Several of their top prospects who took part in last week's development camp are returning to the college ranks in 2014-15. Most agree that the NCAA allows them to gain experience and learn about what it takes to compete at upper levels of hockey.
"I've settles more into a role as a power forward," said Hudson Fasching, whose Minnesota Golden Gophers lost in last season's championship game. "We've got a good team. I want to go back and make a run."
As a freshman last year, Fasching scored 14 goals and 16 assists in 40 games. He said the college game has helped him figure out the type of player he wants to be on the ice.
The same goes for West Seneca native Sean Malone. He was the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, scoring six goals and 14 assists with Harvard. He feels the all-around aspects of college life will help his NHL development going forward:
"I feel a lot more confident after a year of college. Education has always been a huge thing in my family. You also get four years to develop."
That may explain the upward trend of collegians in the NHL. With Canada's junior league being the traditional feeder, only 20 percent of NHL players (210) came from the NHL in 199-2000. By last season, according to College Hockey Inc., that number soared to 31 percent (305) in 2013-14. And 36 percent of NHL debuts over the past seven seasons have been by NCAA players.
Jake McCabe made the jump just last season, skating for the Sabres seven times after finishing his third season patrolling the University of Wisconsin blueline. Others hope for a similar result in the near future.
"I just rounded out my game and found out exactly what my game is," said Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who just finished his senior season at Quinnipiac University and was on that team for its championship game loss in 2012-13. "That was probably the best hockey I've ever played."
The 24-year-old forward scored 13 goals and 16 assists in 34 games last season and said his status as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009 meant college was vital to his becoming a professional player. But making that jump is down the road for most college players.
"I'm not thinking beyond next year," said left wing J.T. Compher, who has 11 goals and 20 assists as a freshman last season at the University of Michigan. "My goal is to win the national championship."
Compher plans to continue his rivalry this coming season with Fasching, who attends a fellow Big 10 school. He also helps at least one more season in college will further his development as he strives to some day be in Buffalo full time:
"I'm just trying to stay playing the way I know how to play."
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