This year’s class of collegians eligible for this year’s NHL Draft isn’t as strong as in recent drafts. Nevertheless, the NCAA does have some players who could hear their names called when the draft gets underway on June 30th at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at the top ten eligible collegians and what makes them potential selections at this year’s draft. The list is comprised of three defensemen and seven forwards.
1. Brett Pesce, D
Freshman, University of New Hampshire
Ht./Wt: 6’3”/175 lbs. Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: 40th among North American skaters
It’s rare to see a freshman defenseman logging a lot of minutes for the Wildcats, but that’s been the case with Brett Pesce (pronounced Pesh-ee) this season. The Tarrytown, NY native is widely considered by many in the scouting community to be the best current collegian eligible for the upcoming NHL Draft, and it’s not hard to see why. Pesce appeared in 38 games, posting six points (one goal, five assists). The lone game he missed, due to injury, was on Jan. 26th versus Merrimack. Pesce is a top six defenseman for New Hampshire, playing much of the season as junior Eric Knodel’s defensive partner. One of his most memorable games to date came back on Dec. 1st versus UMass-Lowell. In that game, Pesce posted his first (and so far only) collegiate goal. Most recently, Pesce was named to Team USA’s Evaluation Camp roster for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Sweden.
Pesce is an offensive-minded defenseman with size that thinks the game exceedingly well. He is an excellent skater with speed, agility, great feet and skates equally well both north-south and east-west. Pesce has excellent puck-moving ability and offensive skills, but what separates him from many freshmen defensemen is the fact that he rarely makes bad decisions with the puck. Another standout characteristic about Pesce’s puck handling is the great patience he has shown under pressure. Pesce has a very good shot and can get the puck to the net. He also possesses great on-ice vision and reads plays well. Pesce has seen time on New Hampshire’s power-play this season and could quarterback it as his collegiate career moves forward.
One notable area that has progressed quite nicely over the course of the season is Pesce’s play in the defensive zone. He possesses a very good stick and does a great job of taking away lanes. He is also very good in one-on-one situations. Pesce uses his large frame exceedingly well at both ends of the ice, whether in battling for loose pucks or shadowing the opposition. And while it has been a struggle for Pesce to effectively shutdown opposing forwards on a regular basis this season, it’s an area that should improve as he physically matures.
2. Andrew Copp, C
Freshman, University of Michigan
Ht./Wt: 6’1”/203 lbs. Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: 142nd among North American skaters
Andrew Copp got off to a slow start in his rookie campaign at Michigan, which included missing the season-opening series versus RIT due to injury. But in the second half, Copp’s draft stock rose significantly as he began to successfully put together the many facets of his game. The Ann Arbor, MI native appeared in 38 games, posting 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists). His +4 and two shorthanded goals both finished tied for second on the Wolverines' roster. Although Copp spent much of the season playing on left wing, he finished the year playing center. One of Copp’s most memorable games came back on Mar. 9th versus Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA Tournament. In that game, he scored Michigan’s first goal off of a penalty shot in nearly a decade. More recently, Copp was named to Team USA’s Evaluation Camp roster for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Sweden.
Copp is a sturdy 6’1” forward that can play center and left wing equally well. Two attributes that have caught the attention of scouts are his tremendous leg strength and athleticism. This is particularly evident in his play in tight areas and on the cycle. He is an excellent skater, combining power and good speed in his strides. His leg strength also makes him difficult to move off the puck. Copp is competitive, works hard, and never gives up on plays. Although he’s not overly physical, he can deliver solid checks. Copp possesses really nice hands and his passing skills are excellent. He is very good around the net and is willing to pay a price to make or finish plays.
Two areas where Copp made great strides in the second half of the season were in reading plays and on the defensive side. He’s smart, possesses excellent vision and knows where plays will end up. He is defensively responsible and has blossomed into an effective penalty killer for the Wolverines. In addition to his skill set, Copp also possesses superb leadership qualities. This fall, he will serve as one of Michigan’s alternate captains.
3. Quentin Shore, C
Freshman, University of Denver
Ht./Wt: 6’1”/185 lbs. Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: N/A
Quentin Shore is the youngest of the Shore brothers that have donned the Pioneers jersey. The Denver, CO native finished his strong rookie campaign with 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) playing in 39 games this season. One of Shore’s most memorable games came on Jan. 4th versus Cornell. In that contest, Shore netted a pair of goals, including the game-winner, en route to earning the first of his two WCHA Rookie of the Week honors on the season. Most recently, Shore was named to Team USA’s Evaluation Camp roster for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Sweden.
Quentin Shore’s style of play is similar to that of older brothers Drew and Nick. However, Quentin might be the best skater of the three. He skates with smooth, powerful strides, but could stand to develop more foot speed. Like his older brothers, Shore has size, superb playmaking ability, a strong work ethic and is excellent on face-offs. He possesses terrific puck skills and is equally adept at both setting up and finishing plays. Shore has great net presence and is willing to pay a price in front of the net. He uses his body effectively in establishing position and that attribute will become more evident as he adds strength to his 6’1” frame.
One characteristic that scouts have been impressed with is Shore’s defensive side. As good as he is offensively, he is just as good defensively. Shore plays remarkably well in all three zones and is effective both on the power-play and on the penalty kill. He’s a smart player that sees the ice really well. Although Shore’s read on developing situations is very good, he will need to be quicker in reacting to them. That should come with development and maturity.
4. Jonny Brodzinski, RW
Freshman, St. Cloud State University
Ht./Wt: 6’1”/200 lbs. Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: 132nd among North American skaters
Jonny Brodzinski is coming off of a stellar rookie campaign that saw him lead the nation in plus/minus (+28) and rookie goal scoring (22). His 22 goals also ranked tied for fifth overall nationally. The Ham Lake, MN native finished the season with 33 points (22 goals, 11 assists) in 42 games and helped guide the Huskies to their first-ever Frozen Four appearance. Brodzinski was one of the nation’s most consistent point producing freshmen this season. He never went more than two consecutive games without a point in the second half and was held pointless in two or more games only four times all season. Brodzinski was named the WCHA Rookie of the Week twice.
Brodzinski is a pure goal scorer with excellent finishing ability and seems to always be around the puck. He possesses great hands and vision. He has a very good shot with a quick release and can be dangerous below the dots. Brodzinski is creative and has demonstrated that he can score from just about anywhere. His reads are quite good and he does an outstanding job of staying with the play. Brodzinski can often be found around the net and is willing to pay a price to make or finish plays. He is aggressive on the puck and in puck pursuits. Brodzinski uses his 6’1” size quite effectively in battles for loose pucks, and that attribute will become more pronounced as he continues to get stronger. He is an excellent skater with good speed but could stand to develop a quicker first step.
One notable area where Brodzinski made great strides in the latter half of the season was in his stick work, particularly on the defensive side. He has become more effective in stripping pucks and has continually improved in taking away time and space from opponents.
5. Mark Yanis, D
Freshman, Penn State University
Ht./Wt: 6’3”/207 lbs. Shoots: right
CSS final ranking: N/A
Mark Yanis is a player that could potentially be a “hidden gem” in this year’s draft. While he doesn’t appear in Central Scouting’s final rankings and despite his limited number of games played, NHL teams have kept a close eye on the young rearguard all season long. The Grosse Pointe Woods, MI native has appeared in 15 games this season, posting nine points (four goals, five assists). His four goals were tied for the most among Penn State defensemen. Yanis got off to a strong start with the Nittany Lions before an ankle injury on Nov. 3rd sidelined him for 12 games. He returned to the lineup on Jan. 11th and simply picked up from where he left off. One of Yanis’ most memorable games came back on Oct. 27th versus Sacred Heart. In that game, he posted a goal and an assist to help guide the Nittany Lions to a 6-3 victory.
Yanis is a defenseman with size (6’3”/207 lbs.) that possesses excellent offensive ability and plays with grit and a competitive edge. What has scouts excited about Yanis is what he can do, particularly from a physicality standpoint, once he fills out his large frame. During his USHL days with Muskegon, Yanis established himself as a physical presence on the blueline and he has shown glimpses of that with Penn State this season.
Yanis possesses outstanding puck skills. He moves really well with the puck and makes great outlet passes. He uses his size and long reach advantageously at both ends of the ice. Yanis is a very good skater and is quite mobile, although he does need to develop a quicker step and improve his agility. There have been no noticeable residual effects of his injury since returning to the Nittany Lions lineup. Yanis can often be found jumping into plays. He sees the ice well and has the ability to quarterback power-plays, too. One of Yanis’ best assets is his shot. He possesses a heavy shot that is likely to become more powerful as he adds strength to his large frame.
6. Ryan Lomberg, C/LW
Freshman, University of Maine
Ht./Wt: 5’10”/180 lbs. Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: 177th among North American skaters
Ryan Lomberg was one of the youngest players in the NCAA this season. After a slow start to begin the season, due in part to recovering from off-season surgery, Lomberg began showing glimpses of his vast potential in the second half. The Richmond Hill, ON native led the Black Bears in freshman goal scoring (7) and finished with 14 points playing in 32 games. Four of his seven goals came on the power-play, which were tied for the most on the Maine roster. Lomberg played nearly the entire season alongside senior Joey Diamond (NYI) and fellow freshman Devin Shore (DAL) on the Black Bears’ dynamic top line. One of Lomberg’s most memorable games came on Dec. 28th versus Minnesota-Duluth in the Florida College Classic tournament. In that game, he netted his first collegiate goal (shorthanded) that also held up as the lone tally in the contest.
Lomberg is a small, shifty forward who is really fun to watch. He plays the game with a good deal of energy and at times seems to be everywhere. He is a superb skater with excellent speed and does a good job of keeping his feet moving. He is also very good in transition. While Lomberg has established himself as an outstanding finisher, he can set up plays equally well. He possesses really nice hands and does an excellent job of staying with plays. One of Lomberg’s attributes that has caught the attention of scouts is his relentless play around the net. He has great net-front presence and has shown a willingness to pay a price to finish or make plays. He is quick on loose pucks and is a competitor. He possesses a quick shot and release. While Lomberg played most of the season on left wing, he does have the ability to play all three forward positions. He sees the ice really well and possesses good awareness, too.
One area where Lomberg began to make great strides in this season is on the defensive side. His stick work at both ends of the ice and defensive zone awareness noticeably improved as the season progressed. As Lomberg continues to mature and strengthen his 5’10” frame, his many assets will become more evident and thus will allow him to blossom into one of college hockey’s best snipers.
7. Nick Bligh, C
Freshman, Dartmouth College
Ht./Wt: 6’0”/180 lbs. Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: N/A
Although Nick Bligh doesn’t appear on Central Scouting’s final rankings, NHL teams continually kept a close watch on the Big Green rookie throughout the season. One NHL team taking particular notice is the Winnipeg Jets, whose prospects camp Bligh attended last summer. The Milton, MA native played in 28 games this season, posting nine points (four goals, five assists). Bligh missed five games in early November due to injury. One of his most memorable games came back on Dec. 1st versus Bentley University. In that game, Bligh posted his first two collegiate points (both assists) en route to earning his lone ECAC Rookie of the Week honor on the season.
Bligh is all about speed and quickness, and uses those assets exceedingly well in creating scoring opportunities. He is elusive and has the ability to make plays at high speeds. Bligh is an excellent skater with a good burst of speed. He also transitions quite well too. Bligh plays the game with a great deal of energy and is really fun to watch. He possesses a high hockey IQ and has shown that he can make good decisions with the puck. Simply put, Bligh knows what to do with the puck when it’s on his stick. He works hard, competes and always seems to be where the play is.
Another attribute that scouts like about Bligh are his terrific hands. He makes excellent passes and can be pretty slick with the puck, too. He possesses outstanding playmaking ability and is equally adept to setting up and finishing plays. Bligh possesses a very good shot with a quick release, but he could stand to add more power to his shots. He has a lanky 6’0” frame that will need to get bigger and stronger. Although Bligh has made strides on the defensive side, it’s an area that continues to be a work in progress.
8. Cole Bardreau, C
Sophomore, Cornell University
Ht./Wt: 5’10”/184 lbs. Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: N/A
Cole Bardreau is one of a handful of sophomores eligible for this year’s NHL Draft. After a strong freshman campaign last season, Bardreau followed it up with an equally strong start to his sophomore season that helped him earn a spot on the USA squad at this year’s World Junior Championship (WJC). His excellent performance at the WJC boosted his draft stock considerably. But on Jan. 19th versus RPI everything changed when Bardreau’s season came to an abrupt end after he sustained a neck injury in that game. Barring a significant setback to his recovery, Bardreau will return to the Cornell lineup this fall where he’ll serve as one of the team’s assistant captains. He finishes the year with seven points (two goals, five assists) playing in 11 games. While his season-ending injury does impact his draft outlook, it’s difficult to discount Bardreau’s tremendous potential and what he could bring to an NHL organization down the road.
Bardreau is a smart, two-way center with great hands and stick that excels in the grind game. The role that he was given at the WJC is similar to the role that he played at Cornell this season. He’s equally good at both ends of the ice and has blossomed into an outstanding penalty killer. Bardreau’s ability to play both ends of the ice equally well could also allow him to develop into one of college hockey’s best defensive forwards. One area where Bardreau was particularly effective for the Big Red this season was on face-offs, winning over 56 percent of his draws. The Fairport, NY native isn’t big (5’11”/184 lbs.), but what he lacks in size he makes up for with a tremendous work ethic. Many of the offensive opportunities he creates come through hard work and his relentless pursuit of the puck.
Bardreau came into this season noticeably stronger, and where this added strength has been evident has been in his ability to protect the puck and fend off opposing players in tight areas. Bardreau’s added strength has also enhanced his skating. His strides are more powerful and his acceleration has improved. And none of it has come at the expense of his quickness. Another notable area in Bardreau’s development has been his willingness to play the body more often. While he’ll likely never become a physical presence, Bardreau can and will deliver some solid checks when necessary.
9. Will Merchant, LW
Freshman, University of Maine
Ht./Wt: 6’1”/190 lbs. Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: N/A
Will Merchant was part of the Black Bears’ outstanding freshman class this season. While there wasn’t much fanfare around Merchant this season, scouts continually kept a close eye on the young winger. One team that has already shown interest in Merchant is the Minnesota Wild, whose prospect camp he attended last summer. The Eagan, MN native appeared in 37 games for Maine this season, posting seven points (three goals, four assists). One of Merchant’s most memorable games came back on Jan. 26th versus Boston College. In that game, he posted two assists to help guide the Black Bears to a 3-1 win.
Merchant is a budding power forward with good size who plays an honest game. There isn’t anything fancy or flashy about his play, it’s just very solid. One area where Merchant really excelled this season was playing in tight areas. Many of his scoring opportunities came as a result of hard work and his willingness to go into the dirty areas. While Merchant’s rookie numbers may not reflect it, he does have the potential to be a top-flight point producer. Merchant is equally adept at setting up and finishing plays. He’s smart, has good vision and isn’t afraid to play the body. He is also very strong on the forecheck. Merchant’s outstanding stick work, transition game and defensive awareness could allow him to develop into a solid defensive forward.
Two of Merchant’s best attributes that have had scouts taking particular notice are his superb skating and blistering shot. His skating combines smoothness, agility, and power with great speed and acceleration. He also has good feet and maintains good balance on his skates. Merchant possesses a very heavy shot that could become more lethal with physical maturity.
10. Matthew Caito, D
Freshman, Miami University
Ht./Wt: 5’10”/194 lbs. Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: N/A
Matthew Caito never appeared on any of Central Scouting’s rankings this season, but that doesn’t mean NHL teams weren’t paying attention to him. The Coza de Caza, CA native is coming off of a terrific freshman campaign leading all RedHawks defensemen with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) and earning a selection to the CCHA All-Rookie Team. He was one of only five players to play in all of Miami’s 42 games this season. Caito logged a ton of ice time as part of the RedHawks’ excellent top defensive unit, playing alongside senior Steven Spinell. One of Caito’s most memorable games came on Feb. 23rd versus Lake Superior State. In that contest, he posted the game-winner and added an assist en route to earning his third CCHA Rookie of the Week honor on the season.
Caito is an offensive-minded defenseman who balances his offensive abilities and defensive responsibilities remarkably well. And it is that balance that has served his Miami team exceedingly well and has had scouts taking notice. What Caito lacks in size, he makes up for with his tremendous skating ability and willingness to engage in the physical game. He has shown that he can play bigger than his 5’10” frame. Caito is a fluid skater with good speed and acceleration. His footwork and lateral skating are also quite good. He can often be found jumping into plays, but is also smart in knowing when to do so. As good as Caito is offensively, he is equally good defensively. He is an excellent shot-blocker, having led Miami with 72 this season. He does a very good job in one-on-one situations but his lack of strength doesn’t allow him to move opposing players off the puck easily.
One of Caito’s best attributes is his puck-moving ability. He shows great poise and patience with the puck. He can make crisp tape-to-tape passes and his outlet passes are excellent. Caito possesses great vision and makes good decisions with the puck. He possesses a good shot and can get pucks to the net.
Other notables (listed in alphabetical order by last name):
LW Austin Farley – Freshman, University of Minnesota-Duluth
LW/RW Kalle Kossila – Freshman, St. Cloud State University
C Justin Selman – Freshman, University of Michigan
G Jay Williams – Freshman, Miami University
G Stephon Williams – Freshman, Minnesota State University-Mankato
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF