In one key way, they aren't the same. When you do this through the develop module, you are controlling the crop that changes the aspect ration. When you do this through the print module, you are ultimately allowing the system to make cropping decisions for you.
Depending on the image, those decisions might be fine. But there will be images where it won't be.
I've been doing experimentation on this recently, and my decision is that aspect ratio decisions are something I need to control on an image, which means, as the original poster noted, virtual copies and some time in the develop module. But after trying a few different ways to do this without the manual steps, I've come to the conclusion it's necessary, or I'm going to have images that "break" from unacceptable crops that I need to go in and fix manually anyway. I might as well build ONE workflow where I crop them properly up front than have to override an automated workflow repeatedly with manual "fixes" to get what I want.