While there are, of course, many headlines and topics to cover when talking NCAA hockey, the biggest storyline thus far this year is the handful of 2023 draft eligible prospects suiting up this year as college Freshmen. Leading the charge is a consensus top three draft pick in next Summer’s NHL entry draft, who, along with Russian Matvei Michkov, is trying to position himself as the top candidate to be drafted second overall, behind the Canadian wunderkind Connor Bedard. Let’s dive into the Freshman four to keep an eye on throughout this College season. Let’s start with the second leading scorer in the nation.
Adam Fantilli, C, Michigan University
Specs: 6’2”, 187 pounds, shoots- left
The Ontario native is taking the NCAA by storm, posting an amazing 26 points in only 15 games thus far this year, registering 11 goals and 15 assists. For any who may be unfamiliar, putting up points at this clip as a Freshman in the NCAA is quite a feat, unlike draft eligibles playing in leagues such as the OHL or WHL, where huge point totals are commonplace. Fantilli, who turned 18 in October, is looking to become just the third Freshman to win the Hobey Baker award, awarded annually to the top player in College hockey, joining Jack Eichel and Paul Kariya.
The Wolverines’ number 19 possesses lightning speed, a great shot, tons of smarts, has good size and plays a physical brand. Indeed, he has all of the tools to make for a terrific National Hockey League player in short order. Michigan, as has been customary in recent years, has a terrific supporting cast around Fantilli this year, including Mackie Samoskevich, Rutger McGroarty, Luke Hughes, and a fellow 2023 draft prospect, detailed below.
Gavin Brindley, RW, Michigan University
Specs: 5’9”, 157 pounds, shoots- right
The Florida native, with dual American and Canadian citizenship (and an October birthday) has one goal and nine assists in 17 games for the team from Ann Arbor. Prior to joining Michigan, the diminutive righty with terrific speed totaled 42 points in 51 games played for the Tri City Storm of the USHL in 2021-2022, and four points in six games played for team USA at the World Juniors.
Charlie Stramel, F, University of Wisconsin
Specs: 6’3”, 216 pounds, shoots- right
Stramel, a native of Minnesota, has a big body and plays a tenacious game, along with plenty of skill and a good shot. The big righty is projected to be selected in the bottom half of the first round. He will need some development time at the collegiate level but hus far in 15 games for the Badgers, he has posted three goals and three assists.
Matthew Wood, F, University of Connecticut
Specs: 6’3”, 190 pounds, shoots- right
Possessing a large frame and a booming shot, the Alberta native has helped put UConn on the map this season, after years of being a middling NCAA program. Wood has scored five goals to go along with nine assists in 18 games for the Huskies.
Will Smith, C, 2023 draft eligible, Boston College commit for 2023-2024
Specs: 6”0”, 172 pounds, shoots- right
For those out there who watched the World Junior tournament earlier this year, the name Will Smith probably rings a bell. For anyone who didn’t, add this player to your radar for next year’s draft. As a member of NTDP (National Team Development Program), he is already playing against college teams, and has played in a ton of games with the US program over the last couple of years. The Massachusetts native suited up in 36 games for the US Junior team of the USHL in 2021-2022 season, posting 28 points, and in six games thus far in 2022-2023, where he has gathered nine points. For the 17U and 18U National teams in 2021-2022, he put up 64 points in 63 games played, and in 2022-2023 with the 18U National team, he has scored 45 points in only 24 games! Impressive numbers, to be sure. Smith will be joined on the Eagles next season by fellow NTDP teammates and 2023 draft hopefuls Ryan Leonard, Drew Fortescue, Will Vote and Jacob Fowler.
Other notable NHL- affiliated prospects having big starts to their college seasons
Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, Minnesota, 23rd overall to St. Louis in 2022: 22 points in 17 games played
Mackie Samoskevich, RW/C, Michigan, 24th overall to Florida in 2021: 21 points in 17 games played
Logan Cooley, C, Minnesota, 3rd overall to Arizona in 2022: 19 points in 16 games played
Matthew Knies, LW, Minnesota, 57th overall to Toronto in 2021: 17 points in 17 games played
Carter Mazur, LW, Denver, 70th overall to Detroit in 2021: 16 points in 15 games played
Rutger McGroarty, C/LW, Michigan, 14th overall to Winnipeg in 2022: 16 points in 17 games played
Seamus Casey, D, Michigan, 46th overall to New Jersey in 2022: 16 points in 17 games played
Luke Hughes, D, Michigan, 4th overall to New Jersey in 2021: 16 points in 17 games played
Brett Berard, LW, Providence, 134th overall to NYR in 2020: 15 points in 15 games played
Matt Coronato, RW/LW, Harvard, 13th overall to Calgary in 2021: 14 points in 10 games played
*All statistics accurate as of Saturday morning, December 3 rd
Looking at these stats, there are a few common themes. All of the NHL- affiliated prospects listed above have been, and some continue to be, major contributors to Team USA in the World Juniors. As you can also see, Minnesota and Michigan have absolutely loaded rosters. Clearly bolstered by their reputations as powerhouse collegiate teams, these two programs have been the beneficiaries of some marquee names making a brief stop on their campuses. In recent years, Michigan has seen the likes of Owen Power, Matt Beniers, Kent Johnson and Quinn Hughes swing through campus, and Minnesota has had players such as Casey Mittelstadt and Chaz Lucius.
1. Minnesota (Big Ten): The Gophers, as previously mentioned, are loaded with NHL-affiliated prospects. These include forwards Arizona Coyotes’ Logan Cooley, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Matthew Knies, and the St. Louis Blues’ Jimmy Snuggerud, in addition to the aforementioned Charlie Stramel. Their defense is equally impressive, including Minnesota Wild’s Brock Faber, Anaheim Ducks’ Jackson LaCombe, Washington Capitals’ Ryan Chesley, and Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Ryan Johnson. The team has had some impressive wins already this season, beating Michigan twice, Penn State, North Dakota and Ohio State. Recently, they were beaten by Arizona State, but have followed it up with back to back wins against Michigan State.
2. Denver (NCHC): The Pioneers are led, on the front end, by Detroit Red Wings’ Carter Mazur, the Chicago Blackhawks’ Aidan Thompson and Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Massimo Rizzo. On the back end, leading the way are Colorado Avalanche’s Sean Behrens and Red Wings Shai Buium, and in net, San Jose Sharks’ Magnus Chrona. Denver was recently stunned by the unranked University of Nebraska Omaha, but they have gathered impressive wins over Providence twice, North Dakota twice, and St. Cloud State.
3. St. Cloud State (NCHC): Huskies goalie, and Blackhawks’ prospect, Dominic Basse is off to a staggering start to his season, boasting a .940 save percentage and a stingy 1.51 goals against average thus far this season in eight games played. The Wild’s Jack Peart is their leading player on defense, and at forward, they have Maple Leafs’ Veeti Miettinen and Nashville Predators’ Adam Ingram leading the way.
4. Quinnipiac (ECAC): The Bobcats never really have the fortune of landing the top recruits for their program, but year after year, they find a way to compete with the big boys of NCAA hockey. They do have Stanley Cup champion, and Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour’s son Skyler, who is an Edmonton Oilers Draft choice from 2017, as well as the Coyotes’ Sam Lipkin.
5. Penn State (Big Ten): The Nittany Lions have seen a bit of a dip this year in terms of NHL-affiliated prospects, having only Predators seventh rounder Chase McLane, and Hurricanes’ Kevin Wall, a sixth round pick. Nevertheless, they remain one of the better teams in the NCAA, with wins over Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
6. Michigan (Big Ten): The Wolverines, the beasts of college hockey, in terms of NHL-drafted talent, are having another good season, led by the New Jersey Devils on defense. Kidding, sort of. U of M has Luke Hughes, Seamus Casey and Ethan Edwards, all Devils picks, as well as the Vancouver Canucks’ Jacob Truscott. In net, they have Sabres prospect Erik Portillo, and up front, they have the aforementioned Adam Fantilli and Gavin Brindley, Winnipeg Jets’ Rutger McGroarty, Blackhawks’ Frank Nazar, and the Florida Panthers’ Mackie Samoskevich and Tampa Bay Lightnings’ Dylan Duke, among others. What a roster.
7. Boston University (Hockey East): Terriers goalie, and Blackhawks second rounder Drew Commesso backstops a supremely talented Boston squad, joined by defenders Lane Hutson of the Montreal Canadians and Domenick Fensore of the Hurricanes. At forward, they have Jay O’Brien and Devin Kaplan of the Philidelphia Flyers, along with Luke Tuch of the Habs, as well as a few other NHL draftees. Fensore, the captain, is one of the point leaders on defense with 13 points in 14 games. Hutson has posted 17 points in 14 games. Ryan Greene, of the Blackhawks, leads the way for the forwards with 14 points in 14 games.
8. University of Connecticut (Hockey East): Huskies netminder Arseni Sergeyev, a Calgary Flames prospect, leads the team into battle most nights, boasting a .920 save percentage and a 2.51 GAA. He is joined in the lineup by a few other NHL prospects, including Samu Salminen of the Devils and Ryan Tverberg of the Maple Leafs, in addition to the aforementioned Matthew Wood. Tverberg has 10 goals and seven assists in 18 games for UConn.
9. Harvard (ECAC): The Crimson keep the theme of strong goaltending alive, with Caps prospect Mitchell Gibson between their pipes, possessing a sparkling .930 save percentage to go along with a skimpy 1.83 GAA up to this point in his season. Team leaders in points include forward Sean Farrell of the Canadiens with 18 points in 11 games, the aforementioned Matt Coronato of the Flames, Henry Thrun, the good looking Ducks defense prospect with 14 points in 11 games, and Alex Laferriere of the Los Angeles Kings, with 12 points in 11 games.
10. Providence (Hockey East): The top- ten wouldn’t be complete without another strong goalie leading the way for his team. The Boston Bruins’ Philip Svedebach leads the way in net with a solid 2.27 GAA to go along with a .904 save percentage. In front of the big Swede is New York Ranger prospect Brett Berard, leading the team with 15 points in 16 games, followed by C/RW Parker Ford, who is not an NHL draftee, but is a player who looks like he may draw a good amount of interest from NHL clubs as an undrafted free agent once he completes his senior year. Among the other team leaders thus far has been Pittsburgh Penguins’ Chase Yoder, Boston’s Riley Duran, Lightnings’ Max Crozier and the Rangers’ Jaro Chmelar.
One additional look at a top-20 team: #12 Merrimack (Hockey East): This is a pretty neat storyline this season. A relative unknown, Merrimack College is leading Hockey East up to this point, with an impressive record, including wins over UConn and UMass. The Warriors have yet to play any of this year’s elite NCAA teams, however, except for UConn. Rangers draft pick Hugo Ollas mans the net for Merrimack, and has posted a solid .925 save percentage and a miniscule 1.80 GAA up to this point. The New York Islanders’ Alex Jefferies leads the way on offense, with 20 points in 15 games played.
Other NCAA storylines
The 2022 Friendship Four was held November 25th and 26th in Belfast, Northern
Ireland, with Quinnipiac University taking out UMass in a shootout in the
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