Getting Schooled

With development key in 2007 draft, college big in first round

June 23, 2007

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Few if any of the players selected in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft Friday night are expected to make an impact in the NHL next season.


A total of 11 players drafted in the first round at Nationwide Arena will play college hockey in 2007-08, besting the previous record of 10 set in the 2003 draft. From incoming New Hampshire forward James vanRiemsdyk at No. 2 (Philadelphia) down to Minnesota forward Jimmy O'Brien at No. 29 (Ottawa).




Going into Friday night, the 2007 draft class had been widely discussed as being short on instant impact players, with more players that will need development in the next couple of years. Given the need for development, college hockey and the junior leagues that feed into it - which allow the most time for teams to let their prospects develop before signing them - was a very attractive option.


"That isn't why we picked him, but I think it may be an added bonus that there's more time for him to develop," said Vancouver Canucks Senior Vice President and General Manager David Nonis, on taking Minnesota recruit Patrick White with the 25th pick. "For us, it's important that when a player is going to college, he's going to a college where they are developing players, and for us, we're very comfortable with him going to Minnesota."


"With the way the rules are with Europeans having to be signed up after two years as well as major junior players, you can take a kid and put him in school, and you don't have to worry about him for four years unless you get him out," said one Edmonton Oilers scout, commenting on the selection of Cornell recruit Riley Nash with the No. 21 pick in the draft. "That's an attractive offer. That's one of the considerations about Riley Nash. We can bank him in Cornell for a while."


"It certainly helps that we've got a guy going to college," Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said. "If he plays three years, than that helps layer the guys entering into our organization."


Some of the teams that went to the college ranks are those that have done so sparingly in recent years.  Wisconsin recruit Brendan Smith, for one, was shocked to go to the Detroit Red Wings with the 27th pick in the draft, not only because of the big jump from his status as the No. 68 North American skater (according to the NHL Central Scouting Service), but because the Red Wings have not drafted heavily from college and the college track in recent years, drafting four college or college-bound players in the 2001-06 drafts.


"When they announced my name, I was shocked," Smith said. "I did not think I would be one to be chosen there. It's the first round pick, and it's Detroit."


According to Red Wings Assistant General Manager Jim Nill, though, it was just a matter of drafting the best player for the team's needs, which is the basic philosophy.


"He was just the best player," Nill said of Smith. "He's our type of player. He plays a skating game; he moves the puck well. He's a Detroit Red Wing."


By the same token, Montreal had drafted eight players from the college ranks in this decade, but used both of their first round picks on college-bound players Friday, passing up on Quebec native Angelo Esposito to take Wisconsin recruit Ryan McDonagh at No. 12, then selecting Michigan recruit Max Pacioretty with the 22nd pick in the draft. Canadiens Director of Player Recruitment and Development Trevor Timmins attributes his team's selections to improving development avenues in the US, rather than the ability to let players develop longer. 


"I think if you look at where a lot of the players are coming from now," Timmins said, "especially Minnesota, they're doing an outstanding job in development with their young hockey players."


As for the longer development period before signing, Timmins said, "That may go into the thinking maybe in the later rounds, but not in the first round. We think these players have a lot of upside, and that's why they were selected."


Indeed, McDonagh spoke Friday of the possibility of being ready for the next step after one year at Wisconsin.


"It's going to be an exciting year ahead of me," McDonagh said. "I'll have to think about my situation and think about myself after my year at Wisconsin is completed, whether I'm ready to make the jump into the Montreal franchise." 


Of course, if he isn't, there's always next year or the year after.


Like 10 of the other players selected in the first round on Friday, McDonagh has plenty of time.