I know a lot of people don't pay much attention to University hockey in Canada but it's really to bad. I know plenty of NHL teams that regard the CIS as an untapped source for free agents that is only getting better and better every year. As more and more CHL players are choosing CIS instead of the ECHL or Europe, the quality of play is on the rise. The crop of players not longer eligible for Major Junior that is headed to CIS programs this season is another prime example of late bloomers who will continue to attract the attention of the NHL during the Student-Athlete phase of their hockey careers.
A few months ago the San Jose Sharks signed forward Kevin Henderson away from UNB. Joel Ward of Nashville played 4 years of CIS hockey for PEI and has since gone on to AHL success and is now a regular player for the Preds.
There aren't tons of NHL players with CIS backgrounds but there are some out there and the numbers are growing. Here now are the top 5 incoming freshmen classes in CIS hockey for 2009-10.
The X-Men announced their group back on July 22nd and it includes a few WHL grads including goalie Joey Perricone (pictured) who spent 5 years with the Moose Jaw Warriors. The California native will now head to the East coast for his X-Men uniform.
Also headed to St. FX from the WHL is Swift Current defenceman Spencer McAvoy. The Edmonton product is a good two-way blueliner who chipped in 39 assists and 44 points for the Broncos last season. At 6'3 he's got good size and I always thought he skated well and played with poise on the back end. I liked him as a potential pro camp invite and that may still happen, but if not, then the X-Men get a pretty good rearguard.
St. FX has 4 other Major Junior players coming in: Brennan Wray (Red Deer), Nick Pageau (Belleville), Josh Day (Brampton) and a pair of QMJHL alum in Ryan Sparling (Saint John) and Murdoch MacLellan (Cape Breton).
The Canada West Conference as largely been a two-team battle for the last couple of decades but slowly the likes of UBC, Calgary and Manitoba are closing the gap. The incoming Bisons are led by Ian Duval, a Winnipeg product. Duval began his WHL career with Regina before being dealt to Calgary. From there he bounced from the Hitmen to Swift Current and finally to Kelowna, all withing the last season. Duval was a point per game player this year and was an often overlooked part of Kelowna's WHL championship offence.
Another Winnipeg kid who returns home to play CIS is Brandon Lockerby of the Edmonton Oil Kings. The converted forward put together a 35 point campaign playing on the backend for the Oil Kings and should add some offence and speed to the Bisons no matter where they decide to play him in their line up.
Alberta has been the cream of the crop in Canada West for many years now but they no longer appear to be the program that is attracting the top players out of the WHL. That's not to say who they have secured are bad players, quite the contrary really, but the Golden Bears incoming class doesn't compare to those of the past.
Netminder Travis Yonkman is the headliner and slated to be the starter now that Aaron Sorochan is no longer in the picture. I've heard that the New York Rangers have invite Yonkman to their camp though so his future isn't quite set just yet.
Also join the Bears are five local boys including Sean Ringrose (Medicine Hat), Michael MacAngus (Regina/P.A.), Ian Barteaux (Kootenay), Colin Joe (Saskatoon) and Reade Wolansky (Sacred Heart - NCAA). Ringrose scored 28 goals and had 59 points with the Tigers while Barteaux managed 39 points for Kootenay.
Almost always seen as the number one challenger to Alberta's CW crown, the Huskies are going to have a pretty darn good team the next few years thanks to the group they have coming in.
10 players are joining the Huskies this year including 8 with a WHL background. Among them are Brendan Dowd, a co-captain and co-leading scorer with the Edmonton Oil Kings last year. Dowd is a Saskatoon kid so he's going back home after his 29-goal season in Edmonton.
Brennan Bosch (pictured) had three consecutive 20-goal years with Medicine Hat and reached the 70-point plateau in 2007-08.
The Calgary Hitmen turned Kyle Bortis into a offensive machine after they acquired him from Swift Current. Bortis had 72 points in 2007-08 and 84 last year with the Hitmen. He scored 37 times two seasons ago so he knows how to find the back of the net.
Andrew Bailey scored 30, 28 and 28 goal campaigns during his final three seasons in Kootenay. The 5'9 forward's point totals are actually quite impressive as he rattled of 79, 87, 83 point years. The Hazlet Saskatchewan native might be one to watch in the green, black and white for the next few years.
Goalie David Reekie arrive from his 38-game stint in the USHL with the Lincoln Stars. Reekie began in the WHL but went south where he compiled a 23-10-4 record and posted a .935 sv% with a 2.01 GAA.
Another key ingredient being added to the Saskatchewan mix is Kyle Ross who is transferring from Regina where he led the Cougars in scoring in each of the last two seasons. It's a nice pick up for the Huskies and a blow to their rivals to the South.
1. New Brunswick
The V-Reds top my list based on quality over quantity. Saskatchewan might have more talent coming in but I think I like UNB's group just a hair more. The official list so far is only 3 names long but they were all captains of the WHL team last season and two also led their club in scoring.
Taylor Procyshen (pictured) finished 16th overall in the league with 81 points, 36 of which were lamplighters. The captain of the Tri-City Americans is an Edmonton product who was on the want list of the Golden Bears so you know this one has to sting for Alberta. Procyshen scored 30 goals or more in each of his last three seasons so the kid clealy has a nose for the net.
Edmonton Oil King Jeff Lee will head East if he can't find a pro contract with his name on it. The Calgary born Lee only played a year and a half in the WHL after leaving the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. Lee played a couple games for the Springfield Falcons in the AHL late last year after a breakout season with the Oil Kings. His 40 assists were a team high and his 62 points earned him a share of the scoring title with Brenden Dowd.
The third official recruit for the V-Reds is defencemen Ben Wright of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The former draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets might still get looks from the NHL but will be a huge player for UNB if he does play CIS. Wright was the leader for the 'Canes the last couple of seasons and is considered a pretty solid defensive defenceman.
Rumors are that UNB isn't done and that should he not get a pro contract, Ben Shutron will also end up in a V-Reds uniform. The former 4th round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks played in the last two Memorial Cups with finalist Kitchener in 2008 and CHL champion Windsor in 2009. That would be another great addition to their line up if in fact that comes to fruition.