Following their professional and junior counterparts, the college hockey season is about to get underway this weekend. With each passing year, the NCAA’s influence on the world of hockey grows. The NHL boasts more than a few top rookies fresh out of the college ranks this season and many elite prospects still in school in 2018-19 will soon join them. This year’s crop of talent is sticking with the trend, with several players in need of watching:
The Recent Draft Picks
G Spencer Knight, Boston College (FLA): When Knight was selected by the Panthers 13th overall in June, he became the highest selected goaltender this decade after Jack Campbell went No. 11 overall in 2010. Considered the best prospect goalie in an NHL pipeline – at least until Yaroslav Askarov hears his name called next year – Knight is a special prospect and easily a top name to watch in the NCAA. It’s hard to know just how well the USNTDP product will perform right out of the gate for a strong BC squad, and on top of that how long it may take for him to be pro-ready. However, if he can translate his junior game to the college level, Florida will want to test that same progression in the pros sooner rather than later.
F Matthew Boldy, Boston College (MIN): Speaking of the Eagles, they nabbed another top pick in this year’s recruiting class in the dynamic winger Boldy. A rare combination of skill and finesse with size and strength, the Wild landed a gem at No. 12. A teammate of Knights with the USNTDP and now at BC, Boldy stands a better chance of making an immediate impact at the college level. The pairing of his stature and his talent – both above average – should give him a leg up against some older, more experienced NCAA competition. Expect he and fellow first-rounder Alex Newhook (COL) to get off to a hot start.
F Trevor Zegras, Boston University (ANA): Across town, Zegras and six other 2019 NHL Draft selections are set to take the ice for the rival Terriers. Zegras is a dynamic play-maker who few expected to fall to the Ducks at No. 9. Zegras brings a high-energy game in all three zones that his bound to create chances for he and his BU teammates. After losing much of last year’s talent to the pros, the Terriers need Zegras to step into a lead scoring role right away and he is likely up for the task. The USNTDP standout has already showed that he can put up big numbers against tough competition.
D Cam York, University of Michigan (PHI): Rounding out the top four recent draft picks to watch in the NCAA this year is yet another USNTDP product, but the first defenseman on the list. York is a skilled blue liner who sees the ice extremely well for a player his age. His skating allows him to be omnipresent on the ice and an asset in all three zones. Highly-drafted defensemen have excelled at the college level of late, namely Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. The Wolverines hope lightning strikes twice by replacing Hughes with York. Fellow first-round pick John Beecher (BOS) will also be around to help out in Michigan this season.
The Soon-To-Be Draft Picks
F Dylan Holloway, University of Wisconsin: A string of years with at least one top draft prospect coming out of the NCAA came to a screeching halt last year, with the college level having nearly no current players of note in the early rounds. That will change this year, as Holloway begins the season as a consensus top-ten pick in 2020. The polished winger dominated the Alberta Junior Hockey League last year, posting 88 points in just 53 games. He brings a complete arsenal of skill, speed, and aggression, but will need to use his college campaign to work on increasing his positional awareness. If he can replicate his scoring success and improve his hockey IQ, Holloway could enter top five territory next summer.
D Yan Kuznetsov, University of Connecticut: Kuznetsov is not the same caliber player as Holloway, but an exciting talent nonetheless for the Huskies. The Russian defenseman came over to North America last season and made a strong first impression in the USHL. Not one to put up lots of points, Kuznetsov is instead a solid shutdown defender who also moves the puck well. At 6’3”, 200 lbs., Kuznetsov has menacing size for a 17-year-old and isn’t afraid to play a tough game, but is also a smooth skater and an asset in puck possession. While not a flashy prospect, Kuznetsov could surprise with his confidence as a freshman in the NCAA and move up draft boards.
The Soon-To-Be NHLers
F Evan Barratt, Penn State University (CHI): One of the best players at the college level last season, Barratt took a major leap forward in his development. The third-round prospect had a quiet freshman year but exploded for 43 points in just 32 games as a sophomore, among the top five per-game scorers in the NCAA. Barratt’s ability to think the game is matched only by his ability to act on those thoughts. A great play-maker with an eye for creating scoring opportunities, Barratt doesn’t need to be the fastest or strongest player on the ice to make a difference. He seems ready to test his hockey sense at the pro level already and almost certainly will be signing with the Blackhawks after this season. Penn State can enjoy one last season with their star center.
D Ian Mitchell, University of Denver (CHI): Chicago nearly convinced Mitchell to leave school early this summer, but he’ll return to the Pioneers for one last season. A smart, two-way defenseman, Mitchell plays a largely mistake-free game. He contributes on offense, but rarely at the cost of defensive liability and uses his skating to get up and down the ice with ease. He pairs a good shot with a strong outlet pass to both start and finish offensively. A modern-day NHL defenseman in many ways, Mitchell truly plays the position well and will be a regular at the top level in no time.
D Scott Perunovich, University of Minnesota-Duluth (STL): A two-time NCAA champion has to be doing something right. While plenty of talented players have moved on from Duluth over the past two years, Perunovich is still there and still making an impact. A dynamic offensive defenseman, Perunovich is a power play magician and a creative play-maker at even strength as well. A talented puck-mover who doesn’t let his size deter him from jumping into a play and taking battles in tough areas, Perunovich is undoubtedly a fun player to watch. An added benefit of catching some Bulldogs action is fellow blue line prospect Dylan Samberg (WPG), who brings the smash to Perunovich’s dash as an elite NCAA pairing.
F Mitchell Chaffee, University of Massachusetts: At the top of the list among potential NCAA free agents is the sharp-shooting Chaffee. A member of the UMass team that made a run to the NCAA Finals last year, Chaffee was better than a point per game scorer, finishing in the top-20 in goals and points and amassing a top-ten plus/minus rating. Chaffee plays a mature, intelligent game but not without some grit and energy as well. He does whatever it takes to put himself in scoring position. With the Minutemen losing several core players to the pros, look for Chaffee to take on an even bigger role as he tries to establish himself as an NHL-caliber prospect. Bowling Green ace center Max Johnson and veteran North Dakota defenseman Colton Poolman are other potential premier college free agents to watch for.
The University of Wisconsin
Every year there is one team whose NHL pedigree jumps off the page. Sometimes those teams don’t necessary put it all together, but they’re still fun to watch. Wisconsin is that team this year, and frankly it’s not that close even with the influx of talent to the likes of BC, BU, and others. You already heard about Holloway, but take a look at who else is suiting up for the Badgers this year:
F Alex Turcotte (LAK): The highest-drafted player in the NCAA, Turcotte was the No. 5 overall pick by the Kings in June and considered by some to be the most complete player in the draft class. Injuries slowed down his season with the USNTDP last year, but he still accounted for 62 points in just 37 games. A two-way skill set and intelligence, play-making ability and elite offensive instincts, and a competitive, hard-nosed style are just some of the elements to Turcotte’s game that should make him the most talented player in college hockey this season.
F Cole Caufield (MTL): Caufield is coming off a record-setting campaign with the USNTDP. While he spent most of his time skating alongside Jack Hughes, he is more than familiar with Turcotte which should make his adjustment to the NCAA smoother. Caufield’s size can be a liability, but it’s a risk that Wisconsin will gladly take in exchange for his natural goal-scoring ability. Caufield potted 72 goals as part of a 100-point campaign last year that established him as one of the most dangerous shooters in hockey – yes, all of hockey. Caufield works hard, skates fast, and puts himself in a situation to score with great frequency. An electrifying talent, Caufield will almost certainly follow Turcotte to the NHL next season (the Canadiens can hardly wait) but until then the duo should do some damage in the NCAA this year. Unbelievably, fellow USNTDP teammates Owen Lindmark (FLA) and Ryder Donovan (VGK) also join Turcotte and Caufield with the Badgers this year.
D K’Andre Miller (NYR): It doesn’t stop there, either. Wisconsin has top NHL talent on the blue line as well, primarily in first-round defender Miller. A big, strong defender who also has the tools to contribute on offense, Miller is a special player. Considered a raw talent when drafter, Miller immediately showed last year that there was more to his game than just athleticism. Miller plays an instinctual style of hockey, which allows him to excel with defensive positioning as well as awareness of when to jump in on offense. He truly has a presence on the ice and there is still room to improve into an elite prospect, especially with so much ability surrounding him this season. He could very well join the Rangers right away next season if he continues to progress. Look for pair-mate Ty Emberson (ARI) to take a step forward in his own development this year as well.