This is the 16th installment of our annual list of the Top 100 NHL prospects playing in the NCAA this year, covering spots 31--35 on the list.
25. Tucker Poolman, Defenseman, North Dakota(Winnipeg Jets)
His size works to his advantage on the defensive end. He can change directions well and with his long reach, he can play a conservative gap one-on-one, but still have the ability to close out space and take away any chance of a clean shot. He’s not a big hitter physically, but with his size, when he gets good inside position on a player, he’s not going to lose a battle for the puck. He’s also a fearless shot blocker. He’s great at getting his big frame in shooting lanes and blocking shots that come from the perimeter.
He likely projects as more of a defensive defenseman at the NHL level, but is showing some offensive flair to his game at the college level this year. He’s showing more willingness to skate the puck up the ice, or to join an offensive rush if the opportunity presents itself. Again, I don’t think that will be a big part of his game in the long run, but it does show that despite his size, his skating is good enough that it shouldn’t be a liability at the next level.
—from our full feature on Poolman, December 1st, 2016
24. Brandon Hickey, Defenseman, Boston University(Calgary Flames)
Brandon Hickey plays a defensive-minded, physical role on the Terriers blue line, but is not the typical plodding bruiser. He’s a smooth skater with a strong, quick first step that allows him to stay with faster forwards, and to start transition opportunities. He’s not overly creative with the puck, but moves it smartly and effectively.
He projects as a first or second pairing defenseman that can match against big scorers on the opposition.
23. Anders Bjork, Right Wing, Notre Dame(Boston Bruins)
Bjork has always been a strong, fast two-way forward. He was the prototypical third line energy guy when playing for the US NTDP and on the US World Juniors team two years ago.
But Bjork has consistently improved his offensive production over the course of his career at Notre Dame from ‘fine’ as a freshman, to good as a sophomore, to now being one of the elite scorers in the country as a junior. Bjork’s combination of strength, agility, and creativity with his hands makes him very tough to defend one-on-one.
He likely still projects as more of an energy guy at the pro level, but his improvement offensively shows he might contribute more scoring at the next level too.
It doesn’t take long to notice his shiftiness. He can dart in and out of defensemen. He has that second gear that allows him to explode down the outside and blow by defenders in his way. What also really stands out is how quick his stick is. It helps him win those puck battles and get shots off rapidly.
His hockey sense and the way he can slow things down are also impressive traits. On the overtime winner, he was able to let the play come to him. He showed poise with the puck to draw defenders and allow Oglevie time to get in position for an easy one-timer. On the first goal, a breakaway score by Cam Morrison, he read a play in the neutral zone to pick off an errant pass. He then gave a tremendous feed that led Morrison perfectly.
Passing is something that has always come easy to Bjork, but his goal scoring touch has improved. He went from seven goals as a freshman to 12 as a sophomore. A summer spent honing his shooting skills has helped him nearly double that total this year.
—from our full feature on Bjork, March 27, 2017
22. Troy Terry, Right Wing/Center/Shootout Hero, Denver(Anaheim Ducks)
Troy Terry occupies the same weird space between legend and reality that fellow shootout maestro TJ Oshie does. Despite being instant recognizable to most hockey fans, he’s not really what you would call a star player. He projects as a good, but not elite scorer at the NHL level. But also like Oshie, Terry is more than just a one-note shootout specialist.
Terry is an exceptionally smart, fundamentally sound hockey player. He’s the type of player that earns a lot of trust from coaches because he can be counted to make the right play at the right time. His puck-handling ability and vision is good enough that he might be able to play a scoring line role in the NHL, but likely not a top line guy. He should be a very solid contributor in some capacity though.
21. Kieffer Bellows, Left Wing, Boston University(New York Islanders)
After being selected in the first round of last summer’s NHL Draft, it has been a more difficult transition to college hockey than expected for Bellows. Bellows is just an average skater, so he relies on teammates to create time and space for him to use his incredible shot and natural finishing ability to score goals. That worked great last year when he was paired with Clayton Keller at the NTDP. This year at BU, he’s been split up from Keller, playing mostly a second/third line role, and his numbers have taken a bit of a hit as a result.
Still, putting the puck in the net is the hardest thing to do in hockey, and Bellows is a player with the potential to do that in a big way at the next level. When he came to BU, there was some question of how long he’d stay, but after this season, it looks like another year or two would serve him well to work on his footspeed and play a bigger role in the coming years when BU loses players to the pros. In the right situation, he could be a goal-scoring power forward and power play specialist at the next level.