I've always been intrigued by Canadians who opt for the NCAA path to the NHL because for a lot of them, exposure to the college game would be very difficult to come by. There is next to zero TV coverage of NCAA hockey in Canada so it's tough to even watch from a distance.
We've been told by NCAA people that if not for The Pipeline Show, there might not be any NCAA hockey talk happening in the media North of the border.
Yet Canadians still make up roughly 25% of the population of NCAA players and currently 5 of the top 9 scorers in the country come from Canada. But it's looking at the scoring race right now that got me to thinking about something else. The NCAA obviously isn't just for Americans but it's also no longer considered a valid option just by North Americans.
Every year there are Europeans that are making a name for themselves in North America and it isn't always in the CHL. Thomas Vanek spent a couple of years as a Minnesota Golden Gopher, was drafted 5th overall in 2003 and is now a key player for the Buffalo Sabres. Fellow Austrian Andreas Nodl played at St. Cloud State (top photo: SCSU Athletics), was taken in the 2nd round by Philadlephia, and is now playing for the Flyers. Swede Viktor Stalberg was a recent standout at Vermont before being drafted and signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks.
That's just a trio of examples but I'm sure there are plenty of other Europeans that have quietly come over and played College hockey. There are several enrolled and playing for various programs around the country right now but here is a quick Top 5 of the more notable ones.
5. Mitch Bruijsten - Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (WCHA)
There are four Europeans playing for the Seawolves but I'm singling out Bruijsten simply because of his nationality. I mean seriously... he's from the Netherlands. The sophomore forward has 4 points in 8 games this year after a 6-point freshman campaign. The 6'4, 195 lb is now 21-years-old and played two seasons in the USHL before beginning his NCAA career. He had 71 points over two years with the Sioux City Musketeers where he played with another Euro who appears a little later on in this list. The Dutchman is undrafted. (Photo: Michael Dinneen / UAA Athletics)
4. Erik Haula - Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Haula might hail from Finland but, like Bruijsten he's been in the U.S. for a while now. The left winger came over and played at Shattuck-St.Mary's during his NHL draft year (2008-09) and was taken in the 7th round by Minnesota. Last year he played in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers and racked up 72 points in 56 games, good for 5th overall in league scoring.
Now he's a member of the Golden Gophers and has 10 points in 8 games which is one shy from the team lead. The 19-year-old is listed at 5'10 and 184 lbs so size might be an issue for him. However, the little Finn is proving that he can compete and produce against bigger and older competition as he takes on a tough WCHA Conference most weekends.
3. Stephane Da Costa - Merrimack Warriors (HE)
Like the two players listed above, Da Costa came to North America before starting his NCAA career. Originally from Paris France, Da Costa first played for the Texas Tornado of the NAHL scoring 40 points in 50 games. From there he joined the Sioux City Musketeers for a pair of seasons, totaling 31 goals and 67 points in just 48 games his final USHL campaign. (Photo: Merrimack Athletics)
Last year the Frenchman turned a lot of heads during his NCAA debut with Merrimack. He had a 5-point outing one night and ended the year leading the program in scoring with 46 points in 34 games. Da Costa earned an invite from the Anaheim Ducks to attend their summer prospect camp this past summer so you know he's on the radar for NHL clubs. I'd definitely consider him one of the top free agents available in the NCAA this year and won't be surprised if there is a bit of a feeding frenzy of teams trying to sign him if he should repeat his freshman production at Merrimack this year.
Here's a nice video that Merrimack put together of him last year:
2. Carl Hagelin - Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
The Michigan senior leads the Wolverines in scoring already this early season but after a 50-point campaign as a junior, his production shouldn't come as a surprise. He led the club last year and was third in scoring back in 2008-09. The 6'0, 181 lb forward hails from Södertälje in Sweden, home to a quality Elite League team, so it's intriguing as to why he came over to play college hockey rather than stay at home.
Hagelin was drafted by the New york Rangers back in 2007 while he was playing for Södertälje's junior team. He made the move to the NCAA the following year but has played for Sweden internationally including the 2008 World Junior Tournament in the Czech Republic. Hockey's Future considers Hagelin to be the Rangers' 9th best prospect right now.
1. Gustav Nyquist - Maine Black Bears (HE)
He was still playing junior hockey for Malmö when the Detroit Red Wings selected him in the 4th round of the 2008 draft. The next season Nyquist left his homeland and joined the Maine Black Bears, a proud program that had fallen on hard times. That first season he managed 32 points in 38 games, tops on his team which is something Maine fans might be coming to expect from him.
Last year Nyquist led not only the Black Bears in scoring but the entire NCAA as well. His points were 7 more than Wisconsin's Derek Stepan and it's not like he was playing on a powerhouse team - Maine finished with an overall winning percentage of .521 and ended up fourth in the Hockey East standings.
Still, the Swede was an obvious choice for the Hobey Hat Trick and there were some who felt he should have been given the award for top collegiate player over Blake Geoffrion. The 5'11, 175 lb forward is in his third year at Maine and knowing the Red Wings, he'll probably stay the full 4 years before joining the NHL club. That probably sounds pretty darn good to Maine and the legions of Black Bears faithful. (Photo: Dennis Pause)