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While there could be some exceptions, one would expect that players performing at those levels nine years ago would have either established themselves as NHL players or not by now. That means that at the highest level of amateur hockey, just 4.7 percent of players end up playing in the NHL. Some of those rosters, though, had 25 or more players on them, so I decided to base the numbers on an average of 18 players per team -- which is how many would typically suit up for a game. That cut the number of players down to 1,692, which brings the percentage of NHLers up to 6.7 percent. Which basically means that when you attend a major junior or college game, chances are that you'll be watching roughly one player on each team who has a legitimate shot at playing in the NHL. Based again on the 18-man roster, the WHL had the best showing with 31 of a possible 324 players, for an NHL production rate of 9.6 percent. The OHL had 31 of 360 for 8.6 percent and the QMJHL 16 of 270 for 5.9 percent. Overall, junior hockey from that season produced a total of 79 NHL players for a production rate of 8.3 percent. In college hockey, Hockey East led the way with 11 NHLers among 162 players for 6.8 percent. The WCHA was next at nine among 162 for a 5.6 percent showing. The CCHA had six NHLers among 198 players for 3.0 percent and the ECAC had eight among 216 for 3.7 percent. Overall, college hockey produced 34 NHL players among the 738 that played in 1998-99 for a production rate of 4.6 percent. And chances are, once a player makes it to the major junior or college levels, he's going to be a fringe or average player. Of the 113 from 1998-99 who have established themselves as NHLers, just 29 could be considered above average players, while 46 would be considered average and 38 below average or fringe NHLers. From that group, only Jonathan Cheechoo (Rocket Richard), Brad Richards (Conn Smythe and Lady Byng), Barret Jackman (Calder) and Andrew Raycroft (Calder) have won an individual award. Only Roberto Luongo, who has been a second-team all-star twice, has made it to a post-season all-star team. Only Justin Williams is among the top 20 scorers this season and only Jason Spezza finished among the top 20 last season. In fact, the only true potential superstars of that group would be Spezza, who played that season as an underage player for the Brampton Battalion, and Luongo. The fact is, far more careers end up going the other way. Many of these players end up chasing the dream through the backwaters of minor pro hockey or in Europe, and a great many others are out of the game altogether after their junior or college careers end. Some end up like Nate Hagemo, a promising defenseman for the University of Minnesota who had been an elite-level player in USA Hockey for years and was a legitimate prospect of the Carolina Hurricanes. But a shoulder injury derailed Hagemo's career and he was forced to retire last season. U of M, to its credit, saw fit to allow him to retain his scholarship. None of this is groundbreaking news, but it is something to ponder the next time you're watching Little Johnny dart around the ice with visions of an NHL career in your head. Ken Campbell's "Campbell's Cuts" appears every Monday only on thehockeynews.com.
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