It's been a busy week for outgoing NTDP players heading to the CHL. North Dakota recruit Miles Koules announced he will be playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, while Miami recruit Ryan Hartman announced he will play for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.
It is funny to see the NTDP getting blamed for these departures when, as far as I can see, the NTDP kept these players out of the CHL for the duration they were in the program, and as soon as they aged out, they opted for the CHL. That seems more like a North Dakota and Miami problem to me. Maybe it's time for them to print up another $10 banner and hold another press conference to pat themselves on the back about what Important People they are.
With Koules, the writing seemed to be on the wall after a disappointing season that concluded with him being left off the US roster for the World U18 championships. A better writer could probably draw a comparison between Koules' downfall and the Ashton Kutcher fiasco on Two and A Half Men. Being sent down to the U17 team didn't bode well for his college career, and I have to imagine Medicine Hat ended up being quite a bit more interested in Koules than North Dakota was. Normally it's not a wise move for a kid facing the likelihood of going undrafted to double down on hockey and give up hope of a college education, but Koules is in a unique position because of his background, which cancels out a lot of that.
Hartman, as a late '94 birthdate, still had another year of high school left to finish before he was eligible to play college hockey. Hartman had been trying to accelerate his schooling to get to Miami next year, but that didn't work out. That's not something to hold against a kid. With the incredible demands put on these kids just with hockey, it's difficult enough to keep up with a regular academic load, let alone double that. That meant Hartman was left with a choice of playing for Dubuque of the USHL, or Plymouth, and heading into his draft year, I don't think he wanted to make what he felt was a lateral move.
That said, I'm not convinced this was the best long-term move for his future. Hartman is a fine player, but he's still 5'10", and despite whatever they may have promised, I doubt Plymouth is going to make him 3 inches taller. He'll definitely be drafted next year, but where? I think it's highly unlikely to see him in the first round of the draft, and once you get outside the first round of the draft, even a 2nd round pick only has like a 40% chance of making it as an NHLer, and the numbers decline pretty steeply after that. What exactly is Hartman gaining compared to what he is giving up in getting a college education? I haven't heard many people talking about how Kenny Ryan is totally tearing it up in the ECHL playoffs this year.
It's a tough loss for Miami, in what could end up being a tough summer. They'll still have to wait on decisions from recruits Pat Sieloff and Riley Barber, whose rights are both owned by Windsor. My gut feeling is that Sieloff ends up in Windsor by next year. Barber is tougher to peg, if only because he's had multiple chances to leave and hasn't.
Meanwhile, the big prize remains Seth Jones, who recently had his rights traded from Everett to Portland, and is deciding between playing in the WHL for Portland and heading to North Dakota next year. Jones took a visit to Portland this past weekend. The Hawks have come a long ways from not paying for their own players sticks and medical procedures four years ago to becoming one of the WHL's big spenders.
Jones is a rare case where I think actually think playing in the WHL makes at least as much sense as playing college hockey. Playing with the NTDP U18s this past year, Jones was watched by pretty much every NHL team in every game he played this year. He's competed against the best in the world at his age group, and he's got a pretty solid understanding of where he's likely to go in next year's draft. Much can change, but it's looking pretty likely that Jones is a top 5 draft pick next year, and the odds of him being an NHLer are almost guaranteed. Playing college hockey certainly wouldn't hurt him, but it's also understandable if he wants to focus solely on hockey as he prepares for the NHL.
Jacob Trouba will be another player to watch this offseason. I've felt, ever since his commitment, the odds of Trouba actually playing for Michigan are about 50/50, though I think the only way he ends up in the OHL next year is if the NHL team that drafts him gets him to sign a contract and assigns him there, similar to JT Miller last year.