Since 1997, the number of NCAA players drafted by and/or signed by NHL teams per year has grown, and has now surpassed 400 during that time period. It is a testament to the quality of talent that the NCAA is attracting each year.
The current NHL has many great players who are former NCAA players…and then there’s Dany Heatley.
Since 1997, no player from the NCAA ranks has had a bigger impact on the either the NHL or his team as Dany Heatley has. The Atlanta Thrashers selection (drafted 2nd overall in 2000) of the former University of Wisconsin left wing made an immediate impact on the Thrashers and had such an impressive rookie season that he captured the NHL’s Calder Trophy over fellow Thrasher right wing Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001-02.
MAKING THE GRADE
Below is a review of every team in the NHL on how well they’ve done drafting NCAA talent since 1997. Each NHL team is given a grade based on the following criteria: the number of quality drafted players from the NCAA ranks, the development/success of these players (both collegiately and professionally, regardless of whether or not they are still property of their drafting team) and the expected future of these prospects. Not included in the grading system are NCAA players signed having never been drafted (free agents), nor comparisons to players drafted from either the Canadian Major Junior or European leagues.
Included is a pick for the “best player drafted” (during the inclusive years of this article) for each team. These are players who will likely have the most significant long term impact both on their NHL team and/or on the NHL. These are not necessarily the players who’ve enjoyed the most success in the NHL thus far. Some are currently in the NHL, while others are either in the minor pros, still in college and in some cases, have yet to make their collegiate debut. An important point to remember is that many of NCAA players were drafted prior to the start of their collegiate careers, due to a recent change in draft rules.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Defenseman Paul Martin
(drafted in 2000, 62nd Overall – University of Minnesota)
Since 1997, no team has drafted NCAA players better than the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have not only dipped heavily into the NCAA ranks, but they have drafted some of the most talented players to play in the NCAA. While past draft choices such as goaltender Scott Clemmensen (drafted in 1997, 215th overall – Boston College), right wing Brian Gionta (drafted in 1998, 82nd overall – Boston College) and defenseman Mike Commodore (drafted in 1999, 42nd overall – University of North Dakota) have already made their NHL debut, arguably their best NCAA prospects have yet to experience the NHL.
Three recently signed defensemen from the Devils 2000 Entry Draft could be on their blueline in the not-so-distant future: the aggressive and physical David Hale (drafted 22nd Overall out of the University of North Dakota) and two now-former members of the defending National Champion, Minnesota Golden Gophers: gritty Matt DeMarchi (drafted 57th Overall) and Paul Martin, who is already drawing some comparisons to current Devils blueliner, Scott Niedermayer. However, the arguably the best of the yet-to-come prospects is also the player some consider as one of the steals in the 2003 Entry Draft, the immensely gifted and versatile center Zach Parise (drafted 17th Overall – University of North Dakota).
Defenseman Paul Martin is chosen over Parise as the best drafted player for the Devils because Martin will likely be more of a factor in the Devils overall future success. Needless to say this was a very difficult choice to make, because Parise could be equally as successful.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Defenseman Brooks Orpik (drafted in 2000, 18th overall – Boston College)
Since 1997, no NHL team has done a better job at drafting NCAA defensemen than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their NCAA Draft class of 2001 was exceptional. It yielded three of the best current NCAA players: diminutive, high scoring center Ben Eaves (drafted 131th overall – Boston College) and two excellent defensemen in the versatile Noah Welch (drafted 54th overall – Harvard University) and the gritty, offensively talented Andy Schneider (drafted 156th overall – University of North Dakota). A common theme among the Pens recent (since 2000) NCAA defensemen prospects is size. The smallest of their excellent crop of defensemen is Andy Schneider (6’1/215).
Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has played two seasons with Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL), could see full time duty in Pittsburgh this season. In addition to his size (6’3/230), he brings a physical game and mean streak, and has shown that he’s got some offensive skills to go with the size and aggressiveness.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Left wing Dany Heatley
(drafted in 2000, 2nd Overall – University of Wisconsin)
Where the Thrashers have done an excellent job with their NCAA drafting is at the forward positions. In the 2000 Entry Draft, the team knew they had a winner in the University of Wisconsin Badger left wing Dany Heatley. What they may not have known at the time is how quickly he would take them and the NHL by storm. Heatley successfully made the jump to the NHL after two stellar years at Wisconsin, compiling an impressive 113 Points (52G, 61A) in that time.
While Heatley has already paid massive dividends for the Thrashers, they could see more success in the future coming from their NCAA prospects. One example is the imposing right wing Stephen Baby (drafted in1999, 188th overall – Cornell University). The 6’5/235 Baby (pronounced BAH-bee) just completed a stellar collegiate career at Cornell where he compiled a respectable 115 points (29G, 86A) along with racking up 201 penalty minutes. He led the Big Red in assists last season (33) and finished second on the team in scoring with 41 points (8G, 33A). He will likely spend the season with Thrashers AHL farm club.
Among the other excellent draft selections in the Thrashers arsenal include great two-way center Jim Slater (drafted in 2002, 30th overall – Michigan State University), excellent two-way forward Colin Stuart (drafted in 2001, 135th overall – Colorado College), and terrific two-way defenseman Jeff Dwyer (drafted in 2000, 178th overall – Yale University).
LOS ANGELES KINGS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center Michael Cammelleri (drafted in 2001, 49th Overall – University of Michigan)
In recent years, part of the Los Angeles Kings success can be attributed to their NCAA prospects, and that will likely continue. Two forwards with explosive offensive abilities from the great University of Michigan program could be cornerstones of the Kings future. Center Michael Cammelleri and left wing Jeff Tambellini (drafted in 2003, 27th overall) are both blessed with immense talent.
Another aspect of the Kings superb drafting is finding talented players whose abilities tend to be underrated or in some cases simply overlooked. The hard-hitting Colorado College defenseman Richard Petiot (drafted in 2001, 116th overall) is an excellent example. Petiot, who will be a sophomore this fall, had an outstanding freshman campaign. While he led the Tigers in PIMs with 86, it was his overall hard work on the ice that is more noteworthy.
Among other notable college prospects include dependable right wing Connor James (drafted in 2002, 279th overall – University of Denver), talented ECAC goaltender Nathan Marsters (drafted in 2000. 165th overall – RPI) and the competitive and hard-working center Dave Steckel (drafted in 2001, 30th overall – Ohio State University).
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center Andy Hilbert (drafted in 2000, 37th Overall – University of Michigan)
Being in one of America’s hockey hotbeds, it should come as no surprise that the Bruins have drafted heavily and with great success from the NCAA ranks. The team has had the most success with their NCAA prospects at the NHL level thus far among all teams. Five players among their draftees since 1997 have already made their NHL debuts: winger Ben Clymer (drafted in 1997, 27th overall – University of Minnesota), left wing Antti Laaksonen (drafted in 1997, 191st overall – University of Denver), right wing Lee Goren (drafted in 1997, 63rd overall – University of North Dakota), center Andy Hilbert (drafted in 2000, 37th overall – University of Michigan) and defenseman Bobby Allen (drafted in1998, 52nd overall – Boston College). Of all the aforementioned players, only Andy Hilbert remains as Bruins property.
Also of note are two excellent netminders that could be in a Bruins uniform in the future. The Espoo, Finland native Matti Kaltaianen (drafted in 2001, 111th Overall – Boston College), helped lead the Golden Eagles to a first place tie in points in Hockey East with UNH, as well as earning the ITECH Hockey East Goaltender of the Year honors. The clutch Jordan Sigalet (drafted in 2001, 209th overall – Bowling Green State University) enters his junior year at BGSU having never had a save percentage lower than .900 in his collegiate career thus far.
Another key player will be defenseman Mark Stuart of Colorado College (drafted in 2003, 21st overall).
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center Mike Comrie (drafted in1999, 91st Overall – University of Michigan)
Of all the Canadian-based NHL teams, the Edmonton Oilers have drafted the best out of the NCAA ranks. They have several now former NCAA players on their current roster, although they didn’t select them all themselves. Among the now-former NCAA players on the roster are center Mike Comrie and former Michigan State University standouts center Shawn Horcoff (drafted in 1998, 99th overall) and left wing Mike York. One prospect who will make his professional debut this fall is the recently graduated left wing Brad Winchester (drafted in 2000, 35th Overall – University of Wisconsin). The 6’5/208 Winchester, despite a poor senior year, finishes his collegiate career with 84 points (40G, 44A), and could be a future answer to the Oilers need for size at center.
Two very different defensemen who could also be in the Oilers future plans is rough and tough Matt Greene (drafted in 2002, 44th overall –University of North Dakota) and the versatile Kenny Smith (drafted in 2001, 84th overall – Harvard University). The 6’3/224 Matt Greene led both the Fighting Sioux and the WCHA in penalty minutes last season with 135. Kenny Smith comes off an excellent junior year posting a respectable 15 points (4G, 11A) and leading one of the top defensive teams in the nation last year. He’s been named Harvard’s team captain for the upcoming season.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Defenseman Jim Fahey (drafted in 1998, 212th Overall – Northeastern University)
Like the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sharks have proven a knack for excellence in drafting among the NCAA ranks in the area of defense. Two very talented defensemen, Jeff Jillson (drafted in 1999,14th overall – University of Michigan) and Jim Fahey, have already seen time in the NHL. One who will make his professional debut this fall is the recently graduated tough defenseman Doug Murray (drafted in 1999, 241st overall – Cornell University). Among other defensemen whom Sharks fans could look forward to possibly seeing: the talented Dan Spang (drafted in 2002, 52nd Overall – Boston University), and former River City Lancers (USHL) standout Matthew Carle (drafted in 2003, 47th overall), who will make his collegiate debut this fall at the University of Denver.
As far as forwards are concerned, the Sharks have done a very good job drafting there as well. While Sharks fans have already witnessed the talents of right wing Niko Dimitrakos (drafted in 1999, 155th overall – University of Maine), another former Hockey East player could also be in the Sharks lineup in the future is the offensively gifted and hockey smart right wing Jon DiSalvatore (drafted in 2000, 104th overall – Providence College). He led the Friars in scoring last season with 48 points (19G, 28A). DiSalvatore, a recent graduate, finished his stellar collegiate career at Providence with an impressive 141 points (59G, 82A).
NEW YORK RANGERS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center Mike York (drafted in1997, 136th overall – Michigan State University)
Many identify the New York Rangers with their exorbitantly high payroll. What many may not know is how well they have drafted from the NCAA ranks in recent years. The most notable is former Michigan State University standout, left wing Mike York (drafted in 1997, 136th overall). While he is no longer with New York, Rangers fans can look forward to many other NCAA prospects soon. One of them is the 6’4/208 phenom, right wing Hugh Jessiman (drafted in 2003, 10th overall – Dartmouth College). Jessiman had an outstanding freshman year last season led the Big Green in goals (23) and was second on the team in overall points (47).
Another youngster that Rangers fans may want to keep an eye on is University of Nebraska-Omaha incoming freshman, goaltender Chris Holt (drafted in 2003 – 180th Overall). A very talented young netminder, Holt finished his career with the USNTDP (US National Team Development Program) with a stellar .905 save percentage. Holt could earn a starting job with the Mavericks as early as later this coming season, with the departure of Dan Ellis, who recently signed with the Dallas Stars.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Forward Colin Hemingway (drafted in 1999, 221st overall – University of New Hampshire)
The Blues have made great strides in scouting and drafting from the NCAA ranks. The quality of talent drafted from the NCAA has gotten better with each year. As a result, the Blues have seen the success of several of their collegiate prospects and could look forward to seeing more of them in the future.
Many Blues prospects are players who are not necessarily the highest, but are arguably the most consistent scorers. Two such examples are dependable and clutch forward Colin Hemingway and right wing Lee Stempniak (drafted in 2003, 148th overall – Dartmouth College). Hemingway was arguably the Wildcats’ MVP (along with netminder Mike Ayres) last season particularly during the Frozen Four Tournament. An excellent two-way forward, he ranked second among all Wildcats players in scoring with 47 points (22G, 25A). Hemingway’s 11 power play goals ranked him 10th in the nation while his four game winning goals ranked him second in the nation. Lee Stempniak was a part of one of the most potent and exciting lines to watch in the ECAC last season. He led the Big Green in points (49), assists (28), and power play goals (8), and never went more than two games all season without scoring a goal.
Other excellent offensive players that Blues fans should keep on eye are speedy forward Troy Riddle (drafted in 2000, 129th overall – University of Minnesota) and talented right wing Ryan MacMurchy (drafted in 2002, 284th overall – University of Wisconsin).
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Right wing Brandon Bochenski (drafted in 2001, 223rd Overall – University of North Dakota)
Many in the hockey world consider the Ottawa Senators to be one of the best teams when it comes to drafting and developing their players. Their work within the NCAA is no different.
One player who could be in their future is offensively strong right wing Brandon Bochenski. Bochenski, who had an outstanding 2002-03 season, led the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux in scoring with 62 points (35G, 27A). Two other talented players who could also be in the Senators future are dependable center Grant Potulny (drafted in 2000, 157th Overall – University of Minnesota) and feisty right wing Patrick Eaves (drafted in 2003, 29th overall – Boston College). Potulny helped lead the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to back-to-back national titles. Despite an injury-plagued last season, Potulny still managed to put up very good numbers with 23 points (15G, 8A). Eaves, like Potulny, missed a significant portion of last season with an injury but still managed to put up respectable numbers (10G, 8A – 18 points in 14 games). Eaves will also be remembered for the collision with Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter in a game that took place on March 7, 2003 seriously injured Exter.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center Ryan Kesler (drafted in 2003, 23rd overall – Ohio State University)
Another Canadian-based team that has drafted heavily from the NCAA ranks in recent years is the Vancouver Canucks. Like the St. Louis Blues, the Vancoucer Canucks drafting from the NCAA ranks has improved over time. Their best NCAA prospects have all yet to make their professional debuts. Two players whose debuts are anxiously awaited are a pair of superb forwards from Ohio State University: offensively gifted center R. J. Umberger (drafted in 2001, 16th overall) and multi-talented center Ryan Kesler, who recently left OSU to sign with the Canucks. Former linemates at OSU, Umberger and Kesler finished first and fourth among Buckeyes players in scoring respectively.
Two other Canucks prospects of note and who could become future NHLers are two talented defensemen: Kevin Bieksa (drafted in 2001, 151st overall – Bowling Green State University) and Brett Skinner (drafted in 2002, 68th overall – University of Denver). Bieksa, a gifted offensive defenseman, was third on the team and led all Falcons defensemen in scoring with 25 points (8G, 17A) last season. The versatile Skinner completed his freshman campaign at DU with 17 points (4G, 13A) and was a +12. He possesses tremendous skills, coupled with a long reach and can play at both defense and forward positions.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Goaltender Ryan Miller (drafted in1999, 138th overall – Michigan State University)
It’s hard to believe that a netminder of Ryan Miller’s caliber was drafted as low as he was in 1999, but the Sabres may have hit the goaltending jackpot with his selection. In three years at Michigan State University, Miller set a new standard for NCAA goaltenders, and became only the second netminder in NCAA history to win the prestigious Hobey Baker Award. Miller’s NCAA numbers are absolutely mind-boggling. In his collegiate career, he never finished a season with a GAA over 2.00 nor was his save percentage over .930. He set a new NCAA record for shutouts in a season with 10. In 2001, in addition to winning the Hobey Baker, also was named Hockey News’ College Hockey Player of the Year.
While Miller was a certainly a tremendous selection for the Sabres, another one who could be in the Sabres’ future is Austrian phenom, left wing Tomas Vanek (drafted in 2003, 5th overall – University of Minnesota). Vanek, who just completed his freshman at Minnesota led the Golden Gophers in scoring with 62 points (31G, 31A). He will return to Minnesota this fall and could be a finalist for the 2004 Hobey Baker award.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Goaltender Michael Ayers (drafted in 2000, 177th overall – University of New Hampshire)
An area where the Blackhawks have done well in their drafting of NCAA players is in goal. They have two immensely talented goaltenders in their NCAA arsenal. The exceptionally gifted Mike Ayers helped lead the Wildcats not only to the 2002-03 Hockey East title but also to the NCAA Frozen Four Finals. He posted a stellar 2.18 GAA and a .926 save percentage to go along with a 27-8-6 record. In 2003, Ayers was also named USA Hockey’s College Player of the Year, an honor that was very much deserved. The other NCAA netminder is Adam Berkhoel (drafted in 2000, 240th overall – University of Denver). Berkhoel split time with the now departed Wade Dubielwicz last season and is likely to be the Pioneers’ No. 1 netminder full time this upcoming season. Berkhoel played in 26 games for the Pioneers and posted some excellent numbers. He went 12-6-4 including three shutouts, in addition to posting a 2.30 GAA and .908 save percentage.
While the Blackhawks have two excellent netminders possibly in their future, they’ve also done well with their skaters as well, most notably Center Tyler Arnason (drafted in 1998, 183rd overall – St. Cloud State University). Arnason had a very good rookie campaign with the Blackhawks last season finishing fifth on the team in scoring with 39 points (19G, 20A).
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Defenseman Mike Komisarek
(drafted in 2001, 7th Overall – University of Michigan)
While the Canadiens have not drafted as heavily from the NCAA ranks in comparison to Canadian-based NHL teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, they have done very well with what little of those that they did draft. Most notable is the imposing and talented defenseman Mike Komisarek. Komisarek, who is also an offensively gifted player, posted some excellent numbers in his two years at Michigan. He bagged 45 points (15G, 30A) while racking up 147 total PIMs in his collegiate career.
A player making his professional debut this fall is the speedy and very talented center Chris Higgins (drafted in 2002, 14th overall – Yale University). Higgins, who recently signed with the Canadiens, led the Bulldogs in scoring last season.with 41 points (20G, 21A). His outstanding all-around play also earned him ECAC Player of the Year honors.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Right wing Chuck Kobasew (drafted in 2001, 14th Overall – Boston College)
The Calgary Flames are another example of an NHL team whose NCAA draft selections got better each year. Local goaltender Curtis McElhinney (drafted in 2002, 176th overall – Colorado College) could be a future Flame. He finished his sophomore year at CC with some very impressive numbers and was named Colorado College’s Most Improved Player of the Year. He posted a 25-6-5 record, coupled with four shutouts in helping the Tigers win the WCHA title. He was also the Tigers’ workhorse, logging over 2,100 minutes of ice time and starting in 37 of Colorado College’s 42 games.
One of the more pleasant surprises and underrated players to come out of the Hockey East Conference last season was right wing Greg Moore (drafted in 2003, 143rd overall – University of Maine). In addition to his sheer size (6’5/206), Moore is a player with hockey smarts who sees the ice quite well. He led all Black Bears freshmen in scoring last season with 16 points (9G, 7A). With the departure of Martin Kariya and Colin Shields, Moore’s offensive numbers will get better as he’ll likely be one of the players Maine head coach Tim Whitehead will be depending much upon to put the puck in the net this fall.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Defenseman Brad Fast (drafted in 1999, 84th Overall – Michigan State University)
While former NCAA players left wing Erik Cole (drafted in 1998, 71st overall – Clarkson University) and defenseman David Tanabe (drafted in 1999, 16th overall – University of Wisconsin) have already enjoyed a level of success with the Hurricanes, there’s still possibly more to come for Canes fans, although not many as notable as Cole and Tanabe.
However, there are two offensively talented defensemen from the CCHA who could be in the future in Brad Fast and Danny Richmond (drafted in 2003, 31st overall – University of Michigan). Fast, along with John-Michael Liles, made up one of the best blueline tandems in the nation. In 2002-03, he led all Spartans in assists with 35 and was second on the team in points with 46. In addition, he was named CCHA Defensive Defenseman of the Year. Recently graduated, Fast leaves MSU with a whopping 113 points (30G, 83A). He finished either first or second among all Spartan defensemen in scoring in three of his four years. Richmond, who completed his only season at Michigan this past spring, opted to leave the NCAA for the OHL this summer. The 6’1/4185 Richmond racked up 22 points (3G, 19A) last season, which ranked him second among all Wolverines defensemen in scoring and was named to the CCHA All-Rookie team. While Richmond possesses excellent offensive skills, he struggled with consistency last season.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center/ Right wing Rob Globke (drafted in 2002, 40th Overall – University of Notre Dame)
While the Panthers NCAA draft selections have gotten better over time, they don’t really have many standouts. Their best NCAA draft year was 2002, when it produced arguably their best prospects to come from the college ranks.
The best of these is power forward center/right wing Rob Globke. He led the Fighting Irish last season in scoring with 36 points (21G, 15A). For a man his size (6’4/204), he’s an excellent skater and possesses great hockey sense. Another Panthers NCAA prospect of note is shifty center Vince Bellissimo (drafted in 2002, 158th overall – Western Michigan University). It’s not often that a freshman leads or co-leads his NCAA team in overall points, but that was the case with Bellissimo. He co-led the Broncos in total points with 36 (19G, 17A). His stellar first year performance earned Bellissimo a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie Team. One aspect of Bellissimo’s game that is of note is the heavy shot he possesses.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Defenseman Ryan Suter (drafted in 2003, 7th Overall – University of Wisconsin)
When it was announced on the first day of the 2003 Entry Draft that the home team has selected defenseman Ryan Suter with their first pick, the fans were quite ecstatic. A talented defenseman who possesses a multitude of skills, he could follow in the footsteps of his famous uncle, Gary Suter, who recently retired after an illustrious NHL career. Ryan Suter, who will make his collegiate debut at the University of Wisconsin this fall, just completed a stellar career with the USNTDP. Last season he led all USNTDP defensemen in points (8G, 19A for 27 points) and represented the US in virtually every international tournament that the team was involved in where he was eligible. He was also named USA Hockey’s Junior Player of the Year.
While the Predators have two very good former prospects from their 1999 draft in their pro system in right wing Adam Hall (drafted 52nd overall – Michigan State University) and former Hobey Baker recipient, right wing Darren Haydar (drafted 248th – University of New Hampshire), they have some other future notables (aside from Ryan Suter) as well. Centers Matt Koalska (drafted in 2000, 154th overall – University of Minnesota) and Matt Hendricks (drafted in 2000, 131th overall – St. Cloud State University) are two such examples. Koalska, who along with wingers Tomas Vanek and Troy Riddle, made up one of the deadliest line combinations in the country for the Golden Gophers. Last season, Koalska was tied for first (with Vanek) among all Gophers in assists (31) and finished fourth on the team in scoring with 40 points. Koalska, who possesses great hands coupled with excellent skating ability, could become a future set-up guy in the pros. The very speedy Hendricks led all Huskies in goal scoring last season with 18 and was third on the team in overall points (36). In addition to his blazing speed, Hendricks also possesses terrific passing abilities.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Goaltender David LeNeveu (drafted in 2002, 46th Overall – Cornell University)
Since the drafting of talented center Krystofer Kolanos in 2000 (drafted 19th overall – Boston College), the Coyotes drafting of NCAA forwards has been minimal. They have opted instead to go with goaltending and defense.
is a netminder blessed with absolutely super skills. A 2003 Hobey Baker Finalist, LeNeveu helped lead the Big Red to the ECAC title and in the process broke Cornell goaltending records set by the legendary Ken Dryden. In 2002-03, he led the nation in virtually every goaltending category. He set a new NCAA record by posting a stingy 1.20 GAA for the season, coupled with a .940 save percentage and a .891 winning percentage. He set a new ECAC record by posting nine shutouts last season and was one shy of tying the standing NCAA record of 10, held by Ryan Miller. LeNeveu finished second in the nation in wins going 28-3-1. Having recently signed with the Coyotes, LeNeveu finishes his incredible collegiate career posting a 39-5-2 record, coupled with a sparkling 1.29 GAA and .938 save percentage.
Among the Coyotes defensive prospects two of note are the tough Joe Callahan (drafted in 2002, 70th overall – Yale University) and talented Matt Jones (drafted in 2002, 80th overall – University of North Dakota). The 6’3/215 Callahan brings strength and some very punishing hits to his game. Last season he showed vast improvement in his defensive play, particularly in his own end. The 6’0/218 Jones is a defenseman who thrives in one-on-one situations. He possesses very good skating abilities and has shown that he’s got some offensive talent as well.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Defenseman John-Michael Liles (drafted in 2000, 159th overall – Michigan State University)
The Avalanche have drafted many players from the NCAA ranks, unfortunately very few would be considered excellent. One who would be is the immensely talented defenseman John-Michael Liles. It’s not often a defenseman leads an NCAA team in scoring, especially a team who has a history of having many great forwards on their roster. This was the case with Liles. He led all Spartans in scoring last season with 48 points (16G, 32A) as well in plus/minus with a +22. His 48 points also ranked him fifth in the CCHA in scoring. He caps a phenomenal collegiate career with an astounding 138 points (44G, 94A). In his senior year, Liles was also named a Hobey Baker Award Finalist. What he lacks in size (5’10/184) he more than makes up for with phenomenal offensive talent, excellent skating and puck-handling skills.
The Avalanche did very well in the 2003 draft selecting three very talented players, two of whom will make their collegiate debuts this fall. Center Mark McCutcheon (drafted 146th overall – Cornell University) has begun play for the Cornell Big Red. He is the son of Buffalo Sabres assistant coach, Brian McCutcheon. McCutcheon, who has a knack for scoring in clutch situations, played for the New England Junior Coyotes last season racking up 51 Points (28G, 33A) which ranked second on the team. He led the Junior Coyotes in power play goals with seven.
Left wing Brett Hemingway (drafted 225th overall – University of New Hampshire) will make his collegiate debut this fall with the UNH Wildcats. A terrific playmaker, Brett is the younger brother of recently graduated Wildcat Colin Hemingway. Brett Hemingway played for the BCHL’s Coquitlam Express last season where he led the team in scoring with 92 points (42G, 50A).
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Right wing Tim Jackman (drafted in 2001, 38th overall – Minnesota State University-Mankato)
The Blue Jackets have drafted remarkably little from the NCAA ranks. While they have drafted some good forwards, they have almost no NCAA prospects in the areas of defense and goaltending. Among their good forward selections are the talented right wing Tim Jackman and speedy center Greg Mauldin (2002, 199th overall – UMass-Amherst). Prior to turning pro in last summer, Tim Jackman enjoyed an excellent two years at MSU-Mankato. He left Mamkato State posting 53 points (25G, 28A) to go along with 178 PIMs. The 6’2/190 Jackman uses his size and strength quite well. Greg Mauldin combines speed with quickness to along with great goal scoring ability. He led all Minutemen in scoring last season with 41 points (21G, 20A) and was a +18. One attribute that the Blue Jackets coaches (as well as their fans) will like about Mauldin is his great attitude. He’s a player who doesn’t seem to mind working hard, especially when it comes to improving his game.
One of the rare non-forwards that the Blue Jackets have drafted (and the only one of note) is defenseman Jekabs Redlihs (2002, 119th overall – Boston University) who got off to a slow start to his collegiate career at BU. As the 2002-03 season progressed, so did his overall game. The Riga, Latvia native was so impressive by season’s end that he earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. He amassed 16 points (4G, 12A) and was a +9. Redlihs is a very good playmaker and sound defensively.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Center Ryan Potulny (drafted in 2003, 87th overall – University of Minnesota)
Like the Los Angeles Kings, the Flyers have a knack for drafting some good, rather underrated players.
The exception could be in a youngster who hasn’t even made his collegiate debut yet. If Flyers fans want a prospect to get excited about in their team’s future, then the tremendously gifted center Ryan Potulny might just fit the bill. He will make his collegiate debut this fall at Minnesota where he may see ice time with his older brother, Grant. A finesse player with tremendous offensive abilities, Potulny recently finished up his play with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. He led all USHL players in points (78) and was tied for 1st in assists with 43. His 35 goals and whopping +32 ranked him second in the USHL. He represented the USA at the recent U-18 World Championships, as well as named Junior Player of the Year by USA Junior Hockey Magazine.
Two good examples of underrated players in the Flyers NCAA arsenal are goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris (drafted in 2002, 161st overall – Harvard University) and versatile right wing Colin Shields (drafted in 2000, 195th overall – University of Maine). Grumet-Morris had an outstanding sophomore campaign for the Crimson. He posted a stellar 15-3-1 record with a .931 save perecentage and 2.15 GAA, all of which were second in the ECAC (behind Cornell’s David LeNeveu). He can come up big in those key situations.
A terrific aspect of Colin Shields’ game is his versatility. He can play all three forward positions with relative ease, and possesses a deadly shot coupled with a very quick release. The Glasgow, Scotland native racked up 27 points (14G, 13A) for the Black Bears last seasons, despite injury problems. Shields also represented Great Britain in the World Championships earlier this year, notching a goal and an assist.
MIGHTY DUCKS OF ANAHEIM
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Defenseman Jordan Leopold (drafted in 1999, 44th Overall – University of Minnesota)
The Mighty Ducks, while drafting some excellent defensemen, haven’t drafted much else of note from the NCAA ranks.
If there ever was a trade that the Mighty Ducks may end up regretting being a part of, then the one that involved defenseman Jordan Leopold might be it. The 2002 winner of the Hobey Baker award was dealt to the Calgary Flames in September, 2000 in exchange for the well-traveled Andrei Nazarov. Prior to the start of his professional career, Leopold led the Golden Gophers to the first of their back-to-back national titles. He was also named the WCHA Player of the Year. He led all NCAA defensemen in scoring with 48 points (20G, 28A) in the same year. He finished his collegiate career with an outstanding 144 points (45G, 99A).
Another excellent defenseman that the Ducks have drafted is the gritty Juha Alen (drafted in 2003, 90th overall – Northern Michigan University). The Tampere, Finland native left NMU to sign with the Ducks over the summer. He finished second in scoring among all Wildcats defensemen with 23 points (4G, 19A). In addition he led the Wildcats in PIMs with 64 and his 19 assists co-led the team (along with fellow freshman, defenseman Jamie Milam). Alen is a player who plays with some intensity and possesses some great hands.
One of the few excellent NCAA forwards that the Mighty Ducks have drafted is right wing Shane Hynes (drafted in 2003, 86th Overall – Cornell University). Hynes finished second in scoring among all Big Red freshmen last season with 20 Points (11G, 9A). He combines toughness with excellent offensive skills to go with his 6’3/210 frame.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Goaltender Dan Ellis (drafted in 2000, 60th Overall – University of Nebraska-Omaha)
Unlike teams such as the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Dallas Stars have drafted very little from the NCAA ranks, however two prospects they have drafted could rank among the best.
Dallas Stars could be almost as pleased with goaltender Dan Ellis as they are with Marty Turco. A netminder with tremendous composure, Ellis is also the perfect example of a workhorse. This summer, he decided to forego his senior at University of Nebraska-Omaha to sign with the Stars. In his three years at UNO, Ellis amassed some excellent numbers, despite going 53-50-12. He finishes his collegiate career with a very respectable 2.69 GAA and a .910 save percentage, logging over 6,000 minutes of ice time in that span.
The other excellent prospect who will be watched is incoming freshman defenseman Matt Nickerson (drafted in 2003, 99th overall – Clarkson University). The 6’4/230 Nickerson played with the NAHL Texas Tornados last season leading the team in PIMs (277) while racking up 29 points (6G, 23A). A defenseman who possesses both tremendous size and strength, Nickerson also has a Texas-sized mean streak and can deliver some punishing hits.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Right wing Danny Irmen
(drafted in 2003, 78th overall – University of Minnesota)
The Minnesota Wild have done a less than an admirable job in their drafting of NCAA players in their short time in the NHL. Like the Boston Bruins, the Wild is located in one of America’s hockey hotbeds. But unlike the Bruins, they have yet to truly tap the NCAA ranks. One exception is this summer’s drafting of right wing Danny Irmen. He will make his collegiate debut this fall at the University of Minnesota. Last season he played for the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. The 6’0/182 Irmen is a creative playmaker with great offensive skills, who helped lead the Stars to a Clark Cup Title and earning MVP honors in the process. He ranked 3rd on the team in points with 55 (21G, 34A).
The former Merrimack College right wing Matt Foy (drafted in 2002, 175th overall – Merrimack College) is no longer in the NCAA. After the 2001-02 season, he opted to leave the NCAA in favor of playing in the Canadian Major Juniors instead. He now plays with the OHL’s Ottawa 67s. In his only season at Merrimack, Foy posted a disappointing 24 points.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER:
Goaltender Rick DiPietro (drafted in 2000, 1st Overall – Boston University)
After his first overall selection in the 2000, goaltender Rick DiPietro decided that one year at Boston University was enough and turned pro. Many who follow NCAA Hockey wondered if that was the right decision on DiPietro’s part at the time. His initial taste of the NHL was one that many Islanders fans will likely want to forget. However, once he settled in with the Sound Tigers (AHL), his overall game and confidence improved over time. This fall could be DiPietro’s NHL breakout year.
While the Islanders picks have gotten better, they have been quite minimal. Two other players of note among the few very good Islanders NCAA prospects are defenseman Ryan Caldwell (drafted in 2000, 202nd overall – University of Denver) and center Brian Collins (drafted in 1999, 87th overall – Boston University). The 6’3/195 Caldwell led the Pioneers in plus/minus last season with a +18, while posting 19 points (5G, 14A). A strong, stay-at-home defenseman, he possesses excellent hockey sense. The 6’1/205 Collins is an excellent two-way forward with terrific puck-handling skills. He recently finished his collegiate career at BU, posting 99 points (50G, 49A). He finished last season tied for third (with Brian McConnell) among all Terrier points-getters with 25 (11G, 14A).
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Center Matt Smaby
(drafted in 2003, 41st overall – University of North Dakota)
While their NCAA draft selections have gotten better over time, the Tampa Bay Lightning can still make even more improvements. They’ve managed to draft a few excellent players among their otherwise mediocre selections.
Two examples are defensemen from this year’s entry draft: Matt Smaby and Brady Greco. Smaby will make his collegiate debut this fall at the University of North Dakota. He brings some size (6’4/205) and a physical game. Last season he led Shattuck-St. Mary’s in PIMs with 114. In addition to his size and toughness, he’s also a very good skater with a great work ethic. Brady Greco (drafted 256th overall – Colorado College) will make his collegiate re-entry with Colorado College this fall, entering as a sophomore. Two years ago, Grece attended Michigan Tech University for one season before leaving. The 6’2/198 Greco possesses some very good offensive skills. In addition, he brings some grittiness to his game and doesn’t shy away from the physical play.
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Right wing Stephen Werner
(drafted in 2003, 83rd overall – UMass-Amherst)
The Washington Capitals draft selections have been mediocre to say the least in recent years. This year’s draft however did produce a phenomenally talented player that could be in a Caps uniform in the future, local boy (out of Chevy Chase, MD) right wing Stephen Werner. He led all UMass Minutemen in assists last season with 22 and was second on the team in points with 38. He was the only unanimous choice for the Hockey East All-Rookie team. An excellent skater and playmaker, he also possesses some terrific hands. One component of note is Werner’s good transition game.
Defenseman Matt Maglione
(drafted in 2001, 249th overall – Princeton University) is a good NCAA prospect in the Capitals arsenal. The 6’1/205 Maglione led all Tigers defensemen in scoring last season with 14 points (5G, 9A). His 14 points were also third best on the team.
DETROIT RED WINGS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Goaltender Jim Howard
(drafted in 2003, 64th Overall – University of Maine)
The Red Wings have drafted a mere three players from the NCAA ranks since 1997. Two are from the University of Maine: Right wing Todd Jackson who went 251st Overall in the 2000 Entry Draft and goaltender Jimmy Howard who went 58th Overall in the 2003 Entry Draft. The other, RPI defenseman Francois Senez was selected 288th overall in the 2001 Entry Draft.
The Red Wings have made a habit of drafting heavily from the European ranks, so when they decided to try something different and used their first selection of the 2003 Entry Draft to select a player from NCAA ranks, it was a move that caught many by surprise. But this move could also turn out to be another one of the Red Wings future gems. Of the three NCAA players the Red Wings have selected, Howard has the best shot of making it to the NHL in the future. Howard, despite a poor showing at the WJC, had a terrific freshman year at Maine last season. He posted a 14-6-0 record that included three shutouts. He posted a very respectable 2.55 GAA (fourth best in the nation) and a stellar .918 Save percentage. He was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year and was one of three unanimous choices for the Hockey East All Rookie Team.
Despite the lack of drafting from the NCAA, the Red Wings did manage to improve upon their previous draft selections with the selection of Howard in 2003, thus allowing them to avoid a failing grade.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
BEST DRAFTED PLAYER: Center Jeff Farkas
(drafted in 1997, 57th Overall – Boston College)
The Maple Leafs, like the Detroit Red Wings, have drafted very little from the NCAA ranks. They have opted instead to draft from either the Canadian Major Junior ranks or Europe. Center Jeff Farkas is by far the best NCAA player that the Maple Leafs have drafted up to this point. During is collegiate career at Boston College, Farkas ranked up very impressive numbers (88G, 102A for 190 points). Unfortunately he wasn’t able to translate that to his professional career at the NHL level. What little time Farkas spent in the NHL was a struggle. Later traded from the Leafs, Farkas was forced to retire this year due to injury.
THE MIGRATION AND THE CONTROVERSY THAT CHANGED IT ALL
One problem that NHL teams have had to contend with particularly in recent years has been the migration of players from NCAA schools to Canada to join the Canadian Major Junior (CHL) ranks prior to turning pro. This is a problem because it changes the timeline that teams have to sign these players.
In 2000, Mike Van Ryn, a New Jersey Devils draft pick, was involved in a case that shook both the NHL and NCAA Hockey worlds when an arbitrator ruled that he could become an unrestricted free agent. Although he left the University of Michigan after only two years to play for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting as an overage junior and was not signed by the Devils during that time period, he was too old to re-enter the NHL entry draft, thus he was deemed a free agent. Prior to this incident, NHL teams used to hold their NCAA players’ rights until one year after their normal graduation year, even if they left early.
The Devils contended that they still owned Van Ryn’s rights but lost the case. Now NHL teams hold their NCAA players’ rights for one year after leaving school, regardless if they play four years and graduate or not.
One concern stemming from the Van Ryn case is the (possible) nullification of the Entry Draft where the NCAA is involved. Since the Van Ryn case ruling, the NHL drafting of NCAA players has not diminished. If anything, it has increased. However, the biggest concern for NHL teams as a result of the Van Ryn case ruling is in the fact that players in the NCAA ranks who are the property of NHL teams may use the Van Ryn case as “leverage” in attempts to force their NHL team to sign them quicker or lose their rights. Players who leave the NCAA for the Canadian Major Juniors can either re-enter the draft or simply become unrestricted free agents.
As a result of the Van Ryn case, current NHL players such as Edmonton Oilers Center Mike Comrie have not only been able to do just as Van Ryn did, but benefit greatly in the process.
THE NCAA FREE AGENT
Since 1997, over 75 former NCAA players have been signed as free agents by NHL teams. Among the most successful are New Jersey Devils left wing John Madden (who signed in 1998 out of the University of Michigan), Calgary Flames center Steven Reinprecht (who originally signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2000 out of the University of Wisconsin), Mighty Ducks of Anaheim center and former Hobey Baker Award winner Jason Krog (who originally signed with the New York Islanders in 1999 out of the University of New Hampshire), and a pair of current Tampa Bay Lightning teammates: defenseman Dan Boyle (who originally signed with the Florida Panthers in1998 out of the University of Miami-Ohio) and diminutive right wing Martin St. Louis (who originally signed with the Calgary Flames in 1998 out of the University of Vermont).
The St. Louis Blues snagged the most coveted NCAA free agent of this past season when they signed former Colorado College Tigers and Hobey Baker recipient left wing Peter Sejna. The immensely talented Sejna led the nation in scoring with 82 points (36G, 46A). His 36 goals were also tops in the nation. Last season, he accounted for at least one point in 41 of 42 games and set a new Colorado College school record in points in consecutive games. He had at least one point in an unprecedented 31 consecutive games for the Tigers, going back to the 2001-02 season. The Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia native also became the first European to win the prestigious Hobey Baker Award.