Oilers strike riches in NCAA

By John Christie
Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Todd Marchant, Shawn Horcoff. What do these players have in common. They all played and graduated in NCAA schools. In the 1990’s more and more NHL teams drafted players from the NCAA. Today’s NHL is getting more and more international and with the league being diluted, players from every league are being drafted and this includes the NCAA.

While many NHL teams draft players from the CHL or Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, Sweden, more NHL teams are also drafting and scouting the NCAA for talent.

Barry Fraser, who was the chief scout of the Edmonton Oilers from 1979 until 2000 was the person who decided the Oilers should go in this direction. Even though he had his up’s and down’s in scouting, one of his great legacies for the Oilers was the drafting and use of NCAA players.

The NCAA is of great benefit for NHL teams. Some of the advantages of players playing for NCAA schools are

Development. A player will play almost 3-4 years for there school and there development will come faster as they spend more time in school and play against older players rather then junior players in the CHL
NCAA players are not rushed as NHL clubs respect the player’s decision to stay in school and finish school
NCAA players are drafted as 19 year olds as NHL clubs get a better handle on players
NHL clubs are not in any hurry to sign NCAA players since they finish out there school career
Many Canadians and Americans are using the NCAA route in order to play hockey and secure an education. Scholarships are awarded and it will influence weather a hockey player will go to the CHL, Europe and NCAA.

The Oilers have a lot of players who played and graduated in the NCAA. Some current and past Oilers who made impacts with the club and played years for NCAA schools include; Doug Weight (St. Louis Blues), Bill Guerin (Boston Bruins), Todd Marchant, Mike Grier, Mike Comrie (played for Michigan for 2 years and Kootney Ice of the CHL for one year), Marty Reasoner, Anson Carter, Rem Murray, Shawn Horcoff and Tom Poti.

The Oilers were one of the first NHL teams along with New Jersey to use a lot of NCAA players and now every NHL team drafts ands scouts players in the NCAA. The NCAA is becoming a very important hockey ground for NHL teams because more and more Americans are using the NCAA to get into hockey. RJ Umberger is the first Pittsburgh born and raised hockey player ever to ever be drafted in the 1st round of the NHL draft. He plays his hockey at Ohio State.

The Oilers have used the NCAA pool to fill needs at many positions. Almost every NCAA player on the roster has made the big club right away except Rem Murray (spent one year in AHL), Todd Marchant (half a year in AHL), David Oliver (no longer in NHL and spent one year in AHL), Doug Weight and Bill Guerin spent one year in the AHL with different NHL affiliates. Tom Poti, Mike Grier and Shawn Horcoff spent less then 20 games in the AHL. This has really helped the Oilers since most NCAA players are ready to play and almost developed. With these results, more and more NHL teams are drafting NCAA players in early rounds of the entry draft.

Chris McCarthy, an Oilers scout suggested to former Oilers GM Glen Sather they acquire Dan McGillis who played his hockey at Northeastern University. Sather acquired McGillis for Kirk Maltby. McGillis made the Oilers roster immediately and helped them in their playoff run in 1997. Barry Fraser also suggested to Sather they acquire Todd Marchant who played his hockey at Clarkson University. Current Oilers coach Craig MacTavish was traded to the Rangers for Marchant. Both deals helped the Oilers and benefited the Oilers a great deal, as Marchant is the Oilers 3rd line centre and number one penalty killer while McGillis was traded for Janne Niinimaa who is the Oilers number one defenseman today.

Recently, NCAA players have used a loophole in the Collective Bargaining agreement to gain unrestricted free agency and make them selves available to the highest bidder. Mike Van Ryn, who signed with the St. Louis Blues used this loophole to gain unrestricted free agency. He played 2 years with the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA and played his junior hockey with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. When an arbiter declared that Van Ryn was an unrestricted free agent, he immediately left the Devils organization and signed a three year, nine million dollar contract with the St. Louis Blues. Mike Comrie used this loophole to his advantage in securing a three year, 10.4 million dollar contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Comrie played two years with the Michigan Wolverines of the NCAA and Kooteney Ice of the Western Hockey League. The next Collective Bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA should have this loophole corrected.

Currently, the Oilers like many other NHL teams have players playing the NCAA. Some of them will make the NHL and some of them will not become major league hockey players but they will have an education to fall back on. Some of the Oilers bright prospects in the NCAA include Brad Winchester (second round pick in 2000 NHL entry draft) who is a hulking winger playing for Wisconsin. He should make the Oilers in 2-3 years and is a big imposing forward who will play on a checking line in the NHL. Eddie Caron (second round pick in 2001 NHL entry draft) will be playing hockey for New Hampshire in the fall. Chris Legg (sixth round pick in 2000 NHL entry draft), a speedster, also plays in the NCAA.

The Oilers are reaping the rewards from NCAA programs as a lot of their players have made immediate impacts. The Oilers like other NHL teams will continue to scout and use NCAA players for their teams. Although the Mike Van Ryn/Mike Comrie loophole exists, teams will draft NCAA players because of the talent of hockey players available and another source of hockey players for the diluted NHL.

The NCAA will be a great benefit for hockey. On top of playing hockey, NCAA schools provide university education and scholarships, which will attract any hockey players from around the world. The CHL could lose out on this as many students could opt for NCAA programs.