Ryan Gropp is poised to head south of the border, but not to play for the Seattle Thunderbirds. He decided to commit to the University of North Dakota for the 2014-15 season over joining the WHL club that drafted him sixth overall in 2011.
“I reviewed all of my options and decided the NCAA route was the best option for me,” says Gropp. “To get all of my education paid for is very important to me. It’s something I can use past my hockey career and the school is a great school.”
When it came down to NCAA options, Gropp looked at various schools, but knew in his heart that he would choose the University of North Dakota.
“I looked at a bunch of schools, Denver was one of them,” says Gropp. “North Dakota was the school I wanted to go to from the start, though. They have great coaches and a great program. I want to take business schooling and they offer a great program for that. I went there last week (first week of July) and I decided to commit shortly after that.”
Gropp, who turns 17 on Sept. 16, is being touted as the University of North Dakota’s top Canadian recruit since they landed Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathon Toews in 2005. Although the Kamloops, B.C., native is honoured by the praise, he knows he has a long ways to go to fill Toews’ shoes.
“It’s great their program and fans are excited to have me,” says Gropp. “But Toews has won a couple Stanley Cups and has had a very successful NHL career. I haven’t even played a game for North Dakota yet, so I’m not sure if the comparisons are fair.”
The American college route was Gropp’s plan from practically the beginning. He did, however, take a hard look at joining the Thunderbirds when Matthew Barzal, the first pick of the 2012 bantam draft, signed with Seattle at the 2013 WHL draft.
“At times it was really tempting to play for Seattle around when Barzal signed,” says Gropp. “He’s a really good player and with him on their team their future looks really bright. It was hard to pass up that opportunity.”
Gropp’s decision to commit to an NCAA school obviously wasn’t music to Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell’s ears, but he wasn’t surprised by the news.
“It’s very disappointing to not recruit a high draft pick like Gropp,” says Farwell. “It seems that was his family’s plan right from back when he was 15 or so. It would have been nice to know that back at his bantam draft. But now that he has committed, we’re marching on from Gropp.”
Before heading to the University of North Dakota for the 2014-15 season, Gropp will play a second season with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. As a rookie, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound winger scored 12 goals and 31 points in 50 games while adjusting to junior hockey.
“Last year was a building year in Penticton,” says Gropp. “I soaked in the league and got use what it takes to play in the BCHL. I scored some points, but I felt I was just getting started. I think I’ll be a better overall player next year and a bigger scorer.”
Projected as a first-round pick of the 2015 NHL draft class by International Scouting Services, Gropp has already generated attention from NHL scouts. He isn’t too worried about his rankings with two seasons of hockey ahead of him before his draft, though.
“It’s nice to get noticed, but my draft is still a long ways away, so I’m not paying much attention to where people think I might go in the draft,” he says. “I just want to focus on my development and keep improving all aspects of my game.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen