USofH’s College Hockey Freshman 15 — First-Year Players to Watch

The college hockey season for many teams is just days away now, with the first round of exhibitions and even a few non-conference games starting Saturday. One of the more intriguing storylines to follow over the course of the 2012-13 season is the depth of talent among the freshman class across the country.

Several high-profile NHL Draft picks will dot college hockey lineups throughout the nation, with many jumping into impact roles for their teams immediately. With many of the top prospects sticking in college for at most three years, how these players perform as freshman will go a long way in determining just how long they’ll stay in school. We’ve seen freshmen leave after just one year as well, so that warrants watching as well. There are likely a few freshmen playing college hockey that could be one-and-dones this year.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled the United States of Hockey Freshman 15, highlighting the top freshmen to watch across college hockey this season.

Click player photos to view official bios…

Jacob Trouba — D — University of Michigan — The highest draft pick among incoming freshman, as the No. 9 selection by the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, Trouba will come in with the most hype. Despite overtures from the Kitchener Rangers to come to the OHL, Trouba stuck to his word. With goaltending a questionmark presently for the Wolverines, defense will be important and Trouba’s solid defensive game will come in handy. Trouba’s nasty demeanor on the ice will give some forwards pause, while his tremendous skating will allow him to make contributions at both ends of the ice. He has a rocket shot and should see some power play time even as a true freshman. With guys like Jon Merrill, Lee Moffie and Mac Bennett on the back end, Trouba solidifies an already sound group. NHL Rights: Winnipeg Jets

Mark Jankowski — F — Providence College — One of the surprise first-round selections of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, there is a lot left to learn about the highly-skilled Jankowski. After playing in the little-scouted Quebec high school ranks last year, no one is quite sure if Jankowski is ready for the college game. Expectations should be tempered as there is plenty of development time ahead for the 6-foot-3 forward. As he builds strength and finds his legs, there is reason to believe he could be an exciting player to watch. Unquestionably he’s one of the most intriguing players in college hockey this year. NHL Rights: Calgary Flames

Michael Matheson — D — Boston College — After losing Tommy Cross to graduation and Brian Dumoulin to a pro contract, Matheson will need to hop in and tighten up a very young defensive group. BC has returnees on D like Patrick Wey, Patch Alber and Isaac MacLeod who will be solid, but having Matheson make an instant contribution will help keep the Eagles at the top of everyone’s rankings this year. The Florida first-rounder should help fill the sizable skates left by Dumoulin, with solid puck-moving ability and serviceable defense. He had 27 points on the blue line last season for Dubuque in the USHL and should be able to put up a few points as a true freshman. NHL Rights: Florida Panthers

Brady Skjei — D — University of Minnesota — With Skjei’s skating and Minnesota’s Olympic sheet, the Rangers first-rounder should be a blast to watch. Playing the game at high speed and adding good size and strength, Skjei is solid at both ends. More advanced defensively, he will help shore up a defense that likely was the only thing holding Minnesota back from being able to handle Boston College in the Frozen Four. Even as a true freshman, Don Lucia shouldn’t need to hesitate putting Skjei up against opponents’ top lines. NHL Rights: New York Rangers

Mike Reilly — D — University of Minnesota — I’ve always liked Reilly as a prospect and player, after he earned a selection out of Shattuck-St. Mary’s two years ago. However it wasn’t until I saw what he did at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp where I became convinced he has some elite skill level. High-end skating and puck skills make Reilly a legitimate threat offensively and he has the smarts to play soundly in his own end. For the record-smashing Penticton Vees, Reilly posted a stunning 83 points from the blue line. Minnesota already has Nate Schmidt who was a near-dominant offensive defenseman last year, but add Reilly and Skjei to that defense and that’s a big reason why Minnesota is an early favorite to compete for a national title. NHL Rights: Columbus Blue Jackets

Sean Kuraly — F — Miami University — In back-to-back years, Miami suffered some significant losses by way of decommitments and early departures, but the RedHawks can take solace in the fact that Sean Kuraly is on his way. After a 32-goal, 70-point campaign in his second USHL season, Kuraly also was the best forward at USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp. Great size (6-2, 194) and terrific speed, Kuraly can create with his good skills or his strength. After losing guys like Reilly Smith and Tyler Biggs, the Miami offensive attack will benefit from having a player like Kuraly. NHL Rights: San Jose Sharks

Kevin Roy — F — Northeastern Univeristy — After scoring 54 goals and posting 104 points last year, unheard of numbers in the USHL, Roy became a hot commodity. Despite committing to Brown University before the season, Roy changed his mind and committed to Northeastern. The Huskies got themselves a huge steal. Though Roy doesn’t possess great size, he’s not small and his offensive skill level is near elite. His scoring prowess should translate at the college level and he should fit right in to the high pace of Hockey East. NHL Rights: Anaheim Ducks

Devin Shore — F — University of Maine — A highly-skilled forward out of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Shore turned a lot of heads in his draft season with his high-end offensive capabilities. Maine lost a lot of its offense including Hobey Baker finalist Spencer Abbott, so Shore’s arrival couldn’t come at a better time. The 6-1, 190-pound forward scored 29 and goals en route to 58 points in just 41 games last season. As long as the true freshman can adjust quickly, he has the ability to bring that scoring prowess to the Black Bears’ offense. NHL Rights: Dallas Stars

Steven Fogarty — F — University of Notre Dame — The big two-way center should fit right in with Jeff Jackson’s often defensive-minded game plan at Notre Dame. Fogarty also has some offensive pop, having posted 33 goals and 82 points for the Penticton Vees last year. He may need a little extra time to adjust to the collegiate physicality and pace, but as soon as he does, he should be a big part of Notre Dame’s forward corps. NHL Rights: New York Rangers

Matt Grzelcyk — D — Boston University — Part of a gigantic freshman class for the Terriers, Grzelcyk is the one most likely to make an immediate impact. After the squad lost Adam Clendening earlier than expected to a pro contract, Grzelcyk should fill that void well. A heady puck-mover, Grzelcyk posted 20 assists last season for the U.S. National Under-18 Team. Though the Terriers are pretty well set with Garrett Noonan bringing the offense from the blue line, Grzelcyk should help supplement BU’s potent attack. NHL Rights: Boston Bruins

Zane Gothberg — G — University of North Dakota — Likely to bear the brunt of the minutes for UND, Gothberg is coming off a season in which he was named co-goaltender of the year in the USHL. He posted a 2.22 goals-against avers, .921 save percentage and seven shutouts in his second junior season with the Fargo Force. He’s one of the more seasoned freshman at age 20, so he should be prepared to jump right in and carry a big chunk of the load for a team with postseason aspirations. NHL Rights: Boston Bruins

Andy Welinski — D — University of Minnesota Duluth — In the post-Jack Connolly world for the Bulldogs, they’ll need to find offense from wherever they can get it. Luckily, UMD boasts a gifted puck mover and threat from the point in Welinski. Coming off a championship season with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL in which Welinski scored 15 goals and added 22 assists, the 19-year-old freshman has a chance to play a big role for UMD. He’s also solid in his own end, not afraid to play the body, and provides a steady presence in all zones. With his extra year in junior, he should be a little more prepared for the higher pace of college hockey. NHL Rights: Anaheim Ducks

Nic Kerdiles — F — University of Wisconsin — Good size and strength should help this true freshman transition with relative ease to the college game. Kerdiles plays a strong north-south game and gets up and down the ice well. He had an especially productive season for the U.S. National Under-18 Team last year and keyed a gold-medal game victory in the World Under-18 Championship by collecting five points in a rout of Sweden. As the Badgers look to have a bounce-back season from last year’s disappointment, Kerdiles will help supplement an attack that includes 50-point man Mark Zengerle and top returning goal scorer Michael Mersch. NHL Rights: Anaheim Ducks

Anthony Solarz — G — University of Nebraska Omaha — The big netminder who earned himself a second-round selection out of the North American Hockey League comes in with a lot of intrigue. He’s a bit on the raw side, so that makes him worth paying close attention to (which should be easy with UNO earning six appearances on NBC Sports Network this year). Senior John Faulkner, who appeared in 18 games last season returns, so it is unclear if Stolarz will unseat the veteran, but he should get several appearances early in the year to earn the chance to start. NHL Rights: Philadelphia Flyers

Rocco Grimaldi — F — University of North Dakota — The NCAA granted Grimaldi a medical redshirt after he appeared in just two games all of last season before undergoing knee surgery. He may not be a true freshman, but he’ll have an FR next to his name in the program, so he makes the list. The diminutive yet dynamic forward should be a big part of North Dakota’s offense this year. As long as he didn’t lose a step coming off of surgery, his speed is a huge asset and should help him put up a considerable amount of points. A healthy Grimaldi makes UND all the more dangerous. NHL Rights: Florida Panthers

Honorable Mention: Mario Lucia — F — University of Notre Dame — Lucia would have certainly been included in the Feshman 15 had he not suffered a  broken leg that will shelve him for most of the first half of this season. Coming off a 42-goal, 93-point campaign in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, Lucia was expected to be a big part of Notre Dame’s offensive attack. Should he return to health and be around for the latter half of the season, he could be a key to the Irish’s postseason hopes. NHL Rights: Minnesota Wild

Other notable freshman for 2012-13…

Jordan Schmaltz* — D — University of North Dakota — NHL Rights: St. Louis Blues

Ryan McKay — G — Miami University — NHL Rights: N/A

Brian Cooper — D — University of Nebraska Omaha — NHL Rights: Anaheim Ducks

Jon Gillies — G — Providence College — NHL Rights: Calgary Flames

Sam Kurker — F — Boston University — NHL Rights: St. Louis Blues

Collin Olson — G — Ohio State University — NHL Rights: Carolina Hurricanes

Boo Nieves — F — University of Michigan — NHL Rights: New York Rangers

Eddie Witchow — D — University of Wisconsin — NHL Rights: Florida Panthers

Nolan LaPorte — F — Western Michigan University — NHL Rights: N/A

Jimmy Murray — F — St. Cloud State University — NHL Rights: N/A

Morgan Zulinick — F — University of Wisconsin — NHL Rights: N/A 

* – The original publishing of this story failed to mention Jordan Schmaltz in the “Other notables” section. The accidental oversight has been corrected.
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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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8 Responses to USofH’s College Hockey Freshman 15 — First-Year Players to Watch

  1. as says:

    Jordan Schmaltz?

  2. Don’t count on Zane Gothberg getting a majority of the minutes for UND. From Media Day yesterday.

    “I expect it to be highly competitive,” Hakstol said.

    “Clarke Saunders has the most experience under his belt he has played a lot of minutes at this level but I expect it to be a very competitive position for us and we’ll let that competition play out in different levels the first ten days will tell us something – but also, throughout the season there will be a high level of competition at that position.”

  3. Terry Johnson says:

    Jordan Schmaltz? Should have been left off – wait until you have a chance to watch him a bit. Some might call his game underwhelming.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Jim Vesey at Harvard????

  5. Anonymous says:

    O,Regan at BU will play a big role for Terriers. Kurker not as much this year.

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