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Monday, August 22, 2011

A cringe-worthy time for college teams in race for top talent

It might be time for us to get out some asterisks or some other notation for our list of college hockey-related players selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

That’s because in the give and take that is the often tenuous relationship between college hockey and major juniors, there has been an awful lot of giving by the NCAA side lately.

The top three names on that list have recently either left college for the CHL or pulled their college commitment to head to major juniors.

Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, the 14th pick in June’s draft by Dallas, left Northeastern after one season to sign with Saginaw.

Forward J.T. Miller, who was on his way to North Dakota in the fall, instead is headed to Plymouth after being picked 15th by the New York Rangers.

Connor Murphy has backed out of his commitment to Miami and will play next season for Sarnia. The defenseman was the 20th pick by Phoenix.

It doesn’t end there. Goaltender John Gibson, the 39th overall pick by Anaheim, was headed to Michigan until he changed course and signed with Kitchener, leading to this deliberate, one-sentence statement issued by Wolverines coach Red Berenson: “John Gibson has decided not to attend the University of Michigan or to play college hockey.”

And forward Reid Boucher joined Murphy with Sarnia, ending his commitment to Michigan State. He was a fourth-round pick, No. 99 overall, by New Jersey.

That’s five of the top 23 once-college-related picks in the draft gone to major juniors.

We don’t always track the comings and goings of players before they actually reach campus, but when things start to become trends, it’s time to pay attention.

It’s enticing to wonder whether college hockey’s summer of upheaval has given those on the major juniors side some marketing material, especially when you consider that four of the five college teams impacted by those moves will be on the move in 2013 (North Dakota, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State). But you’d hope that the schools would have had some rebuttal, given how adamant they’ve been that the conference shift will be for the better for their side.

That’s not the only part of the issue, of course, and I’m still a believer that we shouldn’t use broad strokes with the college-versus-major junior debate. College is right for some players; major junior is right for others. When talent departs in a group like we’ve seen in the past weeks, however, it’s cringe-worthy for anyone on the college side of things.


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