Brendan Smith, D – Wisconsin
6’2, 190 pounds
Acquired: 1st round, 27th overall, 2007
The University of Wisconsin has treated junior defenseman Brendan Smith very well. He has been surrounded by talent, especially on the blue line. Anaheim’s Jake Gardiner is one of a talented core of blueliners that make Wisconsin one of the hardest teams to score against year in and year out.
Smith has found his way to the top of Wisconsin scoring from the blue line with 31 points off of 10 goals and 21 assists through 25 games this season. His +16 rating is tied for second on a team where many blueliners are sharing similar success.
Not lost in his steady offensive improvement each season are all the skills necessary for any mobile, new-era defenseman to make it in the NHL. What was an asset to Smith even before he was drafted, his skating, vision, and stickhandling, has steadily gotten better over the course of three years as well.
Gustav Nyquist, C – Maine
5’11, 170 pounds
Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall, 2008
Center Gustav Nyquist is going strong. Again he’s at the forefront of Maine’s scoring, but this time doing it at a 1.5 points-per-game clip, with 36 points in 24 games.
He led the team in plus/minus last year, and is doing it again with +11 so far this season. Thanks to his aggressive, puck-shark nature, Nyquist has improved his overall play while at Maine, and the effort he displays on every shift seems to be infectious as his team already has two more wins than they did all of last season.
Max Nicastro, D – Boston University
6’3, 200 pounds
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2008
Nicastro’s introduction to college hockey has been relatively quiet. As a freshman at Boston University, he has not been expected to carry the same weight as the more established blueliners on the team, but he has been relatively effective despite his -3 rating.
His eight assists and two goals in 23 games are enough to put the freshman fourth among team defensemen in scoring. Even though he has a fair amount of offensive upside, he focuses his game in his own end by keeping the puck safe and making good decisions on the breakout. Most importantly, Nicastro is a smart hockey player who knows how to work angles and make passing lanes disappear. Four years at BU will only improve his decision-making.
Julien Cayer, C – Clarkson
6’3, 193 pounds
Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2008
Clarkson University is struggling to win hockey games once again this year. In 26 games so far this season, they have only managed five wins. While the blame cannot be put entirely on now sophomore center Julien Cayer, his lack of production has contributed to a weak offensive output for the team.
In 29 games last year, Cayer scored four goals and six assists. In 22 games so far this season, only a handful fewer, he has managed a poor showing of two goals and three assists for five points. As a physical forward, Cayer leaves more than a little to be desired in offensive abilities.
Bryan Rufenach, D – Clarkson
6’0, 187 pounds
Acquired: 7th round, 208th overall, 2007
Unlike Cayer, who joined Clarkson’s team in 2008-09, Rufenach has been progressing steadily at the university. Now a junior, he is on pace to pass his totals from last year. In 25 games, he has scored five goals and added 11 assists in 26 games, which amounts to only two fewer points than he had in the entire 2008-09 season.
Though he is counted on by the team to help produce offense from the blueline on the power play and during fast-break situations, he has been known to have holes in the defensive side of his game. Even so, during his freshman season Rufenach managed a +3. Through his sophomore and junior years he has collectively earned a -26 though, including a -12 so far this season, which not only shows Clarkson’s drop in play since his arrival but also their reliance on Rufenach as one of their key defensemen. He will have to work on his defensive game to help Clarkson succeed in the future.
Nick Oslund, RW – St. Cloud State
6’3, 210 pounds
Acquired: 7th round, 206th overall, 2006
Though Oslund has very good skating skills and, when mixed with his size and aggressiveness, it tends to be effective, he still lacks a lot of the skills necessary to be an offensive talent. However, at St. Cloud State, his offense is working forward at a slow and steady pace. Though his four goals and four assists in 28 games may appear more like pulling teeth for Oslund, they are certainly an improvement to the four goals and single assist he had in 10 more games his freshman season.
Now a junior, he has started to fill out his frame a bit, which could cause a problem for players on the wrong side of one of his checks. The Red Wings organization considers him a long-term project, and he will get the chance to grow a little more.