Maple Leafs pick leaves NCAA for OHL’s Rangers

Bracco broke USNTDP assists records before heading to BC. (Richard T. Gagnon/Getty)

It took 2 1/2 years to convince Jeremy Bracco.

But it finally worked.

The Maple Leafs draft pick, who smashed Patrick Kane’s assist records with the U.S. National Team Development Program, has officially left Boston College to join the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

Like the Rangers need the help, right? At 9-0-3, Kitchener is the only OHL team not to lose a game in regulation and will no doubt rise from No. 6 in the national rankings when they’re released later today, and now they’re adding a playmaking winger who most believe will be an impact player after setting all kinds of records in Ann Arbour. “He’s a world class player,” said Kitchener GM Murray Hiebert, who added Bracco is expected to fly into Toronto’s Pearson Airport today.

The surprising part is that Bracco had already played five games for Boston College, and this will add fuel to the ongoing fight between the NCAA and CHL over not only getting the rights to elite players, but getting those players to stand by commitments. It really heated up back in 2012 when Charlie Coyle bolted Boston University to join Saint John partway through the season. Even last year, there were rumours that Jack Eichel might leave BU to play major junior.

Bracco was the 61st overall pick by the Leafs last June after being rated as high as a first round pick earlier in the year. His size, generously listed at 5-foot-9, has been held against him, and he has a slightly unusual skating style that has thrown some scouts off.

But the results have been indisputable for the Long Island, N.Y., native, whose father played goal at Dartmouth College. Even at the draft, Bracco said he planned to go the NCAA route, but the Rangers kept trying to convince him his best hockey interests lay in the CHL and they finally succeeded. “I think he saw how well our team was doing and thought this might be a great place for him to develop,” said Hiebert.

Bracco joins a number of former USNTDP players who chose the OHL this season, including Windsor forward Christian Fischer, two players from London, Matthew Tkachuk and Max Jones, and Kitchener’s goaltender, Luke Opilka.

London’s J.J. Piccinich, another Leaf draft pick, played at Boston University last season but withdrew this summer to join the Knights, a team partly owned by Toronto’s top talent evaluator, Mark Hunter.

Bracco still has to get his official transfer papers signed by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. He’ll go head-to-head many nights this season with another Leafs pick, fourth overall selection Mitch Marner, who plays for the division rival Knights.

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