I mentioned two weeks ago that I'd put Dylan Olsen and Nick Leddy among the top pro prospects playing college hockey this year. That got me thinking about who else would be on that list, and got me to sit down and write out my own list of the top NHL prospects in the CCHA and WCHA this year.
Basically, if every player in the CCHA and WCHA lost their draft rights and could be selected again, which players would I pick and in what order? I tried to consider a combination of likelihood of making the NHL and likelihood of being an impact player in the NHL.
There's a lot of words here, so I'll put the list after the jump.
1. Joe Colborne-Forward-Denver(Boston Bruins)
Colborne may have been near the top of this list last year simply for the raw talent he showed, but he's taken a big step forward this year and now looks like a much safer bet to reach that potential. Few players his size has the hands and playmaking ability that he possesses. In my opinion, he's got the best chance to be a top line forward in the NHL of any player in college hockey.
2. Patrick Wiercioch-Defense-Denver(Ottawa Senators)
His numbers took a little bit of a hit this year, in part because of injury problems, but he's still the most dynamic defenseman among a very talented group of college players. He's a rare talent that will provide a team with offense without having to sacrifice size or defensive play. He's maybe not a top pairing guy at the NHL level, but likely a solid second pairing guy.
3. Ryan McDonagh-Defense-Wisconsin(New York Rangers)
McDonagh has slid into the background a little bit while teammate Brendan Smith racks up powerplay goals, but still plays excellent hockey. He may not become an all-star in the NHL, but he'll be a very valuable player that could toughness and solid defensive play to an NHL team for a very long time.
4. Brendan Smith-Defense-Wisconsin(Detroit Red Wings)
Smith has made perhaps the biggest jump over the course of the year of any player on this list. Last year, he was pretty good offensively and a defensive liability. This year, his defense has improved and he's become near dominate offensively, especially on the powerplay. The defense may keep him from becoming a top guy at the NHL level, but he could be a powerplay specialist that puts up a lot of points.
5. Dylan Olsen-Defense-Minnesota-Duluth(Chicago Blackhawks)
Olsen hasn't put up huge numbers in his first year of college hockey. The transition to the college game has been a little tougher for him than some might have expected, but his potential is just off the charts. Even if the offense doesn't develop--he does have a cannon of a shot, but struggles picking spots to use it--he's a big guy that moves really well and plays with a nasty physical edge.
6. Jordan Schroeder-Forward-Minnesota(Vancouver Canucks)
You could put Schroeder anywhere on this list and make a reasonable argument for it. In terms of just pure offensive ability, he's probably number one of this list, as he has the skills to be a first line NHL forward. Of course, there's still question marks surrounding Schroeder which caused him to drop in the NHL Draft, and those worries probably haven't been helped by a fairly uninspiring season on a fairly uninspired Gopher team. On the positive side, Schroeder's defensive play has improved a little, and he looked pretty good playing at the World Juniors. The safest bet right now is that he's a first or second line forward that can put up a good amount of points, but never really be THE guy that carries his team.
7. Ian Cole-Defense-Notre Dame(St. Louis Blues)
Cole might have been the top guy on this list last year, and he turned down a pretty good chance to make the St. Louis Blues this year to return to Notre Dame. But a very disappointing season from Notre Dame and injury issues with a couple of concussions has dropped Cole's stock a little bit. But he's still an excellent talent, and should have a bright future with the Blues, starting as early as next season.
8. Riley Sheahan-Forward-Notre Dame(2010 Draft eligible)
Sheahan is likely to be a mid-first round draft at this summer's NHL Draft. He's quietly been a positive story on an otherwise dismal Notre Dame team. The big center plays a very impressive two-way game, and has chipped in 17 points this year despite being college hockey's youngest player.
9. Derek Stepan-Forward-Wisconsin(New York Rangers)
Stepan went from a player quietly appreciated for his abilities to being a name everyone was familiar with after his performance at the World Juniors this year. Those expecting him to continue his World Juniors dominance may be disappointed, and I'm not sure he'll be a guy that can carry the load offensively, but I think the comparison to former Badger Joe Pavelski is a very solid one.
10. Nick Leddy-Defense-Minnesota(Chicago Blackhawks)
Regardless of what the Minnesota Wild may think, Leddy has been impressive with the Gophers this year, despite coming straight out of Minnesota high school hockey, and missing a significant chunk of this year with a broken jaw. Leddy is an elite skater that should develop more of an offensive game as he becomes more comfortable with the college level.
11. Tyler Pitlick-Forward-Minnesota State(2010 Draft Eligible)
His stats don't jump out at you, which is understandable, given that he's a very young player, on a lousy team. But when you watch him play and see the talent and potential he has, it's understandable why he's likely to be a first round draft pick this summer. He's got NHL caliber skating and size, and shows flashes of offensive brilliance that could make him a top 6 forward at the NHL level.
12. Zac Dalpe-Forward-Ohio State(Carolina Hurricanes)
Dalpe has proven why Ohio State and the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL fought so hard for his services two years ago. He has followed up a solid 13-goal freshman campaign, with nearly 20 goals and 20 assists, on a team where only one other player has reached double digits in goals so far. That natural scoring ability could make him a big threat in the NHL.
13. Zach Budish-Forward-Minnesota(Nashville Predators)
There were questions about how Budish would adjust to college after missing all of last year with a knee injury. After a slow start, Budish has been very impressive in the second half of the season, and looks like a steal in the second round of last year's draft.
14. Blake Geoffrion-Forward-Wisconsin(Nashville Predators)
I've always been a huge fan of the way Geoffrion plays, and think he has an excellent chance of cracking the Predators roster next year. While he's finally making his mark on the scoresheet this year with Wisconsin, his role in the NHL will likely be as a hard-nosed center on a third or fourth line rather than a top 6 scorer.
15. Corey Tropp-Forward-Michigan State(Buffalo Sabres)
He's put the disaster of last season behind him and has been one of the more impressive offense players in the college game this year. He's got a natural goal-scoring ability that few players have.
16. Rhett Rakhshani-Forward-Denver(New York Islanders)
Rakhshani has put up fantastic numbers throughout his college career, and could have possibly signed with the Islanders prior to this year. His role in the NHL is a little unclear, as he may have trouble cracking the top 6 of an NHL lineup, and doesn't have the build for more of a third line, checking role. His skating and playmaking abilities may keep him in the NHL though.
17. Danny Kristo-Forward-North Dakota(Montreal Canadiens)
Kristo, like Stepan, saw his stock increase after being one of the heroes of the US World Junior team this winter. Kristo is a fluid skater, and has racked up impressive numbers in his freshman year while helping to run North Dakota's powerplay.
18. Jeff Petry-Defense-Michigan State(Edmonton Oilers)
Petry has had an up-and-down college career, starting with a great freshman year, followed by a disatrous second year, where he logged too much ice time on a decimated squad causing some really terrible looking numbers. But he's rebounded nicely this season, and once again looks like a solid defender with a big shot that could compete for a spot on one of Edmonton's bottom pairings in a year or two.
19. Jake Gardiner-Defense-Wisconsin(Anaheim Ducks)
Gardiner has taken a bit of a step backwards statistically this year after a very impressive freshman season, but he is still a top prospect. His skating and agility is as good as anyone, and his defensive game has improved tremendously in his two years at Wisconsin, which should help him reach the NHL quicker.
20. Chris Brown-Forward-Michigan(Phoenix Coyotes)
Brown was drafted in the second round of the draft last summer with a reputation for being a powerful, physical winger. He's exceeded expectations this year by also showing a nice scoring touch around the net. At worst, he's got nice potential to be a third or fourth line winger, and could become a dangerous top six forward if he keeps scoring goals in front of the net.
21. Kyle Palmieri-Forward-Notre Dame(Anaheim Ducks)
There's no doubt that Palmieri has elite offensive potential, but there have always been questions about his discipline. After a slow start with Notre Dame this year, and a midseason benching, Palmieri has picked up his scoring pace with 9 points in his last 10 games. By next season, he could be a point per game scorer for the Irish. His future in the NHL would almost have to be as a top six forward, as defensive play is one of the weaknesses in Palmieri's game.
22. Matt Donovan-Defense-Denver(New York Islanders)
Donovan has quietly been a superb player for years now, and with his performance at the World Juniors and with Denver this year, he's finally starting to get credit for his abilities. Donovan plays a very solid, quiet game that makes him a good bet to make the NHL, though he doesn't necessarily have the high-end physical gifts to become a top pairing defenseman in the NHL.
23. Mike Hoeffel-Forward-Minnesota(New Jersey Devils)
Hoeffel hasn't had dominating numbers over his college career, but it's impossible to ignore his combination of size and skating ability. Even with the Gophers' struggles the past few years, Hoeffel has worked hard, and at times, can be dominating. It's unlikely he'll be much a goal-scorer in the NHL, but he has the talent to become an NHL regular for a long time.
24. Cameron Schilling-Defense-Miami(Free Agent)
The sophomore defenseman should be a highly coveted free agent this summer after his impressive play with top-ranked Miami the past two years. He's a nice all-around defenseman that may not have super high-end ability, but could definitely contribute at the NHL level.
25. Teddy Ruth-Defense-Notre Dame(Columbus Blue Jackets)
Ruth is a pure defensive defenseman, so his stock was much higher last year when Notre Dame was known as a shutdown defensive team, but he's still highly respected as a physical force in front of the net and in the corners. He should be a powerful force on the Blue Jacket blueline.
26. Chris VandeVelde-Forward-North Dakota(Edmonton Oilers)
VandeVelde is an excellent power forward that is closing out his college career with an extremely run of scoring. His future in the NHL is probably as a physical player on the third or fourth line that can occasionally chip in goals.
27. Justin Schultz-Defense-Wisconsin(Anaheim Ducks)
Schultz is in the middle of an impressive freshman season, where he has already earned time on the powerplay. He is a pure offensive defenseman that needs to add a lot of muscle before he's ready for the NHL, but could develop into a powerplay specialist in the NHL.
28. Chris Summers-Defense-Michigan(Phoenix Coyotes)
Summers is a former first round draft pick in his final year of eligibility. Summers has all the tools that made him a first round draft pick--good size, great skater, good character--but hasn't been able to put it all together to be a dominating college player. He's seen time at forward throughout his college career, so he brings some flexibility to the table. But it's tough to see him becoming a top flight player at the NHL-level at either position.
29. Derek Grant-Forward-Michigan State(Ottawa Senators)
Grant was a project selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 4th round of the draft two years ago, and so far, Grant has been what Ottawa hoped he would be. He's a tall player at 6'3", but needs to add more strength and toughness before he'll be able to utilize that size at the NHL level. What sets Grant apart, however, is his ability to put up points. Playing on Michigan State's first line this year, he's had a very successful year statistically. If he can keep putting up points, he could turn into a steal for the Senators.
30. Drew Shore-Forward-Denver(Florida Panthers)
Shore was a player that caused quite a bit of disagreement in scouting circles before last year's NHL Draft. Some had him as a solid first round pick due to his size and offensive gifts, while others had him ranked much lower. So far, his freshman season has been about what you would expect. He's put up a few points, thanks in part to playing on Denver's powerplay, but still needs to round out his game before he's ready for pro hockey. The raw talent is there, and if he develops the finer points of his game, and takes a bigger role in Denver's offense, he could move way up the list by next year.
31. Carl Hagelin-Forward-Michigan(New York Rangers)
Nothing about Carl Hagelin physically suggests that he has much of a future in pro hockey, but he is an absolutely tireless worker that could turn into an excellent defensive forward in the NHL.
32. Bill Sweatt-Forward-Colorado College(Chicago Blackhawks)
There were sky-high hopes for Sweatt when he first joined the Colorado College Tigers. He has world class speed, but now, by his senior year, it's looking like the rest of his offensive game isn't going to come around to the point that he'll be a big scoring contributor at the NHL level. His speed will likely earn him a fair shot in the NHL, where he could develop into a nice defensive forward.
33. Jason Gregoire-Forward-North Dakota(New York Islanders)
Gregoire isn't very flashy, and doesn't particularly stand out in any area, but he's a solid all-around hockey player with good toughness that has up pretty good numbers in his first two college seasons. Unless he has a breakout year next season, he'll likely be a four-year player that has a very good college career and ends up with a pretty good chance of cracking an NHL roster.
34. Ben Hanowski-Forward-St. Cloud State(Pittsburgh Penguins)
There were a lot of questions about how Hanowski would react playing his first full season against real competition after coming straight out of tiny Little Falls High School. So far, it has gone about as expected. Hanowski is certainly a gifted offensive player, which has given him some success offensively, but he's still trying to learn the other areas of the game, which will take time. It's still too early to tell where he'll end up, because he'll likely be a much different player a year from now.
35. Will Weber-Defense-Miami(Columbus Blue Jackets)
Weber was a risky second round pick by the Blue Jackets as one of the very few players to be selected directly out of Michigan high school hockey, but through two years at Miami, Weber seems on his way towards developing into the player Columbus thought he could be. He's a big stay-at-home defenseman that won't produce much offense, but be will be a reliable defender.
36. Michael Carman-Forward-Minnesota(Colorado Avalanche)
Carman has been a bit of a disappointment at Minnesota, where the Gophers have needed him to produce offensively. But he might be a player that is better suited for the pro game where he can focus on the defensive game where he excels. His future likely wouldn't be any more than a third or fourth line forward, but it's a role he could play very well.
37. Zach Redmond-Defense-Ferris State(Atlanta Thrashers)
Redmond doesn't get much attention at Ferris State, but he's one of the most underrated players in college hockey. He's a very smart player that can do a little bit of everything, and should get a shot in the NHL.
38. Mike Montgomery-Defense-Minnesota-Duluth(Free Agent)
Montgomery is a converted forward that has turned into one of the WCHA's most solid defensemen. He doesn't have much in the way of high-end skill, but he's a 6-3 210 lbs. defensive defenseman that could play at the NHL level.
39. William Wrenn-Defense-Denver(San Jose Sharks)
Wrenn has settled into his role as a defensive defenseman nicely at Denver. He's generously listed at 6-1, so he'll probably need a couple years of adding muscle before he's ready to take his physical style of play to the pro game.
40. Mike Testwuide-Forward-Colorado College(Free Agent)
Testwuide is a senior this year, and will likely sign an NHL contract with someone. He's a big guy that isn't the greatest skater, but is a workhorse along the boards and in front of the net.
41. Ben Blood-Defense-North Dakota(Ottawa Senators)
After adjusting to the college game in his freshman season, Blood has been one of the most improved players in the WCHA this year. He's a punishing defender that is strong in his own end.
42. Brandon Burlon-Defense-Michigan(New Jersey Devils)
Burlon has all the talent and ability to be a dominating force in college hockey, and make the NHL, but so far in his two years at Michigan, he hasn't really gotten the most out of what he has. Next year could be a make or break year for Burlon when he's expected to assume a bigger role on defense for Michigan.
43. Zach Trotman-Defense-Lake Superior(2010 Draft Eligible)
Trotman is a bit of a late-bloomer that has drawn a lot of positive attention this year. He moves pretty well for a player that is 6'4" 220 lbs., and with a few more years of development, could develop into an NHL-caliber player.
44. Mark Olver-Forward-Northern Michigan(Colorado Avalanche)
Olver has put together impressive numbers throughout his career at Northern Michigan, similar to his brother Darin who was a second round pick of the New York Rangers. But also like his brother, at his size, Mark may find it difficult adjusting to the faster pace of the pro game. After a short stint in the AHL, Darin headed over to Europe where he's put together a pretty nice career.
45. David Eddy-Forward-St. Cloud State(Free Agent)
Eddy is a late-bloomer that still remains pretty unproven, but he's got big-time speed and can put the puck into the net. He's got an incredibly high ceiling if he keeps improving as a player.
46. Chris Wideman-Defense-Miami(Ottawa Senators)
Wideman was selected in the NHL Draft last summer after putting up an impressive 26 assists in his freshman season. He hasn't quite matched those numbers so far this year, but has continued to play very solid hockey. His lack of size could hurt his chances at the pro level.
47. Josh Birkholz-Forward-Minnesota(Florida Panthers)
Birkholz hasn't had a fantastic freshman season, scoring 5 goals and adding only 1 assist, but he's scored some highlight reel goals and some nights, looks like Minnesota's best player. If he can find a way to replicate performances like that every night, he could be an outstanding player.
48. Oliver Lauridsen-Defense-St. Cloud(Philadelphia Flyers)
Lauridsen was comincally awful throughout his freshman year at St. Cloud, but this year, he has transformed into a real hockey player. He's playing with more confidence and has even started putting some points on the board. Mobility will always be the struggle for the 6-6 defenseman, but if he continues adjusting to his size and developing like he's done in the past year, he could end up being a steal for the Flyers.
49. Daultan Leveille-Forward-Michigan State(Atlanta Thrashers)
The former first round pick of the Thrashers has some remarkable offensive talent, but is still in the process of trying to add some more muscle to his slender frame to make him more effective against better competition.
50. Craig Smith-Forward-Wisconsin(Nashville Predators)
Smith wasn't selected until his last year of draft eligibility when he had a big season in the USHL. In his first college season, he's picked up a lot of assists while playing on a high scoring team. Next year will be the big test to see if he can continue to produce offensive after some key players leave the Badgers.
And to avoid some inevitable questions, I'll even throw in a few explanations as to why I didn't include some well-known names...
Chay Genoway, North Dakota: I'd love to see him come back and be the player he once was, but I'm just not convinced that will ever happen.
Marc Cheverie, Denver(Florida Panthers): He's put up some great stats this year, but the minor leagues are loaded with guys like him who had great numbers in college. The odds are definitely stacked against him.
Ryan Lasch, St. Cloud: He'll probably have a nice career in Europe.
Mike Lee, St. Cloud(Phoenix Coyotes): Tons of upside, but my general concern about goalies combined with a couple really shaky performances this year kept him off the list this year.
Matt Read, Bemidji State: Technically not a WCHA player yet, but a definite pro prospect. He'd probably come in at around 30 or so on this list if I had included him.
Any Los Angeles Kings prospect: Because their GM is a jackass. Also, they don't really have any big college prospects. Garrett Roe was close to making the list, but it's hard seeing where he'll fit in in the pros.
David Fischer(Montreal Canadiens) and Patrick White(Vancouver Canucks): Maybe I've undersold their chances because they're both former first round picks, and thusly, will at least get a shot in the pros, but they haven't really done anything on the ice to prove they can play at the next level. It's been painful to watch Fischer at times this year. White is one of the classiest kids, and I'd love for next year to be the year he breaks out with a 20-goal season, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen.
Players From Your Favorite Team: You're right, the top ten on this list should have had 9 players from your favorite team. But unfortunately for both you and a naive world begging to know of their awesomeness, I hate that team.