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Who Are These Guys?

I'm not sure why Paul Statsny's departure has seemed like such a big deal to me. It hurts Denver next season, but he's certainly not the first player to leave early this offseason, nor will he likely be the last. I guess maybe it's just because nothing else is going on right now. I'm sitting here waiting for a mysterious Kinko's fax implicating some coach in major NCAA violations, but nothing. Oh well.

So thinking about all the players that have left early this summer got me thinking about just who exactly will be coming back in the WCHA. I looked it up, and it wasn't pretty.

Go ahead, try and name the top 10 returning scorers in the WCHA for next season. If you were like me, it probably went something like this: "Kessel, Oshie, Toews, ummmm, Morin, Dingle, I guess maybe Salcido, Andrew Gordon, and after that, I have absolutely no clue." Those would all be correct. The three names I didn't include: Alex Goligoski, Ryan Duncan, and Chad Rau.

Wait a minute. Ryan Duncan and Chad Rau? I mean, they both had pretty good freshmen seasons, but they're supposed to be two of the 10 best players returning to the WCHA?

Here's a list that I put together of the top returning scorers in the WCHA, based on last year's stats, and where they finished in the WCHA scoring race last season:

1. Phil Kessel(6)
2. T.J. Oshie(11)
3. Ryan Dingle(12)
4. Travis Morin(14)
5. Andrew Gordon(16)
6. Brian Salcido(16)
7. Alex Goligoski(18)
8. Jonathan Toews(18)
9. Ryan Duncan(22)
10. Chad Rau(30)
11. Ben Gordon(32)
12. Mason Raymond(35)
13. Justin Fletcher(36)
14. Brian Lee(36)
15. Matt McKnight(41)
16. Ryan Stoa(41)
17. Dan Kronick, Ross Carlson, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Carroll, Aaron Brocklehurst, Chris Porter(44)

Here's a few observations from those numbers:

1. Out of the top 30 scorers in the WCHA last season, 2 out of 3 either graduated or left school early. Players leaving early had a slight majority over players graduating.

2. Out of the top 50 scorers last year, fewer than half will back next season.

3. Of the 22 names listed, 10 of them will be sophomores next season. Only 4 will be seniors next season.

So what does it all mean?

This seems to mark a new trend in college hockey, especially in the WCHA. The NHL's new collective bargaining agreement makes it extremely attractive for teams to offer a player close to the rookie maximum contract and lure them away from school. Even offering a college player the maximum contract is cheaper than picking up a more experience veteran in most cases.

Of course this is probably highlighted even more so this summer since it is the first full summer with the new CBA. If this system had been in place for years, it's likely guys like Gabe Gauthier, David Backes, Danny Irmen, and Matt Carle would have signed pro contracts prior to last season.

But it does show that the make-up of the WCHA will be very different in the future. Instead of being a league dominated by juniors and seniors, the league will have to be run by talented sophomores and freshmen, and fans will have to get used to the idea of only having a talented player for 2 or 3 seasons at the most.

Will this hurt the WCHA's recent dominance? It may put a little dent in things, but the WCHA brings in so much talent on a yearly basis that they should be able to recover. Of course the positive way to look at this is that it brings a little more parity to the WCHA, and college hockey in general. Teams that can't recruit the top prospects can rely on older, less-heralded players to lead them against talented young teams.