Harvard’s Vesey tops among NHL-drafted forwards competing in the NCAA

By DJ Powers

Jimmy Vesey - Harvard University

Photo: Harvard University forward and Nashville Predators prospect Jimmy Vesey is currently ranked third overall in NCAA scoring with 55 points in 35 games (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

The 2014-15 NCAA hockey season has featured a number of excellent forward prospects, especially among the underclassmen.

This year’s ranking of NHL-drafted forwards competing in D1 hockey features 11 players (two are tied for 10th) representing nine NCAA programs and nine NHL teams. Among the NCAA teams, Miami and Michigan each have two players in the top 10, while the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks are tops among NHL teams with each club having two prospects on this year’s list.

The ranking is based on overall developmental progress, season performance and pro potential. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as Mar. 21st.

1. Jimmy Vesey, LW
Junior, Harvard University (ECAC)
Drafted: Third round (66th overall) in 2012 by the Nashville Predators

Harvard junior Jimmy Vesey has been one of the NCAA’s most consistent point producers this season. He has also provided vital stability up front for a Crimson team ravaged by injuries. Vesey’s consistency, developmental progress and pro outlook put him at the top of this year’s list.

The North Reading, MA native currently leads Harvard with 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 35 games to date. His 29 goals and 55 points lead all NHL-drafted players. What makes Vesey’s point total even more impressive is the fact that he has been held pointless in just two games so far. He began the season posting points in every game for the Crimson en route to earning the ECAC’s Player of the Month honor in November. More recently, Vesey was named the Ivy League Player of the Year. His 12 points (five goals, seven assists) tied him for second among all Ivy League scorers.

During his nearly three years at Harvard, Vesey has grown into a complete collegiate player. At 6’3” and 203 pounds, he sports a pro-style frame. While not overly physical, he will play the body when necessary. One notable area where Vesey has developed quite nicely is his time management with the puck. This is evident in his crisp and timely passes. Vesey is blessed with excellent speed and hockey sense. He utilizes those assets exceedingly well in creating and finishing plays as well as opening up space for his teammates.

2. Dylan Larkin, C
Freshman, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted: First round (15th overall) in 2014 by the Detroit Red Wings

After a bit of slow start to his collegiate career, Michigan freshman Dylan Larkin quickly found his groove with the Wolverines. He took his game to a whole new level with Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship and simply built on that since returning to Ann Arbor. His strong season did not go unnoticed, as Larkin was recently named the Big Ten Rookie of the Year while also garnering a berth on the All-Big Ten First Team.

The Waterford, MI native leads Michigan in freshman scoring with 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in 36 games to date. His 32 assists ranks second nationally among all NHL-drafted freshman, while his 47 points is second behind only BU freshman, Jack Eichel. Larkin’s season really took off with his sensational performance for the United States at the World Junior Championship, where he led the Americans with seven points (five goals, two assists) en route to being named the team’s MVP.

One area that has made Larkin so good this season is his ability to make the players around him better. While this was evident at World Junior Championship, it has been especially noticeable at Michigan. Larkin centers the Wolverines prolific top line that also features senior Zach Hyman (FLA) and junior Justin Selman, both of whom have benefited greatly from his superb playmaking skills. Larkin’s combination of speed, hockey sense and puck skills makes him dangerous, not only offensively, but defensively as well. As he get gets stronger, Larkin will become an even bigger threat.

3. Riley Barber, RW
Junior, Miami University (NCHC)
Drafted: Sixth round (167th overall) in 2012 by the Washington Capitals

At the end of last season, Riley Barber had the opportunity to sign with the Washington Capitals, but instead opted to return to Miami for his junior season. The move could prove to be a better gain for the Capitals, who’ll likely attempt to sign the Pittsburgh, PA native again at the end of this season.

Barber leads the RedHawks with 20 goals and ranks second on the team with 38 points in 37 games to date. Where Barber has really made his mark this season has been on Miami’s special teams – of his 20 goals, eight have come on special teams, six on the power play and two shorthanded. Barber earned his lone NCHC Player of the Week honor back on November 9th after posting four points (two goals, two assists) in Miami’s weekend sweep of Colorado College on Nov. 7th and 8th.

One of Barber’s greatest assets is his shot. He possesses a pro style shot that is one of, if not the best in college hockey. What has made Barber’s shot particularly notable this season is the fact that he is shooting with greater accuracy on a more consistent basis. Barber’s accuracy isn’t limited to his shots, either, as he now passes with greater precision, as well. Barber’s excellent combination of skating, vision, puck skills and hockey sense makes him a threat all over the ice. Simply put, Barber knows what to do with the puck when it’s on his stick regardless of the situation.

4. Nick Schmaltz, C
Freshman, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted: First round (20th overall) in 2014 by the Chicago Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz was one of the most highly regarded incoming freshmen this season, and he has not disappointed. The Verona, WI native got off to a strong start in his collegiate career and, like the aforementioned Larkin, took his game to a new level following the World Junior Championship.

Schmaltz currently leads North Dakota in rookie scoring with 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 34 games to date. Schmaltz missed time earlier in the season due to an arm injury he suffered versus Wisconsin back on Nov. 8th. More recently, he was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team. Schmaltz turned in a solid performance with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, finishing with an assist and a +2 rating.

Schmaltz is blossoming into one of the NCAA’s best two-way forwards. One reason is his continually improving defensive side as he plays a sound and strong defensive game. One of Schmaltz’s greatest assets is his stick – he utilizes it quite effectively in all three zones, whether in creating plays or taking away time and space. Furthermore, his stick work is outstanding in tight areas. Schmaltz is an excellent playmaker blessed with terrific hands; he makes remarkably crisp passes and finds open seams exceedingly well. While Schmaltz is noted more for his playmaking ability, he also does a good job of finishing plays.

5. Kevin Roy, LW
Junior, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Drafted: Fourth round (97th overall) in 2012 by the Anaheim Ducks

Few NCAA teams have relied more on one skater than Northeastern has with junior Kevin Roy this season. The Lac-Beauport, QC native is one of the most electrifying players in college hockey, and it’s not hard to see why.

Roy finishes the season leading the Huskies for the third consecutive year with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 36 games. In addition, he also led Northeastern in plus/minus (+12). Where Roy proved to be especially dangerous this season was on the Huskies power play, with 12 of his 19 goals coming with the man advantage. His 44 points currently is tied for 10th nationally. Roy was recently named the National Player of the Month after posting an astounding 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in February.

Roy is all about speed. His explosive speed and acceleration is one that few collegiate players can match. Roy uses that game-breaking speed advantageously in creating and finishing plays. Furthermore, he can make and finish plays as well as get shots off without breaking stride. One area where Roy excelled this season was in scoring goals from difficult areas and angles. While he has established himself as one of college hockey’s elite offensive players, Roy has also made great strides on the defensive side as evidenced by his vastly improved ability to strip pucks and in his willingness to battle along the boards.

6. Hudson Fasching, RW
Sophomore, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Drafted: Fourth round (118th overall) in 2013 by the Los Angeles Kings. Rights traded to the Buffalo Sabres on March 5th, 2014

One of the most improved prospects in college hockey this season is Minnesota sophomore Hudson Fasching, with much of his developmental progress having occurred away from the stat sheet.

The Burnsville, MN native has played in 36 games so far, posting 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists). He currently ranks second on the Golden Gophers roster with a +18 rating. Fasching had an excellent performance at the recent World Junior Championship, where he and linemate Dylan Larkin gave the United States a great one-two offensive punch. Fasching finished the tournament with three points (one goal, two assists) and co-led Team USA with a +7 rating.

The most notable aspect of Fasching’s game this season is how effectively he’s utilized his strengthened 6’2” and 207-pound frame. This has been evident in his ability to gain separation as well as open up space at both ends of the ice. He is also tougher around the net and along the boards, and does an excellent job of maintaining puck possession. Furthermore, Fasching’s added strength allows him to excel in the grind game, with some of his goals this season having come from tip-ins or off rebounds due to his stronger net-front presence. One area where Fasching has made significant strides has been on the defensive side, as he has blossomed into an effective shot-blocker and penalty killer and is more aggressive on the forecheck.

7. Sean Kuraly, C
Junior, Miami University (NCHC)
Drafted: Fifth round (133rd overall) in 2011 by the San Jose Sharks

Another of the most improved NHL prospects in college hockey this season is Miami junior Sean Kuraly. The Dublin, OH native made significant strides in a number of areas, helping to vault him into this year’s top 10.

Kuraly is currently second on the RedHawks with 18 goals and ranks fifth on the team with 27 points in 38 games to date. He has developed into a clutch scorer, as well, with Kuraly’s nine game-winners leading all NHL-drafted players while ranking him second nationally. Of his 18 goals, eight have come on special teams – seven on the power play and one shorthanded. His seven power play tallies also lead Miami.

At 6’2” and 209 pounds, Kuraly possesses a sturdy, pro-style body and has learned to utilize it quite well over the course of his collegiate career. One notable area where he uses it advantageously this season is in front of the net. His combination of tremendous strength and ultra-aggressive style makes him difficult to move and can also wreak havoc with opposing goaltenders. While Kuraly thrives in the physical aspects of the game, he’s learned to balance that with smarter, more disciplined play. One of Kuraly’s greatest assets is his shot – he possesses a blistering shot that has simply gotten better each season. As good as Kuraly has been offensively this season, he’s been equally good defensively; he is strong on the forecheck and is relentless in his puck battles.

8. Alex Tuch, RW
Freshman, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: First round (18th overall) in 2014 by the Minnesota Wild

Alex Tuch is one of Boston College’s talented trio of freshmen that played significant roles for the team this season. There is a lot to like about Tuch’s game and what he can do as he continues his development.

The Baldwinsville, NY native currently leads Boston College with 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 36 games to date. He’s developed a knack for scoring timely goals, as evidenced by his three power play tallies and two game-winners. Tuch earned his lone Hockey East Rookie of the Week honor of the season on Feb. 19th after posting three points (two goals, one assist) in helping the Eagles gain a weekend series split versus Vermont. Tuch had a strong performance with Team USA at the recent World Junior Championship, posting a goal and an assist while playing on a line centered by Boston University freshman phenom, Jack Eichel.

At 6’4” and 220 pounds, Tuch certainly possesses a pro-style body. But what is remarkable here is that he no t only possesses tremendous speed for such a big player, but he also has the ability to make plays at high speeds. One area where Tuch has been especially dangerous this season is below the dots as he possesses terrific finishing ability and is excellent around the net. One of Tuch’s great attributes is his shot – he possesses a cannon-like shot, and can use that shot to get pucks to the net with greater frequency. As Tuch continues to mature, all of these areas will become more pronounced.

9. Danton Heinen, RW
Freshman, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted: Fourth round (116th overall) in 2014 by the Boston Bruins

Few knew of Danton Heinen when he was selected in the fourth round by the Boston Bruins in last year’s NHL Draft. Now as a freshman at the University of Denver, he has become one of the most promising NHL prospects currently playing college hockey.

The Langley, BC native has made quite a splash this season as one of the Pioneers most consistent players. He was the unanimous selection as the NCHC Rookie of the Year while earning a berth on both the NCHC All-Rookie Team and All-Conference Second Team. Heinen currently leads Denver with 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 37 games to date. His 45 points lead all NHL-drafted freshmen, while his 28 assists rank second among drafted frosh. Heinen has developed a knack for scoring timely goals and has been particularly lethal on the Pioneers power play. His four game-winners lead the team while his five power play tallies is tied for first on the Denver roster.

Heinen is blessed with marvelous hands and simply knows what to do with the puck when it is on his stick. He is instinctive and can both finish and setup plays, and can cycle the puck remarkably well. Part of what has made Heinen so good is his ability to find open seams. One of Heinen’s best assets is his feet, as he possesses very quick feet and his skating is excellent.

T10. J.T. Compher, C/RW
Sophomore, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted: Second round (35th overall) in 2013 by the Buffalo Sabres

It’s been an interesting sophomore campaign for J.T. Compher. He had a modest start to the season, but really began turning it on in the last month. Like fellow Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching, much of Compher’s developmental progress has taken place away from the stat sheet.

The Northbrook, IL native has played in 33 games to date, posting 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists). Compher posted his first career hat trick on Feb. 27th versus Wisconsin and earned the Big Ten’s Second Star of the Week. He followed that up with his second hat trick on Mar. 7th versus Penn State. Compher also had a very solid outing with Team USA at the recent World Junior Championship, centering a line that also featured Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects Anthony Louis (Miami) and John Hayden (Yale).

Compher possesses excellent leadership qualities, currently serving as one of Michigan’s alternate captains. He’s a player that leads by example through his hard work, competitiveness and never-say-die attitude. One of Compher’s greatest attributes is his speed, which he utilizes quite effectively whether he is in leading the offensive rush or getting to loose pucks. Compher’s noticeably stronger 5’11”, 193-pound frame allows him to control plays better and to be more aggressive on the forecheck. His stronger body has also added more velocity to his shots. Compher has also greatly improved his defensive side, most notably as a penalty killer.

T10. Vince Hinostroza, C
Sophomore, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Drafted: Sixth round (169th overall) in 2012 by the Chicago Blackhawks

Notre Dame saw several top point producers depart from the team at the end of last season, including top center and offensive catalyst T.J. Tynan (CBJ). This season, sophomore Vince Hinostroza has filled that role and has been nothing short of stellar in doing so.

The Bartlett, IL native currently leads the Fighting Irish with 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 42 games to date. His 33 assists ranks second among all NHL-drafted players while his 42 games played is tied for first nationally. Hinostroza can also score timely goals, having amassed four power play tallies and three game-winners so far. One of the more interesting notes about Hinostroza this season is the fact that he spent time earlier in the year playing at right wing.

Hinostroza has developed into one of the NCAA’s elite playmakers. He possesses superb hands and can make some of the prettiest passes in all of college hockey. In addition, he can finish plays exceedingly well. One notable improvement in Hinostroza’s puck-moving ability this season is to his decision-making, as he is moving the puck more quickly and more intelligently while he makes more accurate passes. What Hinostroza lacks in size (5’9”, 180 lbs.), he makes up for with his blazing speed and excellent transition game. He can get up to speed quickly and has demonstrated that he can also make plays at top speed without breaking stride.

Notable NCAA forwards outside the top 10

Jonny Brodzinski (LAK), RW, Junior, St. Cloud State University (NCHC)

Zach Hyman (FLA), RW, Senior, University of Michigan (Big Ten)

Mario Lucia (MIN), LW, Junior, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)

Devin Shore (DAL), C, Junior, University of Maine (Hockey East)

Dominic Toninato (TOR), C, Sophomore, University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF