The summer months are usually pretty quiet on the college hockey front. Usually if there’s any news, it isn’t good. There’s been more of a mix over the last few weeks. So to get caught up with the latest, it’s time for a rare summer edition of the College Hockey Roundup.
Among the big topics, as so often during the summer, is departures to the CHL. Over the last week, three recruits and one current player have revealed their intentions to play in various CHL leagues, but no program was hit harder than Western Michigan, which suffered two fairly sizable losses in the last week.
In better news, I’ll have a look at the NHL Draft and why some teams are leaning more favorably towards college players, the NCHC’s TV schedule for inaugural season and some recruiting news.
All of that after the jump…
More NHL Teams Going Heavy on College-Bound Players in Draft
Coming out of the NHL Entry Draft this year, it was starting to become apparent that some teams were skewing a little more heavily toward drafting college and/or European players in the middle rounds.
Due to some of the slightly altered rules in the CBA, more NHL teams are seeming to adjust their strategies when it comes to the Entry Draft and it could be to the benefit of college-bound players, as well as the colleges they’re going to.
The Buffalo Sabres were among the teams that went heavy on college-eligible players. Sabres scouting director Kevin Devine explained to Bill Hoppe why five of the 11 players selected are going the college route.
“With so many picks and our contract situation, you don’t want to waste those picks because their contracts all come up at the same time,” amateur scouting director Kevin Devine explained Sunday on the Prudential Center floor after the Sabres finished picking. “We wouldn’t be able to sign three or four of them. So that was a plan. We looked at the college route and Europeans for the new CBA, which now gives us four years for those guys over there.”
The Sabres had accrued several extra picks in trades and since a college player’s draft rights don’t change as long as he remains a “bonafide college student” by the NHL collective bargaining agreement’s definition. That gives a lot of teams flexibility in terms of how they’ll award one of the 50 contracts they are limited to within the organization.
Buffalo picked J.T. Compher (Michigan), Connor Hurley (Notre Dame), Cal Petersen (Notre Dame), Anthony Florentino (Providence) and Sean Malone (Harvard) in 2013.
When a team drafts a CHL player, there’s slightly less wiggle room, with having to sign a player to his ELC by age 20 at the latest. So NHL teams can buy an extra few years to evaluate college players, if they’re not ready for a contract at age 18, 19, 20, 21 or, in some cases, older. As long as that player stays in school for the full four years, that team will retain his exclusive negotiating rights.
There were several teams that seemed to subscribe to a heavier-than-normal skew towards college players this year.
These picks are being made particularly in the second through seventh round as opposed to the first, which is fine. The only college-bound player taken in the first round this year was Michael McCarron, who promptly signed a contract with Montreal and will play in the OHL next year.
Pittsburgh is one of the other teams that zeroed in heavily on college prospects in 2013, with five of its six picks headed to college campuses in the near future.
The picks included Jake Guentzel (Nebraska-Omaha), Ryan Segalla (UConn), Dane Birks (Michigan Tech) Blaine Byron (Maine) and Troy Josephs (Clarkson).
The Chicago Blackhawks also went heavy on college players for similar reasons. Every player Chicago drafted with the exception of first-rounder Ryan Hartman, of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, was an American headed to college or a Swedish player.
Starting in the third round, the Blackhawks took John Hayden (Yale), Tyler Motte (Michigan), Luke Johnson (North Dakota) and Anthony Louis (Miami) this year with four of their eight picks. Chicago picked a total of five Americans and four Swedes.
The rules for signing European players are slightly different now. They are actually a lot more similar to the rules for signing college players, which helps teams that are operating under a contract crunch and likely a big reason Chicago went that direction with a loaded prospect pool.
Florida was another team that went heavy on college-bound players in the middle portion of the draft. With a lot of quality young prospects, Florida is going to have a lot of players due contracts in the near future, so planning for the long term makes a lot of sense.
The Panthers used the first pick of the second round on Ian McCoshen (Boston College), while all three of its fourth-rounders went to college-bound players, Evan Cowley (Denver), Michael Downing (Michigan) and Matt Buckles (Cornell).
The Minnesota Wild also spent more than half of its picks on college guys, with its first selection of the draft (46th overall) used on future Colorado College defenseman Gustav Olofsson. The Wild also picked up Carson Soucy (Minnesota Duluth), Avery Peterson (uncommitted) and Nolan De Jong (Michigan).
The one thing that is important to note is that the teams above all have pretty solid prospect pools. These teams can afford to build out the depth and therefore have more protection to take chances on longer-range prospects. This isn’t a strategy that will be utilized annually, but it’s one that is of great benefit to teams that have typically drafted well at the top. That’s a good thing for college hockey as well.
Teams feel less pressure to speed up the development process of later-round draft picks unless there’s a dramatic bump in that prospect’s play in a given year. So not only do they draft players that are going to college. They’re drafting guys they want to stay there for more than a few years.
Outside of the contract benefits, the teams get more evaluation time to make the right decision on whether or not to spend one of its 50 contracts on its mid-round draft pick. Some guys will be ready sooner than others, which may cause a team to sign a guy before his four years in college is up, as is regularly the case. However, unless a team really feels a certain player is ready for a new developmental challenge, they can just let him stay where he is. That bodes well for schools hoping to hang onto guys for three to four years.
This also offers teams at least a few years of essentially free development. The college players can still go to rookie camps for some hands-on time with their pro team, but then they go off, unpaid, to their college teams and get top of the line weight training and quality competition for however many years they are there. That’s pretty nice.
This increasingly prevalent strategy is also another reason that “tweener” prospects, guys that really could go either way on a pro future, might benefit from choosing the college route.
You look at a guy like Anthony Louis, who Chicago selected in the sixth round. He’s 5-6, 145 pounds. The fact that he’s going to college makes him a more manageable risk for Chicago. They know he can go to Miami, play all four years, and if he’s added some muscle, continued to expand on his already solid base of skills and shows the ability to produce against bigger, stronger guys, he’s more likely to earn a contract.
This is good news for college hockey and to see it put into practice this past draft might bring some comfort to coaches. There’s still going to be a number of the higher-end players that have college in mind choose major junior, but college teams are beginning to find ways to have success without those elite prospects.
It’s better to have teams that will have older players. If these schools can hang on to more of their drafted prospects for longer, it should only help.
Western Michigan’s Unfortunate Week
The Broncos were hit fairly hard last week by a pair of departures that definitely dampen the outlook on its first season in the fledgling National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The week started with the loss of top recruit Michael McCarron, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens and joined the OHL’s London Knights. It ended with would-be junior defenseman Garrett Haar being released from the program, or leaving the program (depending on who you ask). Haar, who will turn 20 in August, is expected to play in the WHL, most likely with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Haar would have been lost for at least the first half of the season anyway at WMU after he was suspended for “academic and internal reasons.”
The team then announced Friday it was releasing Haar.
“Garrett has not lived up to his commitment to his academics and his Bronco hockey teammates and we have decided to part ways with him,” head coach Andy Murray said in a released statement.
That same day, however, Haar tweeted the following…
Have decided to leave Western Michigan and go play in the WHL. Medicine Hat tigers seems to be my destination but still not sure. #fresh
— Garrett Haar (@HaarDaddy4) July 12, 2013
I did not get kicked off Western Michigan , this was my decision #layoff
— Garrett Haar (@HaarDaddy4) July 12, 2013
So… That’s interesting.
After the announcement, Murray spoke with David Drew of the Kalamazoo Gazette. Among the revelations from that conversation, Murray explained that “issues of integrity” also led to the program’s dismissal of the player.
“First of all, I want to say we tried real hard with Garrett to help him,” Murray said. “We gave him every bit of academic assistance we could, including having people walk him to class, tutors and everything we could do, but you have to be committed to it and unfortunately he wasn’t.
“There were issues of integrity between the coaches and his teammates that were not at an acceptable level.”
Murray, who was a Jack Adams Award finalist as head coach of the St. Louis Blues in 2008-09, said he met with Haar more than any player he’s coached in more than 20 years in the profession. It sounds like there was quite a bit of effort to work things out, but Haar’s WMU career is coming to a rather unsavory end.
Capitals GM, George McPhee weighed in on the Haar situation with the Washington Post:
“He was really well coached at Western but it didn’t work out academically so he’s going to go play junior,” McPhee said Saturday. “That won’t hurt, that will be good for his development.”
Haar is “not as far along as we had hoped but I think this is going to be really good for him, to play a lot of games at the junior level,” McPhee said. “If you’re not a great student and things aren’t going to go well in college it’s ok to go play junior. If that’s your dream to develop as best you can to try and be a national leaguer. I don’t really think you can go wrong in either place. They both have their pluses and minuses and you have to decide on a case-by-case basis what’s best for a player.”
McPhee, who starred at Bowling Green in his college years, has a point for sure. College isn’t for everyone and it appears it wasn’t for Haar.
So whether the team dismissed him or he decided to leave, Haar is not going to be playing for the Broncos. Nor will McCarron. So WMU has to push forward without both.
Harr leaves a hole on the blue line, while McCarron could be replaced by a player WMU hadn’t really planned on bringing in this soon. Sometimes that can work out OK for a team (Notre Dame’s T.J. Tynan would be one of the good examples).
The Broncos also lost top defenseman Danny DeKeyser a year early when he signed a free agent deal with the Red Wings at the end of last season. Not to mention losses of senior players like leading scorer Dane Walters and defensive defenseman Luke Witkowski.
After narrowly missing the national tournament last season, it looks like the Broncos window of competitiveness may be closed temporarily. The recruiting class is good, but not having McCarron makes it a little closer to average. It seems somewhat like a rebuilding year.
The good news for WMU, is following Jeff Blashill’s turnaround job as head coach, Andy Murray is taking the program into new territory. Next year might be a bit of a tougher go, but there’s still better days ahead. What a really awful week, though.
NCHC TV Schedule
The NCHC and CBS Sports Network announced the 18-game slate for the conference’s inaugural season. The full schedule can be found here.
CBSSN will air the first NCHC game ever with North Dakota traveling to Miami on Oct. 18. It will be part of a doubleheader with Minnesota Duluth at Colorado College.
There are also two non-conference games to be aired live, as well as the conference tournament semifinals and championship game from the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The Big Ten Network and NBC Sports Network will also be carrying a lot of college hockey as well next season. We’ll see how all of the schedules stack up against each other.
The NCHC is also launching a new website August 1. They’re pretty excited about it, with a countdown and everything. They’ve partnered with Sport Ngin for the site, the same company that is in the process of overhauling USA Hockey’s web presence (in a very positive manner).
Recruiting news — Labanc to the OHL, UND picks up big Canadian commit
– In last week’s post about college decommitments, I forgot to add Kevin Labanc to the list. The now former Notre Dame recruit, who spent the last two seasons at the National Team Development Program, signed with the Barrie Colts.
According to Western College Hockey, Labanc’s scholarship offer was pulled due to academics. The 2014 NHL Draft eligible was expected to head to Notre Dame in 2014-15, as he is a late 1995 birth year. The fact that his offer was pulled obviously made this an easier decision, I’m sure.
Labanc could have gone for a third year in the USHL, like NTDP teammate and New Hampshire recruit Shane Eiserman appears to be doing, but like so many late birth-years, he’s off to the CHL.
Players with later birthdates often have a tougher decision to make than their peers. For a lot, they think the CHL provides a better showcase in their draft season. That sometimes may be true. It certainly presents a challenge to colleges when recruiting higher-end late birthdate players.
The Labanc issue may be a bit different due to the reported academics angle, but it is increasingly common to see players with another year of high school left making a decision like this.
— One thing that usually doesn’t get enough press is when a big-time Canadian player chooses the college route as opposed to going to the CHL. This may be happening in 2014-15 as Ryan Gropp, a former sixth overall pick in the WHL bantam draft, recently gave his verbal commitment to North Dakota.
The 1996-born player is generating a fair amount of buzz in the BCHL, and he’ll be attending Canada’s camp for its Ivan Hlinka team. He was born one day after the cutoff for next year’s draft, so he will be a 2015 eligible, which is why I don’t know that it’s time for college hockey to celebrate.
Until Gropp makes it to campus, there’s always that potential he could change his mind. His rights are still owned by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
On the encouraging side, however, this is what he told Buzzing the Net:
“I reviewed all of my options and decided the NCAA route was the best option for me,” says Gropp. “To get all of my education paid for is very important to me. It’s something I can use past my hockey career and the school is a great school.”
At this point, he is expected to be a high pick in 2015. If Gropp does make it to North Dakota, it would be considered a big win for college hockey in the NCAA-CHL recruiting battle.