Last offseason, the WCHA lost an amazing 17 underclassmen to the pros. Now that the regular season has come to an end in the pro ranks, it is interesting to look back on those players and see how their rookie seasons panned out.
Some had fantastic seasons. Others, you have to think, probably wish they would have stayed in school. More than half of the players who left never stepped foot in the NHL (9 of 17).
Europe-bound players (two)
Defenseman Kyle Peto (Mankato) and forward Rastislav Spirko (UND) went overseas to play. Neither had any illusion that they were going to make the NHL. Both left college for personal reasons. Spirko had 33 points in 54 games in Slovakia. Peto played in Finland, but recently moved back to the States to play in the ECHL.
AHL-only players (seven)
Seven of the 17 spent the entire season in the AHL. This was anticipated by goalie Jordan Parise (UND) and Kris Chucko (Minnesota). After scoring just four goals as a sophomore, a change of scenery might have been needed for Chucko, a former first-round pick. Parise was an older player and got a contract offer in a situation he liked.
As for the others, another year of college may have been beneficial.
Defenseman Brian Salcido (CC) posted a 7-20–27 line in 76 games, while forward Ryan Carter (Mankato) went 16-20–36. Both played for the Portland Pirates.
Defenseman Matt Smaby (UND) was 2-14–16 in 66 games for a Springfield team that finished with the second-worst record in the AHL. Forward Robbie Earl (Wisconsin) posted numbers of 12-18–30 in 67 games for the Toronto Marlies and forward Danny Irmen (Minnesota) had numbers of 17-20–37 in 80 games for Houston.
A taste of both (four)
Four players in the group started the season in the AHL, but were regulars in the NHL by season’s end.
Forward Ryan Potulny (Minnesota) played 35 games in the NHL for a terrible Flyers team, scoring 7 goals and adding 5 assists. Forwards Drew Stafford (UND), David Backes (Mankato) and Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) all ended up playing more than 40 games in the top league.
Stafford, a Buffalo winger, and Pavelski, a San Jose center, are regulars on Stanley Cup playoff teams.
NHL from the start (four)
Four of the 17 players made NHL teams out of camp and stuck with the top squad throughout the season.
Forwards Travis Zajac (UND) and Paul Stastny (Denver) may have raised some eyebrows when they signed after their sophomore seasons, but both proved they were ready to go. Stastny had an unbelievable rookie season, tallying 78 points in 82 games for Colorado. He set an NHL rookie record for most consecutive games with a point. Zajac had 42 points in 80 games and was a regular on New Jersey’s second line.
Forward Phil Kessel (Minnesota) and defenseman Matt Carle (Denver) both played a couple games in the AHL during the middle of the season for different reasons, but still should be considered as NHLers for the entire season. Kessel, who had to battle a quick bout with testicular cancer, had 29 points in 70 games for the Boston Bruins. Carle, a key contributor on San Jose’s NHL playoff team, had 42 points in 77 games from the blue line.
Who made correct decisions? Who made wrong decisions? How big of an impact will the results of this class have on guys who are considering leaving this offseason? You tell me.