Tyler Eckford, D
Junior, University of Alaska
Eckford has been one of the nation’s most consistent defensemen this season, particularly where offense is concerned. One of the more remarkable aspects of Eckford’s production is that he has never gone more than one game without tallying a point this season.
He currently leads the nation in scoring among defensemen with six goals and 20 assists and co-leads in points per game among defensemen. In addition, he leads Alaska in several categories including points with 26, assists with 20 and penalty minutes with 47. His 20 assists are also a new career high. Where Eckford has been particularly dangerous this season has been on the power play. Of his 26 points, 11 have come on the man-advantage, including four goals. While not known for his defensive prowess, in the Nanooks most recent game, Eckford was an impressive +4 in a 4-1 win over Bowling Green.
As evidenced by his numbers thus far, Eckford is having a great third season at UAF for the Nanooks. Eckford is a great skater and does not hesitate to join the rush where he can show of his puck distribution skills. His size (6’3, 215 lbs) allows him to be assertive in his own end as well. While it wouldn’t hurt Eckford to return for his senior season next year, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Devils try to sign Eckford at season’s end.
Mark Fayne, D
Sophomore, Providence College
One of the keys to Providence College’s successful season has been their increased offensive production, specifically from their defensive corps. All of the Friars regulars on the blueline have chipped at least one goal this season, including sophomore Mark Fayne. The Bourne, MA native has posted one goal and four assists, while playing in all 26 games to date. His most memorable game to date came on Dec. 4 versus Brown in the Mayor’s Cup. In that contest, Fayne posted his lone goal of the season and added an assist.
What Fayne has lacked in offensive production this season, he has made up for in his vastly improved defensive zone coverage and transition game. Nowhere is that more evident than in his reads and reaction to developing plays. He is utilizing his size, strength and toughness more advantageously. His noticeably stronger frame has allowed him to contain opposing players more effectively and has added power to his strides without slowing him down.
Fayne’s focus this season has to this point mostly been on his play in his own end, but that’s not to say he doesn’t possess the tools to produce offensively. He is also one of the Devils more well-rounded defensive prospects, and standing at 6’3, 220 lbs, is quite an intimidating presence in his own end. Fayne is only going to continue to get better with more experience.
Jeff Frazee, G
Junior, University of Minnesota
One problem that has plagued the Minnesota Golden Gophers this season is a problem that has plagued Frazee – consistency. In Frazee’s case, focus has also been a concern. The result was freshman Alex Kangas winning the starting job. While Frazee’s 6-7-0 record is not bad, his 2.93 GAA and .890 save percentage aren’t exactly glowing statistics. The lowest point for him came back on Jan. 12 versus St. Cloud State. In that contest, Frazee let in a soft goal by former Gopher Brent Borgen. But what eventually led to his demise in the game, was the shot taken by Huskies defenseman Matt Stephenson just as the period was about to end that Frazee made a lackadaisical effort to stop. It went through his legs and into the net. Had it not been for an off-sides call, the goal would’ve counted. Since then, Frazee has not played.
After making huge strides last season, and with the No. 1 job his for the taking at the University of Minnesota going into this season, Frazee has had a sub-par season to say the least. While there is no doubting his talent level, Frazee’s mental lapses and inconsistent play are preventing him from realizing his full potential. While Martin Brodeur is not showing any signs of slowing down, he’s not getting any younger and the Devils have to start thinking about the future in net. Frazee hasn’t given them reason to think that he can be the guy.
Mike Hoeffel, LW
Freshman, University of Minnesota
It took awhile for Hoeffel to get things going this season, but when he did, Minnesota reaped the benefits. The North Oaks, MN native currently leads the Golden Gophers in rookie scoring with 12 points (six goals, six assists) playing in all 32 games. One area where Hoeffel has been very good has been on special teams. Of his six goals, two have come shorthanded and one has come on the power play.
Hoeffel’s most memorable game to date came back on Dec. 8 at North Dakota, where he notched a pair of goals to help lead Minnesota to a 4-3 win over their WCHA rivals. The performance also earned Hoeffel his lone WCHA Rookie of the Week honor.
Hoeffel has gradually shown various aspects of his game that had scouts raving prior to having been drafted, such as his wonderful skating and physical play. But like nearly all of his Minnesota teammates his overall play has been streaky this season. Hoeffel possesses the size and skill set necessary to be successful at the collegiate level and beyond, however, he needs to be able to put it all together consistently.
A torn ACL late last season caused Hoeffel to slip to the Devils in the second round on the draft, and so far, they are reaping the benefits. While by no means a spectacular prospect, Hoeffel has the potential to develop into a top-notch checker, quite possibly in the mold of current Devils defensive-minded winger Jay Pandolfo. He’s still a few years away from reaching his full potential, but in this his freshman season, he’s on the right track.
T.J. Miller, D
Sophomore, Northern Michigan University
While his numbers may not exactly reflect it, Miller is enjoying a strong season with the Northern Michigan Wildcats. The sophomore rearguard currently serves as one of the team’s co-captains. Miller has one goal and five assists in 28 games this season. His lone tally to date came in the regular season-opening Superior Cup tournament at Michigan Tech back on Oct.12. One of the two games that he missed earlier this season came as a result of a game disqualification for fighting that he received against Michigan Tech on Dec.14.
Miller has been a rock on the predominantly young Northern Michigan blueline. Where he has been particularly strong has been in his defensive zone coverage. He has noticeably improved his positioning and one-on-one play. Evidence of both can be seen in his combination of effectively utilizing his large frame, strength, toughness and his +1 rating. Perhaps the most significant areas where he’s continued to progress nicely have been in his confidence level and the strong leadership that’s he’s provided for his team.
At 6’4, 200 lbs and still growing, Miller is rounding into a solid all-around defenseman, and this being only his second full season of collegiate hockey, the Devils have to be excited that best is likely still yet to come. For a player of his size, Miller has great mobility and skating skills, and while the numbers may not be there this season, he has the puck skills and shot to contribute offensively. Miller’s development is right on track with where the Devils hoped it would be, and in fact he may even be a bit ahead of schedule in that regard.
Nathan Perkovich, RW
Sophomore, Lake Superior State University
The 2007-08 season has been a struggle for Lake Superior State thus far, and one area where the Lakers struggling mightily is on offense. LSSU ranks last in the CCHA in both total goals (63) and goals per game (2.25). The player providing most of the offensive punch for the Lakers right now is Perkovich. The Canton, MI native is second on the team in scoring with 17 points, including 13 goals and is on pace to better his 22 points from last season.
To fully understand just how much Perkovich is carrying his team’s offense this season, one need only to look at his goals scored. His 13 goals account for just over 20 percent of the Lakers tallies to date. Where Perkovich has done most of his damage has been on the power play. Eight of his 13 goals have come on the man-advantage this season.
While Perkovich still needs to get stronger and work on his all-around play, most notably in his own end, much like his freshman year at Lake Superior State, Perkovich has shown the ability to put the puck in the net. Standing at 6’5, and just over 200lbs, Perkovich skates well and is highly effective in and around the net. The Devils system is currently lacking in goal scorers, so if Perkovich continues to score and develop as he has been thus far, he stands a good shot to make in impact in the future.
DJ Powers contributed to this article.