This weekend two high profile players went on the record confirming that their planned path to the NHL still runs through the NCAA. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal but in light of the "Summer of the CHL" and the recent comments from one very influential WHL General Manager, it's news certainly worth mentioning.
First, on Friday our pals over at Future Considerations posted a story which includes quotes from Zemgus Girgensons. The Latvian is about to begin his second season in the USHL with Dubuque before he's slated to join the University of Vermont. Eligible for the 2012 NHL draft, most pundits still 10 months out see him as a probable 1st rounder.
However, when Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton speaks people listen and that was definitely the case when he told Larry Fisher of the Daily Courier that "I know as soon as he’s drafted, the NHL team’s not going to want him in Dubuque and they’re not going to want him going to the University of Vermont, either. We’ll have a real good opportunity to have him here for sure next year, and potentially after Christmas this year."
The Rockets were successful in bringing in Mikael Backlund after the World Junior Championship in 2009 so it's not as if Hamilton is not without experience pulling off such a coup.
However, according to the Future Considerations story, Girgensons isn't exactly on the same page as the Kelowna GM.
"My plan this year is to play in the USHL and then go to Vermont. I never really change my mind and actually, I have not even talked to the Kelowna organization, only my advisor has. I don’t see myself playing there."
Anything can happen but at this point it's pretty clear where Girgensons' head is at. If we see an about face midway through the 2011-12 season and the Latvian is in fact skating in Kelowna, that won't look good on him and it will have people speculating what exactly transpired between team, agent and player to make that happen.
I guess we'll wait and see how this one plays out.
The other player in question was New York Islanders draft pick Scott Mayfield who joined me on The Pipeline Show on Saturday morning. The 6'4 blueliner slipped out of the 1st round to 34th overall but would not have been a surprise if he cracked the top 30.
After two seasons in the USHL with Youngstown, Mayfield is headed to Denver to begin his NCAA career. He told me on Saturday about the many connections he has to the area.
Mayfield's CHL rights are held by the Kitchener Rangers who have had Americans like John Moore, Jeremy Morin, Jerry D'Amigo and now John Gibson on their roster. I asked Mayfield if he'd had similar conversations with the Rangers this summer and if it was a possibility that he'd play in the CHL.
"No, not much. I think the education part has always been a big thing in my family. My brother is at the Air Force Academy, and he's a really smart kid, and that's just what I've grown into," Mayfield said, "Plus, Denver gives me four years and I know that the Islanders have a lot of good, young talented defencemen in their system right now and if I went up to Kitchener I'd only have two years of eligibility there and I don't want to mess around with that."
"I think that I'm taking the safer way and I just love it out in Denver and I think that's going to be the right fit for me."
It's an interesting point that Mayfield makes about the depth of the Islanders prospect system right now in relation to his eligibility. Here's a guy who is looking 3 or 4 years ahead and sees that, although he could turn pro and play in the minors, it might be better for his development to take advantage of a junior or senior year with the Pioneers instead.
We've heard the argument that the CHL path is the faster one to the NHL but in cases where there is a long jam in the organization, that fast track ends up being to the AHL or in many cases the ECHL, the latter of which makes no sense to leave college (and a degree) for.
Obviously the Islanders are fine with Mayfield's choice or else he'd be at the Rangers camp right now. Considering that Rhett Rakhshani and Matt Donovan are former Pioneers with the Islanders, that comes as no surprise.
Again, something could happen to change Mayfield's mind much like it did with William Wrenn who left Denver for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks midway through last season. As with Girgensons, I guess time will tell.