July 22, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Going, Going ...

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

At this point, if you believe Phil Kessel is returning to college hockey next season, you are a wild-eyed optimist.

Despite rumors to the contrary recently, it has become clear that the only thing stopping Kessel from signing a contract right now is the negotiations.

And with prized Michigan recruit Trevor Lewis' signing by the Kings before he even played a game for the Wolverines, it marks hockey's official turn into basketball territory.

(Early Departure list)

This is the catch-22 with the increasing skill and popularity of college hockey, and fans will have to get used to it.

For the second straight year, there was an exodus of top-notch talent, and it continues. Now, Lewis leaves before ever coming.

We've never been ones to begrudge players this option, even if we don't think always a very wise idea, depending on the player. It seems Kessel is an example of a player that would benefit from another year. There is something very great to be said for the learning environment of college hockey, even if the pros offer a different and just as acceptable learning environment — that of the handling the grueling schedule.

Nevertheless, it is nice to see Boston College's Brian Boyle sticking it out and spurning another offer from the L.A. Kings to return for his senior season. And Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the draft, did the opposite of Lewis and will attend Minnesota, at least for one season.

But all of Kessel's comments make it pretty clear that he will sign a deal as soon as it's a good deal. He keeps saying that he has no problem returning to Minnesota if a deal can't get done, but the way he reacted defensively to reports that he was definitely returning, indicate strongly that he has his heart set on the Boston Bruins.

Still, Kessel's father did say recently that Kessel would not sign to play in the AHL. We've always agreed that's not a good idea. And the family does say things like "As of now, there's no contract, so he's going back to Minnesota." Those comments, however, strike as nothing more than the fallback position, while his clear preference is to play with the Bruins. Who can blame him?

Of course, as Elliot Olshansky reported at CSTV, there are reports Lewis might actually get assigned to major junior by the Kings. Olshansky rightly points out how disturbing that is, but it's not worrisome unless it's a trend — committing to college, signing with an NHL team, and heading to major junior instead. It's hard to imagine that many kids wanting to do something like that.

Ultimately, the way things are now in the NHL, any NHL general manager who is still looking down upon college hockey is not going to last very long. The contributions that college hockey players are making in the NHL — particular four-year players — is no longer remotely questioned. Anyone with a bias will fail. So while it might be annoying, there is no longer a worry.

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