It might not be common knowledge, but over 30 percent of the players in the NHL spent at least one season as NCAA hockey players. As secondary education becomes more valuable, college hockey is now a legitimate avenue to the NHL. When college players turn pro, often times, they are ready to contribute right away.
Players like Cale Makar. The U Mass alumni joined the Colorado Avalanche in time for their playoff run and was a major contributor. St. Cloud State forward Ryan Poehling went from helping his team win a regular season championship to scoring the third-ever debut hat trick in Montreal Canadiens history. The Boston Bruins have built an incredibly talented core using NCAA talent. One of them, Miami Ohio product Sean Kuraly, has put them within three wins of the Stanley Cup.
NCAA Hockey Alumni Shine in Stanley Cup Playoffs
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was an instant classic. After falling behind 2-0 early in the second period, the Boston Bruins were able to head to intermission tied after goals from Connor Clifton (Quinnipiac) and Charlie McAvoy (Boston University). When Kuraly scored yet another huge goal early in the third to put Boston up 3-2, the Bruins would never look back. After a Brad Marchand empty netter sealed the deal at 4-2, the Boston Bruins completed an impressive comeback.
Both the Bruins and the St. Louis Blues started the game with their fourth line on the ice. Boston’s fourth line has been instrumental in their playoff success, and flanking Sean Kuraly when the puck dropped was Noel Acciari (Providence), returning to the lineup after an injury. While Acciari sat out, Chris Wagner (Colgate) became the third piece of a killer fourth line. The Blues don’t lack for college talent either. While Boston’s fourth line took the ice, the Blues countered with their best defensive player, Colton Parayko (Alaska). St. Louis might not even be playing for hockey’s greatest prize without the help of team points leader Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College) and Tyler Bozak (Denver). Collegiate athletes are more important in the modern NHL than ever before.
Not Just Big Goals, Not Just Game 1
One of the most talked about moments of Game 1 was a massive hit. After having his helmet torn off, Torey Krug (Michigan State) skated down the length of the ice to absolutely level OHL product Robert Thomas. Krug has only notched one goal this post-season, but he demands attention from opposing teams. The Bruins defensive unit also includes Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University), who paired with his former teammate McAvoy after a Chara injury. That injury brought Steven Kampfer (Michigan) into the lineup for the deciding game against the Carolina Hurricanes. He scored his first and only playoff goal of the year.
During the opening series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins relied on two trade deadline pickups to provide scoring. Charlie Coyle (Boston University) was one of them, scoring crucial goals to help the Bruins past the Leafs. When Bruins stars weren’t playing well enough, Coach Bruce Cassidy shook lines up with NCAA talent. David Backes (Minnesota State) and Danton Heinen (Denver) can play in almost any position. Even Karson Kuhlman (Minnesota Duluth) contributed two assists in six games. The Bruins have used their NCAA depth as a driving force into the Stanley Cup final.
The Future of NCAA Hockey in the NHL
The Bruins and the Blues are not the only teams utilizing collegiate hockey players so effectively. College is becoming a more attractive option to young hockey players every year, and the crossover success is even more enticing. The NCAA used to be an afterthought for many but has established itself as an elite development league. Although many elite Canadian prospects establish themselves in the CHL, many commit to universities to keep options open. Newfoundland native Alex Newhook is widely expected to be a first-round pick. He will head to Boston College next season. Between the pipes, Ontario native and Central Scouting’s ninth-best North American goalie, Cole Brady (Arizona State) is also going the college route. Former college stars are powering the Stanley Cup Final this year. They will be an increasingly important part of the league in the future.