It’s becoming a summer tradition to watch former NTDP players break college commitments and go to the CHL, and this year is no exception.
This week, Denver recruit Connor Chatham and Western Michigan recruit Michael McCarron both bolted to go to the OHL.
McCarron, a first-round pick, was thought to be the highest-drafted NCAA player last month, but as it turns out, there are no NCAA first-round draft picks for the first time since 1997. There will only be five first-rounders in all of college hockey this season (my first year of covering college hockey, UND had six first-rounders on its roster).
In the last four recruiting classes, 15 NTDP players have given up commitments to go major juniors. Thirteen of them went to the OHL (UND recruit Miles Koules went to the WHL and UND recruit Stefan Matteau went to the QMJHL).
That list doesn’t include Dakota Mermis, who left Denver after a semester, or Tyler Biggs, who left Miami after a year for OHL.
These are a couple more hits for the NCAA. McCarron would have been one of the top 10 recruits coming into the NCHC. Now, Western Michigan has about a month before school starts to find his replacement. Hint: It won’t be a first-round NHL draft pick.
One other thing that’s clear is that the NCAA cannot win the public perception battle.
There was significant coverage on McCarron’s decision to choose the OHL over the NCAA, and of course, it is correctly viewed as a big win for the OHL.
However, a week earlier, UND landed a commitment from a first-round WHL draft pick in Ryan Gropp. This was a huge victory for the NCAA, however, it was not portrayed that way in the media, and the story was not heavily covered.
Why is that?
Part of the reason is that Gropp has not yet been drafted by an NHL team, so most fans don’t know him. A lot more fans know McCarron because he was just selected in the first round. Gropp may some day be a first-round talent, but not yet. He’s not draft eligible until 2015.
Another reason is that the story may not be over yet. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe Gropp will end up in the WHL, but since he still technically could, people won’t chalk it up as an NCAA victory just yet. And when Gropp does arrive on campus, it won’t be a story because he committed over a year earlier.
So, yes, the NCAA has taken plenty of hits lately. But it also has won some battles. It’s just not looked upon that way.
The CHL (mainly the OHL) is poaching players from the NTDP more than anywhere else and it’s not even close. There are probably several reasons for this.
One is that the NTDP is producing high-end kids, ones that the CHL teams are going after hard. Another is that the NTDP is located in Ann Arbor, Mich., very much near OHL teams, who can stroll on over to the Ice Cube and chat with prospects much easier than a lot of college teams. A third is the culture of players there. Obviously, it has become a popular thing to do.
I know fans will say to stop recruiting NTDP players, but it’s not that simple. Often times, UND has commitments from players before they even go there: Chris Wilkie, Christian Evers, Shane Gersich.
Also, how would UND have fared last season without Danny Kristo, Rocco Grimaldi, Derek Forbort and Nick Mattson? Where would UND be this upcoming season without Grimaldi, Mattson, Gage Ausmus and Keaton Thompson?
And would anyone want to give up the commitments of Wilkie, Evers and Gersich? Didn’t think so.
The NTDP is still producing good college players and good people, but it’s understandable if coaches are taking a longer look at some of those players before offering.