About 30 percent of the NHL is made up of college players -- a 9 percent jump from a decade ago. Many of them, like former UND great Jonathan Toews, are playing major roles on winning teams.
Even so, that's not enough to convince all NHL organizations.
As college hockey is set to embark on another season, coaches say that they are still battling a perception problem with a few NHL teams.
While most of them support their prospects playing NCAA hockey, there are a couple of them that are advising prospects to go to Canadian major juniors, where they play more games and the NHL teams have more control of the player.
"There's no question that some (NHL teams) are anti-college hockey," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "They will tell a kid before the draft that if we draft you, we want to get you out of school."
Berenson cited two examples. He said that the Anaheim Ducks asked goaltender John Gibson to leave Michigan two summers ago to go to the Ontario Hockey League. Gibson obliged.
"Gibson was signed and sealed," Berenson said of his letter of intent to play at Michigan. "The NHL pulled him out of college. It wasn't major juniors. The NHL is as much of a problem in keeping kids in college as major junior is."
The Anaheim Ducks despute that claim, though.
"I have the utmost respect for Red Berenson, but that simply isn't true," Anaheim Ducks senior vice president David McNab said. "He has heard something that's inaccurate."
In 2005, Berenson said the Ducks also tried to convince star defenseman Jack Johnson to leave Michigan if they drafted him.
"Anaheim told him before the draft that they would take him No. 2 behind Sidney Crosby if he left Michigan," Berenson said. "Jack said, 'No way, I'm excited about going to Michigan.' So, Anaheim passed on him and Jack ended up going No. 3 to Carolina.
"A lot of people understand college hockey is doing a great job developing players. Some of them still don't get it. They want to wheel a kid into their own system. I'm a big college hockey supporter. The system works. I'm really disappointed in some of the pro attitudes. They don't respect college hockey development as much as they should."
Although Berenson cited two incidents with the Ducks, McNab said Anaheim supports college hockey.
"When we won the Cup in 2007, we had 12 junior players, 11 college players," McNab said. "Our second, third and fourth leading goal scorers were all college players. That might be the first time that's ever happened. If anybody believes we disrespect college hockey, that's not true."
A couple of other coaches blamed NHL influence for losing players to major juniors.
Nebraska Omaha coach Dean Blais said the Philadelphia Flyers told Anthony Stolarz to go to the Ontario Hockey League midway through last season because Stolarz wasn't playing enough games.
Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said the Montreal Canadiens wanted to sign first-round pick Michael McCarron this summer, which rendered him ineligible for college.
"He didn't want to leave Western Michigan," Murray said. "Montreal wanted to sign him. It wasn't because (McCarron) wanted to play major junior. It was because the Canadiens wanted his name on a contract."
A couple of coaches acknowledged that some NHL teams are often in the ears of players during their seasons.
"It's a (concern)," Blais said. "It's easy for them to get distracted. The good teams, the successful teams, will tell a kid to go have fun, get your degree, stay out of trouble and be a good guy. Everything will take care of itself."
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who lost a top player midseason two years ago, said: "There's no question that it happens. They are in the players' ears and it hurts the player. He's trying to focus on a task at hand. But we can't control it. It's part of the deal."
Miami coach Rico Blasi has lost five top-end players to major juniors the last two summers. Asked whether there are certain teams you don't want drafting your players, Blasi said: "I don't want to get into pointing fingers, but you're aware of what's happening. Let's just say that."
UND coach Dave Hakstol, who lost a top prospect to major juniors soon after the NHL draft in 2011, said he has no big qualms about the NCAA-NHL.
"From my standpoint, it's a good relationship," Hakstol said. "We've had a very good working relationship with NHL teams. It doesn't mean you always agree on final decisions that are made, but we've always had an opportunity to be part of those decisions and work through those decisions. From my standpoint, speaking strictly for our program, I think the relationship with the NHL is healthy and it's one we're working to build and grow.
"We ask for NHL teams for help in developing our players, all the while, we're trying to develop players and people that can add value to their organizations. The more you can communicate, the more effective you are."
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