US College Hockey: Ever-Growing Force in Player Development?

While browsing around ESPN.com I ran across this article on the signings of two Michigan State hockey players to play professionally (somewhere).

And that got me to thinking — it seems a LOT more NHL players are coming out of the US collegiate ranks nowadays. Is the level that much better than it used to be, or are they just being scouted better? What gives? Or are we just noticing it more now? And is US Collegiate hockey in the same danger as NCAA Hoops and football are?So I did some research. Just a smidgen. Not exactly the most-scientific method mind you, but better than making it up on the fly. I looked at the 2002 Entry Draft.

Three of the Top 11 picks in 2002 were US Collegiate products — #5 Ryan Whitney (BU), #10 Eric Nystrom (Mich), and #11 Keith Ballard (Minn). Also taken in the first round at #30 was Jim Slater (MSU). Not huge numbers, but not bad at all considering you have European players and Canandian Junior players in there as well, that’s a large pool…

The second round also saw picks hailing from Notre Dame, more Michigan State, and more Minnesota.

Now the NHL drafts YOUNG — the NHL Entry Draft is similar to basbeall’s in that you’ve never heard of most these kids and may never hear from them again, simply because they are so young…

However if one peruses the list of current NHL rosters, one can’t help but notice the number of US NCAA Hockey products. I could rattle off a ton right now — Brian Smolinski, Rod Brind’amour, Mike Grier, Anson Carter, Mike York, John Madden, Ryan Miller, Paul & Steve Kariya, just off the top of my head… (I’m a CCHA guy so my list is loaded with those, I know)…

Now to be honest most these guys in the first and second round are locks to be playing in the NHL — it may take a year or two at most to develop them and get them up to speed but you WILL be seeing all of them at an NHL game near you soon. They’re not really gambles like some of the junior and European players…

HOWEVER, how many of these guys actually finish their eligibility? Most of these guys are drafted as freshmen or sophomores and at most only end up playing one more year before bolting.

The one thing I HAVE noticed over the last decade or so though is that the actual caliber and pace of collegiate games seems to have remained the same (possibly because of guys leaving early?). The games are still just as physical, manic, and sometimes disorienting to watch as they ever have been (that’s half the fun though). I don’t see this year’s Michigan team doing anything better or different than the MSU and Lake Superior State teams of a decade ago, and from what I have caught of collegiate hockey on the east coast it seems the flow is the same there as well… maybe where the game could have evolved and stepped up in caliber the guys are just leaving earlier instead, so it just looks the same?

Or more to the point, is the NHL beginning to cannibalize the NCAA ranks more like the NBA and NFL have done in the past decade?

The one other trend I do notice though is that the US Collegiate players seem to have a higher success rate in the NHL than their European counterparts who are usually drafted just as young. They tend to come up through the farms quicker, or if not that then grow into their roles much quicker in the NHL. Could be style of play, could be sheer level and caliber of competition, could be coaching… I don’t know…

To be honest there isn’t a hard-fought point in all this that I’m trying to make. However, given that it’s time for the this year’s Frozen Four, it does seem appropriate to give some props to NCAA hockey finally and some chit-chat about why it seems to work so well and/or what it does right. Or heck, if you want, go ahead and argue which school/conference is the best. Just give the college kids some credit!…


35 Responses to US College Hockey: Ever-Growing Force in Player Development?

  1. OldNord says:

    I don’t know for the others teams but Montreal has chosen in their last three first picks, three US College hockey player. (Hainsey, Komisarek and Higgins).

  2. bigdog says:

    Steve Kariya finished college, and I think Paul did too. Their younger brother Martin, who played well for UMaine up until their loss to Michigan this year, is also planning on finishing school. Chris Drury went through the years at BU before graduating.

    Mike Dunham and Eric Weinrich both opted to leave the University of Maine after three seasons.

    Joe Juneau has a degree in rocket science from RPI.

    Those I know from the top of my head.

  3. AvSfAn01 says:

    I know Paul Kariya left UMaine after the beginning his sophmore year (if you mean actually getting a degree im not sure about that)

  4. edmontonrules says:

    I believe that Mike Comrie played in Michigan.

  5. edmontonrules says:

    Dany Heatley also played in the NCAA.

  6. bigdog says:

    I’m pretty sure he did get his degree but I can’t remember. I know he didn’t finish college though, or else UMaine would have had another championship or two following the 92-93 season. 😉

    The paper here had an article a couple months ago about the Kariya kids all opting to go through the Maine college system. I think it said Paul completed his degree but now that I think about it more I’m not so sure he did. I need to find the article. 😛

  7. AvSfAn01 says:

    College hockey is not at all a sport in any sort of trouble (at least on the east coast). A few weeks ago, I went to the Hockey East tournament at the Fleet in Boston and the weekend of games (Semi-finals and Finals) set an attendance record for the event.

    I think that College hockey is the second most entertaining form of the sport (a distant second to NHL playoffs) simply because of how hard the kids try and how crazy the games are; always fast paced, hard hitting, high energy and above all, unpredictable.

  8. AvSfAn01 says:

    i beleive it.

    I was very sad the other day though

    When Maine lost to Michigan – it marked the last time a Kariya will ever play in a Maine uniform.

  9. Kraftster says:

    I really hope that you aren’t saying that all collegiate athletes should stay in school until they graduate rather than take off to pursue their professional sports career. Before I go off on that because that’s what I got, let me ask you if that is indeed what you are implying?

  10. edmontonrules says:

    I don’t think he is.

  11. DG says:

    I think all collegiate athletes- in hockey, basketball, whatever- should stay in school until they’re finished. It would allow them to develop into even better players for the Major Leagues, and, while I don’t think the collegiate players are to blame for the talent decline in the National Hockey League, it’s a topic that has been discussed about the National Basketball Association. A lot of people feel that the NBA’s talent pool is declining because they’re allowing players to come in who are “not ready” even when they feel they are. Plus, college coaches don’t like the idea of “declaring early” because it screws up their building plans. Now, despite the fact the NHL does not have that problem, what is stopping them from trying to prevent it? They’d still come to the NHL teams relatively young (22). However, the Europeans and juniors would have an upper hand since they could become NHLers at 18, but if it means raising the draft age just so the prospects as a whole can improve, I’m for it.

    RealityCheck

  12. defenestrate says:

    I am someone who believes one should complete his college education and fulfill their obligation to the school that gave them the chance to put their talents on display. Besides, you don’t want them to end up like me.

    However, I also believe that college atheletes should be salaried. At the least, they should engender some form of revenue sharing from the institution they attend.

    I think part of the phenomena primis has noticed is a result of expansion teams that have diluted the talent pool.

    I also think that college players adapt quicker to the “NHL style of play”. They also suffer considerably less culture shock, and are much more likely to know exactly what is expected of them in the NHL.

    I just fervently hope the NHL does not degenerate to the level of the NBA, with high school kids sporting egos the size of battleships coming into the league thinking they’re going to be “impact players”.

    Fortunately, hockey is, in my estimation, the ultimate “team sport”. I can’t see anything like that happening at all. The kid’s own teammates would be the first to put him in his place.

  13. AvSfAn01 says:

    How can you even suggest that college athletes be salaried?!?!? That is absurd. What about people who go to College to get an EDUCATION? Should people on the honor roll be paid a salary as well? If not you have effectively placed sports (or EXTRA-curriculars) above the purpose for which all institutions of higher learning were created.

  14. Kraftster says:

    Completely disagree. The players don’t just “declare early”, they evaluate the year’s draft for their respective sport, project where they may go, and evaluate from there. Professional teams do not HAVE TO take them….they obviously feel they are some of the better players out there, or they wouldn’t take them. If you are in a position as a collegiate athlete where you have a serious option of “declaring early” then you are going to college to showcase your skills to become a professional athlete, in other words, you KNOW that’s what you want to do. People who do not want to be professional athletes would never “declare early”. What did you/are you/will you major in at college? Let’s say for a moment it’s some form of business…let’s go with accounting. Say in your Soph. year an elite accounting firm offers you the job that you are going to school to get….right now! 6 Figure salary, full benefits, everythign you are going to school for as a sophmore. The reason you are in school is because you felt it was necessary to get a degree to have this job…well here it is when you’re a soph. No reason in hell you shouldn’t take that job. Absolutely no reason becasue there is no gaurantee it would be there after you graduate. Based on that analogy, how does it make sense not to “declare early”?

  15. Kraftster says:

    I wrote a comment refuting someones argument that college athletes shouldn’t “declare early”. But I was just curious what “end up like you” was?

  16. flyersruleclarkstillsucks says:

    the frozen four is this weekend.

  17. Primis says:

    Wow. You can actualy get a degree in “rocket science”? 😉

  18. Primis says:

    Not necessarily. I’m more concerned about the US Collegiate hockey level and talent pool, and what its future is.

    NCAA football and basketball have both declined in recent years from guys leaving too early. A lot of the fun has been sucked out of them.

    I’m just wondering if it’s starting to happen to collegiate hockey now as well because the NHL is scouting NCAA much more than they used ot it seems. For some guys, it’s right to leave early. For some, not…

    I dont’ want to see it hurt what is probbaly the most all-around exciting college sport though.

  19. Primis says:

    I can remember sitting at home from school sick years ago and watching BU and BC slug it out (simply because it was on, and then ended up getting waaayyyy too engrossed in the game) and wondering if college hockey would still hold that same level and fascination to me years from then.

    It still does thankfully.

    I wonder though. There are getting to be more and more collegiate hockey teams, slowly but surely. And with the top guys leaving early… I’m wondering what the critical mass is for the talent pool to start dipping considerably… hopefully it’s an unnecessary concern.

  20. defenestrate says:

    With a useless partial education, and nothing to “fall back on” after their sports career except selling cars or insurance, and writing posts on websites..

  21. Kraftster says:

    Ok….I am quite agreeable to that. Well said.

  22. defenestrate says:

    Honor roll students don’t bring in television revenues. And it’s time we stopped perpetrating the myth that student-athletes are as much “students” as “athletes”. That appelation has long become an exception, rather than a rule.

  23. defenestrate says:

    I know a janitorial supervisor who has one (really).

  24. defenestrate says:

    I can tell you for a fact that a Denver University – Colorado College matchup is still one of the best (and cheapest) tickets in town here.

  25. mikster says:

    Too bad Harvard didn;t win in the ECAC. They lost in the finals. Dominic Moore did play well though, good news for the Rangers.

    He is a Miek York type, and he is done with college now, he’ll probably end up in New York next season, but maybe he will go in Hartford.

    Lee Falardeau is also from Michigan State. He hasn’t done squat this season, but he’ll turn out good, a more refined Joel Otto.

  26. Kraftster says:

    Sorry bout the blank one. Just a reply I had to someone that I wanted to put out here to stimulate some discussion about it. Something I feel strongly about and is controversial it seems.

    Completely disagree. The players don’t just “declare early”, they evaluate the year’s draft for their respective sport, project where they may go, and evaluate from there. Professional teams do not HAVE TO take them….they obviously feel they are some of the better players out there, or they wouldn’t take them. If you are in a position as a collegiate athlete where you have a serious option of “declaring early” then you are going to college to showcase your skills to become a professional athlete, in other words, you KNOW that’s what you want to do. People who do not want to be professional athletes would never “declare early”. What did you/are you/will you major in at college? Let’s say for a moment it’s some form of business…let’s go with accounting. Say in your Soph. year an elite accounting firm offers you the job that you are going to school to get….right now! 6 Figure salary, full benefits, everythign you are going to school for as a sophmore. The reason you are in school is because you felt it was necessary to get a degree to have this job…well here it is when you’re a soph. No reason in hell you shouldn’t take that job. Absolutely no reason becasue there is no gaurantee it would be there after you graduate. Based on that analogy, how does it make sense not to “declare early”?

  27. UsedandAbused says:

    Hockey is becoming a more popular sport in America. For one it is also becoming easier to play. I am in a begginner league myself with a bunch of adults who have never had the opportunity to play or just discovered a new found love for the sport. I for one grew up in a big family and never could afford to play Ice Hockey, even though it has always been my passion. I was thrilled when I found a league that was for adults who never played. I suppose in Canada kids can play on any lake, but in the US it is difficult, especially the further south you live. Its still expensive and hard to get ice time.

  28. AvSfAn01 says:

    Besides the fact that the NCAA would NEVER allow such an atrocity to occur, paying college players would turn college athletics into a joke and, worse still, a business. How would you divy out the dough? How would a college that isnt in division one ever attract any athletes? All the inequities that would occur make this idea seem like insanity. There is no way that paying college athletes will ever happen and for good reason.

  29. defenestrate says:

    Amen to expensive ice time – that’s why I play lacrosse..

  30. Wings4life says:

    Michigan v Minnnesota on Thurs at 6pm!! Oh Yea! This is our revenge from last year! GO BLUE!!!

  31. Kraftster says:

    It’s actually a very oft debated topic believe it or not? There is a lot of debate about this for a fact.

  32. Primis says:

    Comley rerally, really, really screwed up the SPartans this season. I don’t think he’s the right successor to Ron Mason. I see bad things in the future of the Spartan hockey program. Especially after a few years of not-so-hot recruiting.

  33. Obcd says:

    Martin st-louis played for Michigan

  34. AvSfAn01 says:

    nope

    he played for UVM

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