Top Pick Could Be College-Bound

James van Riemsdyk and Kyle Turris are headed to college even if selected first overall

June 21, 2007

By Matthew Conyers

Special to


In 2006, former Minnesota Gopher and current St. Louis Blues defenseman Erik Johnson made history by becoming the first player to ever play college hockey and be selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft.


Friday, James van Riemsdyk and Kyle Turris are hoping to follow in his footsteps.


While both will face stiff competition from Patrick Kane, the dynamic forward from the London Knights of the Ontario hockey league who's expected to garner the honor of top overall pick, each figure on going somewhere in the top three.


But unlike Kane, who is planning to turn pro the minute he hears his name, van Riemsdyk and Turris will be moving on to smaller arenas -- literally.




In August, both skaters will take up residence with two of the most storied programs in college hockey, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, in hopes of not just developing their own unbelievable talents but aiding their teams in the quest for the ultimate prize in college sports: a national championship.


For each it is a decision they ultimately feel will benefit them in the long run.


"I need to get stronger and physically better before I make that big step into the NHL and Wisconsin is the perfect fit for me at the moment," Turris said. "I'm going to take it year by year and see how I develop. I think I'm going to need at least one year of college."


"I know what I have to do to keep getting stronger and faster and that is to go to UNH," van Riemsdyk said.

"Going to UNH is the best decision for me and in the end I think it is going to make me more prepared and give me advantages once I turn pro."               


Turris enters the draft as the more likely of the two to go first overall. The 6-foot-1, 170 pound center from British Columbia arrives in Madison having just completed a 66-goal, 121-point season with the Burnaby Express of the British Columbia Hockey League. During the league's playoffs, Turris led all scorers with 26 points. Yet it is Turris' tremendous raw talent that has scouts salivating. He is a perfect passer with the type of hands that most players can only dream of. On top of that, the easy-going forward has a deceptively quick shot that has been none to fool goalies from in tight or out wide.


Turris, however, has never let any of the talk of his skills go to his head. Despite recently being named the top skater in the draft by several major rankings, Turris is steadfast in his decision to attend Wisconsin.


"I'm very confident in the route I've chosen," Turris said. "My ultimate goal is to play in the NHL and this decision is going to help me achieve that. I have no second thoughts."


As for the recent buzz surrounding where he'll land this Friday, it's something Turris says he could've never imagined.


"I never ever thought of going first in the draft as a reality," Turris said. "It is exciting though. The draft is wide open so we will see how it goes."


Like Turris, van Riemsdyk refuses to count his eggs before they hatch. Citing the recent Brady Quinn debacle at the NFL Draft, van Riemsdyk, a native of Middletown, N.J., say he is not going to worry when Friday arrives.


"A lot can happen when draft day rolls around," van Riemsdyk said. "We saw with Brady Quinn that things can change pretty quickly and players can slip. I'm just going to try and relax and let it all happen. I'm not going to worry too much.


"I try not to focus on the rankings and pre-draft stuff."


After all, as van Riemsdyk says in his own words, he is pretty lucky just to be in this situation.


"This is just a dream," Van Riemsdyk said. "It's an honor to be in this position."


At the same time, it's a position both UNH and Wisconsin couldn't be more pleased with.


With both skaters already committed to their schools, the programs automatically add a five tool player who could have a serious effect on their fortunes this upcoming season.


"There's no question we are getting a great prospect," UNH head coach Dick Umile said about van Riemsdyk. "He does just about everything. He is going to be able to step right in for us and do a lot of things you don't normally expect of a freshman."


Wildcat captain Matt Fornataro echoes his coach's sentiment.


"It's obviously huge for us to land of a player of his stature," Fornataro said. "He is an offensive force who can put up points very quickly. He produces, that's for sure.


"We have a great team coming back, but getting a guy like van Riemsdyk definitely helps. Hopefully, he can help us finally win a national championship. He definitely has expectations to meet."


Before selecting the Wildcats, van Riemsdyk bypassed such top level teams as Boston College, Boston University and Michigan.


"In the end it came down to Michigan and UNH," van Riemsdyk said. "I just felt really comfortable at UNH. They couldn't have been nicer and more down to earth. I felt like part of a family the minute I got there."


While some scouts feel Turris lack the size, van Riemsdyk is a power winger by every stretch of the imagination. Weighing in at 200 pounds, van Riemsdyk excelled with the U.S National development team this past season. Collecting 63 points in 42 games, van Riemsdyk made a name for himself as a player who could find the net while also putting his body on the line. However, van Riemsdyk doesn't want to be typecast. He says he is willing to do anything to help his team.


"I'll be whatever the team needs to be successful," van Riemsdyk said. "I want to chip in wherever."


It is this attitude that makes both van Riemsdyk and Turris perfect additions for any team, whether they are in the big leagues or in the collegiate ranks.