He doesn't absolutely have to play in the AHL yet.
He will be 20 by December 31st, so he will be considered a 20 year old player according to CHL rules.
Teams can only have three 20 year old players on their roster though and I believe Tri-City will have a lot (9 by my quick count), including MacKenzie, to make a decision on next season.
You can play more than four seasons in the CHL.
See above for the explanation.
We have until June 1st, 2012 to sign him or we will lose his rights.
If he isn't going to play for Tri-City next season, we can let him play in Portland or with an unaffiliated ECHL team on a try-out (as there is no point in signing him to a contract this summer), much like Maxime Legault.
However, unlike Legault, MacKenzie's ELC will still be three years and he will be waiver exempt for 3 years and 160 games.
Legault was 20 years old when we drafted him, so if we sign him to a contract by June 1st this year (we probably will, as he's done well in Portland this season), he'll be 22 and thus his ELC will only be two years, while he'll be waiver exempt for three years and 70 games.
Next season, we have four defensemen signed for Portland, two RFA's, and one definitely incoming (Brayden McNabb), so the blueline will be crowded.
Fienhage will also need a place to play, as he will be turning 21 in May and will be ineligible to play in the WHL next season.
Thank you for the response. I feel the same way about CBA particulars, so I wouldn't see that as pointless. It's good to know where players are able to play, hence the reason for question.