It is all well and good if a learned observer of the hockey landscape — maybe I'll get there some day! — has a preference for major junior or NCAA hockey. Cherry-picking like it's Sunday morning pickup hockey to make an argument for one over the other will never do, even though it's pretty far down the list of the myriad sniping and shin-kicking that goes on between the Canadian Hockey League and NCAA interests.
No doubt it sets off all manner of jaw-grinding whenever the latest NHL first-round choice who in the NCAA track, such as Dallas Stars top choice Jamie Oleksiak or New York Rangers first-rounder J.T. Miller , says he plans to play junior hockey since it's a quicker route to the big league. It's been shown time and again that a good player can make it through either route. In the wake of word getting around that Miller (pictured)) has opted for the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers after initially committing to the University of North Dakota, Brad Schlossman had a provocative piece claiming that program's players are "dwarfing the production of Plymouth players (and other major junior teams) in the NHL."
While the NCAA perception lingers, and is repeated often, the numbers don't necessarily reflect it.
UND's Zach Parise has scored more NHL goals than every player the Plymouth Whalers have produced in the last eight years combined (and Parise missed almost all of last year).
When you add in others that the Sioux have produced in that timeframe — Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Toews, 30-goal scorer Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac, alternate captain Matt Greene, T.J. Oshie, etc. — the former Sioux are dwarfing the production of Plymouth players (and other major junior teams) in the NHL.
The official numbers (in players produced during the last eight years)?
NHL games played: UND 2,648. Plymouth 1,245.
NHL goals: UND 551. Plymouth 154.
NHL assists: UND 794. Plymouth 259.
NHL points: UND 1,345. Plymouth 413.
Players with 100+ NHL games: UND 10. Plymouth four.
... No matter, the perception still exists, and it may be what drove Miller and Oleksiak to the OHL. (Grand Forks Herald)
You are not alone if your knee started jerking while you wondered out loud, "I wonder if he would have written that if Miller was headed to the London Knights." Or Kitchener Rangers. Or Windsor Spitfires.
Here's how UND compares with the Knights and Rangers, using the NHL stats for anyone who played for either OHL team during the eight-season span for 2002-03 through 2009-10.
Since 'produced' is a pretty loose term, that means Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri's NHL totals count for both Kitchener and London; likewise for Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason. However, Blue Jackets star Rick Nash doesn't count toward London's total, since his last season of junior was 2001-02 before he made the NHL as an 18-year-old.
Without further adieu:
NHL games played: London 4,007; Kitchener 2,688; UND 2,648.
NHL goals: London 671; UND 551; Kitchener 502.
NHL assists: London 1,264; UND 794; Kitchener 771.
NHL points: London 1,935; UND 1,345; Kitchener 1,273.
Players with 100+ NHL games: London 16, UND 10, Kitchener 9.
That is hardly dwarfing unless one thinks 5-foot-7 Martin St. Louis, who played in the NCAA, dwarfs 5-foot-6 Theo Fleury (a CHL grad). This is hardly meant to be definitive. There are several stellar college teams whose alumni are likely collectively more productive in the NHL than those of many CHL teams. And just about every CHL team has put more players in the NHL than, say, American International University. It is not even clear if it is a valid comparison; NCAA coaches work with mostly 19- to 22-year-old players who are across the board more physically and emotionally mature than juniors.
For probably not the last time, the best path is the one which works best for a particular player. The choice is individual, not ideological, and the reality you can cook the numbers in either direction suggests as much.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).