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2019 VGK Development Camp

Steve Marcus

Layton Ahac (44) takes a shot on goal during Vegas Golden Knights development camp at City National Arena in Summerlin Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Layton Ahac experienced what many young Canadian hockey players dream about by getting drafted by a major junior league team a few hours from his hometown.

The Vancouver, British Columbia native could have just played for Seattle of the Western Hockey League but he wanted something more unorthodox. He wanted to go to college and will instead attend Ohio State University in the fall.

The Vegas Golden Knights have selected nine players that went to college in their three drafts, but none as highly as Ahac, who went No. 86 overall this year.  

“I went with my gut feeling and I’m not going to regret it,” Ahac said. “It was one way or the other and I chose college.”

The Canadian Hockey League is the major junior circuit and divided into three leagues: Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL). The NCAA considers major junior players professionals, making them ineligible for American college hockey.

Players can compete in major juniors once they are 16 years old, and depending on the skill of the player, can join immediately. Sometimes they need to develop in lower levels, the highest of which are the 10 Junior A leagues, which is where Ahac has spent the last two seasons.

The defenseman was selected by the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds in 2016 but held off on signing because he wasn’t old enough to play until the following season. He joined Prince George of the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League in the interim and began considering college.

He popped down to the states to visit the Buckeyes’ campus in Columbus, Ohio, and made up his mind. He couldn’t wait to play there.

“I went on a tour there and fell in love with it,” Ahac said. “The coaching staff, the school, the campus, everything about it, the people, it seemed like the perfect fit for me.”

 It’s an uncommon path but not an unprecedented one. His highest-profile counterpart from this year’s draft is Alex Newhook, who will play at Boston College next year despite going No. 16 overall to the Colorado Avalanche.

There are benefits to choosing the college route over major juniors. Junior leagues have an age limit of 20 years old, so players must move on to professional hockey whether they’re ready or not.

Junior A leagues are still considered amateur, so players from that path can start their collegiate careers at 20 years old. Throw in a potential redshirt year, and it’s not uncommon to see 25-year-old seniors.

 “It really depends on their path that they want to go,” said Will Nichol, Golden Knights director of player development. “It’s really more about what’s good for the kid. That’s what we really like to focus on.”

A record seven of the top 16 picks in last week’s draft were NCAA players, as well as nine in the first round and 71 total. It was one of college hockey’s best years at the draft, and the Golden Knights were a big part of it.

Ahac is one of three 2019 Vegas draft picks headed to college next year. Fourth-rounder Ryder Donovan will be Ahac’s Big Ten Conference rival at the University of Wisconsin, while fifth-rounder Isaiah Saville is off to the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Donovan and Saville took more traditional routes to college. Saville is a native of Anchorage, Alaska, who always had the goal of playing hockey and getting an education. He played high school hockey in Alaska and his mother stressed the importance of a college degree.

 “It was just kind of like my dream to play in front my school in front of the student section, go to class with people who go to your games,” Saville said. “You can get your degree and still play hockey and stuff like that so if hockey doesn’t work out you have that fallback plan.”

Donovan graduated from Duluth East High School last year and played nine games with Dubuque in the United States Hockey League. He’ll join camp teammates Michael Vorlicky and Mike Messner at Wisconsin next year along with first-round picks Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings), Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) and potential top 2020 pick Dylan Holloway.

 “It’s only going to make me have to raise my game and play at that level and to work with those guys is going to be unbelievable,” Donovan said. “It’s going to be super fun.”

Article written by #LasVegasSun