University of Wisconsin, freshman
1st rd, 27th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Moving up to the NCAA level is supposed to be a period of transition for an 18-year-old freshman. Smith’s transition has been fairly smooth though. He came from St. Michael’s of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League (OPJHL) with an impressive 12 goals and 24 assists in 39 games last year. To start his rookie year at Wisconsin, the 6’2, 174-pound Smith racked up six points in his first four games. However, in the next 17 games he has only produced six points.
From these 12 points in 21 games, he has chipped in with two power-play goals, which ties him for the team lead among defensemen. Kyle Klubertanz (ANA) is ahead of him on the Badgers depth chart as far as quarterbacking the power play.
Smith has missed the last seven games with a back injury that stems from Wisconsin’s Badger Hockey Showdown game against Colgate on Dec. 28. The injury has the potential to keep him out for an extended period, although he has returned to exercising. He was sixth on the team in scoring when he left the lineup.
Smith needs to show better decision-making skills when he moves the puck. He has a tendency to hold on too long, which has translated into broken plays and costly giveaways. When he harnesses this skill, he will be a difference maker.
Michigan State University, junior
2nd rd, 45th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Michigan State University is not suffering from a hangover after its first NCAA championship since 1986 last spring. MSU is putting together another outstanding year, ranking third in points in the CCHA behind the Miami RedHawks and in-state rival Michigan. Last season’s Frozen Four MVP Justin Abdelkader is a big reason for this.
The game that the alternate captain brings every night matches his solid 6’1, 209 lb frame. He leads by example, making plays and punishing foes in the corners. He is almost impossible to move from in front of the net. He even potted an important game-winning goal against Notre Dame to help MSU stay ahead of them in the CCHA standings.
He currently ranks fourth in scoring for MSU with 22 points in 27 games, and has scored three goals in the past two games.
Abdelkader could turn pro early this summer if the Wings have room for him in their minor league system. He turns 21 in February.
Clarkson University, freshman
7th rd, 208th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Rufenach is an offensive defenseman, as his 11 goals and 21 assists in 32 games with the Lindsay Muskies of the OPJHL last year demonstrate.
The 5’11, 184-pounder was brought to Clarkson as a true freshman at 18 to provide the offensive spark that the program has needed for some time. So far he has struggled though, only chipping in with three points in 20 games. The Golden Knights need him to contribute more. He also needs to improve his defense, as there are times where he has struggled picking up his man in front of the net.
Nick Oslund, LW
St. Cloud State University, freshman
7th rd, 191st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
The St. Cloud State Huskies have got a real aggressive, hard-nosed player in Oslund. The 6’3, 205-pounder has dished out some punishing hits this year, true to form.
Oslund, 20, has three goals so far this year, but he was not drafted to be a point producer. He was drafted to provide the grit that he is showing in his freshman year. As he grows and puts on even more muscle, he could very well scare the puck off of his opponents.
He is still very much a project as a prospect, but he is quickly becoming a fan favorite at St. Cloud State.