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Developing in the NCAA

Three of Colorado's 2019 draftees are in their first year playing college hockey

by Callie Parmele @CallieParmele /

A version of the following story appeared in the 2019-20 first edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.

There is no clear-cut path to get to the National Hockey League for young athletes with dreams of someday getting to the sports highest level.

Most prospects need time to develop their skills before being ready to make the jump to the pros. Some players choose to grow and develop through junior hockey in Canada, international prospects frequently stay in different European leagues and others decide that NCAA hockey is the best fit to progress.

Three of the Colorado Avalanche's selections at the 2019 NHL Draft--Alex Newhook (16th overall), Drew Helleson (47th overall) and Matthew Stienburg (63rd overall)--chose the college hockey option with their futures in mind.

Both Newhook and Helleson are at Boston College while Stienburg is at Cornell University, and all three are skating against players that are 18 to 24 years old, an older and more mature competition than they have seen in the past.

Newhook spent the previous two seasons playing with the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League, one of Canada's junior-A leagues. He recorded 102 points (38 goals, 64 assists) in 53 outings and was named the league's most valuable player for the 2018-19 campaign, but there is still a learning curve in the move to the NCAA.

"I think it is going to be a big step, stepping into college from junior," Newhook said at the draft in Vancouver. "It is something I am really looking forward to, something I have been looking forward to for a while. For it to really be that moment now where you are stepping into college, it is exciting. Going to take it year by year, learn as much as I can hopefully leading up to pro."

The NCAA typically plays two contests a week, both on the weekends, and that schedule allows the student athletes a chance to be in the gym more and utilize additional practices in the development process. The game calendar at Boston College is very familiar to Helleson, who played at the U.S. National Team Development Program for two years.

"We got a bunch of really good young guys coming in, including Alex Newhook," said Helleson. "I just want to put on some weight, get a little stronger, play against some older guys, and I think that will help me in the future."

For Stienburg, he made the jump to the Ivy League from St. Andrew's College, a high school prep school that Newhook also attended before he moved to the BCHL.

"It's obviously going to be a really big jump," said Stienburg before the year began. "I'm just going to play my game and work hard. I'm not expecting too much heading in, obviously I'm a young guy and it's a really good program. I'm going to try to take what I'm given and work my way up."

Current Avalanche players have had success going through the college route with forwards J.T. Compher (three years at University of Michigan), Matt Nieto (two years at Boston University) and Colin Wilson (two years at BU) as well as defensemen Ian Cole (three years at University of Notre Dame) and Cale Makar (two years at University of Massachusetts) all realizing their dreams of making an NHL roster. 

Only time will tell, but for these Avalanche prospects the next step in their journey to the NHL goes through classrooms.

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