March and April are two of the busiest and most exciting months for sports fans. Between the NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments, the NFL draft, and Major League Baseball getting underway, there is always something to watch on TV. These months also bring NCAA hockey playoffs and, inevitably, the conclusion of seasons for those that do not make it further. With the end of the NCAA hockey season comes signing of players to professional contracts. This is a pivotal moment in many players’ careers because, much like a football player declaring himself eligible for the draft, once a hockey player makes the decision to forgo collegiate eligibility, there is no turning back.
One of the most discussed players in the coming days and weeks will certainly be Jordan Schroeder from the University of Minnesota. Schroeder was drafted #22 overall in the 2009 draft and fans of the Vancouver Canucks know him as a future franchise forward. According to recent reports, Schroeder will inform both the University of Minnesota and Vancouver of his decision by the end of this week. While Schroeder had mild success at the collegiate level, he admits that it he was disappointed with his production. After a successful two-year career with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) and an equally successful three-time campaign representing the U.S. at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in 2008, 2009, and 2010, Schroeder will almost certainly have success at the NHL level.
If he decides to sign an NHL contract, Schroeder will definitely not be the only NCAA Division I hockey player to make the early jump to the professional ranks in the coming weeks. Several players have already decided to turn pro and are already playing at minor league levels, and for some, the NHL level. For example, Casey Wellman, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, signed with the Minnesota Wild earlier this week and should see playing time by sometime this weekend. Wellman followed the path of the starter for the Los Angeles Kings and Olympic backup, Jonathan Quick, who left UMass as a sophomore in 2007. Soon to follow Wellman to the pros is James Marcou, a junior and also from UMass, whom is reported to be signing a professional contract in the coming weeks.
With turning pro, there are several factors for players to weigh. Under NCAA Article 12.1.2, student-athletes are prohibited from being paid for playing their respective sport. This means that a once a player turns pro and starts receiving compensation for playing time, there is no turning back to a collegiate career, even if their pro career is unsuccessful. While there is a certain allure to being paid to play, players must also keep in mind the best interests of their future development. All of this information is certainly a lot to consider for a player that is generally around 20 years-old.
On Monday, March 15, the NCAA did its best to assist student-athletes with the decision process by issuing an informational memo to “Men’s Ice Hockey Student-Athletes with Remaining Eligibility.” Almost every player in the position to turn pro will have an advisor during this process, which is permitted by NCAA rules. The March 15 memo informs players that an advisor may not “contact teams on [their] behalf to arrange private workouts or tryouts,” but may provide other valuable advice during the process.
An NCAA hockey player’s decision to turn pro is unique in that unlike with the NFL, where players must wait several months between deciding to turn pro and actually being able to play, hockey players that make the same decision, can play almost immediately for a professional team. For some players, this means going right to the NHL, for others this means starting at other minor league levels, such as the AHL or ECHL. The professional level at which they play will be a combination of their skills, their player contract, and certain NHL CBA stipulations.
Regardless of whether Schroeder turns pro, this is an exciting time for players that want to see their careers taken to the next level. What other players do you think will leave early for the pros after their hockey season ends?