Summer CHL Battles Underway

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.

15 Responses

  1. suture

    Brad, I know the Gropp family on a peripheral basis (I played with Gropp’s dad). I think it is very likely Gropp will end up and UND. Anything can happen of course, but I like UND’s odds to keep Gropper…….that’s what we called his dad (who, btw, was incredibly talented).

  2. scpa0305

    Great article….I don’t have an answer on how to change this trend other than allow CHL players to play in college hockey only if they haven’t signed pro deals. Sticky situation because it was going good there for awhile (late 90’s to mid 2000’s) and we were plucking a lot of blue chip talent who formerly would have went north. The Canadian gms are picking it up and are backed by the NHL….again tough situation for US colleges.

  3. Mike

    Great article Brad, you hit it on the head. I think its a culture and attitude within hockey in general that high end talent “needs” to focus more on hockey, therefore, go the CHL route. I live in WHL country in WA and I have agruments about which is the better route with people all the time. What I don’t get is how hockey in general doesn’t see the benefit of NCAA hockey physically. The NCAA has naturally stronger, faster, more intelligent hockey players because of age and development. That right there is a HUGE developmental help for prospects.

    In my opinion, I think its far more of a gamble for a player at 18 to go the CHL route, then to go the NCAA route. Now if your 16, its a different story (you’ll possibly get 3-4 years of Juniors and 3-4 of college paid for after juniors).

    It is a bummer to lose top end talent, but the NCAA is still great hockey and tougher to play at league. Frankly the CHL’s (I’ve been to over a dozen WHL games) difficulty level is far lower the NCAA’s, but that’s another argument for another day. Time and space people! CHL has plenty of time and space,

    1. I fully agree that the attitude is that high-end players “need” to go CHL, and many buy into it. Then, I see the only top 5 NHL pick in UND’s history standing at age 25 with two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold, a World Championship gold, a Conn Smythe, a Selke Trophy, a captain for five years now and the youngest member in the history of the Triple Gold Club. He turned out OK.

  4. scpa0305

    I agree totally Mike. I’ve watched both the CHL and NCAA a lot and while you definitely see more skilled players in the CHL (on average) the NCAA game is much better ( on average within good conferences). Players are bigger stronger faster and smarter.

  5. viking1

    Even Andy Murray stated mcCaron had a big learning curve ahead of him to adjust to the college level. he will undoubtedly be able to rely more on his size in the OHL and not have to worry about the curriculum at the same time…..

  6. scpa0305

    True Brad, however it hasn’t happened much and every other players (remotely close to Toews talent) goes to the CHL. Long story short, NHL “super stars” tend to come from other leagues….I wish somehow college hockey could get outside the NCAA umbrella. Still go to school but be able to pull in CHL players who need more development while also receiving a high class education. I’m afraid, under current rules, we may have seen the last of the Toews in college hockey unless they change the rules regarding how college players can “outlast” the term after they were drafted…as far as team right are concerned. It seems as though there is a lot of risk, from the drafting teams perspective, if their draftee goes the college route.

    1. The CHL has been very successful in getting top-end kids to sign. They are getting access to most of the top kids. When college hockey gets access to the top kids, they are just as successful as the CHL kids. That’s all I’m saying. I think the whole theory that it’s a risk to go to college for top players is widely spread, but if you look at the numbers, there’s no truth to it. Look at the success of UND’s draftees compared to the average CHL player and UND’s players have been more successful.

  7. Siouxman

    These are treated differently by the media because they are different. When the NCAA loses a commit, they have lost it for good. The player cannot change his mind. But the opposite is not true. There never is an absolute win for the NCAA until a player has completed his college career. He can change his mind at any time and go the other route. The non-college path is always terminal for the college path option, but the college path always has the option of being temporary and the non-college path option never goes away.

  8. northdasotan

    The NDTP is producing good hockey players but…….if you are not one of the best in the US you won’t be playing for the NDTP. The NDTP is a huge part of the problem. Had those kids not played there, chances are the CHL wouldn’t know of all of them to poach from college teams. Thanks to the NDTP my children’s hockey dues at the local level are that much higher.

  9. Dave

    How many kids play in other leagues because of the reffing/NCAA rules? Personally I don’t like the way the NCAA has handled contact to the head, where the player gets a major AND game ejection. The refs are handcuffed on the issue.

    If the NHL is the ultimate goal for most kids, shouldn’t the college game be more in line with the NHL?

  10. Seattle51

    I live 30 minutes from where the Seattle Thunderbirds play, I have been to a couple of games. I would much rather spend my money going to Grand Forks or Denver to watch North Dakota play. I enjoy college hockey. WHL hockey is not the same…I understand the WHL players attend a local high school. So, it is more like watching a High School or USHL game. I have not seen and OHL game.

    I think it has more to do with the players intelligence level. Some players have a High hockey IQ, but arnt nearly as intelligent in the class room. So, Why would they choose to go to the NCAA?

    Every kid is different, they have to make the right choice for themselves……Not what the right choice is for the College….

  11. scpa0305

    Brad, regarding your last comment to me, I totally agree with you. I misunderstood your previous comment to me. I too believe if you are very skilled there will be little difference between going to college and going the CHL route because all in all NCAA hockey is very good. Also these 18 or 19 year olds will be playing against more mature kids to prep them for pro hockey. Also, If college, again, can start getting some of these blue chip prospects back the idea that these kids would be playing against the best kids in the world would be there. I have no idea how college can become more attractive without changing some of the fundamental rules. Again, college is very high level though.

  12. scpa0305

    FYI Brad, by “risk” I meant from the GMs perspective….because of the 4 year rule regarding the teams rights to a particular player. Because the NHL had so much invested in these players they want them to go to a league where they can have a more close relationship with them (NCAA makes sure they can’t get too close).

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