introduced puck-scooping goals to the hockey world in 1996, played for the University of Michigan, which is geographically closer than Boston and also in the same state.
"If Chiarelli wants to argue territory, he’ll have to think about that one," Holland said sharply.
Chiarelli fired back, though.
"Holland doesn't know about the legally binding clause in the paperwork that Wahlstrom signed for the shootout competition. Actually, I'm not even sure that the kid or his dad knows about it."
"Let's just say there might be a line in there somewhere about the 'sole property of the Boston Bruins organization' that could be interpreted in more than one way."