Last year, I put together my first annual list of Top 50 NHL prospects playing college hockey in the WCHA and CCHA. This would be this year's installment.
Since this list got viewed by a lot of people not overly familiar with college hockey last year, and because I don't feel like answering 'Why isn't Chris Kreider on the list?' another 50 times, here's a breakdown of players eligible for the list:
Teams Included: Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Western Michigan, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin
Teams Not Included: Everybody else
With that out of the way, let's get to the list. This is obviously going to be a long one, so the Top 50 is posted after the jump.
- Jaden Schwartz, Freshman, Forward, Colorado College(St. Louis Blues)
Schwartz's season was knocked off track by a broken ankle suffered while playing for Team Canada, but prior to that injury, he was one of the most dynamic offensive forces in college hockey.
Schwartz isn't gifted with great size or super skating ability, but has an incredible offensive sense that should help make him a dangerous scoring threat at the NHL level.
- Jake Gardiner, Junior Defense, Wisconsin(Anaheim Ducks)
Gardiner faced high expectations coming into this season as one of the top returning prospects in all of college hockey, and being expected to carry much more responsibility on the Wisconsin blueline after the Badgers lost three defensemen early to the pros. So far, Gardiner has exceeded those high expectations.
He plays a similar style to potential future teammate Cam Fowler by using his world-class skating ability to make plays in all three areas of the ice. He's also alleviated some concerns from last season about his offensive play by scoring at a point-per-game pace, thanks in part to more receiving more power play time.
- Jon Merrill, Freshman Defense, Michigan(New Jersey Devils)
Merrill inexplicably fell to the second round of the NHL Draft last summer because he "interviewed poorly," but any time he's actually been on the ice, he's done nothing but impress and raise his stock. He was a top defenseman at last year's World U18 tournament, the best US defenseman at the World Juniors this winter, and a standout among an otherwise disappointing group of defensemen this year at Michigan.
With the year he has had, and New Jersey's struggles of late, it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see the Devils try to sign Merrill this summer.
- Jason Zucker, Freshman, Forward, Denver(Minnesota Wild)
Zucker has had an interesting year. He's taken a huge step forward by showing some elite offensive abilities, the one knock that kept him out of the first round of the draft last year. He's shown the skill set to potentially step in as a scoring line forward next year at the NHL level.
At the same time, he's lost a lot of the positive qualities that made him a second round pick last year. He's more interested in drawing penalties than fighting through checks-it takes some work to pick-up a diving penalty in the WCHA-and jawing with officials behind the play rather than back-checking. There's perhaps no clearer example of this than the World Junior tournament, where Zucker scored a beautiful goal in the first game against Finland, but then his mouth made him the target of a Slovakian cheap shot and he was worthless to his team the rest of the tournament due to injury.
Still, top six level talent is hard to come by, and the Wild may want to sign him this summer before some of those bad habits become more ingrained.
- Justin Schultz, Sophomore, Defense, Wisconsin(Anaheim Ducks)
Much like defensive partner Jake Gardiner, Schultz has seen his stock go way up this season due to increased playing time and responsibility now that they are out of the shadows of Brendan Smith, Ryan McDonagh, and Cody Goloubef.
Schultz is a pure offensive defenseman that is scoring at over a point-per-game pace. He's got all the tools to be a power play quarterback at the next level.
- Danny Kristo, Sophomore, Forward, North Dakota(Montreal Canadiens)
Even before his issues with frostbite, Kristo had endured a slight drop in production this season, especially in the goal scoring department, largely due to the fact that last year, he scored eight power play goals while defenseman Chay Genoway was out with a concussion and Kristo was quarterbacking the Sioux power play.
Assuming he is able to recover from the injuries sustained due to frostbite, Kristo is an excellent skater, solid play maker, and good leader that should have a future at the NHL level.
- Zach Budish, Sophomore, Forward, Minnesota(Nashville Predators)
Budish was developing nicely and very likely to sign with the Predators after this season until a moped accident knocked out for the year with a knee injury.
The injury will likely keep Budish in Minnesota for an extra season, but when healthy, there's no denying the incredible physical talents he possesses.
- Anders Lee, Freshman, Forward, Notre Dame(New York Islanders)
I'll admit to being skeptical about Lee's prospects coming out of Minnesota high school hockey, but he has proven over the past two seasons that he can play his physical, power forward style of hockey against top competition, and consistently put the puck in the net.
- Drew Shore, Sophomore, Forward, Denver(Florida Panthers)
This was a very important year for Drew Shore. After criticisms of his game dropped him to the second round of the draft two years ago, Shore had a relatively quiet freshman season at Denver, centering the team's third line and playing behind more established stars like Joe Colborne and Rhett Rakhshani. With those players gone, it was Shore's turn to carry the scoring load, and he has responded, by scoring at over a point-per-game pace, including 16 goals.
Shore has fantastic hands for a 6'3" forward. The biggest knock on him is relying too much on perimeter and not scoring tough goals, but his impressive goal total this year certainly helps alleviate some of those concerns.
- Nick Bjugstad, Freshman, Forward, Minnesota(Florida Panthers)
Bjugstad got off to a slow start to the season as he adjusted to the move to college hockey, but around the midway point of the season, he started to show why he was so highly touted coming out of high school. His tremendous size makes him a very effective hitter, and once he learns how to get to the front of the net to score dirty goals, to go along with his cannon of a shot, he should be an excellent power forward at the NHL level.
- Will Weber, Junior, Defense, Miami(Columbus Blue Jackets)
Weber has been pretty much the quintessential defensive defenseman throughout his hockey career. He's not going to put up big offensive numbers, but is a very reliable stay-at-home type that makes his teammates better by giving them the freedom to be more aggressive offensively.
- Justin Faulk, Freshman, Defense, Minnesota-Duluth(Carolina Hurricanes)
Despite being one of the less heralded defenseman coming into last year on the NTDP U18 team, Faulk forced scouts to take notice with an absurd number of goals, most of which coming from his blistering slap shot from the point on the power play.
He's continued that success at Minnesota-Duluth, with five power play goals to go along with five assists on the power play. Faulk can be a bit up and down defensively, but despite lacking ideal size, he does have incredible athleticism which should help him keep guys in front of him at the next level. But his ticket to the next level is the big slap shot from the point, and he could make an excellent power play quarterback for the Hurricanes, who are heavy on defense prospects, but mostly of the shutdown defenseman variety.
- Derek Forbort, Freshman, Defense, North Dakota(Los Angeles Kings)
Forbort was the second college player taken in last year's draft, one spot behind Jaden Schwartz, so he possesses a tremendous amount of talent and upside, but it's been a little bit of a slower transition for the big defenseman.
Forbort picked up five assists in his first three college games, but struggled at the World Juniors this year, and hasn't registered a point since leaving for the tournament. Next year will likely be a key year for Forbort, as he'll be expected to play a bigger role for the Sioux, and will have a year of college hockey experience that should make him a more confident player.
- Matt Frattin, Senior, Forward, North Dakota(Toronto Maple Leafs)
Frattin seems to have turned things around in his personal life, after a suspension for off-ice incidents cost him 18 games last season, and that seems to have paid big dividends on the ice.
Prior to this season, Frattin was a little bit of a tweener, in terms of what role he'd play for a pro team, but after bulking up considerably, he could make an impact as a lower line player that can chip in the occasional goal if given an opportunity.
- Matt Donovan, Sophomore, Defense, Denver(New York Islanders)
Donovan is having another outstanding year for Denver, but for as good as he is in every aspect of the game, he drops a little because it's tough to say he's really great in any one area.
He's not a shutdown defender the way a Will Weber is, nor does he have that kind of size and he's not really a player you'd project as running a power play like a Justin Schultz or Justin Faulk. But Donovan plays a smart, simple game, and generally makes good things happen when he's out on the ice, and should be an asset to the Islanders organization.
- Jason Gregoire, Junior, Forward, North Dakota(New York Islanders)
Gregoire is similar to teammate Matt Frattin in that he's a very strong, physical forward, with enough skill to put the puck in the net if given an opportunity. Gregoire's future likely isn't as a big scorer in the NHL, but he's a very well-rounded player that could be a solid contributor to any team.
- Riley Sheahan, Sophomore, Forward, Notre Dame(Detroit Red Wings)
After being the youngest player in college hockey last season, Sheahan's stock has dropped a little bit, because he's still struggling to put up offense, even with a year of college experience under his belt. His 15 points so far puts him on pace to eclipse his total last year, but just barely, and Sheahan only has two goals on the season.
He's still a very versatile forward with nice size and excellent defensive play, which should make him a regular in the NHL, but his value diminishes quite a bit if he can't develop a scoring touch to go with it.
- Craig Smith, Forward, Wisconsin(Nashville Predators)
Smith was thrown in the last spot of last year's top 50 after a hot start, with the caveat that he'd be more accurately judged in his sophomore season when he wasn't playing with four 50-point scorers.
Smith has answered that challenge, already surpassing last year's point total, and he's one goal away from doubling his goal total last year. Smith is an older sophomore, but the Predators may have gotten a steal by drafting a late bloomer that teams usually drool over as free agent prospects.
- Matt Read, Senior, Forward, Bemidji State(Free Agent)
Read was one of the darlings of the NHL development camp circuit last summer, attending camps for multiple NHL teams, before ultimately deciding to return to Bemidji to captain the Beavers in their first WCHA season.
Despite being the primary focus of any team he faces, Read has 26 points on the year, meaning he has had a hand in 44% of all of Bemidji's goals this year. He should be able to pick his situation in terms of which NHL team to sign with, meaning he should have a pretty good shot at playing in the NHL next year.
- Chris Brown, Sophomore, Forward, Michigan(Phoenix Coyotes)
It's a bit tough to judge Brown, because he played very well at the World Junior tournament, but has had a disappointing season offensively for Michigan. After 13 goals as a freshman, he has just four so far this year.
Still, Brown is an intriguing power forward prospect that plays strong physical defense, and at his best, can park in front of the net and chip in goals. Even if not consistent yet, Brown has at least shown flashes of being a player that can do that at the next level.
- Corban Knight, Sophomore, Forward, North Dakota(Florida Panthers)
Knight got off to a slow start as a freshman, and struggled with some injury issues, but finished the season as one of the hottest players in college hockey, and that success has continued in his sophomore season, as the second leading scorer on a loaded North Dakota team.
Knight was a bit late on the radar, which accounted for him falling to the fifth round in the draft, but as a player over six feet tall that can play center and score at nearly a point-per-game pace, it won't be long until he starts drawing praise as a top prospects.
- Beau Bennett, Freshman, Forward, Denver(Pittsburgh Penguins)
Bennett has had a slow transition so far from the less physical BCHL to WCHA hockey. He's still a bit of a project as he learns to play a tougher game rather than just hanging out on the perimeter. But his offensive talents are undeniable and he's a dangerous threat on the power play. If he can begin to round out the other areas of his game, he could become a very dangerous player.
- Brock Nelson, Freshman, Forward, North Dakota(New York Islanders)
Nelson has handled the transition from Minnesota high school hockey to college hockey fairly well. An injury early in the World Junior tournament ruined a good opportunity to see Nelson against the best in his age group.
So far, his freshman season has been a bit like Drew Shore's last year, sort of getting his feet wet on the third line, while some older players ahead of him get more ice time. Next year will be the big challenge to show his talents.
- Mike Hoeffel, Senior, Forward, Minnesota(New Jersey Devils)
Hoeffel has ten goals on the season playing on Minnesota's top line, but Hoeffel's future lies in his abilities as a defensive forward. There aren't many players his size that skate as well as he does, which gives him a great shot at the NHL, despite not having the best four-year career at Minnesota.
- Cameron Schilling, Junior, Defense, Miami(Free Agent)
Schilling isn't a flashy player, but is a rock on defense. He's got pretty decent size and though he doesn't put up huge numbers, he can move the puck. He's the type of player that doesn't draw a lot of attention, but would make a very solid pro hockey player.
- Carl Hagelin, Senior, Forward, Michigan(New York Rangers)
Hagelin has always been considered a bit of a long shot for the because of his small stature, but he is extremely and one of the most tenacious players in college hockey. In addition, he's been one of the only Michigan forwards whose offensive production hasn't been a disappointment this season. His quickness could make him an effective penalty killer at the next level and a good energy guy on a team's lower lines.
- Brett Olson, Junior, Forward, Michigan Tech(Free Agent)
Olson has been one of the few bright spots on a very offensively challenged Michigan Tech team the past two years. Last year, despite missing four games, he scored 18 of Michigan Tech's 72 total goals, meaning he roughly one out of every four goals Michigan Tech scored came off Olson's stick.
After scoring four goals and seven points in his first nine games this season, he was sidelined with an injury, and has been goalless since returning to a team mired in a dreadful winless streak, but when healthy, he is a dangerous scorer despite little help.
- Erik Haula, Freshman, Forward, Minnesota(Minnesota Wild)
Haula got off to a great start to his Minnesota career, but only has two assists since Thanksgiving. Haula was extremely impressive at the World Juniors playing for Finland, however, registering seven points at the tournament.
Haula is an incredibly skilled player, and can really show off those skills in more wide open play, but needs to learn how to be effective in the more tight-checking situations that he faces in conference play against better teams.
- Mark Zengerle, Freshman, Forward, Wisconsin(Free Agent)
Zengerle was a big scorer in the BCHL, and so far, that playmaking has carried over to the WCHA, where he already has 27 assists on the season. Zengerle is small, but a very crafty stickhandler with great vision and passing ability. He's not a prototypical pro prospect, but will be tough to ignore if he keeps putting up big point totals.
- Reilly Smith, Sophomore, Forward, Miami(Dallas Stars)
Smith is a player that has kind of flown under the radar as a skilled, but relatively under-sized prospect. The Dallas Stars drafted him in the third round two years ago, but that was a couple rounds higher than most projected him.
The Stars look pretty smart for that pick now that Smith is having a breakout year for the RedHawks, with 21 goals and 38 points in 29 games this season. Smith will still likely need to add a lot of muscle before he's ready for the pros, but he's developing at a very promising pace.
- Nick Shore, Freshman, Forward, Denver(2011 Draft eligible)
Shore is a very different player from his older brother Drew. Drew is taller, and has a little bit more in the way of offensive skills. Nick is more of a hard-working two-way forward. Nick's lack of high-end offensive upside will probably push him into the third round of this year's draft. But if he can make the same kind of jump between freshman and sophomore year that is brother did, he could become a very serious prospect.
- Justin Fontaine, Senior, Forward, Minnesota-Duluth(Free Agent)
Fontaine looks like he'll close out his college hockey career this year averaging over a point per game for his entire career, and well over 150 points, which is a pretty incredible total in this day and age of college hockey.
His size and style of play likely make him the classic case of the college star that's not quite talented enough to crack a top six forward spot in the NHL and ends up stuck in the minor leagues, but Fontaine has certainly earned the right for a shot with an NHL club.
- Brad Malone, Senior, Forward, North Dakota(Colorado Avalanche)
Malone has picked up his offensive a little bit in his senior season, albeit while playing on the WCHA's highest scoring team, but he never really developed into the scorer some thought he might. Instead, his future at the pro level is likely as a punishing physical player. If he is able to throw his weight around effectively at the pro level, he could earn an NHL roster spot.
- Nick Jensen, Freshman, Defense, St. Cloud(Detroit Red Wings)
The Detroit Red Wings have a long, successful history of taking extremely skilled European players that fall in the draft because of concerns about their size. Occasionally, they do the same with a North American player, and Jensen looks like he could be an example of just that.
Jensen has stepped in and immediately been a top pairing defenseman for St. Cloud, in part for lack of better options, but also because he's incredibly skilled and adept at moving the puck. Big minutes and tough match-ups on a bad team has killed Jensen's +/- this season, but he's shown potential to be an excellent puck-moving defenseman.
- Stephen Johns, Freshman, Defense Notre Dame(Chicago Blackhawks)
Johns is undergoing the rough transitional phase that most very big, 18-year-old freshman defensemen experience when they move to college hockey, but his potential is undeniable. If his skating can improve a little bit, he will be a very nice prospect.
- Derek Grant, Sophomore, Forward, Michigan State(Ottawa Senators)
Grant has exceptional hands for a 6'3" forward, already racking up 19 assists this season. The big complaint coming into this season was that he didn't get to the front of net often enough to use his big frame to knock in dirty goals, and that still seems to be an issue as he has had a big drop in goal scoring this season.
- Dillon Simpson, Freshman, Defense, North Dakota(2011 Draft Eligible)
Simpson is fairly impressive if only for the fact that he's found semi-regular playing time on one of the best blue lines in the country as the only '93 birthdate playing college hockey. He's not playing a major role, but has found some success when he gets on the ice. It wouldn't be surprising if he went earlier than most expect in this summer's draft.
- Oliver Lauridsen, Junior, Defense, St. Cloud(Philadelphia Flyers)
Lauridsen was one of the most improved players in college hockey last season. This year, he's taken a bit of a step backwards as he's had to play a bigger role and some of his deficiencies have been exposed, but he's still 6'6", which makes him an intriguing enough prospect that he'll get a long look at the pro level.
- Terry Broadhurst, Sophomore, Forward, Nebraska-Omaha(Free Agent)
Broadhurst is a player that isn't on a lot of people's radars, but he's having a great season, scoring a point per game in the WCHA, has great speed, and last summer, he turned some heads with an impressive performance at the Chicago Blackhawks prospect camp.
- Brett Perlini, Junior, Forward, Michigan State(Anaheim Ducks)
Perlini was selected in the last round of the draft last year as an older player, despite a fairly average first two seasons of college hockey, but he has rewarded the Ducks faith by turning in a huge junior season, that includes 15 goals.
Perlini has good skills for a bigger player, but has always struggled against faster competition. This year, he's started adjusting to the speed of the college game
- Sam Brittain, Freshman, Goalie, Denver(Florida Panthers)
Brittain has stepped into college hockey as an 18-year-old freshman and locked down the starting job for the Denver Pioneers. He still makes the occasional young goalie mistakes, but has a team in front of him that is good enough to cover up those mistakes. It's always long odds for any goalie, but it's pretty rare for a goalie that young to be that solid. With a few more years of development, Brittain could make a serious run at a pro job.
- Chay Genoway, Senior, Defense, North Dakota(Free Agent)
When healthy, Genoway is arguably the best defenseman in college hockey, and a very nice pro prospect, even if a bit undersized for a defenseman. Unfortunately, health has been a pretty major issue for Genoway the past two years, missing most of last year with a concussion, and then suffering a leg injury this year. Genoway is likely to earn an NHL contract after this season, but will likely have to prove he can handle the more physical rigors of pro hockey in the minor leagues before a team makes a big commitment to him.
- Nic Dowd, Freshman, Forward, St. Cloud(Los Angeles Kings)
After a bit of a slow start, Dowd has averaged a point per game in his last 10 games as he's learned how to use his size more effectively and drawn more attention from the opposition, allowing him to set up open teammates. He's a player that shows some very enticing potential.
- Carter Camper, Senior, Forward, Miami(Free Agent)
Camper's career has always kind of mirrored former Denver Pioneer Gabe Gauthier. Both were prodigies coming up through youth hockey that fell off the pro radar because of their size, but went on to play four great years of college hockey-though Gauthier had a little more success in the Frozen Four.
Of course, Gauthier's pro career has mostly been as a very successful AHLer, who gets the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, though he has yet to register a point in the big leagues. Though Camper is a much better skater than Gauthier ever was, which may give him a step up at the next level.
- Jeff Costello, Freshman, Forward, Notre Dame(Ottawa Senators)
Costello has been a bit overshadowed by fellow freshman left wing Anders Lee, but has chipped seven goals this season, including some against some very good teams. Given a few more years to develop, Costello could turn into a very effective two-way forward at the next level.
- Michael Mersch, Freshman, Forward, Wisconsin(2011 Draft eligible)
Mersch is a player with a great frame at 6-1 196 lbs., and has put up a very respectable 15 points in his first season of college hockey. His skating is the big question mark, but with a few more years at Wisconsin, if he can add an extra step of quickness, he's a player with lots of potential.
- Justin Holl, Freshman, Defense, Minnesota(Chicago Blackhawks)
Holl has struggled this season with Minnesota, which was to be expected. Holl came to Minnesota straight from Minnesota high school hockey, and was very raw, even for a player coming out of high school hockey. He could have used a year in the USHL, but Minnesota's hand was forced when the Blackhawks signed Nick Leddy to a pro contract over the summer.
Despite some of those struggles, Holl definitely has some high-end potential. The biggest problem is that Minnesota has developed a reputation as the place where high-end potential, especially among defensemen, goes to get squandered.
- Zach Trotman, Sophomore, Defense, Lake Superior(Boston Bruins)
Trotman may have been a steal as the last pick in the 2010 Draft. It's pretty rare to find a 6'4" 200+ lbs. defenseman that plays effectively at the NCAA level. Trotman is more of a defensive defenseman, but has picked up the offensive side of his game a little bit more this season as well.
- T.J. Tynan, Freshman, Forward, Notre Dame(Free Agent)
Tynan wasn't given much consideration as a draft prospect because he's tiny, but at a certain point, teams are going to have to pay attention to the huge scoring numbers he's putting up.
Last year in the USHL, he was 5th in league scoring with 72 points on a bad Des Moines team. This season, not only has Tynan continued his big scoring numbers, with 39 points in 30 games as a freshman, but he's proven he can finish plays rather than just setting them up with 18 goals already, compared to just 17 goals all of last season.
- Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Sophomore, Forward, Bowling Green(Atlanta Thrashers)
Samuels-Thomas is one of the lone bright spots on a struggling Bowling Green team. His stats don't stand out because Bowling Green just doesn't score that much, but he has amazingly soft hands that make him a dangerous offensive weapon.
Dropping Off The List-A few players made last year's Top 50, but not this year's. Here's a look at those players, with last year's ranking in parenthesis:
Ben Hanowski(35), So, F, St. Cloud(Pittsburgh Penguins): In hindsight, going straight from the limited contact of MN HS hockey to the WCHA's softest team may not have been the best move for Hanowski. His size isn't much of an asset because it's used so infrequently.
Zach Redmond(37), Sr, D, Ferris State(Atlanta Thrashers)-I honestly thought Redmond would make it when I started this project, and he was in the top 50 for a while, but adding a player here and there that I thought had higher pro upside ended up pushing him out.
Mike Montgomery(38), Sr,D, Minnesota-Duluth(Free Agent)-Same as Redmond. Not a ton of upside, but should get a contract from someone and be a solid AHLer with a shot at making the NHL.
Ben Blood(41), Jr, D, North Dakota(Ottawa Senators)-Literally #51 on my list this year.
Brandon Burlon(42) Jr, D, Michigan(New Jersey Devils)-Last year, I said this would be a make-or-break seasonf or Burlon, and I've been extremely disappointed. Still not active enough on offense, and not good enough on defense.
David Eddy(45), So, F, St. Cloud(Free Agent)- I guess he's still at a point-per-game, but has only played eight games. The half season academic suspension isn't overly concerning, but the suspension, or whatever it's being called after St. Cloud's Florida fiasco could be more troubling. Great offensive skills, but is it enough to make up for what he doesn't provide on the other end of the ice?
Chris Wideman, Jr, D, Miami(Ottawa Senators)-Still a steady reliable puck-mover, but a stretch to say he's NHL-caliber at this point.
Daultan Leveille(49) Jr, F, Michigan State(Atlanta Thrashers)-It's looking less and less likely that he'll ever capitalize on all the potential that once made him a first round draft pick.