For years, the main import of new talent in the NHL has been the Canadian Hockey League. That still holds true today, but not by much. Right now, the NHL teams seem to be going after more and more NCAA players than they have in the past. After talking to Mike Eidlebes from Inside College Hockey last Wednesday, he seems to think that the development of NCAA players are getting to the level of those in major juniors.
You also have to look at this year's Draft as proof of this NCAA revival coming up. The top three ranked in the Central Scouting Bureau are players who are either playing in college now or intend to play in college next season. Erik Johnson (letter of intent to Minnesota), Phil Kessel (Minnesota), and Jonathan Toews (North Dakota) were ranked in the top three this year, in a Draft which doesn't have many big name players coming out of it like it has in the past couple of years.
Let's not fool ourselves though, the workload carried in the CHL is something that NHL teams respect and know that if they were able to throw someone into the everyday NHL line-up, they could handle. Both Wojtek Wolski and Gilbert Brule proved that this season, but were victims of attrition this season, being sent back down to their junior clubs.
Yet, for some reason, more and more NHL teams seem to be seeing the NCAA as a viable option for players nowadays. Though they don't play as many games, NCAA teams have some of the top conditioned atheltes in sports. With all the time in the weight room when not playing or practicing, it helped out the development much more.
Plus it comes with an added bonus for the teams.
You see, if the draftees goes to college, they don't have to (and can't for that matter) sign a pro contract until they are done with college. The NHL club still owes their rights, but it will give more time to mature. The same luxury doesn't come with the CHL, where there is a 2-year signing period that has to be done, or else the player will go back into the Draft pool.
Right now, the CHL will continue to be the dominant place to select talent for the time being. Since 1998, on average, 16 players have been drafted from the CHL, five players were drafted from the NCAA ranks, while about nine players were drafted from Europe in the First Round. I do expect that number to be taken from the Europeans and put into the NCAA, as it seems the Europeans have hit a lull in developing truly stellar talent. In 2005's Draft, only five players were selected from Europe, it's lowest since 2003 and 1998, both of which had five as well.
What does this mean to you?? Not much until I present the Draft Board (coming in May) and we'll see how the numbers go from there. However, it seems that the NCAA is really gaining some speed in terms of being an alternate route to developing not only the player, but also the person as well.