The New York Rangers recently held their annual prospect development camp at MSG Training Center and like every year, there was certainly an abundance of talent on display. However this year, much of the talent came from a different source than years past. Not only were thirteen of the thirty-eight players on the development roster coming from the NCAA, but they were some of the most impressive players on the ice. Impressive talents such as Vinni Lettieri, Chris Nell, Vince Pedrie and several others have risen out of the NCAA, marking collegiate hockey as a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
As far as forwards go, Andrew Oglevie and Vinni Lettieri are two to watch. Oglevie is a talented center that has played two seasons with Notre Dame in the NCAA and put up impressive numbers to say the least. In 71 games skated over his two seasons with the Fighting Irish, he registered 26 goals and 24 assists for 50 total points and a plus-27 rating. He has represented the United States twice at the World Juniors and helped them to Gold both times around. This dynamic center knows when to keep the puck, when to make plays, and when he is scoring, everyone benefits. The Irish were 14-3-3 in games Oglevie registered a goal, which he did in 20 of the teams 40 games his sophomore year.
Another promising prospect, as noted, is center Vinni Lettieri. The University of Minnesota has brought the NHL the talents of Phil Kessel, Thomas Vanek, and now potentially Rangers prospect Vinni Lettieri. Lettieri had a successful collegiate career as the Golden Gophers won the Big Ten regular season championship each of his four years on the ice. Over his four years, he skated in 149 collegiate games and registered 83 points. In his final season as a Gopher, he registered 39 points in 40 games. He lead the Gophers in faceoff win percentage at 55% and played two seasons alongside current Rangers’ defenseman Brady Skjei. In his last two seasons, he put up 63 points in 75 games averaging .84 points per game. Lettieri plays smart hockey and knows how to make himself effective in any situation and it’s this astounding hockey IQ that sets this prospect apart from the others.
While offensive play is fun to watch, one of the most impressive players on the ice this camp was defenseman Vince Pedrie out of Penn State. In his two seasons with Penn, Pedrie put up 52 points in 71 games skated while also holding a plus-30 rating. He holds the Penn State record for points in a season from a defenseman (30) and ranked third in the NCAA for shots on goal with 167. After his collegiate season, he joined Hartford for nine games and put up five assists as well as 23 shots on goal and only eight penalty minutes. The 6’0”, 195lb defenseman offers a two way presence on the ice that could fit well into the mold that Blueshirts are putting together with players like newly-acquired Kevin Shattenkirk in the mix.
Lastly, goaltender Chris Nell was one of the most impressive net-minders out of college after his three years at Bowling Green State. The Green Bay, Wisconsin-native posted a 41-29-10 record, 10 of which were shutouts, and a .922 save percentage. In his final 8 games of his college career, Nell boasted a 7-1-0 record, along with a 1.26 GAA, a .957 SV%, and 3 SO. After concluding his collegiate season, he joined the Hartford Wolf Pack and while he went 1-3-0, he made twenty-six stops in two of the four games, including his debut on April 1st and his first AHL win on April 7th. With some more experience in this faster paced style of hockey, Nell should adapt nicely and serve well in net.
These players are exciting to watch not only because they represent an exciting future for the Rangers, but they mark the American collegiate system as one worth taking seriously. Three of the four players mentioned here were signed as a free agents after their collegiate seasons, a couple of which played in other junior leagues before playing in college.
This is nothing new, of course; College Hockey has already provided players an alternative route to the pros outside of the Canadian Juniors leagues. But, perhaps now more than ever before, the NCAA is continuing to show itself to be a promising system for players to grow and NHL teams to recruit from. Just recently in 2016, Arizona State University joined Division I action in the Pac-12 conference. The Nittany Lions hockey club at Penn State became a D-I in 2012.
The 2016-17 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins was a roster littered with NCAA alumni. In fact, the Pens included the largest group of NCAA alumni to win the Stanley Cup. The 15 former-NCAA players on the roster went to 13 different schools to play puck. Of the 19 goals scored by the Penguins in the Finals, 14 came off the sticks of players who played college hockey. Of 77 goals for the Pens in the 2017 NHL Playoffs, 50 were scored by college hockey alumni.
Now, the NHL and the NHLPA are partnering with the University of Illinois to see if college hockey can be brought back to the University of Illinois-Chicago. As long as this trend continues, American hockey will continue to grow and compete.