The NHL’s Rookie Showcase in Toronto is generally just one big photo shoot, with a few seminars and other business to cram into a couple of days. This year, though, the event is getting some national attention after Leaf Trading Cards announced an exclusive autograph agreement with one of the top prospects in this year’s draft class, a move that is once again generating debate over the benefit of such arrangements for collectors.
Jack Eichel, the second overall draft pick and Hobey Baker Award winner from Boston University, signed a “multi-year” autograph deal with Dallas-based Leaf, which has no pro sports licenses but continues to produce trading card products in every major sport. It means Upper Deck, the NHL’s trading card partner, won’t be able to put Eichel autographs inside its 2015-16 products—or future issues as long as Eichel remains with Leaf.
Eichel’s autograph isn’t exactly a work of art, but collectors have become used to the current generation of scribblers and prices for top prospect signatures haven’t suffered that much despite the trend.
Upper Deck has an exclusive with top pick Connor McDavid and his cards won’t appear in Leaf products. The California card maker, which sponsors the Showcase, made it clear Eichel rookie cards—with team and league trademarks—will still appear in its products.
— Upper Deck Hockey (@UpperDeckHockey) August 31, 2015
It’s created a bit of a dilemma for the NHL and the NHLPA, one that caught the attention of Sports Illustrated‘s Al Muir.
Needless to say, Leaf is going all in on Eichel, who has had no autographed trading cards to this point and is just 18 years old. The company says he’ll be “featured prominently” in all of its 2015-16 hockey releases. Gray claims he paid Eichel more than McDavid got for his deal with Upper Deck.
“This is probably the most exciting day of my career at Leaf Trading Cards,” said Leaf CEO Brian Gray in a statement. “This is easily the most lucrative autographed trading card deal for any rookie in the history of the sport. He joins the ranks of LeBron James, Cam Newton and Kris Bryant as the largest rookie autograph deals in their respective sport. We think Jack is the kind of special athlete that deserves to join this elite club.”
Eichel told the Buffalo News, “The opportunity presented itself and you want to make the most of the ones you get.”
Gray believes Eichel is “easily the most NHL ready player in the 2015 draft.” He indicated on Twitter that his company would not be distributing large quantities of stickers or on card autographs of Eichel that could suppress prices.
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