Trio of top prospects chooses OHL over college
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- J.T. Miller, Connor Murphy and John Gibson are three completely different people on and off the ice. However, they have one important thing in common -- all three passed on the chance to play NCAA hockey in the fall to skate in the Ontario Hockey League.
Miller, taken by the New York Rangers with the 15th pick of June's draft, passed on a scholarship to the University of North Dakota to sign with the Plymouth Whalers. Murphy, the 20th pick by the Phoenix Coyotes, opted to play with the Sarnia Sting rather than attend Miami (Ohio) University. Gibson, a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, will skate with the Kitchener Rangers this season rather than play at the University of Michigan.
The other part they have in common is a belief that while NCAA hockey is a good route to the professional ranks, the OHL path will prove a quicker one to the NHL.
"I talked to the Rangers and my family and my advisors, and we all came to the conclusion that I'd probably get to the NHL faster by going the Plymouth route," Miller told NHL.com. "It all came together and it was the best choice for me."
Murphy echoed those thoughts. He was born in Boston, but was raised not far from the Miami campus. He remains passionate about the school, but saw a better opportunity for him in Sarnia.
"It was a really hard decision, especially because I love Miami so much. I still do," he told NHL.com. "I grew up right there. I still love the school -- I would send my kids there if I have them. It's a place I had great support from. I'm really thankful for the people that helped me so much from there. But for my hockey, that's the decision I made, to go to Sarnia."
Murphy said after visiting the town and meeting with coach/GM Jacques Beaulieu, it made his decision pretty clear-cut.
"I was able to go and meet with the coaching staff and the management right after the (NHL) draft for a day," he said. "They really made me feel comfortable there. I really liked what coach Beaulieu had to offer. I was able to get the school package, so I was able to further my education. And just his coaching philosophy and the team we'll have, I think it'll be the best option for me to try and develop with the time that I've missed as far as games and hopefully make the NHL as soon as I can."
Miller said the reputation the Plymouth organization has gained under the leadership of coach/GM Mike Vellucci helped him make his decision.
"It's always been known for a pretty good team, which is good, and they have one of the best coaches in the league in Mike Vellucci, so I don't think you could go wrong playing for that team," said Miller.
For Gibson, he saw the opportunity to experience a more professional lifestyle on the ice as an appealing factor.
"You play a lot more games, like a professional schedule," he told NHL.com. "I'm looking forward to that, getting used to that, and having a lot of pressure."
Gibson said the hardest part for him in making the decision came when he looked at how good his options were.
"It was probably the hardest decision I've made in my life so far," he said. "Luckily for me I couldn't have had two better programs to choose from. But at the end of the day, it (stinks) to say no to one of them."
With their decisions made, there's no turning back -- signing with an OHL team means the players no longer are NCAA-eligible. That's one thing Murphy said his father, Florida Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy, made sure Connor knew.
"He just really emphasized to me that the decision was based on me having to be all-in," he said. "I couldn't go one way and be regretting it."
Gibson said his parents believed he would be all-in with Kitchener -- more so than if he had gone to Michigan.
"They thought that all along Kitchener would be better for me," he said. "They didn't see me staying in school for all four years and they told me that you have one chance to do something, so you better make the most of it."
He said his parents also told him school always would be there for him whenever he wanted to go.
"They said hopefully you'll make enough money that if you want to go back to college, you can pay for it on your own," he said.
So will the OHL truly get these players to the NHL that much faster than if they had gone to college?
"It's preference," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen said told NHL.com. "Those high-end guys can play anywhere. I don't know personally what they're thinking, but I know down the road, no matter what league they play in, they'll play in the NHL if they're good enough. They have to be happy and do what's best for them, and obviously if they think that's where they want to go, then go for it.
"They're top players, but to say they're going to a better place, I don't know because it's all preference. I'm a big believer that if you're good enough, you'll play in the NHL. Maybe to them, they feel it's the quicker route, and if it is, great. Go for it."
Murphy believes that there's no 100-percent correct answer to the NCAA/OHL question, either.
"I think everyone is a different person, and really it's all about where the player wants to go," he said. "I really believe each route can get you there; it's all about the individual person. Some people go for different reasons. As long as they're putting the work in, they'll make it. It's just where they're happy to play."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK