We’re in the dark days of the hockey off-season. Or as most people refer to it as, the summer. The NHL draft and free agency are well and truly in the rear-view mirror now and the hockey insiders have headed to their summer cottages for a well-earned rest before the new season officially begins. If we’re lucky, we’ll get the occasional NHL trade or a player signing announcement but for the most part, the days are filled with very little hockey activity across all leagues.
With rosters still taking shape and around two months until most training camps open, what is there to get excited about? One thing that is guaranteed this season is that NCAA hockey will receive a massive influx of high-level talent. With most of the record-breaking USNTDP U18 team from last year moving on to college hockey, along with other talented freshmen, fans of the NCAA (and the NHL) have every right to be excited about the 2019-20 season. This article will take a look at some of the schools welcoming new faces to their rosters and what we can expect from those players.
The Eagles Improve at Every Position
Boston College is welcoming arguably the strongest freshman class in the whole of the NCAA next season. This comes at a perfect time for the Eagles, as they have lost some key players, including co-captain Casey Fitzgerald and stud netminder Joseph Woll. However, the pain of these losses will be short-lived as they are receiving replacements in all positions, with some actually being upgrades.
Replacing Woll in net will be 2019 first-round draft pick, Spencer Knight. The Connecticut native was drafted 13th overall by the Florida Panthers and brings a huge reputation with him to BC. Knight has all the tools to make an exceptional goaltender, combining good size with extreme athleticism and calmness under pressure. He is also an above-average puck handler, using his calmness and stickhandling skills to navigate opponent’s forechecks.
Knight will be expected to play the majority of games for BC next season and this figures to be the next step of his development. Playing on a generational USNTDP team last season, Knight did not have to deal with the workload that he can expect to face in the NCAA. How he handles this will go a long way to deciding when he is ready to make the jump to pro hockey.
Two More First Round Draft Picks Join the Ranks
Matthew Boldy joins BC after being a teammate of Knight with the USNTDP U18 team last season. The left-winger brings the perfect blend of size and skill to the line-up and could make an instant impact in the NCAA. He has an elite shot that can score from anywhere and is a strong skater. It is not inconceivable that this could be his only season in college, as a bit more physical development could signal that he is ready for the pro ranks. The Minnesota Wild, who drafted him 12th overall, will be keeping a close eye on him this season.
Alex Newhook is another exciting addition to the Eagles’ forward ranks. The center, who spent last season in the BCHL, had an outstanding second half to the season. This was capped off by putting up 10 points in seven games at the U18 World Championships. He was also named one of Canada’s top three players of the tournament. Newhook is an exceptional skater and plays hard at both ends of the ice. A responsible player with an offensive edge, he was drafted 16th overall by the Colorado Avalanche and will greatly benefit from a few years in the NCAA.
Two More USNTDP Players Bring Quality to the D Ranks
Marshall Warren and Drew Helleson are two quality additions to the BC defense. They both hail from the USNTDP team and bring contrasting styles to the blueline. Warren is a puck-moving defenseman who plays at a very high pace. He is not afraid to jump into the rush or to skate the puck in himself. It was a surprise that he fell all the way to the sixth round in the
NHL draft before finally being selected by the Minnesota Wild. He’ll be looking to prove his doubters wrong as he starts his NCAA career.
Drew Helleson is almost the polar opposite of Warren. He is a big-bodied D-man who provides a physical presence in his own end. Although he did not put up many points last season, he is not without offensive ability and will be hoping to get the opportunity to display this at BC. The second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche seems ready-made for the transition to the NCAA.
BU Also Welcoming Influx of Talent
In keeping with their city rivals, Boston University is also getting a strong group of freshmen. The stand out new player for the Terriers is undoubtedly Trevor Zegras. Comfortable at both center and wing, Zegras is an elite playmaker and skater. He has an exceptional hockey IQ which allows him to see plays develop. Zegras uses his high-level passing to find teammates for dangerous scoring opportunities. Not just a playmaker though, as he possesses an underrated shot that scouts want to see him use more often. He was arguably the best player other than Jack Hughes on the USNTDP team and ended up being drafted ninth overall by Anaheim. Once he adds a bit more size, he could be a dominant force at the NCAA level.
Joining Zegras at forward is Robert Mastrosimone. He played in the USHL last season, leading the Chicago Steel to the Clark Cup finals and leading the league in postseason scoring. He has a non-stop motor and is always pushing the pace. His main attribute is his NHL level shot but he can also be a playmaker as well. Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round, he has the potential to develop into a high-quality pro after a few years in the NCAA.
The Terriers Defense Also Gets an Overhaul
Three defensemen from the USNTDP team will be joining BU this season as well. Alex Vlasic is the biggest, in both reputation and physical size. At 6-6” he is a giant of a defenseman and uses his long reach to shut down opponents extremely effectively. He is not just a one-dimensional player though, as he moves the puck very well and is not afraid to join the rush. He will need to refine his game at the NCAA level before he is ready to make the jump to pro, but the Chicago Blackhawks’ second-rounder has all the tools to be an exciting player.
At the other end of the height spectrum is Domenick Fensore. At only 5-7” he is small for a defenseman but uses his excellent skating to counteract this. He plays with incredibly high energy and is always looking to attack. Fensore is probably a longshot to ever make it in the NHL due to his size. The Carolina Hurricanes used a third-round pick on him and will be hoping he can become a dominant NCAA player.
The third and final addition to the blueline for BU is Case McCarthy. He was a fourth-round selection of the New Jersey Devils. A big-hitting, physical defenseman with good feet, McCarthy may never be more than a third-pairing D-man due to his lack of offense. But he will punish opposing forwards and play a large amount of penalty kill minutes. This will make him a key member of any team he plays on.
Wisconsin Badgers Getting Star Power
Wisconsin has been going through a mediocre patch over the past few years but they will be hoping that all changes this season. They are welcoming some very exciting freshmen to their team this season, including two-star recruits. Cole Caufield arrives in Madison with the reputation as the purest scoring prospect in hockey. He had a fantastic season with the USNTDP team, putting up a phenomenal 72 goals in 64 games. He can score from anywhere and could be a force to be reckoned with at the NCAA level. The only knock on Caufield is his size, which may have caused him to drop to 15th in the recent NHL draft. Montreal fans will be hoping he continues his fine scoring form for the Badgers.
The other star freshman this season is center Alex Turcotte. The fifth overall pick in the NHL draft arrives on the crest of a wave after his outstanding second half to last season. He initially struggled with injury, but once fully fit he showed what a dominant player he can be. An incredibly gifted puck mover, using his fast hands to dazzle the opposition and find teammates from anywhere on the ice. He uses his high hockey IQ and constant motor to drive play, whilst also being blessed with a high-quality shot. If he continues to develop at this rate, he could be one of the top players in the whole of the NCAA next season.
Other Recruits Could Also Have a Big Impact
Another potential star is also joining Wisconsin. Dylan Holloway joins after a big season in the AJHL where he spent a lot of time on both the PowerPlay and Penalty kill. He is able to impact both ends of the ice due to his strong skating and good hockey sense. Eligible for the 2020 NHL draft, he currently projects as a potential top 10 pick and a big year in the NCAA would go a long way to increasing his draft stock. There will be plenty of scouts paying him close attention next season.
Owen Lindmark is another interesting player to join the Badgers next season. He spent last season as a strong skating defensive forward for the USNTDP team. Although he won’t make too much of an impact on the scoresheet, he could end up being an important piece of the Wisconsin team. He should start his NCAA career as a role player but may get a chance to showcase his offensive talents as the season progresses.
Michigan Add Two Big Names
The Michigan Wolverines will also be welcoming two big names from the USNTDP team. Cam York is an exciting defenseman who will really soften the blow of the loss of Quinn Hughes. York is an offensive D-man who loves to jump into the rush. His 65 points last season was a USNTDP record for a defenseman and the Wolverines will be hoping he brings that scoring touch to the NCAA. York is not just a one-trick pony though as he is also a very good defender. He combines good skating with an active stick to control his gaps and disrupt the opposition attackers. He was drafted 14th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers and was arguably the second-best defender in the whole draft.
The other big name coming to Michigan is John Beecher. The Boston Bruins’ first-rounder from this year is a big man who uses his size
extremely well, often driving to the net. He is also a fantastic skater for someone so big and is deceptively fast. Like most USNTDP players, he reads the game very well. After playing lower down the line-up last season, it’ll be interesting to see how he continues to develop in a more prominent role.
The Best of the Rest
There are too many other exciting freshmen joining the NCAA this season for me to name them all but we will cover a few of them. Bobby Brink is joining the University of Denver after lighting up the USHL and U18 World Championships last season. Brink is a prolific goal scorer with an A-grade wrist shot, whilst also being a skilled puck handler. The biggest question mark against him is his skating, which will need to improve for him to be as effective at the NCAA level.
Ryan Johnson is joining the University of Minnesota after winning the Clark Cup with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL last season. Drafted 31st overall by the Buffalo Sabres, Johnson is a smooth-skating D-man who moves the puck very well. He is not the most offensive defenseman but is great at helping his team transition from defense to offense and is also a capable defender in his own end.
Exciting Times Ahead for NCAA Fans
As you can see, there is a lot of talent being added to the NCAA this season. The race to the Frozen Four will begin in October, with teams hoping to emulate Minnesota-Duluth and be crowned Frozen Four champions. It should be an exciting season from start to finish. Who will be the next NHL star? Only time will tell.
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Bill Wippert/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)