More and more these days, the talent level in the NHL has been tilted in the favor of NCAA hockey players.
Not to say those who attend college have surpassed those who go the major junior route, but the gap is narrowing.
A look at the 2017 NHL playoffs so far has seen significant contributions from NCAA grads. Tyler Bozak, who attended Denver University, scored the OT winner for Toronto in a 4-3 win over Washington Monday night. Jake Guentzel, a rookie with Pittsburgh, already has five goals and an assist in four playoff games. He attended Nebraska-Omaha, of all schools. Joe Pavelski, a Wisconsin grad, finally found the range against Edmonton Tuesday night, scoring twice in a 7-0 win.
They are but a few of many NCAA grads grinding it out in the Big Dance this spring.
In the history of the NHL, hundreds of collegiate players have toiled in the league. Here are 15 we consider to be among the best ever to skate in the NHL after going to college (in no particular order).
15. Paul Kariya – Maine Black Bears
The rich history of hockey at the University of Maine has been colored by the attendance of several great players, including current NHLers Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard and Teddy Purcell. One who stood out above all the rest was 1993 Hobey Baker award winner Paul Kariya. The smallish Vancouver native crossed the continent to play a season and a half with the Black Bears, winning the NCAA MVP award for a sterling 100 point performance in just 39 NCAA games in 1992-93. Kariya’s pre-NHL accolades also included a world junior championship with Canada in 1993 and an Olympic silver medal with Team Canada at the 1994 Winter games. Once finished with amateur hockey, Kariya’s rise to the top of the NHL scoring heap was meteoric. Drafted fourth overall by the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1993, Kariya would put up 50 goals and 58 assists in just his second season in 1995-96, his best season ever. In all, the two-time Lady Byng Trophy winner played in 989 games and posted exactly 989 points (402 goals).
14. Ed Belfour – North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Eddie the Eagle played just one season of collegiate hockey at North Dakota, but it was a good one. In 33 games with the Fighting Hawks in 1986-87 (then known as the Fighting Sioux) Belfour won 29 games and would later win a national championship. Undrafted, Belfour played with Saginaw of the IHL before being signed as a free agent with Chicago in 1988. Thus began a reign as one of the best goaltenders the league has ever known. By the time he was finished his Hall of Fame career, Belfour would win 484 games, third most all-time. His 76 shutouts are ninth best all-time and among his individual awards were the Calder in 1991, two Vezina Trophies (1991 and 1993) and four Jennings Trophies. He retired as just one of two players to have won a NCAA title, Olympic gold (2002) and a Stanley Cup (1999), the other being Neal Broten.
13. Chris Chelios – Wisconsin Badgers
Of the 82 players — and counting — that Wisconsin has graduated to the NHL, the best among them have been defencemen. The greatest of them all was Chelios, who went on to play 1,651 NHL games, which is sixth most all-time. The NHL Hall of Famer, who nearly quit hockey after being cut from Junior B teams in Canada, put in two strong seasons with the Badgers after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens (40th overall) in 1981. He debuted with the Habs in 1984 and it wasn’t long before he earned the first of three Norris Trophies in 1988-89, when he recorded 73 points in 80 games. In those 1,651 games, Chelly registered 948 points and added another 144 in 266 playoff games. In addition to winning three Stanley Cups, Chelios had an impressive international resume, highlighted by a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics with Team USA and a gold at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
12. Keith Tkachuk – Boston Terriers
The most famous recent graduate of the excellent hockey program at Boston University is Jack Eichel, who was selected second overall in the 2015 draft and has 113 points in 142 games with Buffalo. Long before he attended BU, the Terriers had a slew of great forwards, including Tony Amonte, Scott Young and Keith Tkachuk. The latter, Tkachuk, whose son Matthew is playing in Calgary, is the all-time greatest to come out of the Terriers organization. He played just one year there (1990-91) after being drafted in the first round (19th overall) by the original Winnipeg Jets in 1990. After a brief 17-game look in 1991-92, the robust center got his career rolling in 1992-93, logging 51 points in 83 games and sitting in the penalty box for 201 minutes. The combination of skill and tenacity was a recurring theme, as Tkachuk regularly put up big numbers in points and penalty minutes. He twice scored 50 or more goals and had eight seasons with 30 or more. The Melrose, MA native played in 1,201 NHL games, scoring 538 goals and 527 assists. He was elected into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
11. Dave Taylor – Clarkson Golden Knights
The man who would one day skate on the famed “Triple Crown” line with Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer in L.A. got his start at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. A native of Levack, Ontario, Taylor put in four seasons with the Golden Knights and still holds records there for career points (251), goals (98), and assists (153) as well as single season goals (41) assists (67) and points (108 in 34 games during the 1976-77 season). Despite his talent, Taylor wasn’t drafted until the 15th round of the 1975 draft, 210th overall. He rewarded the Kings, who he played his entire 1,111-game career with, by becoming the lowest ever drafted player to net 1,000 points (1,069 to be exact). He contributed another 59 points in 92 career playoff games and won the Masterton and King Clancy trophies in 1991.
10. Doug Weight – Lake Superior State Lakers
Lake State is a hockey factory located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and has won three national titles in the program’s 51-year history. It’s most famous alumnus, other than Brian Rolston, was future NHL playmaker and Stanley Cup champion Doug Weight. Hailing from Warren, Michigan, Weight was a star with the Lakers in his two seasons there (1989-90 and 1990-91) scoring 50 goals and 94 assists in 88 games. The New York Rangers drafted him 34th overall in 1990 and after a couple of seasons in the Big Apple was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in 1993. It was in Edmonton that he would have his most personal success, recording a career high 104 points in 82 games during the 1995-96 season. He followed up that all-star campaign by helping Team USA stun Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. It wouldn’t be until 2006 that Weight would win a Stanley Cup, after a deadline trade sent him to Carolina. He scored 16 points in 23 games to help the franchise win its one and only title.
9. Rob Blake – Bowling Green State Falcons
The school in upstate Ohio has been known for developing some pretty elite defencemen over the years. In addition to having future NHL Hall of Famer Rob Blake in its ranks, the Falcons graduated long-serving defenders Garry Galley, Dave Ellett, Ken Klee, Kevin Bieksa and Ken Morrow. Blake, elected to the HHoF in 2014, played three seasons at Bowling Green and was drafted 70th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. The big Simcoe, Ontario native was a superstar with the Kings, winning the Norris Trophy after a 50-point season in 1997-98. He would skate in 1,270 total NHL contests and record 777 points. He was a force in the playoffs, too, registering 73 points in 146 games, winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001. Blake was also a stalwart for Canada, winning a gold at the 2002 Olympics and two golds at the IIHF world championships.
8. Martin St. Louis – Vermont Catamounts
For Martin St. Louis, the short trip south from his hometown of Laval, PQ to the University of Vermont in Burlington was well worth it. The tiny dynamo, one of 18 Vermont grads including John LeClair and Patrick Sharp, didn’t catch the eye of NHL scouts in his 1993 draft year and went on to skate for four years in the Catamounts program. St. Louis played 139 games at Vermont and left the program as the all-time leading point producer with 267 and the assists leader at 176. His size was a deterrent for many NHL clubs and in 1997, he signed a pro contract with the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks, where he scored 50 points in 56 games. That got him an entry level deal with Calgary, but he lasted just 69 total games in Cowtown before catching on with Tampa Bay in 2000. In due time, he became one of the Lightning’s best players, winning a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross (one of two) and a Stanley Cup with them in 2004. St. Louis proved all his detractors wrong over the course of 1,134 NHL games, recording 1,033 points. He added a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics with Canada and also garnered three Lady Byng trophies.
7. Glenn Anderson – Denver Pioneers
Legend has it that as a young lad, Anderson didn’t really like playing hockey and that his first ever goal came against his own team. Good thing he stuck with it. He eventually played Jr. A in British Columbia and then was recruited to play at the University of Denver. A naturally gifted playmaker, he led the team in scoring during his lone season in 1978-79 with 55 points and was subsequently drafted by Edmonton (69th overall). He was part of the old Canadian National Team program for the 1979-80 season, before breaking in with Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers in 1980-81. It was with that dynastic team that Anderson, along with the likes of Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey, would play an integral part in five Stanley Cups. Anderson, who tallied 498 goals and 1,099 points in 1,129 NHL games, would win another with the New York Rangers in 1994. Though he won no individual awards in his long career, Anderson was a warrior in the playoffs, firing 93 goals and adding 121 assists in 225 games. He was enshrined at the Hall of Fame in 2008.
6. Brett Hull – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
Even with as famous a father as Bobby Hull, the path to the NHL wasn’t a gilded one for the Golden Brett. As a teenager he considered himself “pudgy and fun loving” and never caught the eye of junior or NHL scouts until well after his 1982 draft year. He did catch on with Penticton of the BC junior hockey league and in 1983-84, scored a whopping 105 goals and 83 assists in 57 games for the Knights. The Calgary Flames took a flyer and drafted him 117th overall in 1984. Instead of turning pro, Hull got a scholarship to play at Minnesota-Duluth and lit it up for the Bulldogs, scoring 84 goals in 90 games over two seasons. Hull lasted just 57 games with Calgary before being dealt to St. Louis in 1988. The Blues would soon reap the Hull whirlwind. Between 1989-90 and 1991-92, Hull scored 228 goals in 231 games, winning the Hart Trophy for scoring a monster 86 goals during the 90-91 season. Brett retired as the fourth highest goal scorer in NHL history with 741 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
5. Ken Dryden – Cornell Big Red
Ken Dryden was the thinking man’s goaltender. As brainy as he was good at hockey, the future lawyer, author and politician elected to attend Ivy League Cornell instead of turn pro with Montreal, who obtained his rights from Boston after the Bruins drafted him 14th overall in 1964. The lanky 6’4″ netminder backstopped Big Red to three consecutive ECAC tournament championships in the late 1960s, capped by a national championship in 1967. In 1970, having graduated from Cornell, Dryden turned pro with the Canadiens and was assigned to their farm club, the Voyageurs. He spent all of 33 games in the minors before being called up permanently in early 1971, getting in six regular season games. Famously, Dryden replaced starter Rogie Vachon for the 1971 playoffs and would go on to play all 20 games and take home the Conn Smythe as the Habs won the championship. In a short seven-season career in which he took a whole season off to study his bar exam at McGill, Dryden would win the Calder Trophy, the Vezina five times, the Stanley Cup six times and was also part of the historic 1972 Summit Series winning Canadian team.
4. Joe Nieuwendyk – Cornell Big Red
Nearly two decades after Cornell bid Ken Dryden adieu, another fresh-faced and brainy Ontario kid walked its hallowed halls for the first time. Joe Nieuwendyk, a top two-sport athlete who considered lacrosse to be his no. 1 athletic endeavor, got his hockey career rolling in Jr. B, since no OHL teams took an interest. Thus, he went undrafted in his first year of eligibility, 1984, and then took a scholarship to play lacrosse and hockey at Cornell. He played well enough in his freshman season (1984-85) to garner interest from the Calgary Flames, who picked him 27th overall in 1985. He would play just 73 games of NCAA hockey, but put up big numbers, scoring 68 goals and adding 71 assists. After a short stint with the Canadian National Team in 1987, he played in nine games with Calgary and scored five goals. He never looked back, scoring 51 goals and 41 assists in 1987-88 to win the Calder, and then another 51- goal campaign in 1988-89. He won the Stanley Cup with the Flames in ’89, and would win another with Dallas 10 years later, including a Conn Smythe as MVP. He scored 564 goals and 1,126 points in 1,257 NHL games and was inducted into the hall in 2011.
3. Adam Oates – RPI Engineers
Just like his contemporary, Joe Nieuwendyk, Oates was a Greater Toronto Area kid who loved playing hockey and lacrosse, more so the latter than the former. And, just like Nieuwendyk, he went virtually unnoticed in junior and was considered too slow to play high level hockey, going undrafted in 1980. While playing Tier 2 with the Markham Waxers, the good folks involved in hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute came calling with a scholarship offer. In three seasons with the Engineers Oates led the team in assists with 150 total, along with 66 goals. That would be a recurring theme in the NHL, where assists were concerned. Oates signed with Detroit in 1985 and the rest is history. In 1,337 NHL games, he logged 1,079 apples (and 341 goals), good for seventh all-time in that category. Oates never did win a Stanley Cup in his lengthy Hall of Fame career, but did chip in 42 goals and 114 assists in 163 playoff games. He was enshrined in the HHoF in 2012.
2. Brian Leetch – Boston College Eagles
Just like rival Boston University, the Boston College Eagles have graduated many a great hockey player to the NHL. Leetch, who would go on to play 1,205 games in the NHL and win two Norris Trophies, is arguably the finest of 74 Eagles to go to the show. A standout baseball and hockey player in Connecticut, Leetch played just one year with the Eagles in 1986-87, scoring nine goals and 38 assists in 37 games. This came after the New York Rangers drafted him ninth overall in the 1986 draft. He debuted with the Rangers in 1987-88, scoring 14 points in 12 games after part of a season spent with the US National Team. In 1988-89, Leetch started his ascent as one of his era’s best defencemen, winning the Calder for scoring 71 points in 68 games. In his best offensive season, he notched 102 points in 1991-92 (winning his first Norris), part of the total 1,028 in 1,205 NHL regular season tilts. His crowning achievement was playing a big role in the New York Rangers first Stanley Cup in decades in 1994.
1. Rod Brind’Amour – Michigan State Spartans
There weren’t many more players dedicated to the game and fitness like Rod Brind’Amour. The story goes that the Ottawa native would go directly from a game with the Spartans to the weight room for a big workout, earning him the nickname, “Rod the Bod.” As it was, Brind’Amour played one season in East Lansing, scoring 27 goals and 32 assists in 42 games. Drafted ninth overall by St. Louis in 1988, Brind’Amour went straight from the Spartans in 1989 to the NHL playoffs, scoring two goals in five games for the Blues. He would play just two seasons in St. Louis, before being traded to Philadelphia prior to the 1991-92 season. A durable forward, Brind’Amour would miss just three games in eight seasons and would finish his tenure there with 601 points in 633 games. A trade to Carolina in 2000 would prove fortuitous, as he would finally raise a Stanley Cup with the ‘Canes in 2006, contributing 12 goals and six assists in 25 playoff games. He ended his career after the 2009-10 season in Carolina having played 1,484 regular season games and compiling 1,184 points.