The Canadian Hockey League has reached the double-digits in games played, but the college ranks are just catching up. Who gets an A+ so far, and who is failing the grade.
CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Assocation)
1. Justin Mercier, Miami (Col) 5 GP, 6-1-7
2. Ben Ryan, Notre Dame (Nas) 6 GP, 2-5-7
3. Kevin Porter, Michigan (Pho) 5 GP, 4-2-6
4. Nick Sirota, N. Michigan (FA) 5 GP, 3-3-6
5. Bryan Marshall, Neb-Omaha (FA) 2 GP, 0-5-5
Boasting the likes of T.J. Hensick, Andrew Cogliano, Jack Johnson, Jeff Tambellini, Eric Nystrom and Al Montoya over the past five years, the University of Michigan has been a seemingly insurmountable factory of NHL talent. But as the program goes through a changing of the guard, other schools in the CCHA finally have a chance to stand out. With that are new names, new faces, and new expectations for the future.
Justin Mercier, C (Age 20)
The 2005 Draft treated the Colorado Avalanche pretty well. Besides Paul Stastny- who wasn't even the team's first pick- the aforementioned Hensick looks to be a shoo-in for the NHL, and Raymond Macias, Ryan Stoa and Tom Fritsche all appear to have at least a cup of coffee in their future. The Avs have even gotten some NHL games out of 7th rounder Kyle Cumiskey. So could the '05 crop get any better? It just might. A dominant player for the USNTDP U18 team at the time he was drafted, undersized sniper Justin Mercier wasn't thought to be much of a pro prospect by most when the Avalanche scooped him up in round six. Since adding 30 pounds and an inch of height, the crafty forward has fought his way up the Miami University depth chart. Now the team's top offensive weapon, Mercier has responded with a six-goal output to start the year. Those half-a-dozen goals are the most amongst the major college circuits and have been a major factor in a perfect start for the RedHawks.
Potential: Second-line scoring forward ala Justin Williams; NHL player in two years.
Ben Ryan, C (Age 19)
You'd think the NHL would have learned by now. While we predicted USHL star Ben Ryan would be taken in the fourth round- albeit at 116 instead of 114- DobberHockey also predicted he had some serious pro potential (2nd/3rd line center, 55 points). It's early, but that prediction looks to be on track. A crafty forward with outstanding vision, Ryan popped home an outstanding 64 points in just 59 games. But like Andreas Nodl and Thomas Vanek before him, the NHL teams relegated the second-time-through forward to second-day status. The CCHA's co-assist leader, Ryan will likely stay at the burgeoning University of Notre Dame for the long haul.
Potential: 2nd/3rd line forward and PP specialist in the Alex Steen mold.
WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association)
1. Kyle Turris, Wisconsin (Pho) 4 GP, 5-7-12
2. Josh Lunden, Alaska (FA) 5 GP, 5-4-9
3. Ben Street, Wisconsin (FA) 4 GP, 3-5-8
4. Kevin Clark, Alaska (FA) 5 GP, 2-6-8
5. Craig Parkinson, Alaska (FA) 5 GP, 3-4-7
If DobberHockey had had forums back in Sidney Crosby's Q days, he'd no doubt be getting the Kyle Turris treatment. The object of everyone's affection, one of the most dynamic- and genuinely nice- prospects to come along in a long while has dominated college hockey's attention like no other. On pace to match Paul Kariya's 100-point output in the NCAA, Turris could, in retrospect, be in the NHL right now. As for the rest of the WCHA? Well, forward-wise, it's a good thing Kyle is there, or there wouldn't be much to jump for joy about. Names two through five are the most abundant type of college player- 20+ year-olds who thrive here but not at a higher level. Oh well. Never fear: if you're in the market for a goalie, take note.
Kyle Turris, C (Age 18)
What can we say about Kyle Turris that hasn't already been? The nation's leading scorer with a 3 PPG average, one of the youngest players in college hockey has simply blown the doors off. The owner of a laser wrist shot and simply outstanding vision, the 3rd overall pick is playing in every role imaginable for the Badgers- killing penalties, anchoring the powerplay, protecting leads in the final minute. Wayne Gretzky is going to have fun with this one.
Potential: Steve Yzerman (60-60-120); NHL player whenever he wants to be.
Brendan Smith, D (Age 18)
As with all elite players, Turris' offensive feats have benefited more than just his own statline. Linemate Ben Street has been the Randy Moss to Turris' Tom Brady, but neither would be having as much success without the puck movement of 2007 first rounder Brendan Smith. A key cog in the attack thanks to his speed and first pass, Detroit's pick at 27th overall has lived up to some pretty lofty hype by yours truly- and made a name for himself to those who didn't know he was.
Potential: Top-flight offensive defenseman, 15-35-50; NHL in three years.
Jase Weslosky, G (Age 19)
The New York Islanders quest for a backup may soon be over... provided they don't promote this one to VP of Player Operations. 19 year-old Jase Weslosky won only nine games in 2005-06, but his stellar play for the lackluster Sherwood Park Saints of the AJHL earned him a fourth round selection by the Isles at the '06 Draft. After paying his dues as the backup to collegiate goalie star Bobby Goepfert, Weslosky was handed the starting job at St. Cloud State for the 2007-08 season- and he's run with it. The owner of a sparkling 1.50 GAA and 0.942 Sv%, the Edmonton native is showing what he can do with a capable defense. Provided his development goes as planned, that theme won't stop when he reaches the NHL.
Potential: #1B goalie; starter on a weaker team.
Richard Bachman, G (Age 20)
Speaking of teams with a plethora of goaltenders, the Dallas Stars already have two more-than-capable keepers... and at least one more on the way. A dominant high school goaltender, Richard Bachman compiled seasons of 1.84 and 2.06 GAA. But it wasn't until his second time through the draft- this time as a star with the NEHL's Boston Jr. Bruins- that Bachman found an NHL home. Now with Colorado College, Dallas' fourth round pick in '06 is averaging fewer than a goal a game (0.98). With Mike Smith and Marty Turco holding down the fort in Dallas for the time being, Bachman will likely play three years at Colorado before making the jump.
Potential: Backup goaltender.
Hockey East Men
1. Joe Whitney, Boston College (Undrafted) 4 GP, 5-7-12
2. Ben Smith, Boston College (Undrafted) 5 GP, 5-4-9
3. Wes Clark, Maine (Undrafted) 4 GP, 3-5-8
4. Kyle Laughlin, Providence (Undrafted) 5 GP, 2-6-8
5. Bret Tyler, Maine (Undrafted) 5 GP, 3-4-7
Okay, so ignore that list above. There's still some exciting stuff going on in Hockey East, The league's top two scorers may not be household names, but they're 19 year-olds with high school and Junior A experience that may just have a future ahead. Boston College and Maine remain Hockey East's top two squads, but as one will see, the University of New Hampshire is a club on the rise.
James van Riemsdyk, C (Philadelphia)
Okay, JvR owners can step away from the ledge. While watching Pat Kane, Sam Gagner, Kyle Turris and even Jakub Voracek putting up dominant performances, it's understandable that those who followed Philly's lead were getting nervous. With JvR unable to attend Flyers camp lest he ruin his college eligibility, and with Hockey East only starting play just a week ago, there hasn't been a lot of news about a prospect deserving better. Hopefully now those conversations can start. With 3 points in his first two college game, van Riemsdyk is demonstrating the power game everyone saw at the World U18s.
Potential: Superstar forward, 100+ points