The talent battle between the NCAA and CHL has another lightning rod, as right winger Jeremy Bracco has left Boston College to play for the Ontario League's Kitchener Rangers. Bracco, a small but ultra-skilled Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, was drafted in the second round this summer by the Buds and had just begun his freshman campaign with the NCAA's Eagles.
So why did he jump to the Rangers?
"You look at their record, the players in the room and the coaching staff," Bracco told me, "there's the potential to win a championship and play for a Memorial Cup."
Indeed, the Rangers are the only team in all of major junior yet to lose in regulation, going 9-0-3 so far. In Kitchener, he joins former NTDP teammate Luke Opilka (St. Louis), who has been the Rangers' starting goalie during a remarkable start – and was literally driving Bracco when the newest Ranger called me today.
Needless to say, Bracco's high-profile moved has riled up the Twitterverse, particularly in college hockey circles and a lot of rumors and misinformation followed. In terms of education, the right winger wasn't having issues.
"My grades were good," Bracco said. "But I wanted to really zero in on hockey. It's nothing against the program; it was great to be there for the month and a half I spent there."
In five games with Boston College, Bracco had three points, all of which came in one game against Colorado College where he was named first star. The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder started off the year with big boys Alex Tuch (Minnesota) and Zach Sanford (Washington), but moved to a line with Ryan Fitzgerald (Boston) and Colin White (Ottawa) for the Colorado College series. White was Bracco's center with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, so naturally there was a level of comfort there.
But on Tuesday night, Bracco informed coach Jerry York that he was leaving school. The Eagles aren't harboring any grudges against the kid and as long as the team stays healthy, Boston College (4-0-1) has the depth to still be one of the top teams in the NCAA.
Bracco's timing couldn't have been better for Kitchener, as top left winger Adam Mascherin just injured his shoulder and is out indefinitely. In fact, the team has a rash of injuries to deal with right now. Fortunately, Bracco is an offensive dynamo who holds the NTDP record for assists in both one season (64) and career (122).
Bracco played with Kitchener's No. 1 center, Ryan MacInnis (Arizona) at Team USA's world junior camp, so there's already some familiarity there. The new recruit knows he has been brought in to produce and is more than happy to do so. If all goes according to plan, Bracco will play on MacInnis' wing tonight against Peterborough.
In terms of his relationship with the Maple Leafs, who drafted him 61st overall this summer, Bracco talked to team brass and they said they would be happy either way, whether he stayed at Boston College or suited up for Kitchener. Bracco has not signed his entry-level deal with the NHL franchise yet.