Care to back up that thesis?
At a rate greater than in recent years, the WHL has been recouping talent that had originally spurned major junior hockey for the lure of life as an NCAA student-athlete. In just the last few weeks alone, WHL teams have added the likes of Jeff Lee, Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Jamie Benn, not to mention the off-season news that T.J. Galiardi, Keith Seabrook (both now with the Calgary Hitmen) and Jim O’Brien (Seattle) altered course on their individual hockey careers.And then there was this beauty:
Pierro-Zabotel is a different story in that he had academic issues that led him to give up a scholarship to Michigan Tech for a roster spot with the Vancouver Giants. Evan Pighin is another BCHL player who returned to the WHL, though he was ineligible for the NCAA because of time spent in Red Deer. Pighin left Salmon Arm for the Chilliwack Bruins less than two weeks ago.So Pierro-Zabotel and Pighin chose the WHL over a league they're not allowed to play in? Why set the bar so low? If you're trying to build up the WHL by comparing it to impossibilities, you may as well say: "Evan Pighin chose the WHL over becoming the King of Frace" or "Evan Pighin chose the WHL over traveling back in time to dropkick Frederick the Great"
As far as I can tell, just about every NCAA departure to the WHL can be classified into two categories: Guys who weren't doing much in the NCAA and wanted something new, and guys who couldn't cut it academically and were asked to leave.
Let's take a closer look at some of the players who left NCAA hockey...
Category 1: Change of Scenery
Jeff Lee(Alaska to Edmonton): From Fairbanks beat writer Danny Martin: "Not getting an opportunity to play a significant role this season for the Nanooks was the reason that sophomore left wing Jeff Lee gave for leaving Alaska last week for the Edmonton (Alberta) Oil Kings of the major-junior Western Hockey League.
“The new coaching staff has indicated that my role, espcially this year, was not going to be a significant one,” the 19-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, and the brother of senior left wing Aaron Lee said in an e-mail sent Saturday."
Jim O'Brien(Minnesota to Seattle): I'm not even sure if this technically counts for Seattle. O'Brien signed a contract with Ottawa, and because he played in the US, he could have been assigned to the AHL, but wasn't good enough and was sent to Seattle. In any case, O'Brien played on Minnesota's fourth line last year, and was going to be moved to defense this year.
Tyler Swystun(Michigan to Medicine Hat): He scored 4 points in 36 games for Michigan. He was on the fourth line, and didn't see his chances of playing time increasing.
Category 2: Forced Change of Scenery
Casey Pierro-Zabotel(Michigan Tech to Vancouver): By now, everyone knows the story of how he couldn't get a high enough test score to play for MTU
T.J. Galiardi(Dartmouth to Calgary): Kicked out of Dartmouth for an academic scandal.
T.J. Fast(Denver to Tri-City): Struggles academically helped influence his decision to leave.
Erik Felde(Anchorage to Tri-City): Didn't qualify academically
Brandon Campos(Fairbanks to Everett): Didn't qualify academically
Category 3: Different Path
I'm willing to accept that there is a third category, albeit way smaller than some north of the border would like to believe. There are a few players that decide to leave NCAA hockey for one reason or another.
Duncan Keith(Michigan State to Kelowna): Keith left Michigan State for the WHL in belief of the conventional wisdom that the WHL was the "faster route to the pros". Keith did eventually make the NHL, but not until the 2005-2006 season, or the season after he would have graduated from Michigan State.
Jamie Benn(Alaska to Kelowna): There are some interesting circumstances with Benn's situation. The coaching staff that recruited him to Alaska left over the summer, and his brother Jordie, who was also recruited to Alaska, was unable to academically qualify for NCAA hockey this year, and there are no guarantees that he will qualify by next year.
Keith Seabrook(Denver to Calgary): Seabrook wasn't a standout in his first year at Denver, but played decent hockey, and showed signs of improving. Seabrook may have thought the WHL would be a better route, but playing at Denver was no problem for Matt Carle, another 2nd round pick and defenseman. Carle is an NHL regular, and has outperformed every WHL prospect from his draft year, except for two; Dion Phaneuf and Shea Weber.