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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Analysis: Take a lesson from Toews

The Phil Kessel saga has ended. As expected, he will leave Minnesota after one year and sign a three-year contract with the Boston Bruins.

Now, more WCHA players have left school early this offseason than the total number of college players a year ago. Whether or not this trend continues, top-end players who will have opportunities to sign should take a lesson from UND's Jonathan Toews.

This isn't because Toews decided to stick around. There are times players are ready to leave and should do so. Matt Greene proved that when he left UND after his junior year and ended up being a key component in Edmonton's Stanley Cup Finals team.

Top draft picks will continue to have chances to bolt to the NHL and many will do so.

It puts these players in a difficult position at the end of their college seasons. Questions will come from media members. Are you going to sign, or are you going to come back?

With all the pro signings this offseason, I've seen just about every possible way players deal with it. In my opinion, the youngest one -- the 18-year-old Toews -- handled it the best.

When hit with the often-asked question, Toews continually responded, "My dream is to play in the NHL, so if I think I can be an impact player, I'd like to sign. But if not, I have a great place to go back to in North Dakota, where I can continue to develop my game. I want to be in North Dakota if I can't be an impact player in the NHL."

Toews didn't hide the fact that he wants to play in the NHL. He was honest and upfront about it. And I think everyone appreciated that. Fans aren't stupid, especially WCHA fans. They know who will have an opportunity to sign, and denying it doesn't do any good if the chance will obviously be there.

At the same time, Toews didn't alienate his teammates by making comments like Kessel's draft day: "I didn't dream about playing college hockey, I dreamed of playing pro hockey." Kessel's comments left some Gopher fans wondering if they even wanted him to come back.

When Toews announced he was returning to UND, two things happened. First, fans believed him. In his only year at UND, Toews has made a reputation of being honest and everyone knew when he said "I'm coming back," it meant exactly that. Secondly, fans, teammates and coaches were excited to have him back.

I wonder if some Minnesota fans almost feel a relief that Kessel has signed. Especially after initially signaling he was ready to go.... then telling his coaches that he is returning.... then leaning toward signing again.

Kessel, among others, could have taken a lesson from Toews and Minnesota recruit Erik Johnson. They both were respectful and always had good things to say about their schools. But at the same time, they didn't try to hide the opportunity that was in front of them. When they made their decisions, they made it clear what they were.

I think fans respect both players for that.

Hopefully future first-round draft picks are taking notes.

Briefly: Walk-on defenseman Todd Alexander will be transferring to St. Thomas. I think earlier I may have said St. John's.


Blogger Goon said...

Very nicely Written Brad.
Finally the Kessel Saga is over.
Now we can move on. I suppose Kessel's mother will call a press conference.

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