Let's Play Hockey Magazine had an interesting article by editor Kevin Kurtt that counted all of the former NCAA players in the NHL. By their count, 252 former NCAA players played at least one game in the NHL last season, which is almost a third of the players to play in the NHL this season.
Regardless of which side of the fence that you sit, it's impossible to deny that the NCAA is doing a great job preparing kids for the NHL, and that NHL opportunities for NCAA players are increasing.
The article also points out that seven of the top 20 rookie scorers in the NHL last year, which is promising. It was pointed out to me last week that the NCAA has a fairly low representation among the very top scorers in the NHL. Part of the reason for that is that college hockey seemed to have a pretty down cycle of talent around the turn of the century. The other reason is that most of the players in that super-elite category are top 5 draft picks that were ready to play in the NHL at 18 or 19. For those players, the CHL may be the best route. The league allows them to play against slightly older, more talented competition as a 16 and 17 year old. The NCAA has a pretty strong barrier to underage players in that you have to graduate high school before playing college hockey. Were it not for academic requirements, players like Pat Kane and Peter Mueller probably would have been NCAA players as well. The same will likely be true of a kid like Matt Duchene one day.
The problem is that there is a huge gap between the number of kids that get told they fall into that super-elite category and the number of kids that actually fall into that category.
For the vast majority of kids, they'll be on the borderline of the NHL, and it looks like the NCAA is doing a tremendous job of getting those borderline NHL players into the league.