Gaudreau, Barber lead NHL prospects playing the wing in NCAA

By DJ Powers

Riley Barber - Miami University

Photo: Miami University forward and Washington Capitals prospect Riley Barber was among the top wingers playing in the NCAA during the 2013-14 season (courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

The NCAA featured a number of excellent wingers this season that were key cogs for their respective teams. Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at the top 10 NCAA wingers that are currently property of an NHL team. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of April 3rd.

1. Johnny Gaudreau, LW
Junior, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: Fourth Round (104th overall) by the Calgary Flames in 2011

Known as “Johnny Hockey”, Johnny Gaudreau has certainly lived up to his nickname this season. As the NCAA’s most consistent point producer and currently leading (or co-leading) the nation in nearly every category, Gaudreau has earned his place at the top of this year’s list.

Despite being eliminated from the Hockey East Tournament, Boston College earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament and has reached the Frozen Four, providing Gaudreau the opportunity to reach the 80-point plateau before season’s end. The Carney Points, NJ native has amassed an astounding 77 points (35 goals, 42 assists) in 39 games to date. On March 15th versus Notre Dame, Gaudreau tied Paul Kariya’s Hockey East record of consecutive games with a point (31). Not surprisingly, Gaudreau was recently named the Hockey East Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. More recently, he was named a Hobey Hat Trick finalist for this year’s Hobey Baker Award and is the favorite to win it.

One notable area of Gaudreau’s development this season is how well he has utilized his strengthened 5’8”, 159-pound frame. His stronger legs allow him to fend off defenders and protect the puck more effectively without coming at the expense of his blazing speed and quickness. His much-improved defensive game, particularly on the penalty kill, has made him a more well-rounded player, as well.

The Calgary Flames offered Gaudreau a contract at the end of last season and are expected to do so again after this season. Over the years, Boston College has produced a string of smaller forwards finding success in the NHL with Gaudreau being the latest that could continue that trend.

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

Riley Barber has been one of the constants on a Miami team that struggled for much of the season. He is one of only two players on the RedHawks roster that played in all 38 games this season.

The Pittsburgh, PA native finished the season co-leading Miami with 19 goals and finished second with 44 points. Barber has been especially lethal on the RedHawks special teams this season. Of his 19 goals, 10 came on special teams – six on the power play and four shorthanded. His four shorthanded tallies currently co-lead the nation. Earlier in the season, Barber captained Team USA’s World Junior Championship team where he led the Americans with four goals. Most recently, Barber was named to the All-NCHC Second Team.

Barber is a player that makes things happen whenever he’s on the ice, regardless if it is offensively or defensively. Barber has taken his all-around play up to another level this season due to his maturity. His 6’0”, 198-pound frame is noticeably stronger and he uses it to his advantage, whether it is in protecting the puck or on the forecheck. He skates with more powerful strides while still maintaining his excellent speed. One of Barber’s best assets, his pro-style shot, has more velocity to it.

While he could’ve signed with the Washington Capitals, Barber recently announced that he was returning to Miami this coming fall for his junior season.

3. Josh Archibald, RW
Junior, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
Drafted: Sixth Round (174th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011

After an excellent sophomore campaign last season, Josh Archibald took his game to new heights this season. The Mavericks saw their season come to an end in the NCHC quarterfinals versus Denver, but Archibald continues to collect the accolades.

The Brainerd, MN native finished the season leading Nebraska-Omaha with 43 points (29 goals, 14 assists) in 37 games. His 29 goals currently rank second nationally. His six game winners are tied for most among all NHL prospects. During the month of February, Archibald set three new school records for most goals in a season (28), most hat tricks in a season (2) and career hat tricks (3). He was also named the National Player of the Month. More recently, Archibald was named the NCHC’s Forward of the Year and a top 10 finalist for this year’s Hobey Baker Award.

One of the biggest contributing factors to Archibald’s sensational season has been his smarter all-around play. Although he continued to rack up the penalty minutes (62), Archibald was able to establish a nice balance between his gritty style and playing with discipline. Furthermore, he’s been smarter in where he moves the puck and picking his spots more carefully when shooting.

Archibald recently signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. If what he has shown this season at Nebraska-Omaha is any indication, it may be only a matter of time before Archibald makes his NHL debut.

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

Last season, Kevin Roy shouldered much of the Huskies offensive load. This season, he wasn't relied on as much thanks in large part to an excellent freshman class. This didn't diminish his offensive production, nor did it stifle his development. In fact, it was quite the contrary.

The Lac-Beauport, QC native started the season with a bang, posting 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in the opening month that included his second career hat trick. His performance also earned him the National Player of the Month honor for October. Roy finished the season leading Northeastern with 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 37 games. More recently, Roy was named to the All-Hockey East Second Team.

While Roy continues to be one of the Huskies top goal-scorers, he’s become more of a playmaker this season and that contributed greatly to Northeastern’s success. His combination of superb hands and puck skills allow him to create more scoring opportunities for his teammates. Another area where Roy has developed nicely has been on the defensive side. He is more aggressive on the forecheck and has shown that he can be an effective shot-blocker, as well.

While the Anaheim Ducks are excited about how Roy has developed at Northeastern and what he’ll bring to the organization in the future, it is unclear whether they will offer him a contract this off-season.

5. Michael Mersch, RW
Senior, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted: Fourth round (110th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings in 2011

Over the course of his collegiate career, Michael Mersch spent quite a bit of it in front of the net. It could be said that he’s the poster child for scoring the “garbage goals”. While Mersch’s specialty continues to be goal scoring, he’s developed into far more than that for the Badgers.

It should come as no surprise that Mersch finished the season leading Wisconsin with 22 goals, which also includes his team-best 10 power play goals. Overall, he posted 35 points in 37 games. The Park Ridge, IL native co-led the Big Ten with 12 goals in conference play during the regular season, which earned him a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team.

A notable area of Mersch’s growth this season is his leadership. Although he doesn’t wear a letter on his jersey, Mersch leads more by example with a tireless work ethic both in practice and in games. Since first arriving in Madison nearly four years ago, Mersch has vastly improved his skating, but he has also improved his footwork. He possesses a noticeably quicker first step, which allows him to get up the ice faster.

Mersch signed with the Los Angeles Kings on April 1st.

6. Mario Lucia, LW
Sophomore, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Drafted: Second round (60th overall) by the Minnesota Wild in 2011

Mario Lucia arrived at Notre Dame in the fall of 2011 and went on to have an outstanding freshman year. As good as he was then, Lucia has been even better as a sophomore this season.

The Plymouth, MN native finished the season ranked second on the Fighting Irish roster with 16 goals and fourth on the team with 31 points in 40 games. Lucia has been especially good on Notre Dame’s power play this season. Of his 16 goals, seven came with the man advantage, which also led the team.

At 6’3” and 202 pounds, Lucia possesses a pro-style body. He’s added some strength to that frame, which has allowed him to be more effective in his play along the walls and at protecting the puck. But where Lucia has made the greatest strides has been in his positioning, both with and without the puck. Along with his superb skating, Lucia is able to drive to the net more aggressively as well as separate players from the puck on the defensive side. He’s also become more of a net-front presence. His noticeably improving defensive game has allowed him to become a more complete player and a bigger threat whenever he’s on the ice.

With the forward depth that the Minnesota Wild currently has at the pro level, Lucia will likely return to Notre Dame this fall to continue his development. The Wild have certainly been very impressed by what Lucia has shown so far, but they’re even more excited about what he will bring to the organization down the road.

7. Jordan Samuels-Thomas, RW
Junior, Quinnipiac University (ECAC)
Drafted: Seventh Round (203rd overall) by the Winnipeg Jets in 2009

Few players in the NCAA this season have had a more profound impact on their team’s performance without their presence in the lineup than Jordan Samuels-Thomas has. Samuels-Thomas missed six games in the month of February due to injury. As a result, Quinnipiac struggled to win games during that stretch.

The West Hartford, CT native finished the season fifth on the Bobcats roster with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) playing in 34 games. His +15 was tied for third on the team. Most recently, Samuels-Thomas was named a semi-finalist for the Walter Brown Award, which recognizes the top American-born player playing at a New England-based D-I college/university.

Samuels-Thomas is among the strongest players in the NCAA this season. His sheer physical strength and 6’4”, 190-pound frame makes him one of the most difficult players to move off the puck. He utilizes these assets remarkably well in tight areas and on the forecheck. One area where Samuels-Thomas has been particularly effective this season is playing the body. He plays with added grit, which has allowed him to fight through checks more easily and create more space. Samuels-Thomas also has developed a knack for scoring timely goals, as evidenced by his four game-winning tallies so far.

The Winnipeg Jets are very excited about how well Samuels-Thomas has developed and what he will bring to the organization future. They could potentially offer him a contract at season’s end.

8. Brian Ferlin, RW
Junior, Cornell University (ECAC)
Drafted: Fourth round (121st overall) by the Boston Bruins in 2011

As a junior this season, Brian Ferlin continued to build on his successful sophomore campaign of last year. The Big Red recently saw its 2013-14 campaign come to an end in the ECAC Tournament semi-finals.

The Jacksonville, FL native finished the season leading Cornell with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 32 games. Ferlin, a clutch scorer for the Big Red, also led the team with six power play goals and six game-winners. Ferlin helped guide Cornell to the team’s second Ivy League title in three years, earning a spot on the All-Ivy League First Team. His outstanding season performance also earned him a selection to the All-ECAC Third Team.

At 6’2” and 201 pounds, Ferlin possesses size and strength and has utilized those assets more effectively this season. It was particularly evident in his drives to the net and his improved play along the boards. While Ferlin isn’t an overly physical player, he has shown a willingness to play the body more often and is more aggressive on the forecheck. One notable area where Ferlin has made great progress is his added foot speed. He’s developed a quicker first step, which has also enhanced his transition game.

The Boston Bruins have been very pleased with Ferlin’s development at Cornell, but whether they offer him a contract this off-season remains to be seen.

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

Harvard was one of the youngest teams in the NCAA this season. The Crimson, whose season ended in early March at the hands of 2013 NCAA national champion Yale, also struggled mightily to score goals. One player that Harvard leaned on heavily for offense was Jimmy Vesey, and he answered the call.

The North Reading, MA native led the Crimson in scoring this season, finishing with 22 points (13 goals, nine assists) in 31 games. While Vesey’s 13 goals may not rank amongst the top nationally, they accounted for nearly a quarter of Harvard’s goals this season. In February, he was named a finalist for the Walter Brown Award and, more recently, Vesey was named to the All-Ivy League Second Team.

Vesey is blessed with a terrific skill set and this season began to put all of those tools together. He possesses a noticeably stronger 6’1” and 195-pound frame, which allows him to fight through checks and maintain puck possession more effectively. Another notable area where Vesey has improved is in keeping his feet moving. Vesey has developed a knack for scoring timely goals, as evidenced by his team-leading five game-winners and team co-leading four power play tallies.

The Nashville Predators are really excited about what Vesey can bring to the team down the road but it is not certain that they will offer him a contract this off-season.

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

When the Buffalo Sabres acquired Hudson Fasching from the Los Angeles Kings, they received one of the top freshmen playing in the NCAA this season. Fasching’s excellent performance with Team USA at the 2014 World Junior Championship was exceeded only by what he has done with the Golden Gophers.

The Burnsville, MN native currently ranks second on Minnesota’s roster in rookie scoring with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 38 games to date. Fasching’s 29 points also tied him for second among all NHL-drafted freshmen. He ranks fourth on the Golden Gophers roster with a +18 rating. At the World Junior Championship in Sweden, Fasching posted four points (two goals, two assists) for Team USA. More recently, Fasching was named to the Big Ten All-Rookie Team.

Part of what has made Fasching so good this season is how he utilizes his remarkably strong 6’2”, 207-pound frame. He seems to always be where the play is and isn’t afraid to battle in the tough areas. Fasching can often be found driving hard to the net and making things happen. His size and strength, along with his superb skating ability, makes him difficult to not only contain but also move off of the puck. And because Fasching will get stronger as he continues to develop, the task of defending him will become even more daunting.

The Buffalo Sabres aren’t likely to sign Fasching at the end of the season, but they have to be ecstatic about what he will bring to the organization in the future.

Other Notables

Kenny Agostino, LW (CGY) – Senior, Yale University (ECAC)
Jonny Brodzinski, RW (LAK) – Sophomore, St. Cloud State University (NCHC)
Alex Guptill, LW (DAL) – Junior, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Kellen Jones, RW (EDM) – Senior, Quinnipiac University (ECAC)
Bryan Rust, RW (PIT) – Senior, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)