Two prospective college hockey players chose to give up their NCAA eligibility this week in favor of playing in the CHL. There are many reasons that a player may choose to play hockey in the CHL, but it seems the first reason that always gets brought up north of the border is their success in sending players to the NHL.
I'm not intentionally picking on these two players, because I can think of countless other examples of similar players over the past couple of years, but both players were shorter than 5 feet 10 inches tall. What are the odds of a player that small making it to the NHL? If the current NHL is any indication, those odds are not very good. Looking at the current roster of every NHL team, there are a grand total of 17 skaters listed at 5-9 or less. Here is the list:
Martin St. Louis
By my count, there are four Europeans, five CHL players, and 8 NCAA players on that list. Out of the 8 NCAA players, 7 of them played four seasons of NCAA hockey.
The fact is, if you're a player of that size, the NCAA clearly looks like the best option. Say what you will about the new NHL and size not making much of a difference, it's still incredibly rare for a player of that size to make the NHL. And while a player can make a decent living playing hockey in the minor leagues or in Europe, it's unlikely he'll be "set for life" if he's not playing a few years in the NHL. So why not try to earn a college scholarship and get a solid education and a four-year degree that can be put to good use as soon as your playing career is over?
Furthermore, I think the ability to play four years in college has helped a lot of those players develop more and make them the players they are today. Of course it's impossible to say, but if a player like St. Louis or Gionta was forced to turn pro at age 20, I think it's unlikely they'd be the player they are today. The extra years in a developmental setting really helped them.
I understand that everyone wants to chase the ultimate dream. But reality has to intercede at some point, and what may be the best route for some, isn't necessarily the best route for all players.