This year’s NCAA Top Ten features some outstanding freshmen coming off of excellent rookie campaigns. It is comprised of six forwards, three goaltenders and one defenseman. The WCHA leads with five players, followed by the CCHA with three and Hockey East with two.
The University of Minnesota’s Jordan Schroeder leads this year’s group and is expected to go in the first or second round.
Where applicable, the player’s ranking on Central Scouting’s final ranking among North American skaters and goaltenders have also been noted.
1. Jordan Schroeder, C
Freshman, University of Minnesota
CS ranking: 5th
The skillful Schroeder was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year after leading the nation in rookie scoring with 45 points (13 goals, 32 assists) in 35 games. He also co-led Minnesota with a plus-17. Schroeder was a member of Team USA’s 2009 World Junior Championship squad, where he led the team in scoring with 11 points (three goals, eight assists).
2009 prospects: Jordan Schroeder
2. Jordy Murray, LW
Freshman, University of Wisconsin
CS ranking: 175th
The son of St. Louis Blues head coach Andy Murray, Jordy posted 13 points (eight goals, five assists) and was one of only four Badgers to play in all 40 games this season. He was named to the WCHA Final Five All-Tournament team after posting two goals, including the game winner in the Final Five consolation game versus North Dakota.
Murray is a small, exceedingly quick forward who combines superb hockey sense with high energy and ultra-aggressiveness. He sees the ice remarkably well and knows where the play will end up. One notable attribute about Murray is his smart decisions with the puck, both in offensive and defensive situations. He can play in any type of situation and does a good job in supporting plays. While Murray possesses a very good shot, he could stand to shoot more.
Wisconsin assistant coach Kevin Patrick on Murray: “The biggest strength that Jordy has brought to the table this year is his unbelievable work ethic. Everything that he does builds off of that tenacity and work ethic. That allows him to create things offensively by going to the net and doing a lot of the hard things. Jordy is a great compliment on any line that he plays on. He finishes every check and does all of the little things well to be successful.”
3. Justin Florek, LW
Freshman, Northern Michigan University
CS ranking: 81st
Florek got off to a somewhat of slow start to his college career, but had a strong finish to his rookie campaign. He was named the recipient of the team’s Don Waddell Award as the top freshman after leading the Wildcats in rookie scoring with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 40 games. He also finished second on the team with a plus-19.
Florek is a power forward who uses his large frame and long reach quite advantageously especially with the puck. He is particularly dangerous around the net. While he is still growing into his body, Florek is quite strong on his skates and is difficult to move off of the puck. He possesses some nice hands and also has an excellent wrist shot. Being able to bring all of the elements of his game together on a more consistent basis will greatly help his future success.
Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle on Florek: “He is so good at so many things that he is the kind of guy that any coach would want on his team. Justin needs to continue to grow, get experience and learn the game better. I have no doubt that Justin is going to be an exceptional draft pick and will have a great opportunity to play in the NHL.”
4. Joe Cannata, G
Freshman, Merrimack College
CS ranking: 15th among goaltenders
Cannata was named Merrimack’s Defensive Player of the Year after appearing in 23 games and posting a 7-11-4 record that included two shutouts. Despite a sub-.500 record, Cannata posted outstanding numbers in goals against average (2.35) and save percentage (.918), both of which ranked in the top 25 nationally.
Cannata is a goaltender with loads of confidence and is tremendously calm and focused under pressure. He isn’t one to get rattled easily. Cannata possesses good athleticism and is technically very sound. He is intelligent and follows plays quite well. Cannata also possesses very good hand-eye coordination for a goaltender. He does a good job of playing his angles well and staying square to shooters, but could be a bit more aggressive in challenging them.
Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy on Cannata: “What I’ve liked about Joe all along are two things – his disposition and the fact that he competes. Every goaltender gives up goals, but Joe doesn’t get rattled when he does. He didn’t come in here with a big ego. He has worked to be our No. 1 guy and continues to do so. I think what you’re seeing is a natural progression that keeps getting better.”
5. Jared Festler, LW
Freshman, St. Cloud State University
CS ranking: 112th
Festler led the Huskies in freshman scoring with 17 points (seven goals, ten assists) in 27 appearances despite missing 11 games due to a high ankle sprain. He was the co-recipient of the team’s Roland Vandell Award as the top rookie.
Festler is a winger who is blessed with quick hands and quick feet. He possesses a good burst of speed and accelerates very well. One of Festler’s best assets is his hands. He can distribute the puck and get his shots off very quickly. Coupled with his ability to see the ice well and his hockey sense, he can be quite dangerous when the puck is on his stick. While Festler he will play the body when necessary, he could stand to do it more often.
St. Cloud State assistant coach Mike Gibbons on Festler: “Jared has this knack of putting the puck in the net and has that instinct. I definitely think that his size and strength can and will get better. That’s an advantage too because you know that he’s not done developing physically. I think one area Jared could develop further in is in having a little more consistency in his tenacity on the forecheck. That’s got to be a consistent part of his game.”
6. Mike Connolly, W
Freshman, University of Minnesota-Duluth
CS ranking: 206th
Connolly was good in the regular season, but even better in post-season play. He led the Bulldogs in both rookie scoring with 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) and plus/minus (plus-11) in 43 games. He was named to the WCHA All-Rookie team as well as the Final Five and NCAA Tournament West Regional All-Tournament teams.
Connolly is a winger that combines grit and intelligence with superb offensive instincts. He has shown to be particularly dangerous around the net and has a knack for scoring timely goals. He also possesses great on-ice vision and knows where plays will end up. One of Connolly’s best attributes is his puck skills. He has great poise and patience with the puck and is equally as comfortable passing the puck as he is shooting it. Despite his small stature, Connolly is remarkably strong on his skates.
Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on Mike Connolly: “It’s not often that young players come in and have a real major impact, but Mike certainly did. He is just a real smart, gritty, skilled player. He also has a great head for the game. One of the things is Mike wants to do is get quicker. That’s a big area that we’ve talked about. He’s very driven and a pretty humble kid too. And that’s a rarity sometimes in college hockey.”
7. Connor Knapp, G
Freshman, Miami University
CS ranking: 19th among goaltenders
Knapp was half of one of the nation’s best goaltending tandems this season. Though he played in just one post-season game, Knapp was an integral part of the RedHawks success this season. He was named to the CCHA All-Rookie team after posting a 13-5-3 record that included three shutouts in 23 games.
Knapp is a towering goaltender that is remarkably agile. He utilizes his large frame very well and is excellent in his positioning. Knapp’s rebound control, especially on second and third opportunities, is also quite good. He possesses good lateral movement too. Knapp is very focused and poised in playing his position. Though his puck handling has improved over the course of the season, it is an area that he will need to continue to work on to be successful at the next level.
Miami assistant coach Brent Brekke on Knapp: “The one thing that Connor did a great job in was just changing his habits. Connor’s very dedicated in all aspects of his life. He’s a pretty detailed kid, which I think really indicates why he has made such big strides. He’s also taken that extra step in getting himself into peak condition to become a better goalie. Connor is a kid that takes care of the little details like a pro.”
8. Kevin Connauton, D
Freshman, Western Michigan University
CS ranking: 202nd
Connauton earned an honorable mention to the CCHA All-Rookie team after finishing second on the team in defensive scoring with 17 points (seven games, ten assists) in 38 games. He was a regular on the Broncos power play and logged upwards of 20-30 minutes of ice time per game.
Connauton is a smooth-skating offensive-minded defenseman with very good on-ice vision. While not overly physical, he will play the body when necessary. He is a very good skater with good foot speed. Connauton possesses great poise and patience with the puck and can be quite creative with it as well. He can also quarterback the power play too. Adding size and strength to his frame along with improving his one-on-one positioning will go a long way to aiding his future success.
Western Michigan head coach Jim Culhane on Connauton: “Kevin came in and impressed immediately. He came here and was in fantastic physical shape. He had prepared himself diligently and he just continued to make strides all year. I think some of Kevin’s best assets are his offensive instincts and his ability to make plays from the blueline. I think what Kevin has to work on right now is just becoming a complete player.”
9. Kieran Millan, G
Freshman, Boston University
CS ranking: 17th among goaltenders
Millan backstopped the Terriers to one of their most successful seasons in the program’s history that included a national championship. The Hockey East and National Rookie of the Year posted a 29-2-3 record that included three shutouts in 35 appearances. Millan led the nation with a .897 winning percentage and ranked fifth in goals against average (1.94).
Millan is a good puck-handling goaltender that possesses very quick reflexes and economizes his movements quite well. This season, he also proved to be able to step up his game at crucial times as well. Millan is remarkably calm under pressure and is willing to aggressively challenge shooters. Though he has made strides in the crucial area of rebound control, Millan will need to continue improving that part of his game if he is to be successful at the next level.
Boston University associate head coach David Quinn on Millan: “Kieran is a kid that is very mentally strong. He’s fundamentally sound and really gives the team a calming effect with his style of play and with just how calm he is. Kieran is very coachable and likeable. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a goalie that his teammates like more than him. He stepped in and obviously did a great job too. Kieran was a major reason why we had the success that we had this year.”
10. Jack Connolly, C
Freshman, University of Minnesota-Duluth
CS ranking: N/A
Connolly (no relation to teammate Mike Connolly) finished second on the team in rookie scoring with 29 points (ten goals, 19 assists) playing in all 43 games this season. He posted three goals and two assists in the Bulldogs sweep of Minnesota State Mankato back on Jan.22/23 that earned Connolly his lone WCHA Rookie of the Week honor this season.
Connolly is a small, exceedingly quick center who is tenacious on the puck. One area where he excels is along the boards. His quickness and tenacity also make him a very difficult player to contain, and adding some physical strength will enhance those attributes even further. Connolly’s combination of great vision, excellent stick work and puck distribution makes him an outstanding playmaker as well as being defensively responsible. He is also quite good on face-offs.
Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on Connolly: “Jack is more like a water bug. He will use his quick stick to stripping pucks. And he’ll go in at different angles and get the job done. Jack reminds of a lot of Tony Hrkac. Both of them have great skills, hands, and a great head for the game too. When you are able to get a kid like that, certainly a local kid like Jack that are difference-makers or special players, that’s kind of nice.”
Matt Berglund, F – Providence College
Drew Leblanc, F – St. Cloud State University
Sam Lofquist, D – University of Minnesota
Derrick Pallis, D – Princeton University
Chris Wideman, D – Miami University