There are always a few players who make a huge jump from one year to the next in Hockey East. Whether it be for an increased role or individual progression, there are sure to be a few players who become household names in the conference this season who last year were only known to the real hardcore fans.
Let's take a look at five players who could really make a jump from last season to this year:
Merrimack senior forward Rhett Bly has been terrific on faceoffs and solid in his own end since his arrival in North Andover. This season, Bly looks to take more of a leadership role and also will be counted on by Warriors coach Mark Dennehy to contribute more offensively.
Bly didn't make the scoresheet in the preseason tie against McGill, but his screen in front of Redmen goaltender Jacob Chouinard was the main reason defenseman Dan Kolomatis' wrist shot from the point found the back of the net.
"Around the net is where goals are scored. The majority of goals are scored right around the crease. The more we can get bodies and pucks [to the net] the better off we will be," said Bly. "Last year we were a little too soft in that area. This year it is going to be a personal point of pride that we all get there and get gritty in that area," added the Regina, Saskatchewan native.
Bly has been a favorite of Merrimack fans due to his gritty style and hard work in both ends of the ice, but expect him to take the next step this season to be noticed league-wide.
New Hampshire forward Casey Thrush only had six goals and 11 assists last season as a sophomore, but the Easton, Md. native had four multi-point games. That shows he certainly has the ability for offensive flare. Thrush tallied two goals in UNH's NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal victory over Denver.
Head coach Dick Umile has always been able to develop his players over the years. There have been countless examples of players who drastically improved their production after their sophomore or junior seasons in Durham.
Maine forward Ryan Lomberg was on the radar of NHL scouts last season for the draft, but didn't end up getting selected in June. Much of that had to do with the Richmond Hill, Ont. native playing through injuries for the majority of last season.
Lomberg notched seven goals and seven assists last season, but he will get a fresh start this season with new head coach Red Gendron. The former Yale, UMass and Maine assistant is planning on bringing a high-paced, up-tempo style of play to Orono. That is good news for Lomberg who is an undersized, yet skilled forward who plays an aggressive style himself. Lomberg could be on a line with Dallas draft pick Devin Shore who is an extremely talented player who will help anyone's production.
Boston University sophomore forward Matt Lane seems to get often overshadowed by some of the Terriers more known commodities. The USNTDP alum from Rochester, NY is a skilled player who will make a huge leap in production from his rookie season on Commonwealth Ave.
Lane scored just four goals and three assists as a freshman, but expect those totals to be doubled at the very least this season. He should get significantly more minutes and his subtle offensive creativity will help bury some pucks in the back of the net.
Providence sophomore forward Nick Saracino is another player who will become more of a household name in his second year playing in the conference. The St. Louis, Mo. native scored 11 goals as a rookie, four of those coming in the Hockey East Quarterfinal series against UNH.
Saracino is reportedly in tremendous shape to start his sophomore year at PC. There are a ton of talented, yet raw, sophomores on the Friars roster, but Saracino could be the one with the most potential to really blossom this season.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.