Murphy Stratton watched a dozen of his Wenatchee Wild teammates commit to colleges last season.
But he wasn’t getting much attention.
It wasn’t because of his ability level. He had plenty of that, averaging nearly a point per game as an 18-year-old.
It was because the letters ‘WHL’ were next to his name on the linecharts that are handed to scouts.
Stratton played the 2016-17 season with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League, which makes him temporarily ineligible to play college hockey. NCAA Bylaws mandate that playing a single game in the WHL will lead to, at a minimum, a loss of one full year of eligibility.
When Stratton returned to a traditional college development league in the British Columbia Hockey League last season, recruiters didn't bother asking about him.
“The first half of the season, I was just trying to play and have fun,” Stratton said. “In Calgary, it wasn’t a fun year for me. It wasn’t a good year for me. When I got to Wenatchee, I was focusing on myself and finding the love for hockey again.”
Stratton, a 6-foot-4 playmaking winger from Los Angeles, watched a dozen of his Wild teammates commit to colleges, so he started to investigate whether he could get his eligibility restored.
He reached out to the NCAA. His Wenatchee coach, Bliss Littler, reached out to colleges.
And after about seven months, the process ended with Stratton committing to UND this week.
Stratton said the NCAA told him that his penalty for playing 45 games in the WHL will be one year and seven games.
He plans to play the 2018-19 season with Wenatchee.
He will be with UND for the 2019-20 season, but will be ineligible to play. He will be allowed to practice and travel with the team.
Stratton will miss the first seven games of the 2020-21 season before becoming eligible. Including the 2020-21 season, he will have three years of college eligibility.
Stratton mainly communicated with UND, Arizona State and Minnesota State-Mankato, but opted for UND after visiting campus.
“It was unbelievable,” Stratton said. “Everything was top-notch. I’ve heard how amazing the facilities were, but you don’t get to understand how great they are until you see them in person. They blew me away.”
For half of last season, Stratton played on a line with Jasper Weatherby, an incoming UND freshman and San Jose Sharks draft pick.
“Murphy is more of a playmaker,” Littler said. “He’s a big kid who skates really well. I expect that he’ll be in the 60-80 point range in the league this year. He’ll be one of our leaders, that’s for sure.”
Stratton said he is close with Weatherby.
"He wasn't only my linemate, he was one of my best friends," Stratton said. "He was telling me all about UND and how amazing it was. That was one of the reasons I was interested."
Last season, Stratton 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists) in 54 games for the Wild, who won the BCHL’s playoff championship.
Although it’s rare for players with WHL experience to play college hockey, it’s not unheard of. The last time UND dealt with the issue was 2001, when Colby Genoway had to sit out for one year and eight games.
What makes Stratton’s situation unique is the number of games he played.
Two longtime college hockey observers told the Herald that they don’t remember the last time someone played as many WHL games as Stratton and still went to college hockey.
"I've never heard of anyone doing it," Stratton said.