College Hockey Weekend Preview: Pro Prospects To Watch

The conference semifinals kick off today for every Division I hockey conference. This weekend can have significant impact on who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA tournament. Additionally, many of this weekend’s games are televised, with Hockey East holding center stage on NBC Sports Network.

The WCHA Final Five semis are available on Fox Sports North, for those of you in that wide viewing area. Additionally, the CCHA semis are on Fox Sports Detroit+.

So for many hockey fans across the country, this weekend will be a good chance to get a look at some of the best NHL prospects in college hockey. Coming up after the jump, I list off some of the most exciting prospects playing this weekend and where you can see them on TV (if they’re going to be on TV).

There are a lot of really strong prospects in college hockey this season and many will play today/tonight. This is just a snapshot of what you’ll find this weekend. The following are listed by conference and in no particular order. (Note: These lists are not limited to American prospects only.)

Hockey East

Boston College (NBC Sports Network, 5 p.m. EDT vs. Providence College)

Chris Kreider — New York Rangers — Arguably one of the top prospects in all of college hockey this year, Kreider was a first-round selection (19th overall in 2009). He had two years of tepid offensive production as a freshman and sophomore, however as a more seasoned Junior, Kreider had a career year. With 38 points, including 20 goals, Kreider has already outpaced his previous personal best by 14 points.

Kreider has great size and is one of the absolute best skaters not in the NHL. His wheels are his strongest asset, but Kreider has shown marked improvement in his already solid puck skills and is making better, more mature decisions on the ice. He is both strong and skilled and looks like he’s ready to make the jump. This is likely his last year in the maroon and gold.

Brian Dumoulin — Carolina Hurricanes — With Justin Schultz and the Wisconsin Badgers eliminated, Brian Dumoulin is currently the best college defenseman still playing. He is another player that had a chance to sign after last season but elected to stay in college for another year of seasoning and it’s definitely payed off.

Dumoulin was one of 10 players named finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. He and Schultz were the only blueliners among that group to earn a nod.

Despite his solid offensive abilities, Dumoulin was named Hockey East’s best Defensive Defenseman. The Carolina second rounder (51st overall in 2009) has maintained a strong offensive game with six goals and 20 assists.

Bill Arnold — Calgary Flames — Arnold has had an outstanding sophomore campaign for the Eagles. With 16 goals, Arnold has shown a knack for the net. He’s also been awfully clutch, scoring the Beanpot winning goal — one of his four game-winners.

John Gaudreau — Calgary Flames — The Hockey East All-Rookie just continued what he showed last year when he was named the USHL’s rookie of the year. The diminutive, but ridiculously skilled forward posted 35 points for the Eagles. He’s not done yet.

Boston University (NBC Sports Network, 8 p.m. EDT vs. Maine)

Adam Clendening — Chicago Blackhawks — Clendening is a pure offensive defenseman. His slick puck-moving abilities and tremendous vision make him a pretty compelling player to watch. The Blackhawks second rounder (36th overall in 2011) was named All-Hockey East First Team after posting 29 points including 26 assists.

Clendening doesn’t have great size and is penalty-prone, but his puck skills and poise put him a cut above many of his peers.

Alex Chiasson — Dallas Stars — Despite all the adversity BU has been through this year, Chiasson has provided consistent offense for the Terriers, leading the squad with 43 points (14g-29a). He’s shown statistical improvement over each of his three seasons at BU.

Chiasson has great size at 6-4, but possesses that touch not often seen from the big forwards. The Dallas second-rounder (38th overall in 2009) will have to continue his productive ways against Maine, a team with the nation’s leading scorer Spencer Abbott.

Matthew Nieto — San Jose Sharks — The sophomore speedster has nearly doubled his offensive output from his freshman campaign. He’s second on the squad with 40 points (14g-26a). San Jose’s 2011 second-rounder has a lot of offensive ability and is displaying a consistency not seen previously.

Garrett Noonan — Nashville Predators — Noonan has 16 goals as a defenseman, half of which are power-play tallies. It’s nice for BU to have such sound offensive blueliners in Clendening in Noonan. After losing top forwards Charlie Coyle (QMJHL) and Corey Trivino (dismissed from team), the D has really stepped up. Noonan is looking like a very savvy fourth-round selection from Nashville last year.

Maine (NBC Sports Network, 8 p.m. EDT vs. Boston University)

Spencer Abbott — Undrafted — The nation’s leading scorer with 59 points is bound to get some free agency consideration when the Black Bears are through. Though he doesn’t possess great size, Abbott has been on a season-long tear in his senior campaign.

His point output has increased by double digits in each of his four seasons at Maine, which is exactly what you’d hope to see from a player with pro prospects. Abbott is going to have a strong chance to nab the Hobey Baker, despite some very stiff competition among the other nine finalists.

He’ll have a national stage tonight against Boston University to introduce himself to hockey fans.

CCHA

Michigan (Fox Sports Detroit+, 8:05 p.m. EDT vs. Bowling Green State)

Alex Guptill — Dallas Stars — Guptill has been a bit of a surprise this year with his 32 points leading the Wolverines. The freshman didn’t exactly light it up in the USHL last season, but has shown a knack for the net this year. The 2010 third rounder was named the CCHA’s rookie of the year.

Chris Brown — Phoenix Coyotes — The big forward from Texas has had a decent season, with 29 points, a personal best. Brown’s best attributes are his size and physicality (which can get him in trouble sometimes too). He did have this beauty of a goal against Miami though, that shows there’s more than just brute force to this power forward. It was named CCHA’s play of the year.

Jon Merrill — New Jersey Devils — After serving a team-imposed suspension for the first half of the season, Merrill has come out better than before. His renewed focus on hockey is really paying off, and it’s no secret why Michigan’s second half was much better than its first. He’s a game-changing defenseman with his poise, smooth skating and long reach. He has 10 points in just 16 games and has bolstered an already strong outfit.

Western Michigan (Fox Sports Detroit+, 4:35 p.m. EDT vs. Miami)

Danny DeKeyser — Undrafted — DeKeyser has been tabbed by many as one of the top free agents available in college hockey this year. The 6-2 sophomore defenseman has shown an ability to shut down opposing teams’ top units and has a real maturity to his game. He’s even put up a few points along the way with five goals and 11 assists. It sounds as though many NHL teams are in pursuit of this exciting talent.

Chase Balisy — Nashville Predators — After going undrafted in his first year of eligibility, the Preds couldn’t pass up Balisy when he fell to the sixth round last year. In his sophomore season, the heady forward has posted a team-best 34 points with 12 goals and 22 assists. Balisy has strong puck skills and keen hockey sense. He finds teammates well and makes those around him better. Balisy wouldn’t be called flashy, but he certainly gets the job done.

Miami (Fox Sports Detroit+, 4:35 p.m. EDT vs. Western Michigan)

Reilly Smith — Dallas Stars — The junior from Mimico, Ont., followed up a stellar sophomore campaign with another offensive outburst this year. With 27 goals, Smith is among the most prolific goal scorers in college hockey this year. Dallas took him in the third round in 2009 and have to be excited about the skill level and speed Smith brings to the table. Miami had an up and down year, but Smith is a formidable leader for this RedHawk squad and could lead them to a good run here in the postseason.

Austin Czarnik — Undrafted — Czarnik might have gotten passed over in last year’s draft, but he’s been making his critics eat some crow as he continues to produce at a high clip. With 32 points, the freshman is second on the team and has played in every situation. Czarnik might be on the smaller side, but he has terrific speed and outstanding offensive skills. He’s not afraid to play the body either. Big heart, big skill, little body.

Tyler Biggs — Toronto Maple Leafs — Biggs was a first-round selection last year likely due to the way he plays the game with truculence and belligerence. Biggs has great size and strength, while his offensive game continues to come along. He might end up being a bottom-six guy at the next level, but he’s had a solid enough freshman campaign.

Chris Wideman — Ottawa Senators —  The senior defenseman isn’t the biggest guy out there, but he’s shown a really strong two-way game that could translate at the next level. Wideman has 21 points in his senior season, which is pretty consistent with his offensive output from previous years. He plays a whole bunch for the RedHawks and will be key in tonight’s match-up against WMU.

WCHA

Denver (Fox Sports North, 3:05 EDT vs. Minnesota Duluth)

Drew Shore — Florida Panthers — Shore is an interesting prospect in that he’ll have a decision to make at the end of this season. Sign or stay. The junior captain of the Pioneers has been consistently productive and has posted 52 points this year to lead DU. He can score and he can make plays. No matter what, he makes the guys on his line better and when he needs to take matters into his own hands, he does.

Jason Zucker — Minnesota Wild — Zucker is a pretty special talent. The 2010 second-rounder has 21 goals and 24 assists, showing a second consecutive season of balanced output. He has great speed and competitiveness on the ice and a filthy release on his shot. Zucker is another guy who could just as easily sign with Minnesota as he could stay, but one more year of school might not be the worst thing in the world. He’s a tenacious and skilled forward.

Joey LaLeggia — Undrafted — LaLeggia was hands down the best freshman in the country. He was second in the nation among defenseman with 38 points and finished fourth on DU. His offensive output was reminiscent of a fellow BCHL alum Justin Schultz. LaLeggia had one of the better seasons you’ll see from a freshman blueliner.

Minnesota Duluth (Fox Sports North, 3:05 EDT vs. Denver)

J.T. Brown — Undrafted — In my opinion, there isn’t a safer bet among college free agents than J.T. Brown. The sophomore forward posted 46 points including a team-best 23 goals, well surpassing his freshman campaign totals. Brown is actually not that big at 5-10, 170, but he plays like he’s 6-7. He is a powerful skater, that pursues the puck severely. He can throw a lot of solid body checks and obviously has the finish to score some goals. He showed signs in last year’s run to the national championship, and only convinced everyone further this year that he has the ability to play at the next level.

Jack Connolly — Undrafted — The smallish centerman is one of the great college hockey players of the last three years. He’s been consistently great in each of his four years at UMD, always among the national leaders in scoring and the same is true this year. He’s posted 56 points already this year, just three away from his career best. Connolly’s size is going to scare away some suitors, but he should be given a chance to prove himself in the AHL by somebody. It’s hard to pass up someone that’s been so consistently good over a four-year period (five if you go back to his stellar 72-point USHL season).

Minnesota (Fox Sports North, 8:05 p.m. EDT vs. North Dakota)

Nick Bjugstad — Florida Panthers — Great size, great speed, great skill. The 2010 first-rounder has lived up to every bit of the hype in his sophomore season after dedicating himself to the weightroom in the offseason. In some games, Bjugstad looks like a man among boys. He’s doubled his output from his freshman season, totaling 40 points this year including 24 goals.

Kyle Rau — Florida Panthers — The Panthers have two real strong prospects at the U. Rau is not a big guy, but is he ever competitive. He’s third on the team in scoring with 36 points including 16 goals. Rau gets to all areas of the ice well and has really strong hockey sense. His skating has improved a lot over the last season and he’s maintained that competitive nature that made him Mr. Hockey last year in Minnesota High School hockey.

Erik Haula — Minnesota Wild — The Finnish forward is Minnesota’s leading scorer with 44 points. Haula is a really strong playmaker, who seems to find a way to get his teammates involved. However, he’s also shown great finish himself with 19 goals on the year. The wild got pretty great value out of this kid, as he was a seventh round selection. There is some concern that he’s too much of a perimeter player, but he’s shown some really strong production and has plenty of time to continue developing.

North Dakota (Fox Sports North, 8:05 p.m. EDT vs. Minnesota)

Brock Nelson — New York Islanders — It’s taken the Islanders first rounder a little while to get comfortable, but he really brought his A game this season. After a somewhat minimal output for what you’d expect from a first-round draft pick last year, Nelson has been super productive this year. In fact, he doubled his point total, posting 42 points including 25 goals. He’s showing off some real natural scoring ability and has become a go-to-guy for Dave Hakstol’s bunch.

Danny Kristo — Montreal Canadiens — Kristo has always been a tremendous competitor.  Since he spent a year in Junior hockey after his draft, he’ll either need to sign with Montreal in the offseason or become a free agent. He might opt for the latter. As a junior, Kristo has had the best season of his college career, posting 42 points, tying him with Nelson for the team lead. He’s also been healthy all season, not missing a game yet (he lost time due to a scary bout with frostbite last year). Kristo still has really solid speed and the tenacity a guy his size needs to make it at the next level. His offseason should be interesting.

ECAC

Colgate (No TV, 4:30 p.m. EDT vs. Union College)

Austin Smith — Dallas Stars — The Dallas native is likely to make his hometown team very happy at the end of this season. With a nation-leading 36 goals, he could end up winning the Hobey Baker. The one concern is whether this season is simply an anomaly or a sign of things to come. With 56 points this season, Smith has eclipsed his previous personal best by 15 points. These sudden spikes in production should always be treated with a little bit of skepticism in terms of whether it can be sustained at the next level. Either way, Smith has proven that he can bring a heavy dose of offense, having posted four straight seasons of 30 points or more.

Union College (No TV, 4:05 p.m. EDT vs. Colgate)

Troy Grosenick — Undrafted — One of two goaltenders named as a Hobey Baker finalist, Grosenick has put up some disgusting numbers this year. He’s 18-5-3, with a 1.66 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. He’s a big reason Union won the ECAC regular season title and he’ll have to be the key to their postseason success. He’s not a huge goaltender, but he’s got good enough size to play at the next level. There is bound to be some outside interest from multiple teams, but goaltenders don’t really need to rush to anything. It takes them a long time to round out into an NHL regular. Should be interesting to see if he cashes in on this spectacular sophomore season.

Cornell (No TV, 7 p.m. EDT vs. Harvard)

Brian Ferlin — Boston Bruins — With 21 points, Ferlin had a strong freshman season for the Big Red. The great thing about Ferlin is his strong two-way game. He can get the job done at both ends of the ice and possesses good size and strength. Ferlin has pretty decent speed and competes. Boston may have gotten a steal with nabbing Ferlin in the fourth round.

Harvard (No TV, 7 p.m. EDT vs. Cornell)

Patrick McNally — Vancouver Canucks — The big freshman defenseman showed some pretty solid offensive ability this season posting 26 points in 32 games. The ECAC is a surprisingly tough league to score in, but McNally got the job done. He has pretty solid size at 6-2, 190. He’s got plenty of time to develop as well.

Alex Killorn — Tampa Bay Lightning — With 42 points on the year, Killorn led the Crimson. He also scored a team-best 20 goals. In each of the last four season, Killorn has shown statistical improvement and has 13 more points this year than he did the last. The senior forward has been a big reason Harvard had such a tremendous bounce-back season.

Danny Biega — Carolina Hurricanes — Another offensively gifted defenseman for Harvard, the junior has also shown statistical improvement in each of the last three years. With 34 points from the back end, Biega was second on the squad overall. Known for his substantial strength and physical presence on the ice, Biega is just one of many really solid defensive prospects in Carolina’s system. He might be ready to head to the AHL.

Atlantic Hockey

Air Force (No TV, 4:05 p.m. EDT vs. Mercyhurst)

Tim Kirby — Undrafted — Tim Kirby is not likely an NHL prospect, as he will be headed into his post-graduate service in the United States Air Force, however the senior defenseman deserves to have his season recognized. He’s one of the 10 Hobey Baker finalists, and the only one from Atlantic Hockey.

After scoring 27 points from the blue line, Kirby was named the Atlantic Hockey defenseman of the year and player of the year.

Air Force tends to get a special brand of player, as they are often players who don’t aspire solely to be hockey players. They go to school knowing that there’s going to be military service at the end of it, which likely derails hopes of a major professional career for most.

Kirby is a deserving Hobey Baker candidate and also deserves to be part of this listing.

Well, there you have it. Surprisingly not comprehensive when you look at the big picture, but that’s a testament to the number of legitimate NHL prospects playing in the college ranks these days. There’s a very diverse group of players in the NCAA and it’s great to see it all have a chance to shine this time of year. Should be a fantastic weekend of hockey.

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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.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to College Hockey Weekend Preview: Pro Prospects To Watch

  1. Ollie says:

    Under Danny Biega, you mistakenly put “Carolina Panthers”. Otherwise, great article!

  2. Anon says:

    No love for the CCHA’s top goaltender Connor Knapp (Buffalo Sabres)?

    • Chris Peters says:

      I could have listed a lot more guys, but it’s already a 3,000 word blog post. Had to be choosy and listed only one goaltender on the whole thing.

  3. vizoroo says:

    We’re hoping Drew Shore returns next year to play with brothers Nick and Quentin.

    Wild GM has made no secret he wants to sign Jason Zucker, but I agree with you. Another year at DU couldn’t hurt him.

Comments are closed.