NCAA vs. CHL: Will This be Another Summer of Broken Commitments?

The weeks and months following the National Hockey League Entry Draft are often a whirlwind for the players full of development camps, meetings and, if there’s time, life. These months also represent some of the tensest for college hockey programs around the country. The worry that an NHL team has plans for its newly drafted prospect might not include the school is prevalent. Most NHL clubs leave it up to the player, but there a few that would rather get their guy under contract.

The concerns are not only related to recently drafted prospects. The off-season can be crazy for guys that aren’t slated to come to school for another few years and also some players that just feel like they need to go a different direction that are due on campus or already in school. Basically, until every player that’s supposed to be on campus is on campus, college coaches might not want to be too relaxed at the present.

The de-commitment season got off to an early start with several big-time prospects bailing on the schools they pledged to before this past season was even out, causing some to wonder if this summer could even be worse than the last for college hockey.

Last summer, the weeks following the draft seemed like a domino effect of the worst kind for college hockey. One-by-one, J.T. Miller (North Dakota to Plymouth), John Gibson (Michigan to Kitchener), Connor Murphy (Miami to Sarnia), Reid Boucher (Michigan State/Youngstown to Sarnia), all went from college to major junior.

Then, before even making it to summer, the broken commitments started dropping mid-season with Stefan Matteau declaring he’d head to the Q instead of North Dakota. Months later, Miles Koules signed with Medicine Hat, walking away from a commitment to North Dakota as well.

In May, Ryan Hartman, a 2013 Draft-eligible, decided to sign with the Plymouth Whalers. With a year of high school remaining, Hartman wasn’t due to attend Miami University until 2013-14 and would have had to spend a year in the USHL, most likely with Dubuque which holds his USHL rights.

Just prior to the NHL Scouting Combine, Patrick Sieloff decided on going to the Windsor Spitfires instead of heading to Miami University. The Spits had acquired Sieloff’s rights in a trade earlier in the year from Sault Ste. Marie. It was never a sure thing that Sieloff would go to the CHL, but trades to the right club can often cause a kid to give a second look to the major junior route.

So now that the Draft has past, other schools may be on high alert as there are still plenty of prospects that may feel the pull of the CHL now that they have NHL teams tied to their names.

Here’s a look at some of the drafted players to pay attention to (not just Americans):

There were six players with college commitments drafted in the first round. Of the six, the no-risk prospects are Rangers pick Brady Skjei, who is committed to Minnesota, and St. Louis Blues selection and North Dakota commit Jordan Schmaltz. Skjei is already taking classes at Minnesota and Minnesota just doesn’t lose too many Minnesota-born prospects anyway. Schmaltz has reiterated that he is committed to North Dakota and the Blues have said they are content to let him develop at what ever pace at NoDak, as there is no rush to get him to St. Louis.

Jacob Trouba, committed to Michigan, has said all along he plans to honor his commitment, but one thing that is extremely possible is that Winnipeg wants to sign him immediately, which I haven’t seen any indication that they do yet. I would also find it unlikely that Trouba would sign without being certain he could make the Jets out of camp, which the big defenseman probably isn’t quite ready for. It’s interesting to watch, but I think the Jets will be content to let Trouba marinate a bit in college and get at least one or two more years of solid development.

Zemgus Girgensons is another guy that could be on the fence in terms of signing an actual contract with the big club. The Buffalo first-rounder and Vermont commit has already been working out on campus, but if the Sabres come with a contract in hand, things could get interesting. Girgensons could probably hold his own at the AHL level, where the Sabres have Ron Rolston, who was hired primarily due to his track record of developing players at the NTDP. If the Sabres sign Girgensons, they can get him into the training camp and see how he stacks up against the guys in their system. Physically, he looks ready. It’s just going to be a matter of adjusting to the pace of the game. The USHL to the NHL seems like an impossible gap, and even to the AHL seems rather lofty, but there were some grumblings Buffalo might try to get him under their watchful eyes sooner than later.

USHL Images

Michael Matheson was picked up by the Florida Panthers and is committed to Boston College. With where Matheson is headed, don’t expect the Panthers to push him in any direction. Matheson is likely a longer-term prospect where the Panthers are in no need to rush his development. His rights are owned in the QMJHL by the Moncton Wildcats, who have been hard after Matheson for some time and apparently met with him during the Memorial Cup. Wildcats GM Danny Flynn called the pursuit of Matheson a “work in progress” which is usually CHL GM speak for, “it’s not going anywhere.” Without the Panthers pushing Matheson to the Q, I would not anticipate him walking out on BC.

Flames surprise first-rounder Mark Jankowski still has plans to go to Dubuque in the USHL next year before heading to Providence in 2013-14. His rights are owned by the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL, but it sounds as though the Flames are content to let their risky pick develop at his own pace. Providence head coach Nate Leaman has said he believes Jankowski is ready for college next year and there’s a spot if he wants it for 2012-13, but also said he will leave that decision up to the Flames and Jankowski’s family. Leaman knows how much can change in a year and that the sooner his prized recruit is on campus, the better. Nonetheless, he is doing the right thing by leaving it up to the player. No one can determine a player’s comfort level for where he’s at better than the player.

Outside of the first round, there are a few intriguing prospects who will have some decisions to make.

The CHL held its annual Import Draft Wednesday and there was one name on there were a few names on there that could have college hockey implications.

Shattuck-St. Mary’s

Teddy Blueger of Shattuck-St. Mary’s is Latvian and committed to Minnesota State Mankato for next year. He was a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. However, he was also selected 43rd overall by the Oshawa Generals in the import draft Wednesday. It could have been just a shot-in-the dark pick from Oshawa, who already has Nicklas Jensen and Sebastian Uvira taking up its two import slots on the roster currently. Though Oshawa already has a pair of import picks on its roster, it appears that it’s NHL or Sweden for Oshawa’s Nicklas Jensen, so there would be a spot if Blueger wants it (h/t to Bruce and Lucas for correction). The Pens haven’t been known to push kids one way or another. However, Mankato isn’t a high-profile prospect producer despite boasting David Backes and Ryan Carter among its NHL alumni. New Mavericks coach Mike Hastings is no stranger to developmental hockey though as a former USHL head coach, but now he’s got his first major recruiting battle to deal with. Blueger is a blue-chip prospect, especially for a team like Minnesota State Mankato. Up until Oshawa picked Blueger, all seemed well. Now there’s at least a seed of doubt planted.

After the import draft, the Plymouth Whalers announced they had acquired NTDP defenseman and Michigan-commit Connor Carrick from Guelph in exchange for a sixth round pick. More accurately, they had required his rights. Carrick was selected 137th overall by Washington in the NHL Draft. This seemed like one of those low-risk, high-reward trades that sometimes pays off for an OHL club, without giving up much. That said, I would not anticipate Carrick walking out on Michigan. Being traded to Plymouth merely makes the CHL option seem a little bit less outlandish for the player. He’s a native of Orland Park, Ill., so the distance from home is a wash. As a fifth-round pick, the Caps have no need to rush Carrick and Caps GM George McPhee was a four-year college player at Bowling Green. Not sure this one’s happening. UPDATE: Turns out, the low risk paid off for Plymouth. According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Connor Carrick will forgo his commitment to Michigan and sign with Plymouth. Based on what I wrote yesterday, this is somewhat of a surprise. It just goes to show you how much things can change and how quickly after a player is drafted. Carrick will join fellow Caps draft pick Thomas Wilson in Plymouth and might have made the move in search of more guaranteed ice time. Michigan’s D corps graduated only one senior and may have been tough for the true freshman to crack. This is the third consecutive year Michigan has lost a high-profile recruit from the NTDP to the OHL.

Photo: Brian Watts – OJHL

Devin Shore is another guy who is a likely target of the OHL after being selected in the second round by the Dallas Stars. The Barrie Colts own his OHL rights, but he is committed to the University of Maine. With Cornell-alum Joe Nieuwendyk at the helm for Dallas, I don’t anticipate Shore being pushed in any direction. He’s a bit of a late-bloomer in terms of his development and has received a lot of attention. Sometimes that changes the way a prospect views himself developmentally. Shore would be walking into a situation in which he’d be looked to to contribute immediately for Maine, so we’ll see if there’s any change in his thought process.

Another second-rounder with college ties is current Michigan forward Phil Di Giuseppe, who went to Carolina 38th overall. I didn’t think there was much risk involved with the man affectionately known by Michigan fans as PDG, however a recent report from The Wolverine handicaps Di Giuseppe’s return to school at 50 percent. Di Guiseppe’s rights have been traded to the Windsor Spitfires, which has had success luring prospects away including former Michigan commit Jack Campbell and most recently, Pat Sieloff from Miami. Could be a bumpy ride for Wolverine fans.

Here are a few guys that weren’t drafted this year that college hockey fans will want to keep an eye on:

Alex Broadhurst, a 2011 seventh-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks and Nebraska-Omaha commit Alex Broadhurst was selected by the London Knights in the OHL’s priority Draft 29th overall. Reports that Broadhurst had failed to attain academic eligibility to play at UNO next year preceded the selection, so when he was picked everyone assumed Broadhurst was London-bound. Well, he hasn’t signed yet, however Dale Hunter said the 19-year-old forward will be a Knight next year. I’ve heard that Broadhurst’s mother would prefer he go to school, which would require him to play one more year in the USHL. Seventh-round picks are hardly a sure thing, and the fact that he’d only be able to get a max of two seasons, including one as an over-ager in london, leaves little room for error. Until he signs on the dotted line in London, anything can happen yet. [UPDATE] After initially publishing this post, I was informed by a source with knowledge of the situation that Broadhurst will be headed to London, it just isn’t official yet.

NTDP

Speaking of the Knights, London traded for 2013 Draft-eligible forward Michael McCarron after the Import Draft. The Knights acquired the soon-to-be NTDP U18 forward’s rights from Belleville for London’s 5th round pick in 2015 & 3 conditional (contingent on McCarron playing for London) 2nd round picks in 2015, 2017 and 2018 (per Sunaya Sapurji). McCarron is a big, raw forward at 6-5, 220 pounds and withdrew his commitment from Michigan State earlier in the year before giving a verbal to Cornell University. McCarron’s older brother, John, a sixth-round selection by Edmonton in the 2012 Draft, will be a sophomore at Cornell next year, so there’s that. An NTDP source confirmed to me McCarron will be back next season in Ann Arbor. Where he goes after that remains to be seen.

Tyler Biggs left Miami University earlier in the off-season, but has yet to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s been nothing more than speculation about what he will do, but most signs point to him playing for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL next year.

Additionally, there is Boston University 2014-15 commit Jack Eichel who was selected by the Halifax Mooseheads in the first round of the QMJHL Draft. Eichel has already signed an agreement to play the next two seasons at the NTDP, however that’s irrelevant to Halifax GM Cam Russell. Halifax has open lines of communication with the family, but sources close to Eichel have told me he’ll be in Ann Arbor come fall. Halifax is going to be making an honest run to the Memorial Cup next season with potential No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon and a pretty strong roster. This could be an annual battle, but I’d expect to see Eichel fulfill the two years at the NTDP. At that point, Halifax may become less attractive an option once MacKinnon is gone. That’s what BU will have to hope anyway.

Slightly unrelated, but still connected to this topic: Swedish defenseman Rasumus Bengtsson, who played last season with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks and 1995-born German forward Frederik Tiffels, Muskegon’s second-round pick in the USHL Entry Draft, were selected by WHL teams in the CHL Import Draft. Plenty of European players join the college ranks, and Tiffels has expressed interest in playing NCAA hockey, but there’s a lot of other factors at play yet. Muskegon owner and GM Josh Mervis didn’t appear impressed with a couple of his guys getting picked, tweeting this: “Evidently the Western League believes in wasting import draft picks.”

Ah yes, the CHL vs. NCAA/USHL rivalry is alive and well. A lot can happen in the coming weeks. As always, I’ll try to stay on top of it.

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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.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL Draft, NTDP, USA Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to NCAA vs. CHL: Will This be Another Summer of Broken Commitments?

  1. Bruce Peter says:

    Nicklas Jensen isn’t going back to the OHL at all. His agent has said he’s working out a deal in the Elitserien if Jensen doesn’t crack Vancouver in training camp. So there is a spot open in Oshawa for Blugers.

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