Maroon and Red

By Elliot Olshansky - July 13, 2007

Earlier this week, I posted a link to a London Free Press article that said that the London Knights of the OHL were close to signing Ferris State recruit Pat Maroon.

I've now heard it from the man himself.

"Yes, I am going to London," were the words of the big forward from St. Louis when I spoke with him on the phone Thursday night, as he took time out from an autograph signing with other Philadelphia Flyers prospects for a brief conversation.

Of course, I didn't doubt the accuracy of the Free Press report. I was more interested in what role the Flyers played in Maroon's decision. You may recall that before the draft, Maroon spoke of taking direction from the NHL team that drafted him, which I found to be unlikely in a column I wrote after he made those comments, with NHL team executives like Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell and Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher commenting on the subject.

Sure enough, in the end, it was Maroon's decision, and not directed by the Flyers.

"It really was my decision," Maroon said. "They had a few inputs, but that was about it."

"I just wanted to be a hockey player," Maroon said, "and that's the place you go."

Obviously, I differ somewhat with Maroon in saying that the OHL is "the place you go" if you want to be a hockey player. It's a place you go, but it's not necessarily the place.

We can debate the relative merits of college hockey and major junior until even Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick are out of things to say (actually, that could be a pretty fun debate, Hull arguing for college and Roenick for junior), but at the end of the day, there are always going to be players who are better suited to major junior and players who are better suited to college. The players themselves may not necessarily know which category they fall into (and may even make the wrong decision), but each system works for some players where it wouldn't work for others. Clearly, I love college hockey, but I'm not about to say it's for every young hockey player with aspirations of playing professionally. Myself, I wished Pat the best of luck, and I do hope he makes it, so long as it doesn't involve the Flyers beating the Rangers.

In other news, I hope you've had a chance to check out my latest column, on how the different development process for goaltenders (as compared to skaters) impacts signing decisions. I quoted Michigan coach Red Berenson in the article, and as is usually the case when I talk to him on the phone, the Wolverines bench boss had more interesting quotes than I could fit in the column.

"The NHL [teams] are becoming the biggest enemies of college hockey," Berenson said. "They're afraid of losing players that they draft, so they're signing them early whether they're ready or not. They're saying that they're going to take over the development - which the NHL hasn't necessarily been good at - but they're going to take over the development of these young players."

I think that of all the coaches I've spoken to, Berenson is the most vocal about players completing their four years of college unless they're ready to step into the NHL and contribute, although he's certainly not the only one who feels that way. He has people who agree with him at the NHL level as well, like Don Waddell in Atlanta, whose only underclassman signing out of college was Dany Heatley, who won the Calder Trophy a year after leaving Wisconsin. There are also NHL teams that are in more of a hurry to sign their college prospects. It's no secret whose philosophy is better for college hockey, but the question of which philosophy is the best for an NHL team is one that has yet to be answered, and when it comes down to it, the question of which philosophy is best for an NHL team is the one the NHL teams are most interested in answering.

But the answers still have yet to come. We're in the beginning of a new era here under the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, and teams' philosophies may well change as they adjust to the CBA. Really, who knows what the picture is going to look like a few years down the road?

The only thing I'm all that sure of is that the question of when's the best time to sign a player is one that will be answered before the college/major junior debate...but not by much.

Posted by Elliot Olshansky at 02:54 AM on July 13, 2007

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