(Source: CollegeHockeyInc.com) – The Pittsburgh Penguins – fueled by a lineup featuring more than 50% of NCAA alums – captured the 2016 Stanley Cup with Sunday’s Game 6 victory in San Jose. Eleven former college players played for the Penguins in the final and at least 13 will have their names etched on the Stanley Cup. Both of those are all-time highs in NHL history (the 13 on the Cup tying the 1995 New Jersey Devils). An NCAA alum scored in all six games of the Cup Final and as a group accounted for 9 of the Penguins’ 15 goals. Pittsburgh’s season turned around with the arrival of head coach Mike Sullivan, a Boston University graduate who becomes the first former NCAA player to win the Cup as head coach since Dan Bylsma with the Penguins in 2009.
This makes my red blooded American heart all warm and fuzzy. We here at BostonPucks.com have been strong advocates since Day 1 that the NCAA is the place to find the NHL ready players you need, from depth to starring roles, to contend in the modern era NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins just proved that. And you don’t need lottery picks to get most of these guys.
When Pens GM Jim Rutherford went to the market to find the right ingredients to fix his miserable mid-season Penguins he clearly looked in the NCAA folder in his filing cabinet. He made Mike Sullivan head coach (Boston University), picked up Carl Hagelin (Michigan, 6th round pick), and benefited from the mix of Bryan Rust (Notre Dame, 3rd round pick), Brian Dumoulin (Boston College, 2nd round pick), Conor Sheary (UMass-Amherst, undrafted), Nick Bonino (Boston University, 6th round pick), and offseason blockbuster Phil Kessel (Minnesota, 1st round pick), to name just a few.
Canada’s junior hockey system (the CHL) will always be in the spotlight and will certainly feed the NHL stars like Conor McDavid, and to a little lesser degree Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Jonathan Drouin, and more. But by playing against men (21-24 year olds) rather than teenagers, and not having to deal with the stupid agreement the CHL/NHL have about kids under 20-years-old being able to play in the AHL (just follow the money trail to who’s getting paid to figure out why that rule exists) you’ll see the NCAA is pumping out a large amount of mature, developed, well rounded, and physically ready NHLers every year.
It’s really nice to see. And it’s not changing any time soon. Even our beloved and re-building (whether they want to admit it or not) Boston Bruins now have accumulated five, yes five, former NCAA hockey team captains in re-filling their prospect pool (Danton Heinen and Noel Acciari to name a couple) in just the past two offseasons. The NCAA will continue to take up a significant share of NHL rosters as their game is able to develop studs that are used to playing hockey geared toward the systematic pro game than the younger and looser CHL.
Even though I’ll never root for the Pittsburgh Penguins, I can happily say it’s awesome to see these collegiate athletes making the biggest impact on the biggest stage in the NHL.