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Study: College players fit in well in NHL

PHILADELPHIA -- The debate over which route to the NHL is best -- major junior hockey or college hockey via the NCAA -- is one that has raged for years and will no doubt be the subject of impassioned discussion moving forward. That said, there were some interesting numbers revealed on the eve of the annual draft by College Hockey Inc., which represents the interests of 59 Division I hockey programs across America.

A study of players selected in the NHL draft from 2000 to 2006 shows that an incredible 70 percent of U.S. college players taken in the first round went on to play at least 300 NHL games (100 or more games for goalies drafted in the first round) compared to 57 percent of all other players selected in the first round through the same time period.

Now, the number of collegiate players selected during that period is significantly smaller than the number of players taken from the Canadian Hockey League and other sources of talent like European leagues: 46 from the NCAA, 100 from the CHL and 61 from Europe.

But the fact still remains that those players selected from the NCAA have shown a remarkable ability to fit in long-term with teams.

Some of this is an obvious nod to the relative maturity of NCAA players, who are by and large older when they become NHLers. But it also shines a favorable light on the manner in which NCAA players are being groomed by top programs around the United States.

The idea of studying the staying power of these first-round picks was the brainchild of University of North Dakota head coach David Hakstol. He said he wasn’t surprised at the results, but rather they reaffirmed what the nation’s top colleges are doing in preparing not just good players but leaders and good, intelligent people who can adapt to different experiences.

For a few top-end prospects, no matter where they come from, the adjustment to life in the NHL can be seamless and be effected relatively quickly. But for the vast majority, “it’s a long, hard process,” Hakstol told ESPN.com this week.

To keep with it requires maturity and staying power, and the numbers suggest the NCAA is doing an excellent job of preparing players with those qualities and that NHL teams are well-served by using top picks to select them at the annual draft.

The study wasn’t so much to prove a point regarding which developmental avenues are better, Hakstol said, but to ensure the programs are doing a good job at the college level.

“And to ask ourselves, how do we do a better job,” Hakstol said.

North Dakota has had lots of experience in the field of first-rounders.

Along with obvious stars like Jonathan Toews, 2012 first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis) will be joined by his brother Nick, who is also a candidate to go in the first round in Philadelphia Friday night.