In the not so distant past, it seemed that many college hockey stars could not translate their success at the NCAA level to the NHL. That hasn’t been the case since the lockout ended as many college hockey stars are also finding success at the professional level and according to Dallas Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong, the new rules have contributed to this.
“I think the game has opened up a lot more like the college game. There’s a lot of skating, they’re taking out the red line. For the players, it’s not as difficult to adapt, obviously the size of the NHL player is bigger and stronger, but with the flow of the game and the increased neutral zone space I think it’s easier for those college players.”
While the new rules have made it much easier for college players to translate their success to the NHL level, the new free agency rules have meant that players will be able to hit the open market at a younger age. Despite the fact that teams may not be able to hold onto their talent as long, Armstrong doesn’t feel that the younger free agency will result in teams rushing to sign their college players earlier.
“You sign them when you think they’re ready to take the next step and you can’t rush maturity and development and I think it comes at a natural pace. Even though free agency gets younger, it’s not going to make these players better earlier so you just have to do what’s best for the player, not only over the short term but the long term.”
The Stars have six prospects competing at the NCAA level including four forwards and two defensemen.
Matt McKnight, C
2004 draft, 9th round
McKnight is in his third year at the University of Minnesota – Duluth and is a teammate of fellow Stars prospect Matt Niskanen. Last season, McKnight appeared in all 40 games, notching career highs (at the college level) in goals (9), assists (16) and points (25). This season, the Halkirk, Alberta native has seen his production tail off a bit and through 17 games, he has notched three goals and six points. The 22-year-old has two power-play goals, a game-winning goal and is currently a -12.
Matt Watkins, RW
2005 draft, 5th round
Watkins is in his second season with the University of North Dakota. Last season in his first year, 5’11, 180-pound forward scored five goals and eight points in 45 games. This year he has surpassed those totals just 26 games into the season. Watkins has five goals and 10 points, including one game-winning goal.
Raymond Sawada, RW
2004 draft, 2nd round
Sawada is in his third year at Cornell and has consistently improved each year. Last season, the 6’2, 205-pound forward played in 35 games and notched seven goals and 20 points. Just 19 games into his junior season, it appears Sawada is on pace to eclipse those marks. Sawada has played in 19 games and ranks fourth on the team in points scored with 15. He leads the team with three game-winning goals and is tied for the team lead in power-play markers with four. Sawada’s play looks even more impressive given the fact that Cornell has struggled this season.
With his combination of size and his improved play, it is possible that Sawada will also be courted by the Stars to leave college early.
David McIntyre, C
2006 draft, 5th round
McIntyre is in his first season playing at the NCAA level with Colgate University after a very successful final season at the OPJHL level. In 2005-06, playing for Newmarket, the Oakville, Ontario native appeared in 46 games and scored 42 goals and 92 points. McIntyre has adjusted well to collegiate hockey. Through 30 games, he has scored five goals and 14 points including five power-play goals. The 5’11, 171-pound center has tallied 51 penalty minutes. McIntyre ranks sixth on the team in points scored and is the team’s top-scoring freshman.
Matt Niskanen, D
2005 draft, 1st round
Niskanen is one of the Stars top defensive prospects. In just 27 games, the blueliner has more points that any other of the Stars college hockey prospects and has already surpassed his totals from his first year. In just 27 games, Niskanen has eight goals and 16 assists. The sophomore ranks second on the team in points scored and is tied for the team lead for power-play goals with seven. Despite Niskanen’s point scoring success his defense has struggled and he is a -14. With all of his success at the NCAA level, it’s virtually certain that the Stars will attempt to sign Niskanen to a pro contract at the end of the college hockey season.
“We think he’s certainly one of our top prospects and their team hasn’t had a great season but his progress has been steady,” Armstrong said. “We think after this year we’ll have to talk to him about what’s best for his future as far as going back to college or coming out and turning pro.”
Trevor Ludwig, D
2004 draft, 6th round
Ludwig, a Grapevine, Texas native, is in his third season with Providence. A defensive defenseman, last season Ludwig appeared in 27 games for the Friars and notched two points. This season Ludwig has a lone point in the form of an assist through 16 games. At 6’1, 210 pounds, Ludwig has good size but many expected this to be a breakout season.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.