by Chris Dilks/Columnist
InsideCollegeHockey did their annual report looking at where college hockey players come from. This was the first year since they started tallying in 2002-2003 that Minnesota passed Ontario as the top provider of college hockey players in the country.
But looking at the leading scorers in the country after this weekend, there's an interesting phenomenon. The top four (Eric Ehn, T.J. Hensick, Kevin Porter, and Scott Parse) all hail from the state of Michigan. What's even more interesting is Minnesota's relative lack of representation on the list.
The only Minnesotans on the list are Travis Morin and Alex Goligoski, who are tied for 28th, Kyle Okposo and T.J. Oshie, who are tied for 35th, and Mark Van Guilder who is tied for 45th.
So what's the reason for this? It's impossible to say, and it may just be pure coincidence, but I can think of a few theories as to why this happened.
You could say the WCHA, which is typically more Minnesotan, has been affected more by early departures, whereas Parse and Hensick opted to come back for their senior season. Perhaps, but I don't think so. Of the big-name scorers that didn't come back, the only Minnesotan in the bunch was David Backes (and Drew Stafford, depending on where you want to draw the boundary). You could also throw WHL star Peter Mueller into that bunch.
Meanwhile, the state of Michigan could be considered just as hard hit, losing Alex Foster, who was a leading scorer last year, as well as Drew Miller.
You could argue that the strength of the WCHA makes it harder for their players to be the top scorers in the country. The first WCHA players don't appear on the list until the 11th spot, where Andrew Gordon, Andreas Nodl,
and Ryan Duncan are all tied with 36 points. Only three teams in the WCHA average over three goals per game in league play, while 7 teams average over three goals per game in CCHA league play.
But my theory is that it's a matter of development systems. The tradition of Minnesota High School hockey is amazing, the state high school tournament, which sells out St. Paul's Xcel Center is one of the premier events in all of high school sports. But is that system the best at developing elite players for the next level of hockey?
There are over 150 high school hockey teams in Minnesota, and there just aren't enough good players to go around. With the possible exception of a few elite private schools, teams are lucky if they have more than one line of exceptional players. Many times, elite players find themselves playing in games against way overmatched opponents This allows players to rack up gaudy statistics, but doesn't seem to prepare them for elite level competition.
Michigan, however, has a different system, where there are only a handful of elite AAA teams, allowing top players to come together and compete against each other. All four of the top scorers in the country are all products of Michigan-based AAA programs. Even players like Peter Mueller and Pat Kane, who starred for the US World Junior team this winter spent time playing AAA hockey in Michigan.
That's not to say that AAA hockey is better than Minnesota high school hockey. High school hockey allows hundreds of more kids the opportunity play a hockey and become local legends, while playing with the friends that they grew up with. It also allows kids to play hockey for only a couple hundred dollars at most, as opposed to the thousands of dollars in expenses that AAA hockey parents must pay. The amount of travel and time spent away from home is much less for high school kids than AAA kids who fly across the country playing in elite tournaments.
One isn't necessarily better than the other. But it does make sense that one system would produce quality, while the other produces quantity, and judging by the evidence so far this season, that seems to be the case.