CHL vs. NCAA: The Public Pursuit of an American Top Prospect

Sunday night, I was alerted to a story from the Windsor Star regarding Jordan Schmaltz. In it, Windsor Spitfires GM Warren Rychel and head coach Bob Boughner reveal that they are continuing their pursuit of Schmaltz, currently a defenseman for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL, a top 2012 Draft prospect and verbal commitment to the University of North Dakota.

That Windsor is hot on the trail of a college-committed American top prospect is nothing new. The squad has had success luring away several previously committed Americans like Cam Fowler, Jack Campbell and Kenny Ryan. There have been other, less publicized, instances where Windsor was unable to secure the rights to players they pursued (Stephen Johns, for example), but they’ve reeled in some big fish over the last few years.

This curiously timed article really piqued my interest, and it should be required reading for anyone that has been following the ongoing battle between the Canadian Hockey League and NCAA for a variety of reasons.

First, just to quickly reset the stage…

Jordan Schmaltz is considered a likely first rounder for this year’s NHL Entry Draft. He was selected by Windsor in the seventh round of the OHL Priority Draft in 2010 at age 16. Schmaltz previously was committed to the University of Wisconsin (a verbal he made at age 14), but later backed out. He then gave a verbal commitment to North Dakota in September of 2010. Schmaltz spent last season with Sioux City and returned this year. Since drafting him, Windsor has been in hot pursuit.

If the allure of racking up points with the Spits during his draft season wasn’t enough to get Schmaltz to leave the USHL and his commitment to North Dakota, I have a hard time believing his mind will change. If he was going to go, why not this year?

That is what makes the timing of this piece so curious to me. The season is only a few weeks old, the tumultuous summer of broken commitments to college hockey programs has begun to fade, so why bring this up now? It’s just so out of the blue.

The Spits are an average team this year, but still possess a winning record in a very tough Western Conference in the OHL. You don’t think… Nah… They couldn’t be trying to get him out of the USHL for this season, could they? Well, maybe, just a bit.

It is rare for a player to leave one league in-season for another, though not unprecedented. Kenny Ryan left Boston College a few weeks into his freshman season to join Windsor. That said, I can’t recall it ever happening during a player’s draft-eligible season and I don’t see Schmaltz being the first.

So what gives?

First off, there might not be a better team in hockey that is as good at utilizing the media as the Windsor Spitfires. This article reads like a public challenge to Jordan Schmaltz. It also plainly lays out the cookie-cutter CHL recruiting pitch, as to why a prospect should choose that route over the NCAA.

Rychel told Windsor Star reporter Jim Parker that Schmaltz is making a mistake in not “exploring his options.” Now, we have to take Rychel at his word, I guess, but how do we know Schmaltz hasn’t been exploring his options in his own way? I’m not saying Rychel is lying, I’m just saying he’s not Jordan Schmaltz.

Additionally, Boughner brought up Cam Fowler as a comparable player to Schmaltz and a big reason why the latter should consider Windsor.

Rychel also mentions that Schmaltz should call Fowler and Jack Campbell and have his father call Fowler’s father.

That’s great. But why is Warren Rychel telling us this? Most likely, it’s because whatever he’s saying to Schmaltz and his family in private is not getting through. So he’s taking it public.

This piece allows Rychel to let everybody know Windsor wants Jordan Schmaltz and if Schmaltz doesn’t go to Windsor, he’s making a mistake. Whoever reads the piece is getting that as the takeaway.

There will be no rebuttal in public from North Dakota, and likely none from Schmaltz himself, and Rychel knows that. North Dakota Head Coach Dave Hakstol can’t say a word about Jordan Schmaltz publicly because Schmaltz has yet to sign a National Letter of Intent. So for now, there is one public voice on this issue, and it’s the voice Rychel most wants you to hear. His own.

This is not a criticism of Windsor. In fact, I think it might be quite smart. If Schmaltz elects not to go to Windsor, the team has already stated they think that’s a mistake. Then again, perhaps Schmaltz takes the challenge to heart and gives Windsor an extra look (assuming he’s not offended by the public nature of the challenge).

There are no rules preventing Rychel or Boughner from talking to the media about a prospective player. It’s merely a tool that they have, and they’re using it well.

So now, it puts the ball is in Schmaltz’s court. The Spits have laid it all out there for everyone to see. Odds are, he sticks with his USHL club this season, continues to raise his draft stock and earns a first round selection, but the war doesn’t end there as Rychel notes in the piece…

“Bob and I have a great relationship with NHL Teams,” Rychel said.

“Hopefully he’s taken by one of those teams that can give him direction.”

Just a friendly reminder from Rychel, regarding the few college committed players that were advised by the NHL teams that selected them in last year’s draft to go the CHL route.

It’s also a reminder that there are more hurdles than ever before for colleges to overcome in order to get a top player into their hockey programs.

Schmaltz seems firm in his commitment. He has family ties to North Dakota (including his father, who is an alum). Still, with the landscape the way it is, it seems as though every top player becomes an individual case study on the CHL vs. NCAA battle. Schmaltz will be no different.

So which recruiting pitch does he become part of next year?

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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