Schlossman: What would happen if CHL players became available to NCAA teams?

Feb. 13—GRAND FORKS — The reaction of the country's Division-I men's hockey coaches is overwhelmingly similar when you ask them whether

the NCAA should open its doors to Canadian Hockey League


Outside of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, they say no.

The reason is generally the same: They do not think as many NHL first-round picks and top prospects will end up in college hockey. They think the players will start playing major juniors in Canada at age 16 or 17, knowing they won't lose their eligibility, and then just decide to remain there until they sign pro deals.

I think they've got it backwards.

You'll find very few coaches who share my opinion, but I think nearly all of the NHL first-rounders from the CHL end up in college after their draft year, which usually coincides with high school graduation.

It can be a difficult concept to visualize because it doesn't happen now. Players don't leave the CHL. But that's not because they are passionate about playing a fourth or fifth year in Swift Current or wherever they're playing. It's because under the current system, they virtually can't go anywhere.

If they can't make the NHL, they're sent back to juniors. There's no AHL option for players under age 20 who haven't played four seasons in the CHL, per an agreement with the NHL. And they can't go to college. So, they're stuck.

But if the option to play college opens up, I believe they'll head to NCAA schools when they're ready.

By the time they graduate high school, most of the top prospects have two or three years of CHL play under their belts. They'll be ready for the next thing. A lot of them have outgrown the CHL.

College hockey is older, and in turn, and more competitive.

On top of that, college hockey facilities are generally better, and among the traditional powerhouse schools, significantly better. The lifestyle is better. The living arrangements are better. The academic setup is better.

There's a reason why top prospects don't choose to remain in the United States Hockey League playing juniors when they're ready for college.

Going up and down the list of NHL draft picks, I can find examples of top-end CHL players who I believe would have ended up in NCAA hockey.

Matthew Savoie went No. 9 overall to the Buffalo Sabres in the 2022 NHL Draft. He's currently playing his fifth season of junior hockey. If given the opportunity, would he have deferred signing with the Sabres for a year or two in order to develop at the University of Denver like his brother, Carter?

Would Manitoba's Seth Jarvis have played a fourth season in the WHL or would he have come to UND for a year before signing with the Carolina Hurricanes?

Would the Seattle Kraken strongly prefer that their top prospect, No. 4 overall pick Shane Wright, be a sophomore in the NCAA right now rather than stuck in his situation where he's outgrown the CHL but can't make the NHL?

If I'm right, and this is how things would play out, there would be major changes to college hockey (and the CHL as well as other North American junior leagues).

For starters, the traditional powerhouse schools, who land the high NHL draft picks, would become younger. The number of four-year players would decrease.

The number of Americans playing college hockey also would shrink substantially as the number of Canadians rise. Some in the U.S. would look at that as an issue, some would not.

The massive increase in the player pool also would make college hockey deeper and, in turn, could create more parity. That's likely what the CCHA has calculated and why it is supporting the opening of the CHL.

While the traditional powerhouses would likely increase in talent, the non-traditional powerhouses may see the larger increase and net benefit.

This is a debate that will occur in Naples, Fla., in April at the annual coaches meetings.

Until then, coaching staffs, athletic directors and conference commissioners will likely internally debate how they think things will transpire to firm up positions on it.

At the moment, not many agree with me.