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

By DJ Powers

Jake Guentzel - University of Nebraska-Omaha

Photo: University of Nebraska-Omaha forward and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jake Guentzel played an important part in his school’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)


University of Nebraska-Omaha
NHL prospects: 9

The Mavericks opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Minnesota State-Mankato.

Nebraska-Omaha is coming off a historical season that saw them make their first-ever Frozen Four appearance.

The Mavericks return nearly all of their top players. The key player that won’t be returning is netminder Ryan Massa, who has graduated. The Littleton, CO native capped his magnificent senior campaign by posting a 14-8-6 record that included two shutouts in 29 appearances and a berth on the All-NCHC Second Team.

Vying for the starting job this season and with it the daunting task of filling the role that Massa leaves will be junior Kirk Thompson and freshman Evan Weninger. Thompson played remarkably well in his limited time as Massa’s backup last season, posting a 5-5-0 record that included one shutout in 12 appearances. Weninger is noted for his cat-like reflexes and grace under pressure. A 1996-born player, he is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Mavericks will be looking to their excellent defensive corps to stabilize things on the back end. Anchoring Nebraska-Omaha’s defense is senior co-captain Brian Cooper (ANA). The Anchorage, AK native finished last season with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 39 games. Where Cooper made his mark was on the power play as four of his five goals came with the man advantage. Cooper also led the team with a +14 rating.

One area where Nebraska-Omaha is shaping up to be even better this season is in their forward ranks. Heading the group up front is junior co-captain Jake Guentzel (PIT). The Woodbury, MN native led the Mavericks with 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 36 games. Although Guentzel played both center and wing, he flourished at center in the latter part of last season, and that is likely where he will start this season.

In addition to the aforementioned Weninger, Nebraska-Omaha also welcomes nine other newcomers that include left wing Fredrik Olofsson (CHI). The Boras, Sweden native is the brother of former Colorado College standout Gustav Olofsson (MIN). The younger Olofsson has good size (6’2”, 198 lbs.) and is noted for his outstanding two-way game and ability to control plays.

University of North Dakota
NHL prospects: 12

The reigning NCHC regular season champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Lake Superior State in the Icebreaker Tournament held in Portland, ME.

A new era of sorts dawns on North Dakota this season. Longtime assistant coach Brad Berry takes over the bench boss duties for the team, succeeding Dave Hakstol, who has become the new head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The most pressing issue facing North Dakota heading into the season is goaltending. Mike Richter Award recipient Zane McIntyre opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Boston Bruins, leaving some big shoes to fill.

One of the goaltenders that will be vying to fill McIntyre’s role is highly-touted freshman Matej Tomek (PHI), but his status to begin the season is questionable due to an undisclosed injury that could keep him out until November. The Bratislava, Slovakia native is a 6’2”, 179-pound butterfly-style netminder noted for his superb reflexes and agility.

Tomek is one of 11 freshmen on North Dakota’s roster this season, a frosh group that is among the best in the NCAA. One player that all eyes will be on is phenom Brock Boeser (VAN). The Burnsville, MN native is noted for his exceptional skating and tremendous scoring ability, assets that will help North Dakota replenish the points that left with their departed top scorers.

Among the veterans joining Boeser up front this season is a pair of Chicago Blackhawks prospects in sophomore Nick Schmaltz and junior Luke Johnson. Schmaltz is coming off a stellar freshman campaign where he posted 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 38 games en route to earning a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team. Johnson returns after an impressive sophomore campaign where he posted 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) playing in all 42 games.

Despite the loss of top defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (STL), North Dakota’s prospect-laden defensive corps will be very deep. Among those patrolling the blueline this season is junior alternate captain Paul LaDue (LAK). The Grand Forks, ND native returns as North Dakota’s top scoring defenseman after posting 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 41 games last season.

St. Cloud State University
NHL prospects: 3

The Huskies opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Alaska in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.

St. Cloud State returns much of last season’s squad, but one crucial loss they suffered this offseason was the early departure of top goal scorer and All-NCHC First Team selection Jonny Brodzinski. The Blaine, MN native opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Los Angeles Kings. Brodzinski finished his career leading the Huskies with 21 goals and totaling 38 points in 40 games.

One of the players that St. Cloud State will lean on to help pick up the slack is dynamic incoming freshman Robby Jackson. He is one of nine newcomers to the team this season. The Alameda, CA native is blessed with terrific hands and simply knows what to do with the puck when it is on his stick. Jackson, a 1997-born center, is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft. He attended the San Jose Sharks‘ prospect camp this summer.

St. Cloud State’s defense is shaping up to be quite good albeit predominantly young this season. Among those patrolling the blueline in 2015-16 are towering junior Ben Storm (COL) and incoming freshman Will Borgen (BUF). Storm finished his rock-solid sophomore campaign with five points (two goals, three assists) in 33 games last season. The Laurium, MI native made some great strides in his development last season, with one notable area of improvement being better utilization of his enormous 6’7” and 230-pound frame to more effectively shutdown opposing forwards.

While Borgen doesn’t possess quite as large frame as Storm, he does have some size (6’2”, 195 lbs.). The Moorhead, MN native is one of two Buffalo Sabres prospects (the other is sophomore forward Judd Peterson) on St. Cloud State’s roster this season. Borgen is noted for his excellent skating and athleticism.

Goaltending will be one of, if not the greatest strength for the Huskies this season. St. Cloud State returns both their top goaltenders including junior Charlie Lindgren. The Lakeville, MN native is coming off an excellent sophomore campaign where he posted a 19-18-1 record that included two shutouts in 38 appearances. This summer, Lindgren attended the prospect camp of the Minnesota Wild.

Western Michigan University
NHL prospects: 5

The Broncos opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Ferris State.

No NCAA team racked up more penalty minutes last season than Western Michigan. They along with Alabama-Huntsville led the nation with a whopping 602 penalty minutes. In the Broncos’ case, it was what contributed to their demise last season.

One of the biggest issues facing Western Michigan this season is filling the role left by departed defenseman Kenney Morrison, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Calgary Flames. The Lloydminster, AB native posted 15 points (five goals, ten assists) in 37 games last season.

Among the returning defensemen that will be asked to fill at least part of Morrison’s role is junior Chris Dienes. The Traverse City, MI native led all Broncos rearguards last season with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) playing in all 37 games. This summer, Dienes attended the Calgary Flames’ prospect camp.

Another top player that Western Michigan lost in the offseason was Colton Hargrove, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Boston Bruins. The Rockwall, TX native capped his stellar junior campaign co-leading the Broncos with 14 goals and finishing with 28 points in 34 games. He also led Western Michigan with a +12 rating.

Two players who could potentially help fill the role that Hargrove leaves behind are rugged junior Mike McKee (DET) and rookie Matt Iacopelli (CHI). McKee is coming off a very good sophomore campaign where he finished with three points (one goal, two assists) in 34 games and ranked second on the team with 80 penalty minutes. Iacopelli, one of seven freshmen on the Broncos roster this season, is a 6’3”, 206-pound right wing noted for his great hands and strong play around the net.

One position that is shaping up to be one of Western Michigan’s strengths this season is goaltending. Senior starter Lukas Hafner returns after an outstanding sophomore campaign where he posted an 11-12-5 record that included one shutout in 31 appearances. Hafner will get some serious competition for the starting job from junior and Ohio State transfer Collin Olson (CAR), however.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF


Pages: 1 2