The Canadian Hockey League took a dent out of the NCAA’s future talent in the past couple of weeks.
Following St. Louis Blues second round pick Tommy Vannelli leaving the University of Minnesota Gophers for the Medicine Hat Tigers, University of North Dakota recruit Ryan Gropp decided to give up his scholarship to join the Seattle Thunderbirds.
It was quite surprising to see both players give up their scholarships. Vannelli is a native of Minnesota, so it seemed unlikely that he would take a pass on playing for his home state’s college hockey team. Gropp, meanwhile, appeared to be set on playing for North Dakota based on interviews he’s had with various media outlets.
Vannelli, 18, left college just two weeks into the year because he felt it was best for his development to play in the WHL.
“I went into college kind of unsure,” said Vannelli to Yahoo! Sports. “When the Blues drafted me I started thinking I should just do what’s best for my development. I thought it might be best for me to just focus on hockey.”
Gropp, 17, decided to join the Thunderbirds because he believes that’s where his heart is.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s where my heart is,” Gropp said to Kamloops’ The Daily News. “It’s pretty exciting, I’m looking forward to it.”
To put into perspective how big these losses are, there are few and far between top-60 NHL draft picks in the NCAA, so Vannelli’s accolades would have stood out in Minnesota, and Gropp was touted as North Dakota’s top Canadian recruit since Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews.
It’s nothing new to see players change their minds about the NCAA after committing to join a CHL club. Back in the 2011 NHL draft, four first-round picks – J. T. Miller (New York Rangers), Connor Murphy (Phoenix Coyotes), Jamie Oleksiak (Dallas Stars) and Tyler Biggs (Toronto Maple Leafs) – were committed to NCAA schools. But only Biggs followed through with joining his respective college (Miami University) while the others played in the OHL. And Biggs left college the following year to join the Oshawa Generals.
What it boils down to is that the CHL has a much better track record than the NCAA on getting players to the next level. This is largely because of the CHL’s top-notch coaches, that’s not to say the NCAA doesn’t have them too, and the league’s 72-game schedule (32 more games a year than the NCAA) that helps prepare players for the pros. In addition, the CHL allows players to sign entry-level contracts and take part in tryouts. The NCAA doesn’t and the association tends to go overboard in regards to what it views as a violation. One also can’t disregard that college isn’t for anyone. Therefore, for those hockey players who don’t want to pursue a secondary education after high school, the CHL is the obvious choice.
In a perfect world, players who don’t go pro after their CHL careers would be able to play NCAA hockey, but that isn’t reality. Some people paint the CHL as the “bad guy” in the NCAA eligibility issues; however, the onus is completely on the NCAA. The only reason players who have played in the CHL can’t go onto play for an American college is because the NCAA regards the CHL as a professional league. They have this view because some players in the CHL have professional contracts with NHL clubs. Not to mention, CHL players are paid a whopping $40 a week and anyone who plays NCAA sports can’t be previously paid for their sport.
That being said, though, Canada has a very underrated university hockey program. The CIS is excellent hockey to watch full of former major junior and junior ‘A’ players. It is incredibly rare for any of them to play in the NHL after CIS, but that doesn’t take away from the league’s top-notch level of entertaining hockey. So CHL players can’t complain about not having a quality league to play in after junior.