Top 10 NCAA 2008 prospects

By DJ Powers

While the 2008 NCAA draft class is not as strong as those in previous years, there are still a number of notable players eligible.

The 11 players (two tied at 10th) ranked represent four conferences with the CCHA and Hockey East leading the way with four apiece, followed by the WCHA with two and the ECAC with one. Northern Michigan University is the only program with more than one player in the top ten. Players appearing on Central Scouting and ISS’s final ranking have been so noted.

1. Colin Wilson, C

Freshman, Boston University
6’1 215 lbs.
DOB: 10/20/89 Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: 10th among North American skaters
ISS ranking: 8th among skaters

Wilson finished his excellent freshman season leading Boston University rookies in scoring with 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 37 games. It was the most by a Boston University freshman since current New Jersey Devil Jay Pandolfo posted 40 points in the 1992-93 season. Wilson was named both the New England and Hockey East Rookie of the Year after leading the conference in rookie scoring with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists).

In addition to his success at BU, Wilson also excelled on the international stage. He centered Team USA’s top line, playing alongside fellow Hockey East rookie James vanRiemsdyk and incoming University of Minnesota recruit Jordan Schroeder at the 2008 IIHF U-20 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. Wilson finished third on the team with seven points (six goals, one assist). His stellar performance at the WJC and strong second half with the Terriers sent his draft stock skyrocketing. And with his successful showing at the recent NHL Combine in Toronto, Wilson solidified his position as one of the top eligible players.

Talent Analysis: Wilson is probably as complete of a player as you’re likely to see coming out of college hockey, particularly among freshmen, this season. He is also one of the most well-conditioned too. Wilson has a great ability to make those around him better in any situation. His top-end skill package is matched by only his constant drive.

While Wilson may be only 18 years old, the way he thinks and understands the game as well as handles himself is remarkably mature. He is highly intelligent and can adjust and adapt to just about any style of game. He is equally at home on an offensive rush as he is helping out on defense.

Another of Wilson’s great attributes that have scouts raving is his wonderful hands. He moves and distributes the puck very well and does it intelligently and effectively. He has little trouble finding and getting tape-to-tape passes to his teammates. He can be very creative both offensively and defensively and rarely makes a bad decision with the puck.

Despite reports to the contrary, Wilson is actually a very good skater. He has good speed (though he’s not the fastest out there) and is very strong and powerful on his skates. His incredibly strong frame makes him a difficult player to move off of or strip the puck away from. He protects the puck extremely well and is strong along the boards and in the corners.

As good as Wilson is right now, the best is still yet to come. And as complete of a player and as skilled as he is, the question isn’t if he gets to the NHL but rather when.

Boston University head coach Jack Parker’s comments on Wilson: “An asset that Colin has that never seems to surprise me is that he always collects the pass near him, so that the puck stays with him. I think that’s a great asset. It’s one thing that has proven to be very, very good for us. Colin is as dedicated as you’re going to see in the weight room and on the ice. He’s spends so much time in the weight room that we have to get him out of there and tell him you’re big enough (laughs). After we have a full-out skate, he’s out there doing some more wind sprints by himself. There’s no question that Colin wants to be as good as he can be.”

HF’s December feature on Wilson

2. Cody Goloubef, D

Freshman, University of Wisconsin
6’1 185 lbs.
DOB: 11/30/89 Shoots: Right
Central Scouting final ranking: 34th among North American skaters
ISS final ranking: 33rd among skaters

Cody Goloubef completed a stellar rookie campaign with 10 points (four goals, six assists) from the blue line, playing in all 40 games for the Badgers as the youngest player in the WCHA.

One of Goloubef’s most memorable outings of the season came on March 29 in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semi-final versus Denver. In that contest, Goloubef posted the game-winner to send Wisconsin to their first regional final since 2006. The Oakville, ON native’s game-winner was one of three that he posted this season.

Talent Analysis: Goloubef is a smart defenseman with great vision and superb offensive instincts. As the season progressed, particularly in the post-season, Goloubef’s confidence grew and his offensive skills became more apparent. He possesses tremendous poise with the puck and can make some really nice outlet passes.

Goloubef adapted well and how quickly to the speed and rigors of the college game. And he never stopped the adjustment process. Goloubef simply got better – a testament to his maturity and strong work ethic. Though Goloubef didn’t put huge numbers this season, he was still a solid offensive contributor from the blueline and his numbers will only increase with time.

As good as Goloubef was offensively, he is almost equally as good defensively. It is perhaps the one area where his game really matured from start to finish this season. His defensive positioning and effective use of his stick in taking away the puck and passing and shooting lanes are some of the areas where Goloubef has made great strides in. While Goloubef will often join the play, it rarely comes at the expense of his defensive responsibilities.

An attribute that has had many in the scouting community talking about Goloubef is his skating. He is very mobile with good speed. He skates with powerful yet fluid strides and can often be seen jumping into the play. His transitioning showed improvement by season’s end, but it is an area that should continue to get better, particularly with added size and strength to his frame.

University of Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves’ comments on Goloubef: “The way that Cody has adapted to the college game at such a young age so far is a pretty good indication of who he is. Considering he was 17 turning 18, moving away from home for the first time and just playing against older guys, he’s handled it pretty darn well for a young man. I think that probably says more about who Cody is as a person than anything, which is an exciting thing because you want quality people that are intelligent and competitive. For Cody, coming from where he came from to where he is now in such a short amount of time is all very encouraging.”

HF’s January feature on Goloubef

3. Jack Downing, W

Freshman, University of Vermont
6’3 200 lbs.
DOB: 1/24/89 Shoots: Right
Central Scouting final ranking: 105th among North American skaters
ISS ranking: not ranked

2007-08 season: Jack Downing had an outstanding freshman season, leading the Catamounts in rookie scoring with 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in 36 games. His eight goals were tied for third on the team. He earned two Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors on the season.

Talent Analysis: Downing is a power forward who combines an imposing frame and a physical presence with very good scoring ability. He thrives on the physical side of the game and can deliver some very solid, bone-crushing hits. He takes advantage of his size, strength and long reach in areas such as puck protection and drives to the net.

An area of the ice where Downing has really excelled this season has been around the net and below the dots. He possesses great poise with the puck and is opportunistic. As the season progressed, Downing gained more and more confidence, which has allowed him to be more patient and smarter with the puck. While he has demonstrated that he can finish plays quite well, the Catamounts will be looking for Downing to be more of a consistent point producer next season.

One of Downing’s greatest attributes is his shot. He combines a laser of a shot with a quick release, and he’s exceptionally deceptive with it. Coupled with his great vision, it has allowed him to be more creative and given him more offensive options. He can always be counted on to shoot the puck.

Downing is an excellent skater, combining some good speed with very powerful strides. He moves remarkably well for such a big man, but he’ll need to improve his footwork in areas such as transitioning and pivoting to become a more dominant and effective player at the collegiate, and especially the pro level.

University of Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon’s comments on Downing: “We certainly knew that the Jack had the skills to be a very effective power forward, but was he willing and able to be a real physical presence for us? That’s the one area that I would say that we’ve been most impressed with. He has the big three – the skill, the shot and the toughness. All of those things were in check. But at this level and certainly to get him to the next level, his skating has to continue to improve. Jack is obviously still very young, but his willingness to do it is certainly going to make him a very dangerous player in Hockey East as he continues to mature.”

HF’s March feature on Downing

4. Ben Smith, RW

Sophomore, Boston College
5’11 200 lbs.
DOB: 7/11/88 Shoots: Right
Central Scouting final ranking: 184th among North American skaters
ISS ranking: not ranked

As good as Ben Smith was as a freshman, he was even better as a sophomore at Boston College this season. The Avon, CT native became a key cog in the Eagles offensive machine that helped to propel the team to their third national championship title in school history. After posting 18 points in his rookie season, Smith exploded for 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in 44 games this year as a member of Boston College’s prolific top line with junior Nathan Gerbe (BUF) and rookie Brian Gibbons. Smith’s 25 goals and 10 power-play goals were both second on the team, while his plus-15 ranked tied for fifth. He also posted 14 multi-point games. On Dec, 1 he posted his first collegiate hat trick in Boston College’s 4-3 win over archrival Boston University.

Smith’s sensational sophomore year both on and off the ice earned him numerous accolades, including spots on the Frozen Four and Dodge Holiday Classic All-Tournament teams as well as his second consecutive selection to the Hockey East All-Academic team.

Talent Analysis: Between his freshman and sophomore season he added size and strength. His physical development has not only elevated, but has added a whole new dimension to his already great game. Where Smith’s strength is particularly evident has been in his legs. While he continues to be strong on his skates, his skating has also improved in areas such as having a smoother stride. However, getting up to top speed quickly continues to be an area that needs improvement.

Smith’s maturity as a player can be seen both in his confidence level and leadership. Having played at both center and wing this season, he also possesses some versatility and has shown that he can play both positions comfortably and effectively. Smith’s decisions with the puck continue to be very good, but now he makes quicker as well as smarter decisions. He plays with a great deal of focus and his intelligence allows him to find and utilize open spaces advantageously. His sense of knowing where the play is going to end up and his top finishing ability can be seen in the phenomenal numbers that he has posted this season.

Smith’s defensive side has also improved. And he has shown a willingness to be more physically aggressive, particularly in the defensive zone.

Boston College associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh’s comments on Smith: “I thought Ben had a breakout year scoring-wise, both in goals and assists and I just think that he’s going to get better and better. Ben’s done a great job with our strength coach, Russ DeRosa. I think adding size and strength were probably some of, if not the most important reason that he made the jump this year that he did and I think Ben would tell you that too. He needs to continue to work on his skating where he can be quick enough to gain a step and be able to skate away from people. So we’re expecting great things from Ben in the future.”

5. Erik Gustafsson, D

Freshman, Northern Michigan University
5’10 188 lbs.
DOB: 12/15/88 Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: 209th among North American skaters
ISS ranking: not ranked

Gustafsson was one of two Swedish-born players on the Northern Michigan Wildcats roster this season and he certainly didn’t have any problem turning in a terrific performance. The Kvissleby, Sweden native led the team in defenseman scoring with 27 points (all assists). Both his 27 assists and plus-16 led Northern Michigan this season. Furthermore, his 27 points also led the CCHA in scoring among rookie defensemen. From mid-February to mid-March, Gustafsson posted 14 points in a span of nine games.

One of Gustafsson’s most notable performances came on Feb. 22 when he posted three assists to help guide Northern Michigan to a 4-3 win over Nebraska-Omaha. In the first round of the CCHA playoffs versus Ohio State, Gustafsson set a new school record for assists in a series with seven, previous held by current Detroit Red Wing Dallas Drake.

Gustafsson was one of two Wildcats named to the CCHA All-Rookie team. He was also named the recipient of Northern Michigan’s Tom Laidlaw Award as the team’s top defenseman as well as the Steve Bozek plus/minus award.

Talent Analysis: Gustafsson may be an undersized defenseman, but his game and skill level is anything but small. The Swedish-born rearguard is an excellent skating, two-way player. He possesses very fluid strides and is on strong on his skates, yet if you watch Gustafsson skate he looks remarkably light on his feet. He skates with really nice edges, moves exceedingly well laterally and is very good in transition.

Another one of Gustafsson’s best attributes is his positional play. Because of his small size, Gustafsson isn’t going to overpower most opposing forwards, but he does an excellent job of taking away time and space with his combination of speed, hockey sense, positioning and stick work. This is particularly noticeable in his one-on-one play. His defensive zone awareness is very good and while Gustafsson will jump up into the play from time to time, it almost never comes at the expense of his defensive responsibilities.

Gustafsson is also blessed with great hands. While he has good offensive ability, he is a better passer and playmaker than finisher. Though he can score goals and it will be only a matter of time before he does so at the collegiate level. He has great poise and patience with the puck and distributes it intelligently. Gustafsson possesses a powerful shot, works and competes hard. While he’ll likely never be known for his physical play, Gustafsson doesn’t shy away from playing the body.

Aside from his small stature, Gustafsson’s only other significant weakness is his lack of size and strength, which should improve as his body matures.

Northern Michigan University head coach Walt Kyle’s comments on Gustafsson: “Erik really exceeded what we thought he would do this year in his rookie year. He does so many things well. Erik is a little bit undersized in his height, but he’s built like a bull. He’s an exceptional defender and defends the way that defensemen in the NHL today need to defend. He’s very good at separating people from the puck. Erik never gives you anything less than his best. He’s humble and very appreciative of everything that he has. The most important thing to Erik is winning, which is something that you don’t find all the time.”

6. Michael Biega, LW

Freshman, Harvard University
5’11 195 lbs.
DOB: 5/28/89  Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: N/A

The brother of Buffalo Sabres draft pick Alex Biega, Michael Biega led Harvard in rookie scoring with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) playing in all 34 games this season. Twelve of his 16 points came in ECAC conference play. Of Biega’s nine goals, five came on the power play.

Biega’s most memorable game of the season came on Nov. 28 versus Ivy League rival Yale. In that contest, Biega posted not only his first career hat trick, but also his first three collegiate goals as well. The performance earned Biega the first of his two ECAC Rookie of the Week honors on the season. Biega capped the season as the co-recipient of Harvard’s George Percy Award. He shared the award, which goes to the team’s top rookie, with St. Louis Blues draft pick Matt McCollem.

Talent Analysis: Biega is a strong, versatile winger with outstanding scoring ability. He has shown a knack for scoring not only in bunches but at critical times as well. He loves to shoot the puck and will do so as often as the opportunity presents itself. Biega has great poise and patience with the puck. He has great finishing ability and does a great job of getting his shots on net. Biega has demonstrated that he can score from virtually anywhere in any type of situation. He follows plays very well and can often be seen driving to or buzzing around the net. Biega is also willing to take the punishment in front of the net to finish plays as well. He has a very good shot with a quick release and a terrific one-timer.

Though Biega is a natural left wing, he can play all three forward positions competently. One area where he was particularly dangerous for Harvard this season was on the power play. And one reason why Biega was so effective on the Crimson power play this season can be attributed to his acute anticipation.

Biega is fiercely competitive and plays with an edge. He can deliver some bone-jarring hits due to his sheer strength. While he may not big in stature, Biega is remarkably strong and tough to move off of the puck. He plays quite well along the boards and in the corners and rarely gives up on plays.

Biega has some speed, but he lacks a quick first step and acceleration. As this improves, his speed will be more evident and his overall play will be much more effective.

Harvard University head coach Ted Donato’s comments on Biega: “Michael is one of those guys that has it. He has a really good understanding of the game. He’s able to find openings and is able to really come through in key situations. Michael was an offensive weapon for us, and one of our top goal scorers. If Michael can develop his speed to the NHL-level of quality, then he’ll have a chance because he can play. He’s very strong on the puck and I think he’ll continue to improve his explosiveness. And as he does, I think Michael will be a real impact player. He is a guy that I think really has a lot of upside.”

7. Mark Olver, C

Freshman, Northern Michigan University
5’11 160 lbs.
DOB: 1/1/88 Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: 207th among North American skaters
ISS ranking: not ranked

Olver enjoyed an excellent freshman campaign that was capped with a selection to the CCHA All-Rookie team. The Burnaby, BC born player led Northern Michigan in scoring with 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists) in 39 games. His 21 goals and eight power-play goals also led the team. Olver’s 13 goals led all CCHA rookies in conference play, while his six power-play tallies ranked tied for first.

Olver earned the CCHA Rookie of the Week honor on Nov. 26. He also earned the CCHA’s Rookie of the Month honor for February after posting 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in nine games that month. In addition to earning a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie team, Olver also was named the recipient of Northern Michigan’s Don Waddell Award as the team’s top freshman and the Bill Joyce Award as the team’s top forward.

Talent Analysis: Olver’s style will remind many people of his older brother Darin. But what sets Mark apart from Darin is his gritty, junkyard dog-like approach. The younger Olver isn’t afraid to mix things up and he is one player who’ll never back down from a physical confrontation – even those coming from players who tower over him.

Olver is a highly skilled and fiercely competitive centerman who brings an infectious energy and excitement to his game and those around him. He possesses a knack for scoring timely goals in pretty much every type of situation, and can break a game wide open. He also possesses a very good shot with a really quick release. Olver is equally adept at setting up and making the plays as well.

Olver is also an outstanding skater with great acceleration. He is very quick, possesses a good burst of speed and moves really well in traffic. He can often be found driving relentlessly to the net and does a good job of keeping his feet moving.

At 5’10/155, Olver is small but he is also thin. Adding size and strength to his frame will be crucial to his continued success at the collegiate level and beyond. Another area of Olver’s game that should continue to improve as his career moves along is his defensive game. While he understands the basic fundamentals of being defensively responsible, he needs to continue to develop and implement that side to round out and balance his overall game.

Northern Michigan University head coach Walt Kyle’s comments on Olver: “Mark is a really high-skilled kid. He’s a guy who is a gritty, fierce competitor. He’s an aggressive player that tries to create more opportunities through using his body through forechecking and separating guys from pucks. Mark has got a little bit of snap to him too. His work ethic is always there and has a passion for the game. Like Erik (Gustafsson), Mark also cares about winning. They both have brought that and that’s the culture that we want here. Mark is a guy that can also help this team win championships — that’s the kind of player that he is.”

8. Tristin Llewellyn, D

Freshman, University of Michigan
6’1 189 lbs.
DOB: 5/2/89 Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: N/A

On the talent-rich Michigan Wolverines team, Tristin Llewellyn may not have gotten as much attention as many of his teammates, but it wasn’t hard to miss him either. The Ann Arbor native played in 35 games this season, posting five points (all assists). After being rotated through much of the season, Llewellyn saw increased ice time after the dismissal of Kevin Quick (TB) in early February as sophomore Chris Summers’ (PHO) defensive partner.

Talent Analysis: Llewellyn is a strong, mobile defenseman with good size who brings some nastiness to his game. He plays a simple yet effective defensive game and could blossom into a very solid two-way defenseman. Llewellyn thrives in the physical game and is not afraid to mix it up. He can also deliver some crushing hits. At 6’1, Llewellyn has the frame but lacks the muscle and strength that he’ll need to be successful at both the collegiate and pro levels. As he grows into his body, he’ll become a more dangerous and effective force on the blueline.

Llewellyn is a very good skater with nice, powerful strides, but could improve his acceleration. Once he is up to speed he moves quite well. His transition and lateral movement are also very good.

Despite his low numbers, Llewellyn actually has some very good offensive skills. He has really nice hands and has shown great poise and patience with the puck. He distributes it quite well and can make really nice outlet passes too. As his rookie season went along, Llewellyn developed more confidence with the puck, which allowed him to be more offensively involved. He possesses a blistering shot and can get pucks off quickly and to the net. Llewellyn has also shown a willingness to jump into the play as well. He also possesses good on-ice vision, and his ability to make good reads on plays should continue to improve with experience and maturity.

University of Michigan head coach Red Berenson’s comments on Llewellyn: “Tristin is a good, physical defenseman. He’s one of those players that if he plays well, you won’t notice him. His overall game was starting to really come together in the second half of the year. Tristin recognized right away that his skating had to improve to be an effective player at this level. He came to me and asked if he could take some power skating on the side just so that he could continue to work on his skating individually. I endorsed that as long as he didn’t overdo it. But Tristin wanted to do it. That’s the kind of kid he is and he saw it right away.”

9. Dion Knelsen, C

Sophomore, University of Alaska
5’9 180 lbs.
DOB: 1/4/89  Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: N/A

After stellar rookie season in 2006-07, Dion Knelsen picked up right from where he left off as a sophomore this season. The Three Hills, AB native led the Nanooks with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) appearing in all 35 games. Knelsen centered one of the CCHA’s most exciting lines that included rookies Dustin Sather and Landon Novotney. Knelsen was also one of Alaska’s most consistent point producers, posting 10 multi-point games. He capped his sophomore campaign as the recipient of Alaska’s Keith Street Award, which is given to the team’s top scorer.

Talent Analysis: The 2007-08 season saw a stronger, more mature Knelsen and it is those two attributes that have helped make him an indispensable part of the Nanooks team this season.
But perhaps an equally notable aspect about Knelsen this year is the fact that he looks so much more comfortable in his own skin, and that has allowed many of his natural skills to come through more clearly and consistently. Where it has been particularly evident have been in his creativity and allowing the play to come to him rather than trying to force it. As a result, the Nanooks benefited greatly from it both on and off the scoresheet.

Knelsen’s added size and strength has allowed him to be not only stronger on his skates, but also more difficult to move off of the puck without taking away from his speed and quickness. It has also allowed Knelsen to fight through checks more effectively and in protecting the puck better.

While Knelsen showed his superb puck skills last season, this season he has taken it up a notch by utilizing his teammates more effectively regardless of what situation he is playing in. He has shown a willingness to shoot the puck more often and continues to excel in both playmaking and on draws.

One of Knelsen’s greatest attributes is his hockey sense. He is an intelligent player who thinks the game remarkably well. This season, he has utilized that to great advantage by making others around him better. Knelsen also possesses excellent leadership qualities and is a player who leads by example. That, along with his tireless work ethic and team-first attitude have all served him quite well this year and should continue to do so going next year and beyond.

University of Alaska head coach Dallas Ferguson’s comments on Knelsen: “Coming into this year, Dion just realized that he wanted to get better and be the best at everything that he does. That’s the type of kid he is. Dion works extremely hard, leads by example and he’s a guy who does things the right way and the Nanook way. When you have the internal drive and character that he has, you can see it. He’s rounded out his game, playing without the puck. So much of what Dion and his game are is obviously with the puck. But I think he’s made some big strides playing without the puck.”

T10. Tyler Johnson, C

Freshman, Colorado College
5’8 160 lbs.
DOB: 1/4/89 Shoots: Right
Central Scouting final ranking: N/A

Johnson got off to a slow start to his collegiate career at Colorado College, but he enjoyed a strong second half and in the process showed glimpses of just what made him one of Minnesota’s top players at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (CEC) High School in 2006-07. The Cloquet native posted 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 40 appearances for the Tigers this season. He, along with junior linemate Eric Walsky, gave Colorado College more depth in speed, adding to one of college hockey’s best skating teams as

Talent Analysis: Johnson is a small, very quick centerman with a very good skill set. He is an intelligent, competitive, hard-working player who excelled on faceoffs this season. His quickness and low center of gravity allows him to maneuver through traffic remarkably well and make great use of limited spaces on the ice. He possesses outstanding speed and acceleration Johnson is also one of those players who can be elusive and sneak behind opposing defenses. An area of his game that gradually improved as the season went along was Johnson’s ability to keep his feet moving. And it is an area that should continue with further development and maturity.

One attribute that served him very well at CEC that he showed glimpses of this season at Colorado College is his superb playmaking ability. He possesses great hands, and coupled with his excellent vision, instincts and quickness, Johnson can create and exploit open spaces remarkably well. He has no trouble finding and getting pucks to open teammates. Johnson is poised and patient with the puck and is quick to loose pucks as well. He possesses a very good shot and can get it to the net. Johnson also has the ability to make players around him better. This was evident at CEC when he played alongside winger (and top 2008 draft prospect) Justin Jokinen, and it will become more so with Colorado College as his collegiate career progresses. While Johnson has demonstrated that he can finish plays, he could stand to shoot the puck a bit more.

There is also an abundance of untapped potential there. How successful he’ll be will depend on his growth and maturity both as a player and as an individual. The two areas that will need to improve for Johnson are his physical development and the defensive side of the game. Johnson has shown that he understands and can be defensively responsible, but he needs to pay more attention paid to the details, particularly in making quicker and consistently smarter decisions in the defensive zone.

Colorado College assistant coach Norm Bazin’s comments on Johnson: “Tyler just has tremendous instincts. He doesn’t have an overpowering shot, but it’s very accurate. If he plays hard away from the puck and can add 10 to 15 pounds, he’ll be better. I do see that coming, but you can’t rush Mother Nature. Our expectation for Tyler next year is to be a consistent contributor and a solid player away from the puck.”

T10. Dan Nycholat, D

Freshman, Northeastern University
6’3 180 lbs.
DOB: 6/2/89 Shoots: Left
Central Scouting final ranking: N/A

Nycholat may be one of the best up and coming Hockey East defensemen that nobody is talking about. The younger brother of defenseman Lawrence Nycholat in the Ottawa Senators system enjoyed a very good rookie campaign despite battling mononucleosis this season. The Calgary, AB native appeared in 21 games with the Huskies, posting five points (one goal, four assists).

Talent Analysis: Nycholat moves remarkably well for such a tall, lanky man. While he may eventually develop into an offensive defenseman, he is a very good two-way defenseman right now. The challenge of newcomers to acclimate themselves to the faster, more rigorous collegiate game can be tough, but for Nycholat it was made even tougher because of his battle with mono in the first half of the season that resulted in significant weight loss. While Nycholat played the remainder of the season exceedingly well, the lack of muscle and especially physical strength was clearly noticeable. As he grows into his 6’3 frame, many of Nycholat’s size and strength issues should resolve themselves.

One of his Nycholat’s best features is his skating. He’s mobile, can get up and down the rink very well and skates with long, smooth, powerful strides. However, he could use some work on his transitioning. He does a very good of keeping his feet moving and showed noticeable improvement in areas such as his agility by the end of the season.

Another one of Nycholat’s best attributes is his puck skills. He is remarkably poised and patient with the puck and moves quite well with it. He can make some nice tape-to-tape passes and his outlet passes are also very good. He possesses a very heavy shot and can get shots to the net. Nycholat also possesses a very quick wrist shot.

Nycholat takes great advantage of his size and long reach, particularly in one-on-one situations or in transitioning plays. While he’s not an overly physical player, Nycholat doesn’t shy away from playing the body. But his lack of strength has limited his effectiveness in that area this season. He is smart, hard-working and keeps things relatively simple. As his confidence grew this season, so did his game. He is defensively responsible and he has shown that he can make good decisions as well. While Nycholat is very much a work in progress, he has a great upside that will become more apparent with further growth and development.

Northeastern University head coach Greg Cronin’s comments on Nycholat: “What Dan is going to have to improve on is his agility. His footwork got better down low, particularly defending in the corners and I think that really led to a lot of confidence. We’re trying to make him more efficient as a player. When he came back from having mono, I think Dan was really rejuvenated and was determined to correct the mistakes that he had made earlier in the year. I felt by the last three or four weeks of the season he was one of our best defensemen, which is a credit to his growth as a person.”