Tue Oct 25 11:30am EDT
When the Windsor Spitfires took their recruitment of potential NHL first-round choice Jordan Schmaltz public last weekend, one had to figure it would not take College Hockey, Inc.'s Paul Kelly long to fire a return a salvo. That is his sworn duty and he's quite good at it.
Long story short, even though Schmaltz has been committed to the University of North Dakota for two seasons and is off to a successful start with the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers, the Spitfires are not giving up hope of landing him. With their track record of wooing players away from NCAA commitments, no one would expect that. So we get what Chris Peters called a "friendly reminder" that even if Schmaltz has his heart set on North Dakota, a lot of players of his calibre end up in major junior hockey.
Spitfires head coach and president Bob Boughner said of Schmaltz to the Windsor Star, "College is the right decision for some guys, but a guy like that, we're the one that going to get you prepared for the NHL," adding, "The Cam Fowler situation is a perfect scenario where you could be in the NHL in 18-to-24 months." General manager and vice-president Warren Rychel played the Cam Fowler card with even more vehemence.
"Just look at Cam Fowler," Rychel said. "[Schmaltz] should pick up and phone and call Cam Fowler or his dad should pick up a phone and call Perry Fowler [Cam's dad] or pick up the phone and talk to Jack Campbell, [who walked away from a scholarship at the University of Michigan to join the Spitfires]." (Ibid.)
Kelly wasn't about to take that lying down. The former NHLPA head appeared Monday on Sportsnet Radio's Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt, mostly to talk about the idea of the NHL having a 19-year-old draft. (Kelly had some excellent points about how it might actually be in the players' association interest since older, higher-earning players might get an extra season.) When the chat swung around to Windsor's comments about Schmaltz, Kelly said it was "laughable" to say the recent two-time MasterCard Memorial Cup-winning franchise would do a better job than North Dakota, a top WCHA program.
"For Mr. Rychel to make some of the statements he made in his article [sic] that this player [Jordan Schmaltz] isn't exploring his options and needs to make a decision and we're going to better prepare him for the NHL more so than North Dakota is quite frankly, laughable." ... Frankly, if you go back to 2003, 2004, and compare North Dakota to Windsor Spitfires, what you will find is both programs have put 15 players into the National Hockey League over that time. But the Windsor Spitfires players in the National Hockey League have played half the number of games as have the players coming out of the University of North Dakota. The players coming out of North Dakota who include Zach Parise, Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac, Jonny Toews, Matt Greene, they've had three times the number of points ... the point is, to say North Dakota's not preparing players for the NHL, that's a joke." (Prime Time Sports)
Pardon the hair-splitting, but did either Boughner or Rychel actually say words to that effect, that North Dakota's not preparing players for the NHL? Boughner's comment seemed directly strictly to the Fowler-like high-end talent Schmaltz is purported to be, i.e., "a guy like that." They have their belief in their program, but they're certainly not going to deny that North Dakota does turn out a NHLer or two or 10.
If nothing else, this underlines how powerful a trump card Cam Fowler is as a CHL success story. The defenceman played only one season in Windsor before moving up to the NHL's Anaheim Ducks full-time before his 19th birthday. Whether is farther ahead ahead on the learning curve than either of the two same-named defencemen from the NCAA who were high draft picks in the mid-aughties, Jack Johnson (No. 3 overall in the 2005 NHL draft) and Erik Johnson (No. 1 in 2006), were at the same age, is debatable. At the very least, Fowler might be farther ahead than either Johnson while getting paid for his trials and tribulations.
But the argument really isn't about Fowler. There are only so many players who are of that calibre. Kelly does have a point that the NHLers who matriculated at UND in recent seasons more than punch their weight compared to those who played in Windsor. It's not a knockout argument, but it's enough for a standing eight-count. Regular readers would recall that in the summer, when UND lost New York Rangers first-round pick J.T. Miller to Windsor's cross-border rival, the Plymouth Whalers, BTN compared the productivity of North Dakota's alumni in the NHL to those from a couple of the more prominent OHL franchises, the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers, using anyone who skated for any of those teams from 2002-03 through '09-10.
How does UND compare to Windsor for the same period? Quite well, although not to the "laughable" degree Kelly stated. (The figures for UND are adapted and updated from an article Brad Schlossman wrote in July.)
NHL games played: UND 2,687, Windsor 1,840.
NHL goals: UND 562, Windsor 213.
NHL assists: UND 803, Windsor 395.
NHL points: UND 1,365, Windsor 608.
Players with 100+ NHL games: UND 10, Windsor 5.
Please bear in mind that the Windsor contingent is probably much younger than UND's. Fowler and the Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall have yet to turn 20. Former world junior players Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian, Greg Nemisz and Adam Henrique are all 21 or younger and will likely cut into that margin in the years to come.
Perhaps that shows that tallying up the NHL statlines of players is an essentially contestable concept. The real comparison might be to see how productive each group was as they aged and progressed in the NHL, but it would take someone much smarter and with even less life than I have to figure out how you control for everything that affects a player once he's beyond junior or college.
All this goes to show how far each side, CHL and NCAA, will go in exaggerating the success stories. C'est la vie. No doubt Jordan Schmaltz is mature enough to handle being used as a political football.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).