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Hockey East: 10 Off the Radar Impact Players

Rasmus Tirronen is one of 10 players who have really made a huge jump from one season to the next.
Rasmus Tirronen is one of 10 players who have really made a huge jump from one season to the next.
Matt Dewkett

The Hockey East season is only a little over a month old so there is plenty of time to revisit this topic later in the season, but now is a good time to look at 10 players who are finally showing that they are capable of making an impact at the NCAA level or coming back on the scene after a down year or two.

(In Alphabetical Order):

Brian Christie, Jr., Forward, Merrimack - A former number one overall pick in the USHL Phase II Draft, the West Chester, Pa. native never gained entry into that league, but put up respectable numbers in the NAHL. He earned some nice accolades while playing for the Topeka RoadRunners, but that success never really turned into fruition in his first two seasons in a Warrior uniform. Injuries played a role in his diminished impact on the score sheet, but things are different in his third go around in North Andover. After registering just 29 points in 59 games over his first two seasons, Christie has five goals and six assists for 11 points so far this season. He looks bigger, stronger and faster and is playing with more confidence. He has combined with his center Hampus Gustafsson, another player on our list, to form one of the best puck possession and cycling lines in college hockey the first month of the season.

Thomas DiPauliJr., Forward, Notre Dame - The Washington Capitals prospect had just 17 points in 67 career games entering his junior season, but he has already found the score sheet 11 times in 12 games this season. The Italian native is a product of the USNTDP and was always expected to have more of an impact in South Bend. He's finally fully healthy and adjusting to the rigors of Division I.

Joe Gambardella, Soph., Forward, UMass Lowell - There aren't too many college hockey players from the world's most famous city, but Gambardella is one of them -- born in Staten Island. A NAHL alum, he had five goals and five assists as a rookie. This season he has five goals and four assists already. He had a five-game point streak to start out the season and after battling an illness for a few games, he's back on form with a three-game point streak.

Hampus Gustafsson, Soph., Forward, Merrimack - It's not only Christie who has come from beneath the radar to have an impact for Mark Dennehy's Warriors. Gustafsson, a very big Swedish power forward, has been instrumental in Merrimack's puck possession success this season. He's been dominant on faceoffs and has used his size and strength to win a lot of one-on-one battles and free up space for his linemates and himself. He's got a powerful shot with a quick release.

Tyler Kelleher, Soph., Forward, New Hampshire - The Longmeadow, Mass. native had an offensive explosion the past two weekends, scoring three goals and three assists over a three game span before being held scoreless in his team's series finale against Northeastern. He's diminutive in stature, but his speed, hands and puck skill have always been much hyped. After scoring just 16 points as a rookie, it looks as if the USNTDP alum is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign.

Chris Maniccia, Soph., Forward, UMass Lowell - The River Hawks are without a lot of big names that led them to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and back-to-back Hockey East championships. The St. Catharines, Ontario native is one of several UML sophomores that appears ready to pick up some of the slack. Maniccia, through 10 games, has already equaled his freshman year point total. A streaky player with three multi-point games, he's got four goals and six assists on the season.

Evan Rodrigues, Sr., Forward, Boston University - Some outside of Commonwealth Ave. might have forgotten about the Etobicoke, Ontario native. After registering 46 points in his first two seasons, Rodrigues had just 14 a year ago as a junior. This season he already has 11 thanks to two three point games and two two point games. He doesn't have the best size or speed, but he is crafty and seems to make plays with his hockey IQ and vision on the ice.

Mike Stenerson, Soph., Forward, Vermont - The Surrey, British Columbia native had just two points in 15 games as a freshman. This season Stenerson is off to a hot start with three goals and five assists in 10 games. Six of those eight points came in a three-game span at Notre Dame and two against Maine. He's small, but has good wheels and moves well with the puck.

Rasmus Tirronen, Sr., Goaltender, Merrimack - The Espoo, Finland native spent the summer in his native country, honing his skills and working on his consistency with his goaltending coach back home. That appears to have helped Tirronen carry over his improved play down the stretch last season. He is 7-2-1 in 10 starts with a 1.78 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. He has given up one or less goal in five of his 10 starts. Talk about a dramatic improvement.

Dylan ZinkSoph., Defenseman, UMass Lowell - The Madison, Wis. native was somewhat lost on the depth chart last season, but has found a nice niche on Norm Bazin's blue line this season. A product of the NAHL's Jamestown Ironmen, Zink has two goals and eight assists for 10 points this season, which has him tied for the team lead in scoring. He had just one assist in 26 games last season as a freshman.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.