2015-16 NCHC Preview: North Dakota leads a strong conference

By DJ Powers
Danton Heinen - University of Denver

Photo: University of Denver forward and Boston Bruins prospect Danton Heinen was a scoring star in his freshman season, posting 16 goals and 45 points in 40 games in 2014-15 (courtesy of Corey Silvia/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

In 2015-16, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) features 45 NHL prospects representing all member schools, with each team having at least two prospects on their respective rosters. North Dakota leads with 12 prospects, followed by Nebraska-Omaha with nine.

The school atop the NCHC standings at the end of the regular season was the University of North Dakota, but the winner of the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Tournament was Miami University. Two schools, North Dakota and the University of Nebraska-Omaha, advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four with both schools losing their semifinal contests.

The NCHC currently has four schools placed among the top 10 of the NCAA Hockey rankings, with North Dakota sitting in the top position.

Below is a 2015-16 season preview of the eight schools the make up the NCHC.

Miami University
NHL prospects: 5

The reigning NCHC Tournament champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Providence College in a rematch of last season’s NCAA Tournament East Regional semi-final.

The RedHawks are coming off a stellar season that saw them capture their first NCHC Tournament title, which secured a return to the NCAA Tournament.

The most pressing issue heading into the season is replacing the scoring that left with three of their top four scorers – Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber and Blake Coleman – who accounted for an astounding 35 percent of the team’s total points last season.

Among the veterans that will be relied on to pick up the slack is senior captain Sean Kuraly (BOS). The Dublin, OH native returns as the RedHawks top goal scorer after posting 19 goals and finishing with 29 points playing in all 40 games last season. One area where Kuraly was especially dangerous last season was on special teams; of his 19 goals, eight came on special teams – seven on the power play and one shorthanded.

Another player that Miami will certainly get offensive production out of is highly touted freshman Jack Roslovic (WPG). The Columbus, OH native heads the RedHawks’ excellent seven-member incoming class. Roslovic is noted for his superb hands and ability to play in any situation effectively.

Depth on Miami’s roster this season isn’t just up front, but is on their blueline, as well. Among those anchoring the RedHawks defense is sophomore Louie Belpedio (MIN). The Skokie, IL native is coming off a stellar freshman campaign where he posted 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 40 games en route to being named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

The senior tandem of Jay Williams and Ryan McKay return in goal for the RedHawks this season. As in the previous two seasons, the duo platooned last season. And if history is any indication, it is likely to be the same again this season. Williams enjoyed a terrific junior campaign, posting a 19-8-0 record that included five shutouts in 28 appearances. McKay turned in a very good performance in 16 games, posting a 6-6-1 record.

Colorado College
NHL prospects: 2

 

The Tigers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus UMass.

To say that Colorado College struggled mightily last season might be an understatement. The Tigers finished in the NCHC basement and ranked near the bottom nationally in nearly every category.

Among the players that Colorado College lost were two to early departures. The most significant loss was that of top defenseman Jaccob Slavin, who opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Erie, CO native capped a stellar sophomore campaign, leading all Tigers defensemen with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 34 games en route to being named to the All-NCHC First Team.

One returning veteran that could help fill part of the void left by Slavin is sophomore Teemu Kivihalme (NSH). The Savage, MN native finished second behind Slavin with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 35 games last season. He was especially good on the Tigers power play, where two of his five goals were scored.

The other prospect that the Tigers lost in the offseason was goaltender Chase Perry (DET). The Andover, MN native left the team to return to juniors and is expected to transfer. Colorado College’s lone returning netminder is starting junior Tyler Marble. The Detroit, MI native played in 27 games, posting a 5-18-2 record that included one shutout. While Marble is expected to start again this season, he will get some competition from incoming freshman Jacob Nehama. The Allen, TX native is part of Colorado College’s large 15-member incoming class. Nehama impressed at this summer’s Dallas Stars‘ prospect camp, and that experience should benefit him this season.

Increased offense is an area where the Tigers will look to improve this season. Among the returning veterans that will be relied on for more point production is senior Hunter Fejes (ARI). The Anchorage, AK native rebounded nicely last season from his shortened sophomore campaign two seasons ago. He tied for second on the team with 19 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 35 games.

University of Denver
NHL prospects: 5

 

The Pioneers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Air Force.

Denver is coming of its seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance and is poised once again to be among the teams competing for the National Championship.

Last season, the Pioneers featured one of the nation’s most electrifying top lines that included sophomore sensation Danton Heinen (BOS). The Langley, BC native is coming off a phenomenal freshman campaign where he led Denver with 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) playing in all 40 games en route to capturing the NCHC Rookie of the Year honor. Heinen made his presence felt immediately last season and could potentially be even better this season.

The most notable loss that Denver suffered in the offseason was that of NCHC Player of the Year and All-American Joey LaLeggia (EDM). The Burnaby, BC native led all Pioneers defensemen with 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 37 games and was a mainstay on the team’s power play.

Among those defenders that Denver will be looking to help pick up the slack is junior Will Butcher (COL). The Sun Prairie, WI native finished his outstanding sophomore campaign with 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 38 games. Last season, Butcher improved in several defensive areas, including better gap control along with the ability to slow down opposing forwards.

One of the Pioneers strengths heading into the 2015-16 season is goaltending as junior Evan Cowley (FLA) and sophomore Tanner Jaillet both return this season. Jaillet was impressive last season, appearing in 27 games and posting a 15-8-0 record that included one shutout. Cowley was almost equally as impressive, racking up a 9-6-2 record that included three shutouts and two assists in 20 appearances.

In addition to the returning veterans, Denver welcomes seven newcomers this season. Heading the group is center Troy Terry (ANA). The Denver, CO native is noted for his speed and excellent two-way play, which could provide Terry with considerable time on the Pioneers penalty-killing unit.

University of Minnesota-Duluth
NHL prospects: 4

 

The Bulldogs opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Bemidji State.

Last season, Minnesota-Duluth came within one game of reaching the Frozen Four, so this season could see the school take the next step.

One of the keys to Minnesota-Duluth’s success last season can be attributed to the terrific play of sophomore netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo. The Vantaa, Finland native was one of the most pleasant surprises coming out of the NCHC. Kaskisuo posted an 18-14-3 record that included one shutout in 36 games. His stellar play also earned him a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team. Not surprisingly, Kaskisuo’s performance also caught the eye of NHL teams, including the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals, whose prospect camps he attended this summer.

Adding to the Bulldogs’ strength in goal is their equally strong defense. Anchoring Minnesota-Duluth’s defensive corps this season is senior captain Andy Welinski (ANA). For the third consecutive season, the Duluth, MN native led all Bulldogs defensemen in scoring. He finished with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) playing in all 40 games en route to earning a spot on the NCHC All-Second Team.

The dynamic Toronto Maple Leafs prospect duo of senior assistant captain Tony Cameranesi and junior Dominic Toninato return after leading the Bulldogs in scoring last season. Cameranesi finished with 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 40 games while Toninato finished second with 26 points (16 goals, ten assists) in 34 games. Cameranesi is one of Minnesota-Duluth’s most consistent players and has become a clutch scorer, as well. One notable area where Toninato improved last season was on face-offs, where he won 45 percent of his draws, a number could improve this season.

In addition to the returning veterans, Minnesota-Duluth welcomes five newcomers this season. One player to keep an eye on is center Adam Johnson. The Hibbing, MN native is noted for his speed and tremendous scoring prowess. This summer, Johnson attended the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ prospect camp.

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