NCAA: NHL Teams Find Success with College Players

By Christa Moore

The buzz around so many NCAA players is a contributing
factor as to why this year’s NHL entry draft is thought to be so deep. This
year’s crop has a player to meet every team’s needs. For scoring there is Thomas
Vanek
(Minn) or Zach Parise (N Dakota). On defense there’s rugged
d-man Mark Stuart (CC) and in goal James Howard (Maine). Guys like
Dany Heatley (Wisc) and Chris Drury  (BU) have paved the way
for others to take the college rout and still get plenty of attention from NHL
scouts.  No longer are college
players thought of as a risk or a player who wasn’t good enough to play in the
CHL. Even phenom Sidney Crosby was rumored to be considering the college path.
So which teams might look past the OHL scoring leader or the French Canadian
goalie and go with a clutch college guy? Here’s a look at a few teams who have
had past and present success with NCAA players.

Calgary: The Flames most recent draft
includes first round pick Eric Nystrom (U of Mich) and late round pick Curtis
McElhinney
(CC). However this hardly tells the whole story. Over the past
year and a half the Flames transactions have created a stockpile of as many
Hobey Baker winners as were available.  Starting
with the signing of Jordan Leopold (Minn) they also added Chris
Drury
(BU) and Mike Mottau (BC). Past big name NCAA draftees include Joe
Nieuwendyk
(Cornell) and Brett Hull (Duluth).

Colorado: Drafting Chris Drury and Dan Hinote
(Army) are old news for this team. Many of the leaders in this year’s NCAA
season, have the words “Property of the Colorado Avalanche” next to their
name. Guys like John-Michael Liles (Mich St), Sean Collins (N Hamp),
Frantisk Skladany (BU), and Tom Gilbert (Wisc) have all
made their marks this year. Bowling Green alumni seem to be a favorite of the
Avs. Former Falcons Rob Blake and Greg deVries have paved the way
for Avs prospect Taylor Christie
to follow the tradition of d-men that find their way from Bowling Green to the
Mile High City.

New Jersey: Just down the road is plenty of Hockey
East talent to scout but the Devils have drafted and signed free agents from
every corner of the NCAA world. The past three years include Barry Tallackson
(Minn), David Hale (U of N Dakota), Paul Martin (Minn), Jason
Ryznar
(U of Mich), and Matt DeMarchi (Minn). As mentioned above,
taking a chance on Brian Gionta (BC) and signing free agents John
Madden
(U of Mich) and Brian Rafalski(Wisc) have been a huge factor
in their playoff success over the last several seasons.

Montreal: Recently, the Habs have tuned into college
players. Names like recently signed Chris Higgins (Yale), Ron Hainsey
(U Mass Lowell), and Mike Komisarek (U of Mich) are set to make their
mark with this original six team in the near future.

Anaheim: Drafting Paul Kariya (Maine) was a
no brainer and maybe letting go of Jordan Leopold (U. Minn) wasn’t the
best move. However picking up free agent Jason Krog (N. Hamp) without
giving up anything is just one of the many impressive move the Ducks have made
to make other teams realize that this year’s unreal run was more than just a
fluke.

St. Louis: High scoring AHL star John Pohl (Minn)
who was one member of Team USA  who
turned a strong performance in Finland, is ready to make the jump to the NHL
next year. The Blues have a large collection of NCAA players from the Midwest
and west that consistently fill out their farm club the Worcester Ice Cats. The
Blues blew into Colorado on the last day of the regular season to briefly
distract Peter Sejna (CC) from his studies with a free agent contract.
Sejna made it to Denver for the last regular season game of the year to score
the last regular season goal to ever get past Patrick Roy and then returned to
school the next day to finish his studies. After a brief stop in Buffalo to pick
up his Hobey Baker award Sejna returned home to join in tournament play for Team
Slovakia. Quite a start for this for this previously unnoticed and undrafted
player. Even though  the Blues had a
disappointing post season, Lake Superior State alumni Doug Weight fired away 5
power play goals in just 7 games. 

Edmonton: GM Kevin Lowe has often been spotted at
college rinks getting some hands on work in scouting. Recently traded Anson
Carter
(U of Mich), hometown favorite Mike Comrie (U of Mich) and Mike
Grier
(BU) have all put in time with the gritty heart and soul team either
as draftees or in trades. Many NCAA players skate on Olympic size ice which
conditions them to keep up with the speedy Oilers and their legendary sheet of
frozen water. Future prospects include Matt Greene (N Dakota), Glenn
Fischer
(DU) and Brad Winchester (Wisc).