Prospect Rambling: College Hockey Countdown (Part Two)

by Kevin LeBlanc on October 5, 2016
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Last week the Preseason USCHO’s Division I Men’s College Hockey Poll was released. After breaking down teams 20-11 in Part One of this series, we take a closer look at teams 10-1. Each team breakdown will dig a little deeper into the Top 10 and provide some veterans to watch as well as some incoming freshmen to keep a closer eye on.

Rankings can be found here: http://www.uscho.com/rankings/d-i-mens-poll/

10. Providence

T-1st Place in Hockey in 2015-16 – Record: 27-7-4 (Lost in Northeast Regional Semi-Final to Minnesota-Duluth)

Defending a National Championship is no easy feat as the Friars learned during the 2015-16 season. Doing so down the stretch without your best defenseman makes the task even more difficult. If it weren’t for Jake Walman’s injury last spring, he could have found himself in the NHL as early as this October. Instead, the 2014 third rounder (St. Louis) will be back with Providence this season, much to fans delight. The Friars were 20-3-4 when Walman was on the ice.

Providence was a veteran laden club last season, and this year’s team will look to replace seven of their top ten scorers. The three returners are the aforementioned Walman (STL, 2014, 82nd), Brian Pinho (WAS, 2013, 174th) and Erik Foley (WPG, 2015, 78th), all of which will play huge roles on the club in 2016-17.

Newcomer Kasper Bjorkqvist (PIT, 2016, 61st) is one to watch, as the incoming freshman posted 66 points in 45 games in the Finnish U20 league last season.

 

9. Notre Dame

3rd in Hockey East in 2015-16 – Record: 19-11-7 (Lost in Midwest Regional Semi-Final to Michigan)

It was a tale of two seasons for the Fighting Irish in 2015-16. The team put together a stretch of 16 out of 17 unbeaten from November 28th through February 13th, but may have peaked too early as they finished the season losing six of their final seven.

Top scorers Anders Bjork (BOS, 2014, 146th) and Jake Evans (MTL, 2014, 207th) return for their junior seasons, as does stalwart goaltender Cal Petersen (BUF, 2013, 129th) who played all but 18 minutes last year for the Irish.

Andrew Peeke (CBJ, 2016, 34th) and Cam Morrison (COL, 2016, 40th) were both top-40 picks in this years draft and are coming off solid seasons in the USHL. Both should play important roles.

 

8. UMass-Lowell

T-4th Place in Hockey East in 2015-16 – Record 25-10-5 (Lost in East Regional Final to Quinnipiac)

UMass-Lowell was a team built on defense and goaltending last season, as the River Hawks surrendered just 37 goals in 22 Hockey East conference games last season. That number was good for a staggeringly low 1.68 goals per game allowed. Senior goaltender Kevin Boyle has graduated, but captain Michael Kapla and fellow senior Dylan Zink will again lead a formidable defense.

In addition to their strong returning defense, UMass-Lowell returns their top two scoring forwards from a year ago in C.J. Smith and Joe Gambardella. A trio of USHL freshmen joins the forward ranks in Kenny Hausinger, Guillaume Leclerc, and Ryan Lohin (TBL, 2016, 208).

 

7. St. Cloud State

3rd in NCHC in 2015-16 – Record: 31-9-1 (Lost in West Regional Semi-Final to Ferris State)

St. Cloud State was an example of a team that did peak at the right time. Despite their heartbreaking OT loss in the West Regional Semi-Final to Ferris State, the Huskies lost just four of their final 19 games. The NCHC Tournament Champions were a senior-led group in 2015-16, and the 2016-17 team will have to replace five of their six top scorers as well as goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren signed with the Montreal Canadiens in March following his junior season.

Look for Mikey Eyssimont (LA, 2016, 142nd) as well as returning defensemen Jimmy Schuldt and Niklas Nevalainen to do their best to replace some of the scoring lost. Likely it will have to come by committee, as younger players take steps forward in their development.

Luckily, the Huskies have a strong freshman class coming in this fall, headlined by 2016 first round pick Dennis Cholowski (DET, 2016, 20th). Jake Wahlin, Jack Ahcan and freshman goaltender Zach Driscoll are a few more to watch for this season and beyond.

 

6. Minnesota-Duluth

4th in NCHC in 2015-16 – Record: 19-16-5 (Lost in Northeast Regional Final to Boston College)

Minnesota-Duluth was anchored last season by terrific goaltending and defense, surrendering a conference low 44 goals in 24 games in the NCHC. Finnish goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo signed an entry-level deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs after a terrific sophomore season, and the Bulldogs have to replace top two scorers Tony Cameranesi (TOR, 2011, 130th) and Austin Farley.

Remaining are seniors Alex Iafallo and Dominic Toninato (TOR, 2012, 126th) who both have over 60 points in their UMD careers. They will be helped by a solid group of sophomores who will look to take the next step with more responsibility.

The Bulldogs will likely bring Riley Tufte (DAL, 2016, 25th) along slowly, but he and Joey Anderson (NJD, 2016, 73rd) are good bets to be star forwards down the road.

 

5. Boston College

T-1st in Hockey East in 2015-16 – Record: 28-8-5 (Lost in Frozen Four Semi-Final to Quinnipiac)

Despite loses in the Hockey East Championship Game to Northeastern and the Frozen Four Semi-Finals to Quinnipiac; the Eagles had a solid season in 2015-16. Returning are three of their top-five scorers in Ryan Fitzgerald (BOS, 2013, 120th), Colin White (OTT, 2015, 21st) and Austin Cangelosi. The Eagles could have been even more stacked if it weren’t for the decisions of Alex Tuch (MIN, 2014, 18th), Zach Sanford (WAS, 2013, 61st) and Miles Wood (NJD, 2013, 100th) to sign their entry-level contracts and start their professional careers.

Perhaps the biggest loss is goaltender Thatcher Demko (VAN, 2014, 36th) who won the Mike Richter Award for the NCAA’s Top Collegiate Goaltender and is the Canucks future in between the pipes. Likely, the Eagles will fall back on the leadership of its returning forwards and defensemen Casey Fitzgerald (BUF, 2016, 86th) and Scott Savage. Look for Chris Calnan (CHI, 2012, 79th) and Chris Brown (BUF, 2014, 151st) to again be important pieces of the forward group behind Ryan Fitzgerald and White.

Incoming freshman Joseph Woll (TOR, 2016, 62nd) looks to be the future in net, following in Demko’s footsteps. The Eagles have a good depth class coming in this fall with players such as Luke McInnis, Zach Walker, Graham McPhee (EDM, 2016, 149th) and David Cotton (CAR, 2015, 169th).

 

4. Boston University

T-4th in Hockey East in 2015-16 – Record: 21-13-5 (Lost in West Regional Semi-Final to Denver)

Overall, 2015-16 was an inconsistent season for BU. The Terriers graduate three of their top four scorers from last season, making way for what may be the best recruiting class college hockey has ever seen this fall. The hype is real for 2016-17 and we will see soon enough if the team can handle it.

Boston University has four top 45 draft picks from the 2016 Entry Draft joining the team as freshmen this fall, as coach David Quinn has assembled an unrivaled group of players in this years recruiting class. Clayton Keller (ARI, 2016, 7th), Dante Fabbro (NSH, 2016, 16th), Kieffer Bellows (NYI, 2016, 19th) and Chad Krys (CHI, 2016, 45th) join 2017 draft-eligible Jake Oettinger, who may be the first goaltender taken next June.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (BOS, 2015, 45th), Jordan Greenway (MIN, 2015, 50th), Charlie McAvoy (BOS, 2016, 14th), Brandon Hickey (CGY, 2014, 64th) and captain Doyle Somerby (NYI, 2012, 125th) are a handful of important returning players.

 

3. Denver

2nd in NCHC in 2015-16 – Record: 25-10-6 (Lost in Frozen Four Semi-Final to North Dakota)

Denver’s in-conference rivalry was showcased in 2015-16 as the Pioneers and North Dakota played each other six times over the course of the season. Denver finished 2-3-1 against UND, with their toughest loss coming in the Frozen Four Semi-Final 4-2. Denver looks to flip the switch on their rivals this year, but will have to deal with the loss of Danton Heinen (BOS, 2014, 116th) and Trevor Moore (UDFA-TOR) who signed entry-level contracts this spring.

Luckily, the Pioneers have a top defense returning, led by captain Will Butcher (COL, 2015, 123rd) and also return two capable goaltenders from a year ago in Tanner Jaillet and Evan Cowley (FLA, 2013, 92nd).

Incoming freshmen include the likes of first rounder Henrik Borgstrom (FLA, 2016, 23rd) Erich Fear and Liam Finlay.

 

2. Quinnipiac

1st in ECAC in 2015-16 – Record: 32-4-7 (Lost in Frozen Four Championship to North Dakota)

Quinnipiac was a well-oiled machine last season, losing just one game in the ECAC, and four games overall before their 5-1 defeat at the hands of National Champion North Dakota in the Frozen Four Championship game.

The Bobcats scored a staggering 163 goals last season, and will have to replace the offense of its top two goal scorers, Sam Anas and Travis St. Denis. The team returns a senior core of Tim Clifton, Connor Clifton (ARI, 2013, 133rd), Tommy Schutt, Derek Smith and K.J Tiefenwerth, all of whom have played more than 100 games for Quinnipiac. This group should help lead their team towards challenging for another Frozen Four Finals appearance.

Joining the Bobcats this fall are Latvian forward Karlis Cukste (SJS, 2015, 130th), USHL product Brogan Rafferty, and BCHL goaltender Andrew Shortridge.

 

1. North Dakota

1st in NCHC in 2015-16 – Record: 34-6-4 (Won National Championship)

North Dakota hoisted the National Championship trophy in coach Brad Berry’s first season, behind the leadership of players such as Drake Caggiula (UDFA-EDM), Nick Schmaltz (CHI, 2014, 20th), Brock Boeser (VAN, 2015, 23rd), Troy Stecher (UDFA-VAN) and goaltender Cam Johnson.

Boeser and Johnson return for another go at the National Championship, and are joined by Austin Poganski (STL, 2104, 110th), Tucker Poolman (WPG, 2013, 127th), and returning captain Gage Ausmus (SJS, 2013, 151st).

Incoming freshman Tyson Jost (COL, 2016, 10th) is going to be one of college hockey’s most electric newcomers and has a chance to play a huge role in North Dakota’s title defense this season.

If you want to look back on teams 20-11, click here. Stay tuned for college hockey coverage all season long on DobberProspects!

 

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