Preseason College Hockey Power Rankings

Preseason College Hockey Power Rankings

By JD Biagioni

The 2019-2020 college hockey season is almost underway and it should be an exciting one. Last season’s National Champion Minnesota Duluth and National Runner-Up UMass both return talented squads, while traditional powerhouses, like Wisconsin and Boston College, welcome an influx of talented freshmen. NHL fans can delight as well, as a whopping 17 players selected in the first two rounds of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft will be entering the collegiate ranks. Before the season gets underway, let’s take a look at ten teams who should be among the nation’s best.

10. Quinnipiac Bobcats

Along with Minnesota Duluth, QU finished as a top five team in both scoring offense and scoring defense last season. Gone is Andrew Shortridge who led the nation with a 1.51 goals against average last season. But 2017 third round pick Keith Petruzzelli will step in and should fill in admirably. The 6’5” junior appeared in 14 games last season, posting a 2.42 GAA and a save percentage over .900. Scrappy forward Odeen Tufto also returns. The 5’7” junior has tallied over 40 points in each of his first two seasons. After losing NHL prospect Chase Priskie, the blue line will be a huge question mark for the Bobcats. Of the 11 rostered defenseman, 10 are freshmen or sophomores. Peter DiLiberatore will have to shoulder the load on defense. The 2018 sixth round pick led the team as a freshman with a plus-22 rating, while contributing 19 points. If the young blue line can come together, Quinnipiac should be able to return to the NCAA Tournament. 

9. Cornell Big Red

If the Big Red can avoid the Hockey East should they get to the NCAA Tournament, fans should certainly breathe a sigh of relief. Cornell has made the last three tournaments and has been eliminated by a Hockey East opponent all three times. What’s worse, in those three elimination losses, they’ve been outscored a combined 12-1. An illustrious program in spite of a lack of top end talent, Cornell finds its way back to the tournament season after season thanks to intangibles. They may not always be more skilled than an opponent, but Mike Schafer’s boys will outwork any group in the nation. As Chris Peters pointed out in his 2019 NCAA Tournament preview piece, Cornell plays with a “trademark grit” and a “style that wears on opponents.” After back-to-back first place finishes, it’s hard not to peg Cornell as the favorite in the ECAC. 

8. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan – the Wolverines, mired in a championship drought, will welcome the offensive injection of Cam York and John Beecher, after both were selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. York, a former Boston College commit, is an offensively-gifted defenseman. Beecher, meanwhile, is a bit of a wild card. The 6’3” center was overshadowed as the third line center on USNTDP behind Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte. Still, he showed enough that the Boston Bruins were comfortable taking Beecher with the 30th pick in the 2019 draft. Two years ago, the Wolverines advanced to the Frozen Four. Last season they went under .500. which Michigan team will show up this year? With York and Beecher in the fold, it’d be hard not to expect the former. 

7. Penn State Nittany Lions

Despite only having been a D1 hockey program for seven seasons, the Nittany Lions have already reached the NCAA Tournament twice. Last season, they came within a goal of winning the Big Ten Championship and advancing for a third time. Junior forward Alex Limoges returns after leading the nation with 50 points and finishing second with 23 goals. The program also returns four other players who finished with 15-plus goals. The offense averaged a ridiculous 4.54 points per game in 2018-19, over half a goal more than any other team in the nation. While the defense didn’t finish in the top 50, Penn State’s offense-first strategy has worked for them in the passed and should push them back to the NCAA Tournament this season. 

6. UMass

The Minutemen are coming off of a 31-10-0 season and a national runner-up finish. Just two years removed from a 2-19-1 record in conference play, Greg Carvel’s team dominated Hockey East last season, with a record of 18-6-0. They do lose both their top point-getting forward, Jacob Pritchard, and defensemen, reigning Hobey Baker award winner Cale Makar, but return the rest of their talented young core. Double-digit goal scorers Mitchell Chaffee, John Leonard, Marc Del Gaizo, and Bobby Trivigno all return to solid an offense that finished third in the nation with 3.68 goals per game during the 2018-2019 campaign. Chaffee and Leonard both contributed 7 power play goals last season on an offense that scored on a ridiculous 31% of power play opportunities in-conference. The big question mark surrounding UMass is the goaltending situation. After setting the UMass single-season win record in just 27 games, Matt Murray lost his starting job to then-freshman Filip Lindberg who appeared in 17 games and posted a 1.60 goals against average. Lindberg excelled during the regular season but struggled in big games, particularly in the Hockey East Semifinals loss to Boston College. Having two starting-caliber goalies is a good problem to have, but Coach Carvel must decide who gets the starting nod this season. 

5. Boston College Eagles

If the Eagles fail to reach the NCAA Tournament this season, the senior class would be the first group since Jerry York took over in 1994 to never play postseason hockey. Last season, BC was tabbed as the favorites in the Hockey East but got off to a rough start and finished 14-22-3. The team actually rebound late in the season and came within a goal of upsetting Northeastern and winning the Hockey East Tournament. The Eagles return arguably the best line in hockey: David Cotton, Logan Hutsko, and Julius Mattila. Cotton is a dark horse Hobey Baker candidate this season, coming off a 23-goal season that included 8 power play goals. One the opposite wing, Hutsko had 20 assists, but his health is a concern after ending last season leaving TD Garden on a stretcher. A good portion of the defense returns, and the tandem of Drew Helleson and Marshall Warren should offset the losses on the blue line. In goal, true freshman Spencer Knight will replace Joe Woll but should fill in admirably, given that Knight has been billed as the top goaltending prospect since Carey Price. Knight, along with forwards Alex Newhook and Matt Boldy, was selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, marking just the fifth time a college program had three players drafted in the first round of an NHL draft. Coach York’s highest-rated recruiting class, mixed with a strong veteran presence, should help the Eagles live up to yet another preseason first place ranking in the Hockey East. 

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Mark it down: Cole Caufield will lead the nation in goals. The diminutive (5’7”) forward was drafted 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2019, despite being touted as the best pure goal-scorer in the draft. He registered 72 goals in 64 games for the U.S. National U18 team last season, playing against a mixture of college and international competition. Some highly-touted prospects come to college and coast through a year before going pro, but after slipping in the draft, Caufield will be determined to prove the 14 teams in front of Montreal wrong for passing on him. And here’s the thing: Caufield isn’t even the highest-ranked recruit skating into Madison. Fellow USNTDP teammate Alex Turcotte, selected 5th by the Los Angeles Kings, will be joining Caufield and the Badgers this season. Wisconsin has struggled of late, only finishing above 6th in the Big Ten once in the last four seasons, but the youth infusion should lead to a bounce-back season for the program. The opening night matchup on the Heights should be telling for both Wisco and BC. 

3. Minnesota State Mavericks

Mike Hastings has his squad vying for the title of best college hockey team in Minnesota, quite the honor given illustrious programs such as Minnesota and Duluth. Minnesota State advanced to the NCAA Tournament just once in their first 16 seasons as a D1 program, but the Mavericks have made the postseason in five of Hastings’ seven seasons behind the bench. Still, they haven’t quite gotten over the hump, going winless in all five tournament appearances. Last season’s program record 32 wins had Mankato as a top 5 team in the nation. But an opening-round 6-3 loss to Providence shattered all hope of a magical run. Last season, true freshman Dryden McKay appeared in 33 games in net and posted a 1.76 goals against average, good for third in the nation behind Andrew Shortridge and Filip Lindberg. Led by McKay, the Mavericks had the nation’s top scoring defense. Annd the offense wasn’t too shabby either. The balanced attack resulted in the fourth best scoring offense, despite only having two players finish in the top 50 in points. Both of them, Parker Tuomie and Marc Michaelis, are returning to the program for their senior seasons. 

2. Denver Pioneers

Only a few players remain from the Pioneers 2017 NCAA Championship squad, including alternate captains Michael Davies and Tyson McLellan. Devin Cooley is back between the pipes after starting 20 games last season and posting a .934 save percentage. Ian Mitchell is one of the best shutdown and playmaking defensemen in the nation. Through two seasons, he only has 8 goals, but he has racked up 49 assists and a cumulative plus-35 rating. Freshman Bobby Brink, a second round selection in 2019, is arguably the most talented recruit coming to the NCHC this season. There aren’t many holes on this Denver team. The seniors may be in line to finish their collegiate careers much like they began them, raising a championship trophy. 

 

1.  Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Put simply, UMD won it all last year, and the year before. They’ll enter the year at No. 1 until someone can knock them off their pedestal. The Bulldogs may not lead the nation in any individual or team category, but they are a solid all-around squad comprised mostly of upperclassmen from last year’s championship squad. Senior goalie Hunter Shepard has never lost an NCAA Tournament game, and he’s only allowed eight goals in his eight postseason appearances. Scott Perunovich anchors a blue line that is one of the nation’s best. He scored 11 goals and recorded a plus-22 rating during his freshman year. His production dipped last season, as he tallied only three goals in his sophomore season, but Perunovich still won NCHC offensive defenseman of the year. Remember, Cale Makar won the Hobey Baker Award last season with 16 goals. If Perunovich can regain his scoring stroke, he’ll be in contention for the award.