In the 2015-16 season, there are 65 NHL-drafted defensemen playing in the NCAA. The 10 defensemen ranked here represent nine NHL teams, with the Boston Bruins having two prospects ranked, the most of any NHL team. The rankings are based on overall developmental progress, season performance, and NHL potential. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Mar. 21st.
1. Ian McCoshen, Junior, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: Second round (31st overall) in 2013 by the Florida Panthers
Ian McCoshen tops this year’s ranking of NCAA defensemen. He is the complete package and might be the most NHL-ready of all defensive prospects playing in the NCAA this season. He possesses very sound fundamentals and has continually improved and/or strengthened his overall skill set.
The Faribault, MN native has played in 38 games to date, posting points (six goals, 14 assists). He has already eclipsed his 16 points of last season. Furthermore, he currently ranks second nationally and leads all drafted NCAA defensemen with a +29 rating. As one of the assistant captains, McCoshen’s leadership has been invaluable in stabilizing the very young Eagles this season, and no one has benefited more from McCoshen than his defensive partner, freshman Casey Fitzgerald. Most recently, McCoshen was named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star.
McCoshen showed glimpses of his offensive potential last season and has taken that to the next level this season, which is evident in his points total. While he has shown a greater willingness to jump into plays, it doesn’t come at the expense of his defensive responsibilities.
McCoshen moves exceedingly well for a big man, combining strong strides with good agility. But what is notable here is the added foot speed that he possesses this season. This is evident in his improved lateral movement and ability to keep up with opposing forwards, as well as his improved ability to transition from defense to offense.
2. Zach Werenski, Sophomore, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted: First round (8th overall) in 2015 by the Columbus Blue Jackets
After a stellar freshman campaign in 2014-15, Zach Werenski has built on that base this season. The Grosse Pointe, MI native currently leads all Big Ten defensemen with 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 36 games to date. He has been especially good on the power play, where half of his points have been scored. Most recently, Werenski was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team.
At the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, Werenski was absolutely dominant. He was named the tournament’s top defenseman, leading Team USA to a bronze medal. He led the World Junior Championship with a +10 rating and co-led all defensemen with nine points (two goals, seven assists).
While Werenski continues to be one of the nation’s best offensive defensemen, he has vastly improved his defensive game. Where this is particularly evident is in how he uses his superb feet to not only create space for his teammates but also in taking it away from opposing forwards. Furthermore, he does this remarkably quickly. Another area where Werenski’s game has matured is in his play with the puck. He is making accurate, pinpoint passes more consistently and getting shots off quicker. While Werenski isn’t overly physical, he is using his strengthened 6’2”, 214-pound frame more effectively in closing gaps and delivering solid checks.
3. Steve Santini, Junior, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: Second round (42nd overall) in 2013 by the New Jersey Devils
After an injury-shortened sophomore campaign, Steve Santini has bounced back quite nicely this season. In the process, he has made some significant strides in his development in several areas. The Mahopac, NY native has posted 19 points (one goal, 18 assists) in 38 games to date. Like McCoshen, Santini also serves as one of Boston College’s assistant captains and provides stability on the blueline. Most recently, Santini was named the Hockey East Defensive Defenseman of the Year.
Santini is well known for physicality, and the one area where he has made tremendous strides is utilizing that aspect more intelligently. This is evident in how he uses his ultra-aggressive style in effectively separating opposing players from the puck. Furthermore, Santini has improved his ability to deliver the bone-jarring hits without taking himself out of plays.
Two of Santini’s best assets are his skating and quick feet. He’s an excellent skater with good speed. His stops and starts have improved, allowing him to transition more quickly. Furthermore, he plays exceedingly well along the boards and in the corners.
While Santini isn’t noted for his offensive prowess, he has shown that he can create opportunities. He has continued to fine-tune his puck moving skills, which are already quite good.
4. Andy Welinski, Senior, University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
Drafted: Third round (83rd overall) in 2011 by the Anaheim Ducks
This past summer, Andy Welinski had the opportunity to sign with Anaheim but opted to return to Minnesota-Duluth, a decision that has paid big dividends for the Bulldogs this season.
Welinski currently leads Minnesota-Duluth in scoring by a defenseman with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 38 games. The Duluth, MN native is also on pace to best his career-high 21 points set last season. Most recently, Welinski was named to the NCHC All-Conference Second Team.
Over the course of his collegiate career, Welinski has developed into one of the nation’s best and most complete defensemen. He combines outstanding offensive skills and superb shutdown ability. Furthermore, his willingness to jump up into plays rarely comes at the expense of his defensive responsibilities. He also plays exceedingly well in all three zones.
One notable area where Welinski has really improved is in his physical game. He continues to deliver bone-jarring hits but now does so without taking himself out of plays. Furthermore, he utilizes his rugged 6’2”, 205-pound frame more effectively in slowing down opposing forwards while limiting their time and space.
Another area of improvement for Welinski is his foot speed as he has added that element to his fluid skating which has enhanced not only his transition game, but also his ability to get to loose pucks more efficiently.
5. Rob O’Gara, Senior, Yale University (ECAC)
Drafted: Fifth round (151st overall) in 2011 by the Boston Bruins
Rob O’Gara continues to be one of the best and most imposing defensemen in the nation, and he is perhaps the best coming out of the ECAC this season. The Nesconset, NY native currently leads the Bulldogs in scoring by a defenseman with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 29 games. He also ranks second on the team with a +7 rating. Most recently, O’Gara was named to the All-ECAC First Team and was one of three players to be unanimously selected.
Although O’Gara’s point production is down from last season, he continues to be a key offensive contributor for Yale. He is a mainstay on the Bulldogs power play, demonstrating smarter and quicker puck-moving ability as well as crisper passing. He also utilizes his rugged 6’4”, 215-pound frame remarkably well in maintaining puck possession.
Defensively, O’Gara uses his enormous body as well as his long reach very effectively both in shutting down opposing players as well as separating them from pucks. While O’Gara continues to be a physical force on Yale’s blueline, he is also playing with more discipline.
Another notable area where O’Gara has improved this season is in simplifying his game, which has paid great dividends for Yale this season. He is playing more to his strengths and doesn’t overextend himself beyond his capabilities.