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From college to the NHL

04/03/2018, 3:30pm CDT
By Kevin Kurtt - Let's Play Hockey Editor

Over 300 former U.S. college players appeared in the NHL during the 2017-18 regular season

Let’s Play Hockey photos by Mike Thill

If you’ve watched nearly any NCAA sporting event on television in the past several years, you’ve seen the ad. You may even be able to recite the tagline: “There are 380,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of them will be going pro in something other than sports.” It’s a noble campaign directed at educating the masses that most athletes in college will see their athletic careers come to an end at graduation. 

In the world of NCAA hockey, the vast majority of players on the 60 Division I and 88 Division II/III men’s teams will not make the jump to the NHL, AHL, ECHL or any other of the various professional hockey leagues around the world. But for a select few, college hockey is merely a steppingstone to the bright lights of the NHL.

In fact, according to our research, 311 players who have seen at least one regular season NHL game in 2017-18 honed their skills in college before making the leap to the professional ranks. That number represents 32 percent of all NHL players from the current season. In 2017-18, 53 former collegiate hockey players have made their NHL debut.

Leading the list of former college players now in the NHL are standouts such as Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel (Minnesota), Winnipeg’s  Blake Wheeler (Minnesota), Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College), Arizona’s Clayton Keller (Boston University), San Jose’s Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin), Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (Boston University), the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee (Notre Dame), Minnesota’s Jason Zucker (Denver) and Ryan Suter (Wisconsin), Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere (Union), Boston’s Torey Krug (Michigan State), Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck (UMass Lowell), Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts) and Dallas’ Ben Bishop (Maine)

In the 2017-18 NHL regular season, former college players ranked as the eighth overall pointgetter (Kessel), seventh overall goal scorer (Lee), top overall assist scorer (Wheeler), seventh overall plus/minus performer (Reilly Smith), second-ranked rookie scorer (Keller) and top-ranked goalie by wins (Hellebuyck).

Breaking down the list of 311 players by college sees Minnesota lead the way with 26 players, followed by Boston College and  North Dakota (22), Michigan (21), Boston University (18), Denver (14), Wisconsin (13), Miami (11) and Minnesota Duluth (10).

Over 32 percent of the NHLers who played college hockey spent all four years in school, with 70 percent staying at least three years on campus. Twenty-three percent of the former college players who played in the NHL this year were undrafted free agents.

In the NHL, it sure seems some teams are more likely to sign, trade or draft for a college-bred player than others. In fact, 16 NHL teams had 10 or more college-bred players on the ice this season, led by the New Jersey Devils (17), Boston Bruins (16), Buffalo Sabres (16), Minnesota Wild (16) and Pittsburgh Penguins (16).

Naturally, the state of Minnesota is well-represented among the college-to-the-NHL players. Of the 311 players, there are a record 58 native Minnesotans, including 16 who made their NHL debut this season. 

A look at the NHL rosters of last 18 seasons also shows that college hockey players are gaining a stronger foothold in the league. According to our research, 210 players who saw at least one regular season NHL game in 1999-2000 played college hockey before making it to the big leagues. In following seasons, that number has continued to grow (see graph) to last season’s high mark of 313, a 49-percent increase from 1999-2000.

The number of colleges providing players to the NHL has similarly grown over the past 18 seasons, from 39 in 1999-2000 to a high of 49 this season.

Along the same lines, the numbers of Minnesotan NHL players who also played college hockey has grown over the last 18 seasons. In 1999-2000, there were 25 college-to-the-NHL Minnesota natives. The last 11 seasons has seen 40 or more.

And the numbers will only continue to grow as over 130 players have signed pro contracts since the conclusion of their 2017-18 college seasons. During the 2017-18 college hockey season, there were nearly 200 players whose rights were owned by an NHL franchise. In addition, the NHL Central Scouting Service’s rankings for the 2018 Entry Draft list 111 current or future college players.

Phil Housley was the rare hockey player to make the quantum leap from high school to the NHL. Countless Canadians take the Major Junior route before making the jump to the pros. European players compete in the numerous leagues throughout the continent in hopes of someday earning a spot on an NHL team. But for 311 NHL players, college was the path to take.


Thanks to College Hockey, Inc. for additional data.

College hockey alums in the NHL (since 1999-2000)

Minnesota native college hockey alums in the NHL (since 1999-2000)

From college to the NHL (2017-18 season)

Kevin Bieksa D Bowling Green Anaheim
J.T. Brown # F Minnesota Duluth Anaheim
Andrew Cogliano F Michigan Anaheim
Patrick Eaves F Boston College Anaheim
Derek Grant F Michigan State Anaheim
Nic Kerdiles F Wisconsin Anaheim
Ryan Kesler F Ohio State Anaheim
Kalle Kossila F St. Cloud State Anaheim
Josh Manson D Northeastern Anaheim
Jaycob Megna D Omaha Anaheim
Ryan Miller G Michigan State Anaheim
Brandon Montour D Massachusetts Anaheim
Kevin Roy * F Northeastern Anaheim
Troy Terry * F Denver Anaheim
Andy Welinski *# D Minnesota Duluth Anaheim
Josh Archibald # F Omaha Arizona
Adam Clendening D Boston University Arizona
Kevin Connauton D Western Michigan Arizona
Alex Goligoski # D Minnesota Arizona
Joel Hanley D Massachusetts Arizona
Clayton Keller F Boston University Arizona
Dakota Mermis * D Denver Arizona
Derek Stepan # F Wisconsin Arizona
Noel Acciari F Providence Boston
Kenny Agostino F Yale Boston
David Backes # F Minnesota State Boston
Anders Bjork * F Notre Dame Boston
Austin Czarnik F Miami Boston
Ryan Donato * F Harvard Boston
Brian Gionta F Boston College Boston
Matt Grzelcyk D Boston University Boston
Danton Heinen F Denver Boston
Torey Krug D Michigan State Boston
Sean Kuraly F Miami Boston
Charlie McAvoy D Boston University Boston
Kevan Miller D Vermont Boston
Riley Nash F Cornell Boston
Tim Schaller F Providence Boston
Tommy Wingels F Miami Boston
Kyle Criscuolo * F Harvard Buffalo
Jack Eichel F Boston University Buffalo
Hudson Fasching # F Minnesota Buffalo
Taylor Fedun D Princeton Buffalo
Chad Johnson G Alaska Buffalo
Jake McCabe D Wisconsin Buffalo
Casey Mittelstadt *# F Minnesota Buffalo
Matt Moulson F Cornell Buffalo
Casey Nelson D Minnesota State Buffalo
Danny O’Regan F Boston University Buffalo
Kyle Okposo # F Minnesota Buffalo
Zach Redmond D Ferris State Buffalo
Evan Rodrigues F Boston University Buffalo
Matt Tennyson D Western Michigan Buffalo
Adam Wilcox *# G Minnesota Buffalo
Scott Wilson F UMass Lowell Buffalo
Matt Bartkowski D Ohio State Calgary
Spencer Foo * F Union Calgary
Johnny Gaudreau F Boston College Calgary
Jon Gillies G Providence Calgary
Tanner Glass F Dartmouth Calgary
Garnet Hathaway F Brown Calgary
Mark Jankowski F Providence Calgary
Ryan Lomberg * F Maine Calgary
Nick Shore F Denver Calgary
Scott Darling G Maine Carolina
Phil Di Giuseppe F Michigan Carolina
Justin Faulk # D Minnesota Duluth Carolina
Warren Foegele * F New Hampshire Carolina
Noah Hanifin D Boston College Carolina
Brett Pesce D New Hampshire Carolina
Jaccob Slavin D Colorado College Carolina
Lee Stempniak F Dartmouth Carolina
Trevor van Riemsdyk D New Hampshire Carolina
Collin Delia * G Merrimack Chicago
Scott Foster * G Western Michigan Chicago
John Hayden F Yale Chicago
Blake Hillman *# D Denver Chicago
Vincent Hinostroza F Notre Dame Chicago
Duncan Keith D Michigan State Chicago
Tanner Kero F Michigan Tech Chicago
Jordan Oesterle D Western Michigan Chicago
Nick Schmaltz F North Dakota Chicago
Patrick Sharp F Vermont Chicago
Dylan Sikura * F Northeastern Chicago
Jonathan Toews F North Dakota Chicago
J.T. Compher F Michigan Colorado
A.J. Greer F Boston University Colorado
Rocco Grimaldi F North Dakota Colorado
Andrew Hammond G Bowling Green Colorado
Erik Johnson # D Minnesota Colorado
Tyson Jost F North Dakota Colorado
Alexander Kerfoot * F Harvard Colorado
Matt Nieto F Boston University Colorado
Dominic Toninato * F Minnesota Duluth Colorado
David Warsofsky D Boston University Colorado
Colin Wilson F Boston University Colorado
Cam Atkinson F Boston College Columbus
Ian Cole D Notre Dame Columbus
Zac Dalpe F Ohio State Columbus
Nathan Gerbe F Boston College Columbus
Jack Johnson D Michigan Columbus
Mark Letestu F Western Michigan Columbus
Eric Robinson * F Princeton Columbus
Jordan Schroeder # F Minnesota Columbus
Thomas Vanek F Minnesota Columbus
Zach Werenski D Michigan Columbus
Ben Bishop G Maine Dallas
Stephen Johns D Notre Dame Dallas
Mike McKenna G St. Lawrence Dallas
Curtis McKenzie F Miami Dallas
Greg Pateryn D Michigan Dallas
Tyler Pitlick # F Minnesota State Dallas
Devin Shore F Maine Dallas
Justin Abdelkader F Michigan State Detroit
David Booth F Michigan State Detroit
Jared Coreau G Northern Michigan Detroit
Danny DeKeyser D Western Michigan Detroit
Luke Glendening F Michigan Detroit
Jimmy Howard G Maine Detroit
Nick Jensen # D St. Cloud State Detroit
Dylan Larkin F Michigan Detroit
Gustav Nyquist F Maine Detroit
Luke Witkowski D Western Michigan Detroit
Matt Benning D Northeastern Edmonton
Drake Caggiula F North Dakota Edmonton
Mike Cammalleri F Michigan Edmonton
Eric Gryba D Boston University Edmonton
Jujhar Khaira F Michigan Tech Edmonton
Brad Malone F North Dakota Edmonton
Al Montoya G Michigan Edmonton
Cam Talbot G Alabama Huntsville Edmonton
Chase Balisy * F Western Michigan Florida
Nick Bjugstad # F Minnesota Florida
Henrik Borgstrom * F Denver Florida
Connor Brickley F Vermont Florida
Michael Matheson D Boston College Florida
Ian McCoshen D Boston College Florida
Frank Vatrano F Massachusetts Florida
Daniel Brickley * D Minnesota State Los Angeles
Jonny Brodzinski # F St. Cloud State Los Angeles
Christian Folin D UMass Lowell Los Angeles
Derek Forbort # D North Dakota Los Angeles
Kevin Gravel D St. Cloud State Los Angeles
Alex Iafallo * F Minnesota Duluth Los Angeles
Paul LaDue D North Dakota Los Angeles
Alec Martinez D Miami Los Angeles
Torrey Mitchell F Vermont Los Angeles
Jonathan Quick G Massachusetts Los Angeles
Louie Belpedio * D Miami Minnesota
Charlie Coyle F Boston University Minnesota
Matt Cullen # F St. Cloud State Minnesota
Jordan Greenway * F Boston University Minnesota
Justin Kloos *# F Minnesota Minnesota
Luke Kunin * F Wisconsin Minnesota
Gustav Olofsson D Colorado College Minnesota
Zach Parise # F North Dakota Minnesota
Nate Prosser # D Colorado College Minnesota
Kyle Rau # F Minnesota Minnesota
Nick Seeler *# D Minnesota Minnesota
Carson Soucy * D Minnesota Duluth Minnesota
Alex Stalock # G Minnesota Duluth Minnesota
Ryan Suter D Wisconsin Minnesota
Daniel Winnik F New Hampshire Minnesota
Jason Zucker F Denver Minnesota
Daniel Carr F Union Montreal
Charlie Lindgren # G St. Cloud State Montreal
Max Pacioretty F Michigan Montreal
Jeff Petry D Michigan State Montreal
Mike Reilly # D Minnesota Montreal
Anthony Bitetto D Northeastern Nashville
Nick Bonino F Boston University Nashville
Matt Irwin D Massachusetts Nashville
Craig Smith F Wisconsin Nashville
Kyle Turris F Wisconsin Nashville
Brian Boyle F Boston College New Jersey
Will Butcher * D Denver New Jersey
Blake Coleman F Miami New Jersey
Brian Gibbons F Boston College New Jersey
Andy Greene D Miami New Jersey
Jimmy Hayes F Boston College New Jersey
Keith Kincaid G Union New Jersey
Nick Lappin F Brown New Jersey
Ben Lovejoy D Dartmouth New Jersey
Kyle Palmieri F Notre Dame New Jersey
Blake Pietila F Michigan Tech New Jersey
Kevin Rooney F Providence New Jersey
Steve Santini D Boston College New Jersey
Cory Schneider G Boston College New Jersey
Drew Stafford F North Dakota New Jersey
Miles Wood F Boston College New Jersey
Travis Zajac F North Dakota New Jersey
Tanner Fritz * F Ohio State N.Y. Islanders
Nick Leddy # D Minnesota N.Y. Islanders
Anders Lee # F Notre Dame N.Y. Islanders
Scott Mayfield D Denver N.Y. Islanders
Brock Nelson # F North Dakota N.Y. Islanders
Chris Wagner F Colgate N.Y. Islanders
Paul Carey F Boston College N.Y. Rangers
Steven Fogarty *# F Notre Dame N.Y. Rangers
John Gilmour * D Providence N.Y. Rangers
Kevin Hayes F Boston College N.Y. Rangers
Steve Kampfer D Michigan N.Y. Rangers
Chris Kreider F Boston College N.Y. Rangers
Vinni Lettieri *# F Minnesota N.Y. Rangers
Boo Nieves * F Michigan N.Y. Rangers
Rob O’Gara D Yale N.Y. Rangers
Neal Pionk *# D Minnesota Duluth N.Y. Rangers
Kevin Shattenkirk D Boston University N.Y. Rangers
Brady Skjei # D Minnesota N.Y. Rangers
Brendan Smith D Wisconsin N.Y. Rangers
Jimmy Vesey F Harvard N.Y. Rangers
Mike Borowiecki D Clarkson Ottawa
Erik Burgdoefer D RPI Ottawa
Mike Condon G Princeton Ottawa
Ryan Dzingel F Ohio State Ottawa
Max McCormick F Ohio State Ottawa
Jim O’Brien # F Minnesota Ottawa
Ben Sexton * F Clarkson Ottawa
Colin White F Boston College Ottawa
Chris Wideman D Miami Ottawa
Christian Wolanin * D North Dakota Ottawa
Mark Alt # D Minnesota Philadelphia
Brian Elliott G Wisconsin Philadelphia
Shayne Gostisbehere D Union Philadelphia
Alex Lyon *# G Yale Philadelphia
Will O’Neill * D Maine Philadelphia
Matt Read F Bemidji State Philadelphia
Zach Aston-Reese * F Northeastern Pittsburgh
Casey DeSmith * G New Hampshire Pittsburgh
Brian Dumoulin D Boston College Pittsburgh
Jake Guentzel # F Omaha Pittsburgh
Carl Hagelin F Michigan Pittsburgh
Matt Hunwick D Michigan Pittsburgh
Josh Jooris F Union Pittsburgh
Phil Kessel F Minnesota Pittsburgh
Jamie Oleksiak D Northeastern Pittsburgh
Carter Rowney F North Dakota Pittsburgh
Chad Ruhwedel D UMass Lowell Pittsburgh
Bryan Rust F Notre Dame Pittsburgh
Justin Schultz D Wisconsin Pittsburgh
Riley Sheahan F Notre Dame Pittsburgh
Conor Sheary F Massachusetts Pittsburgh
Zach Trotman D Lake Superior State Pittsburgh
Justin Braun # D Massachusetts San Jose
Aaron Dell G North Dakota San Jose
Dylan Gambrell * F Denver San Jose
Paul Martin # D Minnesota San Jose
Joe Pavelski F Wisconsin San Jose
Joakim Ryan * D Cornell San Jose
Beau Bennett F Denver St. Louis
Chris Butler D Denver St. Louis
Carter Hutton G UMass Lowell St. Louis
Wade Megan F Boston University St. Louis
Colton Parayko D Alaska St. Louis
Mitch Reinke *# D Michigan Tech St. Louis
Jordan Schmaltz D North Dakota St. Louis
Jaden Schwartz F Colorado College St. Louis
Tage Thompson * F Connecticut St. Louis
Cory Conacher F Canisius Tampa Bay
Alex Killorn F Harvard Tampa Bay
Chris Kunitz F Ferris State Tampa Bay
Ryan McDonagh # D Wisconsin Tampa Bay
Matthew Peca F Quinnipiac Tampa Bay
Andrej Sustr D Omaha Tampa Bay
Tyler Bozak F Denver Toronto
Jake Gardiner # D Wisconsin Toronto
Ron Hainsey D UMass Lowell Toronto
Justin Holl *# D Minnesota Toronto
Zach Hyman F Michigan Toronto
Curtis McElhinney G Colorado College Toronto
Dominic Moore F Harvard Toronto
James van Riemsdyk F New Hampshire Toronto
Alex Biega D Harvard Vancouver
Brock Boeser # F North Dakota Vancouver
Thatcher Demko * G Boston College Vancouver
Nic Dowd F St. Cloud State Vancouver
Adam Gaudette * F Northeastern Vancouver
Ben Hutton D Maine Vancouver
Jayson Megna F Omaha Vancouver
Tyler Motte F Michigan Vancouver
Troy Stecher D North Dakota Vancouver
Chris Tanev D RIT Vancouver
Ryan Carpenter F Bowling Green Vegas
Jason Garrison D Minnesota Duluth Vegas
Erik Haula F Minnesota Vegas
Brad Hunt D Bemidji State Vegas
Jon Merrill D Michigan Vegas
Brandon Pirri F RPI Vegas
Nate Schmidt # D Minnesota Vegas
Reilly Smith F Miami Vegas
Alex Tuch F Boston College Vegas
Zach Whitecloud * D Bemidji State Vegas
Jay Beagle F Alaska Anchorage Washington
Travis Boyd *# F Minnesota Washington
Alex Chiasson F Boston University Washington
Taylor Chorney # D North Dakota Washington
Shane Gersich *# F North Dakota Washington
Aaron Ness # D Minnesota Washington
Matt Niskanen # D Minnesota Duluth Washington
Brooks Orpik D Boston College Washington
T.J. Oshie # F North Dakota Washington
Kyle Connor F Michigan Winnipeg
Andrew Copp F Michigan Winnipeg
Connor Hellebuyck G UMass Lowell Winnipeg
Matt Hendricks # F St. Cloud State Winnipeg
Tucker Poolman *# D North Dakota Winnipeg
Jack Roslovic F Miami Winnipeg
Paul Stastny F Denver Winnipeg
Brandon Tanev F Providence Winnipeg
Jacob Trouba D Michigan Winnipeg
Blake Wheeler # F Minnesota Winnipeg
* player made NHL debut in 2017-18
# Minnesota native

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