Wisconsin Badgers lead college hockey with seven recruits ranked for 2018 NHL draft

April 17, 2018

One of Tony Granato’s first minor disagreements with a supporter of the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team came in the initial days of his tenure as head coach in the spring of 2016.

The Badgers, Granato recently recollected the fan saying, needed to start getting players that will stay around for all four years of their eligibility.

Granato shared his contrary opinion then, and the recruiting that he and his assistants have done since have offered a similar sentiment.

The disclosure Monday that seven Badgers recruits are among players ranked by NHL Central Scouting for this year’s draft, including three in the top 50, seems to further define the UW philosophy in attracting players: Go after the biggest talents even though their stay with the team might be limited.

“I’d love to have the NHL players come here for four years, but that’s not realistic, to recruit the top players and think they’re going to be here for four years,” Granato said last month. “So you try to get a combination of three- and four-year players, knowing that you do have one- and two-year players in there as well.”

Left wing Sampo Ranta was ranked 18th among skaters from North American leagues in Central Scouting’s final rankings for the NHL draft, which takes place June 22-23 in Dallas.

Defensemen K’Andre Miller (23rd) and Ty Emberson (42nd) gave the Badgers three players in the top 50 who are expected to join the team next season.

Only Boston University, which had one current player and two incoming recruits listed in the top 38, matched the Badgers in the high end of the rankings among NCAA schools.

No college program had more recruits ranked than UW’s seven. That’s also the highest Central Scouting rankings total for the Badgers in at least the last seven years.

Left wing Jack Gorniak of West Salem was ranked 87th. Twin brother defensemen Cole Krygier (149th) and Christian Krygier (216th) also were given spots in the final list.

Goalie Daniel Lebedeff, who was undrafted last year after being ranked 22nd among North American goalies, was 26th.

Defenseman Mike Vorlicky and center Ben Helgeson, both of whom have one more year left in high school, dropped out of the rankings after being included in the January midterm report at 167th and 195th, respectively.

The Badgers have captured attention around college hockey for the volume of nonbinding oral commitments they have elicited from players in two years since Granato took over.

Not including 11 players who have signed a National Letter of Intent to join the Badgers next season, 24 players are committed.

Some see that as overrecruiting but it also can be taken as a sign that UW coaches are planning for frequent additions to take the place of players who leave after a year or two of college.

Not everyone who’s ranked gets picked in the draft. And history suggests that not everyone who’s drafted, even in high rounds, leaves school after a year or two.

But there’s potential for the latter, especially with Ranta, Miller and Emberson. All three are headed to Russia to play in the Under-18 World Championship — Ranta for Finland, Miller and Emberson for the U.S. alongside Badgers 2019 commits Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte.

So the indications are that there may be more offseasons ahead like 2010, when four players gave up eligibility to sign, than 2016, the only time in the last 13 years that the Badgers didn’t have anyone leave early.

“Whether you like the way the format is or not, that is what our sport and what college hockey is about, is giving great players a chance to start their careers as student-athletes,” Granato said. “And when they’re ready to play professionally and have that opportunity, some pro teams are anxious to get their draft pick to their team and some players are anxious to get to the NHL.

“When you’re a little kid and you play hockey, you dream of playing in the NHL. I’m sure everyone that has left our program has said, ‘Man, I loved my experiences at the University of Wisconsin’ and are grateful for it. But it’s pretty hard to say, ’Well, I’ll just go back for another year in school and turn down a chance to play in the NHL. So you’ve got to understand that’s part of it.”