While the Hurricanes have used the majority of their draft picks in recent years on CHL players, the times the team has selected current NCAA or college-bound players has proven fruitful.
The most impressive Carolina NCAA prospect is Wisconsin junior defenseman Jamie McBain. McBain has become one of college hockey’s best blueliners. His 28 points — on five goals and 23 assists in 26 games — are tied for 16th in the NCAA and are tops among all defensemen in the country. He’s already surpassed his career high of 24 points set last season with the Badgers and has been a guiding force on a Wisconsin team that’s battling for the top spot in the WCHA.
After leading the Badgers defense in scoring the past two years, McBain was named an alternate captain prior to this season and his breakthrough 2008-09 has the Wisconsin athletic department touting McBain as a Hobey Baker Award candidate. It wouldn’t be out of the question to expect McBain to jump right to the NHL after his college career is over — perhaps as early as next season if he passes up his senior year.
Some were surprised when the Hurricanes passed over Jared Staal (NYR) — the youngest brother of Canes star Eric — in the second round of last year’s draft, instead choosing BCHL centerman Zac Dalpe. But if Dalpe’s first season with Ohio State is any indication of what’s to come, many will look back on his selection as a brilliant pick.
Although he is currently out of the OSU lineup and considered week-to-week with a leg injury, Dalpe has scored 12 goals through 24 games for the Buckeyes, ranking among the top 20 goal scorers in all of Division I and second to only Canisuis’ Dave Kostuch among freshmen. Not only has Dalpe produced on the score sheet, but he has been singled out by Ohio State coach John Markell as a vocal leader and a key part of the Buckeyes’ turnaround, which included a 13-game winning streak that was recently snapped when Dalpe went out of the lineup with his injury. Dalpe had been moved to wing, and was playing on the top line with John Albert (ATL) and Kyle Reid before the injury.
After finishing 11th in the CCHA last year, the Buckeyes are in a three-way tie for third in the conference with 24 points in 18 games and 16-7-3 overall on the season.
While McBain and Dalpe’s individual accomplishments have helped move Wisconsin and Ohio State back to the top of their conferences, Notre Dame’s Kyle Lawson and the Fighting Irish are the nation’s No. 1 team and hoping to win the NCAA championship that they fell one win shy of last season.
Lawson, a seventh-round pick in 2005, has evolved into a reliable and steadying presence on the Irish back end who plays more than 20 minutes a night on the country’s top team. While the junior’s point pace is slightly slower than last season, Lawson still has two goals and 10 assists through 25 games, third among Notre Dame defensemen and 10th on the team.
Though smaller than the prototypical NHL defenseman, Lawson has already proven he can overcome the questions about his size at the NCAA level and looks like he good be a late-round steal for Carolina.
Kunes and the Eagles topped Lawson and the Irish in the NCAA title game last season, but this year has been a tougher road for Boston College. The defending champions are just 11-8-4 and 7-7-4 in Hockey East. Kunes is again filling a spot among BC’s top six defensemen, playing 21 games and registering a goal and three assists.
Kunes is in his senior year and will be looking for a contract at the end of the season.
Like Lawson and Kunes, Krueger is a working piece of a team that has found success. In the 18 games this season, he has a goal and three assists for No. 4 Cornell. Krueger, a junior, has been a reliable defenseman for the Big Red (14-3-3 and first in the ECAC), taking on a bigger role with injuries to fellow defensemen Brendon Nash and Taylor Davenport thinning the Cornell blueline.
Krueger is a rangy stay-at-home defenseman who continues to fill into his big frame and use his inherited hockey sense — his father is the Swiss national coach and former top German league player. He missed some time due to injury but has returned to the Big Red lineup for the stretch run of the season. Like Dalpe, Krueger first played for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL before beginning his college career.