Hockey may be Canada's forté, but the NCAA has turned out more than its fair share of household-name NHLers. Sixty-nine former collegiate players have been selected in the first round of the league's draft.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of first-round picks are based in the college hockey hotbeds of Minnesota (9), Massachusetts (18), and Michigan (19). That’s exactly two thirds (or 66.7 percent) of the 69 first-round picks to play college hockey, coming from schools in six percent of the country’s states. It's quite a contrast in numbers!
Here’s a look at how the nine schools with multiple first-round picks stack up:
|2||Boston U.||Hockey East||9|
|T-4||Boston College||Hockey East||7|
And here's a full list of the 12 teams with one first-round pick: Colorado College, UConn, Cornell, Dartmouth, Denver, Miami (OH), New Hampshire, Northeastern, Notre Dame, St. Cloud State, U-Mass Lowell, and Yale.
Michigan isn’t currently the championship-winning powerhouse it was during the last century, but the program’s dominance on this list shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: from 1991 to 2012, the Wolverines played in 22 consecutive NCAA Men's Division I Ice Hockey Tournaments. They reached those postseasons behind a bevy of suds, including four Top 10 picks.
Boston and Minnesota, the best-known college hockey programs in the country, follow suit in second and third, another pair of obvious results. Between Phil Kessel, Thomas Vanek, Rick DiPietro, and Jack Eichel, there’s plenty of name recognition for this duo.
One school I was surprised to see with a pair of first-rounders was Maine. The no-brainer selection, Paul Kariya, came in 1993, when the Ducks took the Canadian wunderkind fourth overall. But the Sabres also selected a Black Bear when they took Barrett Heisten 20th overall in 1999. They took different paths: Kariya played in 989 games and scored 402 goals as one of the league’s premiere snipers for over a decade. Heisten played 10 NHL games before an eight-year minor league career.
Kariya is one of 13 NCAA players to be selected in the Draft’s Top 5. Here’s how many Top 5 picks each school’s produced:
|1||Boston U.||Hockey East||5|
|T-4||Boston College||Hockey East||1|
Not too many surprises here, although the Terriers' absolute dominance is impressive.
Here’s one very interesting bit of trivia, however: both Boston and Michigan State have produced a No. 1 overall selection (Rick DiPietro for BU, Joe Murphy for MSU) and a No. 2 overall selection (Jack Eichel for BU, Craig Simpson for MSU). If it weren’t for Wisconsin product Dany Heatley being selected second overall in 2000, those would be the only NCAA players ever selected with the first two picks of the NHL Draft, and they’d be from the same two schools.
Alas, Heatley’s excellent NHL career breaks up the symmetry.
A couple other notes:
1. When the Sabres selected Thomas Vanek fifth overall in 2003 out of Minnesota, he became the highest-drafted player of Austrian nationality in league history.
2. The 14 Top 5 picks combined for 11 Stanley Cup wins, led by three apiece from U. of North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews and Michigan’s Aaron Ward. Not too bad!
Now, finally: what about conferences? Let’s take a look:
The classic powerhouse conferences -- CCHA, Hockey East, and WCHA -- unsurprisingly produced 62 of the 69 first-round picks. Alright, maybe it's a little surprising: that's a staggering 89.8 percent!
Don't forget about the lonely NCHC draft pick, though: the conference has existed for just seven years, and St. Cloud State's Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens, 25th overall, 2017) has already made a splash. Watch out for the fledgling conference in the coming years, especially with SCSU's recent trajectory. They might be reaching that fourth spot sooner rather than later.