Take a glance at your calendar, people. The Frozen Four is upon us… and it couldn’t come a minute too soon.
The annual NCAA hockey tournament is a notable one for many in hockey, particularly in the scouting community. This year sees the Quinnipiac Bobcats come in as the number one seed after finishing with a 29-3-7 record. That however, does not mean the tournament will be any kind of easy for this squad.
The St. Cloud State Huskies come in as the second seed, including drafted players such as Judd Peterson (BUF), Will Borgen (BUF), and towering defenseman Nathan Widman (COL). Their opening contest will be up against the Ferris State Bulldogs – an encounter they are expected to win handily.
The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks comes in as a third seed, boasting a solid set of NHL prospects looking to make their mark. The nameplates in their locker room include the likes of Brock Boeser (VAN), Nick Schmaltz (CHI), Austin Poganski (STL), and Matej Tomek (PHI) among others. Facing off against Northeastern in the first round, they are expected to emerge victorious.
That brings us to the fourth seed of the Providence College Friars, including former Flames first round selection Mark Jankowski (CGY). They will be in tough in their first contest of the tournament, facing off against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs lead by Maple Leafs prospects Tony Cameranesi (TOR) and Dominic Toninato (TOR).
While these teams certainly earned their seeded positions, the rock solid favourite in the mind of this observer can be no other than the Boston College Eagles. Boasting an incredible lineup of blue chip NHL prospects including Colin White (OTT), Alex Tuch (MIN), Ian McCoshen (FLA), Steve Santini (NJD) that are peppered through the line-up on a squad that boasts a great deal of firepower. Most notably is the man between the pipes, as Thatcher Demko (VAN) will look to continue his historic season and add to the Bean Pot trophy already taken home this year.
Another side note? Make sure to keep an eye on Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey (NSH) – as noted in last week’s column, his contract situation remains unresolved. His performance may be impactful in terms of deciding to join the Nashville Predators after months of speculation, or to exercise his own free agency on August 15th. Only time will tell.
In a bit of completely unsurprising news, Auston Matthews (2016) has been named to the US National team for the upcoming IIHF World Championships this May in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Matthews, projected as the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft (just in case you’ve been living under a rock the past year), has been dominant with the Zurich Lions in Switzerland’s National League A. Posting 24 goals and 46 points in only 36 games while playing against men, it is little surprise he is as coveted as he is.
Perhaps most impressive about it is the amount of American talent that may potentially be available at the end of the NHL season. Names like Jack Eichel (BUF), Jake McCabe (BUF), Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), and many others have yet to be officially approached – and while the NHL season is not over, scuttlebutt is usually well underway by now.
It was back at the World Junior Hockey Championships that Patrik Laine (2016) had stated that he was not willing to concede the number one spot overall to Matthews. It is entirely possible that both Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi (2016) will be representing team Finland at the tournament as well. This revelation introduces an entirely new storyline to a tournament considered by many North American hockey fans as an afterthought.
If Alex DeBrincat (2016) was about three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier, he would go in the top ten of the draft.
There, I said it.
I was fortunate enough to be in Erie Insurance arena when the battle for first overall in the Western Conference, against the London Knights, took place March 19th. Was it ever something.
This was a game that featured blue chip prospects on both sides. Names like Matthew Tkachuk (2016), Max Jones (2016), Olli Juolevi (2016), and Mitch Marner (TOR) dawned the green and gold. On the other end in the yellow and burgundy, names like Dylan Strome (ARI) and Taylor Raddysh (2016) stepped to the line.
In the end though, while Marner was doing his usual magic show and Strome was being his quietly effective self, it was DeBrincat who stood out.
Despite his size at a mere 5-7 and 160 pounds, DeBrincat brings grit to his game – though he picks his spots on occasion, he is not afraid to throw a hit against a bigger player. His compete level is off the charts – one shift he is blocking a shot, the next she was throwing a big hit on the forecheck. All this, along with elite level offensive ability. This included spectacular playmaking with a volley-chip pass in mid-air, on his backhand no less, straight to Taylor Raddysh for the second goal of the game.
It’s this kind of upside that makes one wonder if a team, hopeful for a growth spurt of an extra inch or two, would consider taking him higher than the mid-to-late 20’s most mock drafts have him at.
Even if he stays his current height, there are few players of his stature who remind me of the likes of Theo Fleury and Martin St. Louis.
Alex DeBrincat is one of them.
Thanks for reading!