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Giving it the College Try

A look at the Flyers prospects who chose the college route to the NHL and why

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

The Flyers currently hold the rights to seven prospects who are slated to play NCAA hockey for the 2017-18 season. Two additional collegiate hockey-affiliated players whose National Hockey League rights are held by the Flyers will play in the USHL next season before transferring to NCAA programs come 2018-19.

In fact, there are nearly as many combined U.S. collegiate and college-track players in the Flyers development chain as there in Canadian major junior hockey. The Flyers presently hold the NHL rights to 11 players eligible to skate in a CHL-affiliated league (OHL, QMJHL or WHL) in 2017-18 if they do not earn roster spots with the Flyers. The organization also holds the rights to six players slated to play in European leagues next season. 

The bottom line: Far from an afterthought, collegiate hockey is a major talent source utilized by the Flyers. Every case is different. For some players, the collegiate track simply makes more sense than the CHL. For others, the junior hockey track may be preferable.

"I learned a lot, on and off the ice, at Bowling Green. It was definitely a great experience for me," said Mark Friedman, who signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers on March 21 after a three-year collegiate career at Bowling Green University.

"I had great teammates and coaches. I think my game has improved in every area but especially without the puck. I loved my time there. But my biggest dream was always to play pro hockey, and the time felt right." 

Friedman, a Toronto native who signed a letter of intent with Bowling Green at age 15, said that the college environment always appealed to him. Other former collegiate prospects in the Flyers farm system include second-year Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Alex Lyon (who passed up his senior year at Yale University to sign with the Flyers in the spring of 2016), third-year pro Cole Bardreau (free agent signee in 2015 after graduating Cornell University) and second-year defenseman Reece Willcox (drafted by the Flyers with the 141st overall pick of the 2012 Draft and signed after graduating Cornell in the spring of 2015). 

"Between the hockey program and the academics, it was a pretty easy decision to go to Cornell," said Willcox, who was a Junior A hockey standout in his native British Columbia before attending the Ivy League university.  

At the NHL level, notable Flyers who are former collegiate stars include Shayne Gostisbehere (2012 third-round pick & three seasons at Union College) and Matt Read (a 2010 free agent signing after graduating from Bemidji State). 

Most recently, the Flyers signed 2016-17 Hobey Baker Award finalist Mike Vecchione as a free agent after his senior year at Union College. Vecchione appeared in two NHL games for the Flyers in the final week of the season. Phantoms/Flyers forward Corban Knight is a graduate of the University of North Dakota.

One of the biggest benefits to drafting collegiate or college-track players is an opportunity for a lengthier period of post-draft evaluation. 

When an 18-year-old CHL player is drafted, the NHL team that selects him then has two seasons to decide whether to offer him an entry-level contract before losing his rights on the next June 1. 

With a collegiate player, the NHL club has the duration of his amateur eligibility - which can be as long as five seasons post-draft in some cases - to sign the player before his rights expire on the next Aug. 15. 

For top-end draftees who are more likely to be pro-ready within a couple years of being selected in the NHL Draft, this is not usually a major consideration. With prospects who are longer-term development candidates, however, it can be more beneficial to draft a college-track player than a comparable CHL player.

Listed alphabetically, Flyers current pool of NCAA-affiliated players is as follows: 

• Picked in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2016 Draft, power forward right winger Wade Allison is entering his sophomore season at Western Michigan (NCHC).

• Chosen in the fifth round (132nd overall) of the 2013 Draft, defenseman Terrance Amorosa will be a senior at Clarkson University (ECAC) in 2017-18.

• Selected in the seventh round (192nd overall) of the 2013 Draft, defenseman David Drake will play his senior year at the University of Connecticut (Hockey East).

• Taken by the Flyers in the seventh round (196th overall) of the 2017 Draft, defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin (Big-10).• Tabbed in the sixth round (169th overall) of the 2016 Draft and a member of gold medalist Team USA at the 2016-17 World Junior Championships, versatile forward Tanner Laczynski enters his sophomore season at Ohio State University (Big-10).

• Nabbed by the Flyers in the sixth round (158th overall) of the 2015 Draft, offensively gifted center Cooper Marody will be a junior at the University of Michigan (Big-10).

• The Flyers acquired the NHL rights to another University of Michigan player, two-way winger Brendan Warren, in the June 16, 2017 trade that sent Nick Cousins and the rights to Harvard University senior goaltender Merrick Madsen to the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes originally selected Warren in the third round (81st overall) of the 2015 Draft.

There are two other college-track players in the development system. The Flyers chose Minnesota high school standout Noah Cates in the fifth round (137th overall) of the 2017 Draft. Committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC) starting in the fall of 2018, Cates will play next season with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. 

Additionally, after two seasons at the University of North Dakota (NCHC), Slovakian goaltender Matej Tomek will spend the 2017-18 season in the USHL with the Waterloo Black Hawks in order to get much-needed playing time. He will have two seasons of NCAA eligibility remaining upon transfer to another college program. The Flyers chose Tomek in the third round (90th overall) of the 2015 Draft.

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