For the Michigan hockey team, the success of last Thursday’s NHL Draft was something the Wolverines are accustomed to. With three players selected, a 27-year streak of at least one Michigan player being picked continued. It is tied with Boston College for the longest active streak in NCAA hockey.
And that draft success stems from more than the Wolverines’ strength in developing top players once they arrive at Michigan. It’s also a product of its success in attracting high-profile contributors to begin with.
“It’s not like you get drafted and all of a sudden there’s this magic dust on a player and he’s all of a sudden a different player because of where he got drafted,” Michigan associate head coach Bill Muckalt said. “That’s just the start of the journey. There’s still a long ways to go after that.”
Michigan accounts for just one of many stops along a player’s hockey journey, and some of its recruiting targets have spent years polishing their games in the hopes of attracting NHL interest. Those skill sets attract plenty of attention, and the Wolverines aren’t the only ones vying for their services.
In order to compete for that elite talent, programs need to show what sets them apart, and the Wolverines work tirelessly to do that. Michigan has to ensure its recruiting pitch convinces those players that coming to Ann Arbor is the right move for their hockey careers. While the program’s success in advancing players to the professional ranks certainly aids in the Wolverines’ recruiting endeavors, it takes more than that to draw in future stars.
For that, Michigan’s coaches rely on a variety of advantages the program can offer. From the University’s academic strength to an expansive alumni network across the hockey world, there are plenty of positives to draw in prospects when they view the program.
But for many top recruits, getting to the NHL is the highest priority. That’s where the Wolverines commitment to developing pro talent brings an added bonus.
“We really work hard at the development side of it,” Muckalt said. “… Promoting our players and helping them become the best version of themselves to get ready to play in the National Hockey League and have success in the National Hockey League.”
Whether it’s the way practices are held or the way strength training prepares athletes for the ice, Michigan’s environment aims to ready players for the next level. While what that looks like has evolved over the past 27 years, the program has found ways to keep those goals at the front of its efforts.
And as much as the Wolverines’ training system helps convince players to join their team, players also want to skate with the best teammates they can.
As Muckalt puts it, high profile players attract other high profile players, and Michigan has been able to use that to its advantage.
Elite players network with other elite players, and they form relationships that play an important role when looking at the next stage of their careers. High profile recruits also pay attention to who’s behind the bench, whether it’s legendary head coaches like Red Berenson or up-and-coming assistants like Kris Mayotte and Brandon Naurato.
When Harvard canceled its hockey season in 2020-21, forward Matty Beniers chose to attend Michigan in part because he knew many of the players on its roster from his time with the United States National Team Development Program. It also helped that Mayotte tried to recruit him as an assistant coach at Providence before coming to Ann Arbor.
Those connections to figures within the program matter. Even amid a misconduct investigation, multiple recruits have pointed to their trust in Michigan coach Mel Pearson as a key source of their decision to join the Wolverines this upcoming season. Loyalty to a coach like that is a significant part in bringing players to Ann Arbor, and its development doesn’t happen on a whim.
At the end of the day, getting drafted doesn’t turn players into stars, and neither does pulling on a maize script jersey. But with 27 years of draft picks having found their way through Michigan, the program consistently serves as a proving ground for the NHL’s future stars.
And with even more buzzworthy recruits positioned to be drafted in upcoming years, that streak might only keep growing.