Will Cuylle’s Commitment Shows Recruiting Strength Of Penn State Hockey
Penn State men’s hockey landed a verbal commitment from blue-chip prospect Will Cuylle on Tuesday evening, showing just how strong the program’s recruiting is prior to its seventh season at the Division I level.
Cuylle was selected No. 3 overall in the 2018 Ontario Hockey League Draft by the Peterborough Petes in April after scoring 62 points in 45 games for the minor midget Toronto Marlboros. Peterborough selected the Toronto native knowing that he would not report to the team’s development camp in late April, a decision that maintains his NCAA eligibility.
Peterborough GM Mike Oke was willing to roll the dice by selecting Cuylle because he rated the left-handed forward as the top player available with the No. 3 overall pick.
“We thought Will Cuylle could quite possibly be the best player in the draft,” Oke said after the draft. “There was a big discrepancy between Will Cuylle and the next best available player. We just felt it was in the best interests of the Peterborough Petes’ organization to pick the very best player available and that it was Will Cuylle by a considerable amount.”
The forward draws comparisons to Anaheim Ducks winger Nick Ritchie, who was also selected by Peterborough with a top-three pick after a dominant spell with the Toronto Marlboros. The Petes made Ritchie, an important part of the Ducks’ future as their current core begins to age, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, three years before Anaheim made him a top-ten pick in the NHL Draft.
Cuylle is a blue-chip prospect in every sense of the term. He isn’t the only current or future Penn Stater to be selected in one of Canada’s three major junior leagues’ drafts, but none have gone higher than No. 3 overall.
Canadian players choosing to play college hockey when presented with an opportunity to shine in any of Canada’s three major junior leagues is, to put it simply, very rare.
For those unfamiliar with Canadian major junior hockey (because who doesn’t love some good ol’ junior hockey?), the Ontario, Western, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey leagues are all part of the wider Canadian Hockey League. The CHL is widely considered to be the best amateur league in the world.
89 of the 217 players selected in the 2017 NHL Draft came from the CHL, which is one of the most coveted leagues for young players around the globe. Some American players, including current NHL stars Patrick Kane and John Carlson, finished their junior careers in the OHL instead of leagues in the United States.
A Canadian player may elect to skip out on the CHL for a number of reasons that all boil down to personal preference. However, it’s extremely uncommon to see a player of Cuylle’s quality pass up the opportunity to grow and develop in the CHL in favor of the college game.
The team’s home rink — the Peterborough Memorial Arena — was built in 1956, while Pegula Ice Arena is perhaps the crown jewel of college hockey. Penn State may simply have better facilities and resources than the Petes do, and this could have factored into why Cuylle’s head was turned.
One other Canadian that spurned the CHL in favor of college hockey was Jonathan Toews. Toews, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and captain of the Chicago Blackhawks since 2008, was selected No. 1 overall by the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, but elected to go to Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep School in Minnesota before playing college hockey at North Dakota.
The Petes’ selection of a player they knew didn’t want to play for them with a high draft pick may boil down to the organization’s stubbornness (read: incompetence), but GM Mike Oke and his staff were willing to risk throwing away the No. 3 overall pick to have a small chance of bringing him to Peterborough.
Regardless of Cuylle’s reasoning for not wanting to play for Peterborough, Guy Gadowsky and assistant coaches Matt Lindsay and Keith Fisher deserve tons of credit for bringing a player of Cuylle’s caliber to Penn State. Turning a top-five OHL Draft pick’s head away from one of the best junior leagues in the world is an impressive accomplishment, and Penn State will certainly be all the better for it.
At 16, Cuylle is still raw, and a lot can change from now until his arrival in Happy Valley at the turn of the decade. For now, Will Cuylle is a symbol of Penn State’s strength on the recruiting trail.