FFH Editor Emeritus Carl Putnam debates with FFH writer Richard Morin, a special guest to C&C, about prospect routes in this edition of the C&C Debate Factory.
Hockey prospects have a number of choices when determining a path to develop their hockey skills as a young adult. The two major ones in North America are the Canadian Major Junior Leagues better known as the CHL and NCAA Division 1 men's hockey. Which path do you think is the best one for prospects with NHL potential?
Experience vs. Development
Richard: As much as I would love it to be the other way around, the CHL is the best way for upper echelon prospects to hone their skills and showcase their games to talent evaluators. The foremost reason is length of season. In 2014-15, teams in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) played 68 games, whereas teams in the NCAA played around 21 regular season games.
This is a huge disparity that leaves college hockey behind the CHL in terms of development. Most teams in the NCAA only play on Fridays and Saturdays, whereas CHL teams are constantly traveling and playing games as if they were professionals. This allows top prospects to gain similar experience to what they will experience once joining the professional ranks. I would say this is the biggest factor which sets the two apart.
Carl: I think you are mistaking games for development. If you speak with most coaches they would tell you more development happens in practice, both team and individual, than in games. Players who go the NCAA route get about two team practices for every one game they play (around 40 games).
In addition, with reduced travel, kids in college are more likely to be able to get in off-ice training which is always important. For example, how many quality strength and conditioning sessions do you think the average CHL team gets in on the road? The college route also fosters other development which helps players on/off the ice such as critical thinking to independent living skills which the CHL route doesn't.
Accessibility and Benefits
Richard: Those are great points that I think many people overlook. I still think the CHL route is the best way to go if a top prospect wants to get as NHL-ready as possible. As an American, I absolutely love and respect NCAA hockey for what it is, but it simply isn't on par with leagues like the OHL or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) just yet.
Perhaps the addition of Arizona State University to the fold will help college hockey grow toward a more coast-to-coast league; I believe that is one way for the NCAA to overtake the CHL. But as for the present, I think we have to weigh the two based on their demographics. If you're a Canadian hockey prospect, what kind of pull is there to choose the NCAA over the CHL?
While the CHL technically has an education program, it's mainly a hollow shell. Most of their former players don't use the program because the qualifications are clearly designed to limit their participation. The leagues have funky years of service rules, pay tuition costs in a manner which is unlikely to be near the actual costs, and most importantly force players to use the money within 18 months of leaving major junior hockey. Getting hard numbers who how many CHL alums are getting college degrees is extremely hard. The rumored number is somewhere around 20%.
On the other hand, NCAA hockey programs are graduating over 90% of their players according to the latest graduation success rate (GSR) numbers. NCAA men's hockey had the best GSR and APR rates in terms of male D1 sports in terms of graduation rate. In addition, by attending college players are expanding their potential network of contacts for later when they are looking for employment.
Canada vs. America
Richard: I love that last point you made with sky-high graduation rates, and it's a huge way for the NCAA to sell their program to prospective targets. Like I said, I love college hockey and watching it grow has been a huge treat. As you point out, the numbers have grown drastically in terms of demographics in the NHL, and as we both have said the value of getting a complete education at the same time is incomparable.