Last season, I tried previewing the WCHA by ranking each teams forwards, defense, and goaltending. That seemed to be a fairly effective way of doing things, so I thought I'd try it again this year. We'll start things off with the forwards. This was a surprisingly tough group to rank. Despite the WCHA not having the star power it once did, the depth is pretty incredible from top to bottom in the league. There are some very talented units in the bottom half of the league this year, which hopefully makes for some exciting hockey.
Here's the ranking:
3. North Dakota
5.St. Cloud State
7. Colorado College
8. Minnesota State
10. Michigan Tech
12. Bemidji State
Explanations on how I came to my decisions after the jump.
1. Nebraska-Omaha- The Mavericks may not have the star power that Denver has, but the Mavericks are a very deep, tough group. They've got a great sleeper candidate for both player of the year(Terry Broadhurst) and rookie of the year(Jayson Megna). They've got a great mixture of guys that can beat you with their speed, as well as guys that can beat you with their toughness.
2. Denver- The Pioneers may have the two best pure offensive players in the league with Drew Shore, who scored 46 points last year, and Jason Zucker, who celebrated 20 first-career goals last season. Sophomore Beau Bennett may jump into that category as well this year if he can become more than just a power play specialist. The Pioneers don't have as much depth as UNO, but if their lower lines can just play even with teams, their top unit should be able to outscore most teams.
3. North Dakota- The Sioux have to replace a lot of scoring from last year's team, but Corban Knight and Danny Kristo seem poised to take over as scoring leaders on the team. The Sioux are young with just four upperclassmen at forward, but talented up front. Like Denver, the Sioux should be very top-heavy in their scoring, but their bottom lines will play a tough, physical style that should help wear on teams.
4. Minnesota-The biggest roster addition in the WCHA this year might be the return of redshirt sophomore Zach Budish, who missed the majority of last year as the result of a moped accident. Budish seems likely to start the year playing with Nick Bjugstad, who finished his freshman campaign with a great second half, giving the Gophers perhaps the most dangerous power forward combo in the league. Erik Haula and Sam Warning give the Gophers some skill to go along with that grit as well. If some chronic underachievers can play up their potential, the Gophers have the potential to be as deep as any team in the league as well.
5. St. Cloud State-Senior forward Drew Leblanc emerged as a serious scoring threat last season, and sophomores Cam Reid and Nic Dowd both showed flashes of being dominating players in their rookie years. David Eddy was a point per game player last year, and a potential top line player in the WCHA, but off-ice problems kept him out of half his team's games.
6. Minnesota-Duluth-The Bulldogs have primarily been a one--maybe one and a half--line team for the past three seasons, and will now have to adjust with losing two-thirds of that amazing top line. They still return playmaker Jack Connolly, and JT Brown and Travis Oleksuk proved at the end of last season that they can put the puck in the net. After that, the Bulldogs will have to hope that once-promising prospects that haven't lit things up at the college level yet, like Mike Seidel or Dan DeLisle, develop into more consistent scoring threats.
7. Colorado College-The Tigers boast the best forward in the league in sophomore Jaden Schwartz. But who is the best forward on Colorado College's team not named Schwartz? The losses of underrated scorers Stephen Schultz and Tyler Johnson may be a bigger blow than people expect, as there isn't much depth to the CC lineup. But with a player as talented as Schwartz, they might not need a lot of depth.
8.Minnesota State- The Mavericks lack a true first-line scoring threat, but have a surprising amount of depth at the forward position. Sophomore Chase Grant has the potential to be a top player in the WCHA, and junior Eriah Hayes is a potential NHL free agent prospect if he uses his size to win more physical battles along the boards. The biggest difference between this year's Mavericks and the ones that struggled so much offensively last year, however, is the addition of skill players like Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul Lafontaine, who should really help improve the team's powerplay.
9. Wisconsin- No team was hit harder in the offseason by departures than the Badgers' forwards, who lost Craig Smith midway through the summer after it seemed likely that he would return, and to a lesser extent, losing Jordy Murray to Europe. As a result, Michael Mersch is the leading returning goal scorer from last season with 8 goals. Mark Zengerle showed some phenomenal playmaking abilities as a freshman, but the Badgers will need him to put the puck in the net on his more this year. Even though this isn't the strongest group, having an amazing offensive defenseman in Justin Schultz should help cover up any deficiencies
10. Michigan Tech- This certainly isn't the same Michigan Tech that struggled through last season. Michigan Tech had three very impressive freshman forwards last year that showed some offensive flair in Milos Gordic, Ryan Furne, and Jacob Johnstone, and add two more freshman this year that can put the puck in the net in Tanner Kero and Blake Pietila. Add in that hopefully the Huskies should get a full year from their best forward, captain Brett Olson, who missed much of last year with injury problems, and this definitely looks like a group on the rise.
11. Alaska-Anchorage- The Seawolves should have a fairly respectable top line, adding a nice incoming freshman in Sam Mellor with two pretty decent goalscorers in Matt Bailey and Mitch Bruijsten. Jordan Kwas is a nifty playmaker that picked up a lot of assists as a freshman last year.
12. Bemidji State- Last year, the Beavers offense was almost entirely Matt Read. Now with Read gone, the Beavers have some decent players, but goals should be much tougher to come by. Jordan George developed into a consistent scorer, but now that he will be the focus of opposing teams, space could be tougher to come by for the small playmaker.