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Hockey East Defensemen: Top 10 NHL Prospects

Boston College junior defenseman and Florida Panthers draft pick Ian McCoshen
Boston College junior defenseman and Florida Panthers draft pick Ian McCoshen
Matt Dewkett

1. Ian McCoshen, Jr., Boston College (Florida Panthers, 2013 2nd Round, 31st Overall)

The Wisconsin native has been a steady, if not flashy, defenseman since arriving at The Heights, but he has taken his game to a whole new level this season, especially the last month. He has pro size and skating ability that makes him a consistently reliable shutdown defender. The offensive side to his game has always been underrated, but his five-game point streak over the last month, including a two goal, two assist night against archrival BU. He has a heavy shot and always skates with his head up to hit streaking forwards for lead passes. He's not the type of defenseman to carry the puck up ice end-to-end, but he makes simple, smart plays in transition. He's not going to be running all over the ice looking for the big hit, but his physical presence allows him to be a force. If there's one defenseman in the league who could quickly step into an NHL lineup, it's McCoshen. His skating, hockey sense, physical and emotion maturity and reliability make him the unquestioned top defenseman in the league, if not all of NCAA hockey.

2. Steve Santini, Jr., Boston College (New Jersey Devils, 2013 2nd Round, 42nd Overall)

The son of a former college hockey player, Santini is as physical a defender as there is in college hockey. The Mahopac, NY native is not afraid to throw his weight and around and he has left more than a few opposing players bruised and battered. His mean streak is what's going to keep him in the NHL, but it's certainly not the only thing to like about his game. He's a pro-ready skater who can go from stopped to start quickly. He can really get on opposing players coming at him and moving around the zone and in transition. The threat of his physicality keeps a lot of opposing players from coming across the middle. Like McCoshen, he will always be known more for his play in his own end than that of the offensive side of the puck. He does make good passes in transition and has a strong shot from the point. He battled injury last season, but is back on track this year and should be a regular in the NHL in a few years.

3. Jake Walman, Soph., Providence (St. Louis Blues, 2014 3rd Round, 82nd Overall)

Among defensemen, he is the national leader in goals, power play goals, game-winning goals, points per game and shots on goal per game. His offensive talents from the blue line are unmistakable. His progression from last season to this is astonishing. He had an impressive skill set last season, but his skating, footwork and strength improved so greatly over the off-season that he has become just that much more dynamic. No place is his improved footwork more noticeable than at the blue line where he can pivot and unleash an absolute bomb of a one-timer from the top of the point. At one game earlier in the season against Ohio State, he literally just stood at the blue line and blasted six one-timers in one single power play. His defensive zone play is not as good as the other three in the top four, but it has gotten better and there is still time for that to develop further. He will always be more of an offensive defenseman, but he is below the BC duo because he doesn't possess the same reliability and consistency in his own zone.

4. Brandon Hickey, Soph., Boston University (Calgary Flames, 2014 3rd Round, 64th Overall)

The offensive numbers that Hickey enjoyed as a freshman are not there in his second season as a collegiate, but his game goes way beyond that. His overall skating ability and how quickly he can go from zero to 60 is elite. His speed, footwork and reach allow him to effectively make pokechecks and keep opposing forwards at bay as they come at him in transition. He's not a hulking figure out there, but he makes solid hip checks and has just enough of an intimidation factor to warrant recognition. He has a cannon of a shot and does a very good job walking the blue line on the power play. Hockey Canada rarely selects an NCAA player to play in the World Juniors, but they did with Hickey, a Leduc, Alberta native. It's because he does a lot of the little things. He might not be flashy, but he's physically mature and plays a solid game. He's reliable and is a pro skater.

5. Charlie McAvoy, Fr., Boston University (2016 NHL Draft Eligible)

The jury is still out on the Long Beach, NY native, but there is a ton of upside, especially on the offensive side of things. His poise and confidence with the puck, especially in the offensive zone is remarkable for a player his age. His play in his own zone and some of the decisions he'd make defensively were egregious in the first half, but remember that he didn't turn 18 until Dec. 21. His plus/minus was -7 for his first 16 collegiate games. Since the Quinnipiac contest on Dec. 12, he's been +10. Why is a player projected to go in the first round of the NHL Draft down at five on this list? It's simple. The four players above him are more pro-ready and have proven they can handle their duties in all three zones at a high level. The athleticism, physical tools and size are all there for McAvoy to have a long career in the NHL.

6. Doyle Somerby, Jr., Boston University (New York Islanders, 2012 5th Round, 125th Overall)

Very few players in this observer's time watching Hockey East have improved as dramatically as the former Kimball Union star. At six-foot-five, his footwork and lower body strength took a little time to catch up to his frame, but now that it has done so, his mobility is worlds better than it was as a freshman. It would be easy to point to his four goals and seven assists this season after registering just 11 points in his first three years, but that's not where his development is most notable. His ability to cover a lot of ground and force the play to the outside in the defensive zone is what's most intriguing about the progression in his game. He's also learned to reel it in and avoid some of the penalties he was whistled for as a freshman. He still gets called on some hits that aren't penalties, but referees see the end result due to his size and the lack of it from the victims of his hits. Players with his size will always get a chance in the NHL and he's no different. He'll have to play with a mean streak and prove he can be an intimidating force to stay at the highest level.

7. Matt Grzelcyk, Sr., Boston University (Boston Bruins, 2012 3rd Round, 85th Overall)

A two-time captain of the Terriers, he was drafted by his hometown team prior to his freshman season on Comm. Ave. Grzelcyk lacks the prototypical pro size of an NHL defenseman. He's the first player on these rankings that doesn't measure in above six-feet, but his impact on the game is undeniable. With him in the lineup, Boston University is 7-2-3. Without him, the Terriers are just 6-5-1. He missed significant time twice this season with a knee injury. His skating and his ability to distribute the puck are as good as it gets at the collegiate level. He has a good stick and can keep up with opposing forwards due to his footwork. He's a defenseman that might lack the defensive prowess to be considered strong defensively by some, but his puck possession skills keep the biscuit away from opposing teams, which is just as good.

8. William Lagesson, Fr., Massachusetts (Edmonton Oilers, 2014 4th Round, 91st Overall)

A member of Sweden's World Junior team, he's the only non-North American on the list. Between the WJC and injuries, he's missed six of the Minutemen's last seven games, but he's a physical, tough defender that could be a nice fifth or sixth blue liner for a NHL team down the road. His -3 plus/minus doesn't look impressive when looking at it alone, but he's on a woefully inept defensive team at UMass. He performed very well in all three zones at the World Juniors, and has proven he can be an aggressive, mean defenseman in his own end.

9. Anthony Florentino, Jr., Providence (Buffalo Sabres, 2013 5th Round, 143rd Overall)

This is the part of the list where it starts to get far less likely a player having more than just a cup of coffee in the NHL. The West Roxbury, Mass. native has some upside, but has been inconsistent in bringing his 'A' game on a nightly basis in college. There's no denying that Florentino has a rocket of a shot from the point. He likes to play physical, and has certainly made his presence known to opposing forwards. He's a good skater who, while not being as dynamic as some of the guys above, can effectively start the transition. Providence is a perfect 7-0 when the South Kent alum has a goal or an assist this season.

10. Tom Parisi, Sr., Providence (Free Agent)

The casual observer might scoff at the Commack, NY native's inclusion in these rankings, but he certainly belongs here. Parisi went undrafted, and will likely end up just being a very good AHL defenseman, but he has a shot because of his hockey IQ. His skill set is certainly far less dynamic than the top seven players on this list, but he does almost everything well. He's a smooth skater who uses his head to make smart passes and impact the zone exits. He's not a player who is going to overpower opposing forwards, but he has a good stick and is almost always in the right position. He boxes out the front of the net well and rarely lets his man skate free. The two biggest deterrents to his making the NHL are his size and lack of a shot from the blue line.