At Neutral Zone, our scouts not only rank players and draft scouting reports of all CHL/NCAA prospects throughout North America, but also conduct CHL/NCAA Recruiting Class Rankings. These are based on an algorithm that computes the players star rating, their age and the league they play in.
“Every season we run tests in November, January and March on how well the freshman in NCAA or rookies in CHL are doing based on their star rating, age and league they came out of,” Director of Scouting Brendan Collins explained. “We use that data to constantly stay on top of our algorithm to make it as accurate as possible to predict future success.”
While much attention is focused on NCAA D1 or CHL, the staff also conducts Recruiting Class Rankings for NCAA D2/D3 programs as well. This report is going to focus on the USCHO Top 15 Poll and a look back at three years’ worth of recruiting class data.
Over the past 3 season there have been 38 teams which ranked in the Top 20 NCAA D3 Recruiting Classes.
Chart #1 2016-2018 NCAA Recruiting Class Rankings
|WI Eau Claire||21||3||13||3–21||12.3|
|U of New England||14||8||16||8–16||12.7|
|WI Stevens Point||10||2||42||2–42||18|
|WI River Falls||28||20||39||20–39||29|
This chart shows NCAA Recruiting Class Rankings in each of the last three cycles: 2016, 2017, 2018. The range shows their best class rank to their worst class rank and the average adds up all 3 recruiting class rankings and divides by 3.
There are several important factors to look at here. First, the different years rankings; you can see that it fluctuates year to year. Some teams like Salve Regina and Babson for example had recruiting classes in 2016 that were not even in the top 50 in the country, but that wasn’t a result of bringing in bad players, it was a result of not having graduated many seniors and only having limited spots. Fast forward two season when they had more openings and they were both Top 10 classes. This is shown in the range where you can look at a team’s best class and their worst class in the past 3 seasons. Oswego (2-11), Williams (19-27), University of New England (8-16) and St. Norbert (7-16) show great consistency where as other programs like Marian (6-61), Elmira (6-73), Amherst (6-48), Babson (8-54), Salve Regina (4-52), Aurora (10-63) and Plattsburgh (6-40) show quite a range.
The average is a good metric to further show consistency and where a team would fit looking at a 3-year window.
This does not tell the full story as some programs like Endicott, for example, bring in NCAA D1 transfers. Those players are not counted in these recruiting classes; only players who are coming directly out of prep, high school or junior hockey. Also, it is important to realize that 2016 recruiting classes are now juniors and 2018 recruiting class are freshman so one could argue the 2016 should be weighted more than 2018 to predict future success. Lastly, some players quit and that is not reflected here either; if a 3.0 prospect comes in as a freshman and does well and then leaves school after his sophomore year they are not taken out of the recruiting class ranking so a team gets credit even though that player may not currently be on the roster.
Chart #2 2016-2018 NCAA Recruiting Class Points
|WI Eau Claire||95.64||219.28||172.86||487.78||162.59|
|U of New England||112.94||169.5||162.19||444.63||148.21|
|WI Stevens Point||126.7||228.84||67.94||423.48||141.16|
|WI River Falls||78.75||131.92||77.03||287.7||95.9|
While the rankings give context to the top recruiting classes, the points generated from the algorithm are arguably more important. For example, in 2016 when Neutral Zone was just starting out grades were a bit stricter and our staff only had 20 scouts so we didn’t see players in some junior B and less represented leagues. By 2018 our scouting staff grew to over 70 and had the opportunity to not only see all the players but see them multiple times and therefore you see the top recruiting class in 2016 was UMass Boston with 184 points; yet in 2018 Wisconsin Eau Claire had close to that with 172 and that put them at 13th ranked class.
The points were added and arranged by the most points to the least points. When looking at the averages on the furthers column it is easy to see how close these rankings actually are.
“Of all the rankings we do (i.e. OHL Draft, WHL Draft, NCAA D1, USHL Draft, etc) NCAA D3 is the most challenging because the range of talent is so tight,” admitted Brendan Collins. “In NCAA D1 or the OHL the difference between the top 5% of the leagues talent pool and the average talent pool is starkly different; you have first round NHL talent against players who will never play a pro game. In NCAA D3 the difference between the top 5% of the league and the average in the league is not that stark, it’s actually pretty close.”
Chart #3 Recruiting Class Rankings vs. NCAA DIII Pairwise Ranking
|Pairwise Rank||Recruit Rank||Team||Avg Rank||Avg Pts|
|9||6||WI Eau Claire||12.3||162.5|
|14||9||Univ. New England||12.7||148.2|
|1||13||WI Stevens Point||18||141.1|
13 of the top 15 NCAA Recruiting Classes are ranked in the Top 17 programs in NCAA this season. The two teams who are not ranked in the Top 17 are #27 Skidmore and #43 Aurora. Skidmore is a team with a winning record in one of the toughest conferences, if not the toughest conference, in NCAA D3 and Aurora is a new program.
“The point of this graphic is to show that there is a direct and obvious correlation between NCAA Recruiting Class Rankings and future success,” remarked Neutral Zone President Steve Wilk. “The teams who have acquired the most talented recruits out of high school, prep school and junior hockey have had the most success and are competing for NCAA championships.”
Every team that has competed in the National Championship since 2010 is among those Top 15 teams in Recruiting Class Rankings. Appearances: St. Norbert (6), Norwich (2), Trinity (2), Oswego (2), Wisc Stevens Point (3), WI Eau Claire (1), Adrian (1), Salve Regina (1).
While NCAA D1 and CHL Draft Rankings are a bit easier given the talent disparity between top flight talent and median talent; this study shows that even among a small talent pool gap there is a direct correlation between recruiting class rankings and future success.
A major component of Neutral Zone’s recruiting class algorithm is birth year and league they are coming out of. This is backed by historical data over the past 5 seasons showing how 18-year-old freshman have fared versus 21-year-old freshman. It also accounts for how players have performed out of the NAHL versus how players have performed out of the EHL and calculates that difference as part of the ranking.
A good example of the power of recruiting would be Wilkes University who is a first-year program out of Pennsylvania headed by one of the top young coaches in the NCAA ranks Brett Riley. The program achieved the #1 recruiting class ranking this past year and is 16-6-1 in their first season with a team full of freshman.
The study lends itself to takeaways for both coaches and players.
Of the Top 10 teams in power play percentage in NCAA D3, only 5 are ranked in the Top 10 nationally. Of the Top 10 teams in penalty kill percentage only 3 are ranked Top 10 nationally. Furthermore, 11 of the top 15 teams in combined special teams are NOT ranked in the top 15 nationally!
Coaches spend a lot of time watching film, organizing practice plans and working on special teams. Our study would show that picking up the phone to talk to a prospect or getting in the car to go watch a higher caliber player may be the better use of time.
The recruiting class rankings are one of the pillars to the educational objectives at Neutral Zone. Making hockey decisions in regards to where to play juniors, what schools to look at, figuring out where you’ll get the most ice time, etc. is nearly impossible if a player doesn’t have an accurate measure of where they stack up amongst the other prospects from across North America. Today’s player can now go on and look at different schools, what their recruiting classes look like, how old the players are, what leagues they typically draw from, what star ratings their recruits typically have, etc. and can make much more informed decisions.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images