Jonathan Toews came out of the North Dakota program. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The NCAA is taking a lot of body blows lately in terms of recruiting.
Two big-name defensemen in John Carlson and Garrett Clarke recently turned down their commitments to college programs in favor of spots on major junior teams, while the best American prospects in the past two drafts – Patrick Kane last year and Zach Bogosian this year – played in the Ontario League.
The perception is that major junior is the best ticket to a stellar NHL career. However, the announcement of this season’s NHL All-Rookie Team should give the NCAA some ammunition in what recently has been a rather one-sided war with Canadian junior leagues for attracting – and keeping – high-end talent. Here’s the breakdown of where this year’s winners came from:
Nicklas Backstrom – Europe
Carey Price – Major Junior
Tobias Enstrom – Europe
Tom Gilbert – NCAA
Patrick Kane – Major Junior
Jonathan Toews – NCAA
Pretty good parity there, eh?
Even though the Canadian League boasts many more draft picks, the NCAA still consistently puts out top talent. The 2007 team also featured two college boys in San Jose’s Matt Carle and Colorado’s Paul Stastny. In fact, the sophomore Av is the best player to date on that squad behind Evgeni Malkin, who was developed in Russia.
Now, this is not a knock on the CHL: After all, the other three members of the 2007 team came from its ranks (Jordan Staal, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Mike Smith) and the rigorous schedule of major junior certainly helps a player’s development and stamina (Malkin detractors are nodding right now).
But the notion the NCAA is immensely inferior as a stepping-stone to the NHL is simply not true.
If there’s one thing I learned attending my first draft combine this year, it’s that the difference in body types among prospects can be downright shocking. There’s a huge gulf in some cases and clearly having a lighter NCAA schedule, thus leaving more time for weight training, is a benefit for some young men.
Now, I don’t know what Colin Wilson looked like before his first season at Boston U., but after, he looked NHL-ready.
Some of the kids at the combine who were NCAA-bound were much less developed physically and the college game seems better geared to getting them developed at the pace proper for them.
The drain away from college hockey and towards major junior seems to be quickening. And because of the tighter rules surrounding NCAA entry, junior will always have a recruiting advantage.
In terms of producing high-caliber talent, however, those players who stick it out in a college game – which is receiving more attention as the years go on – should look to those who came before them as proof you can get a higher education and still make it to the top.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appear Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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