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NCAA Men’s Freshmen to Watch

USA-White v Sweden
Josh Doan
Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

To this point in the men’s college hockey season, it has been fairly quiet in terms of newcomers making a major impact on the scoresheet. Just three rookies rank among the top-40 nationally in scoring. Perhaps that isn’t a major surprise. We’re just over a month into the season and it can be difficult for young freshman to make an immediate impact against older competition this early in normal times, let alone this year, which has trended older due to players returning for a Covid bonus year.

But there are still some newcomers that are off to impressive starts this year. Here are a few players that have stood out and are off to strong starts to their freshman season.

Josh Doan, Forward, Arizona State, 12 games, 4-10-14(Drafted by Arizona, 2/37th 2021)

Doan is a native of the Phoenix-area, having grown up there while his father Shane played for the Arizona Coyotes, so playing college hockey for his hometown was a natural fit. But Doan’s style of play meshes perfectly with the type of aggressive, hard-nosed hockey the Sun Devils have developed a reputation for in their D-1 tenure.

In addition to being the nation’s leading freshman scorer, he also ranks ninth nationally with 30 PIMs so far this season. He backs up that physical play with some tremendous skills however. The combination to get under an opponent’s skin with his physicality, while also having the ability to put points on the board makes Doan a nightmare to play against, and will likely have him signing with the Arizona Coyotes, who drafted him in the second round of last year’s draft, before long.

Luke Hughes, Defenseman, Michigan, 12 games 6-7-13 (Drafted by New Jersey, 1/ 4 2021

Expectations were high for Hughes heading into his first season at Michigan, between being selected fourth overall in last summer’s NHL Draft, having two older brothers that star in the NHL, and playing on a Michigan roster loaded with young talent. But, at least offensively, Hughes has managed to already meet or exceed those high expectations in the first half of his rookie season.

Though he occasionally still looks like an 18-year-old freshman defensively, Hughes’ 13 points, tied for fourth nationally among defensemen, more than makes up for some of those growing pains. Like all of the Hughes brothers, Luke’s game starts with his effortless skating and agility, which allows him to escape pressure and create offensive openings. He’s a skilled passer, but his ability to shoot the puck is really driving his offensive numbers. His six goals ties him with North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson, a fellow top-5 draftee, for most goals in the nation scored by a defenseman.

Massimo Rizzo, Forward, Denver 10 games, 6-6-12 (Drafted by Carolina, 7/216 2019)

Despite only being 10 games into his college hockey career, Rizzo is one of those players that has already been on a journey. Rizzo was a first round draft selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, in what was considered one of the strongest WHL classes in years, and made an early commitment to North Dakota has a highly-touted prospect. But Rizzo’s growth stalled, both physically and in terms of hockey development, in the BCHL.

But after spending an extra two years in the BCHL, Rizzo has matured and re-invented himself as a player. He doesn’t have elite skating ability, but plays a smarter, grittier game and has found good chemistry early this season playing fellow freshman Carter Mazur and veteran graduate transfer Cameron Wright to give Denver a really dangerous secondary scoring line.

Austen Swankler, Forward, Bowling Green 10 games, 5-8-13 (Undrafted Free Agent)

Swankler made a commitment to Michigan at a young age, but after going undrafted in the 2019 NHL Draft, ended up jumping ship to sign with the Erie Otters of the OHL. After playing a year for the Otters then sitting out the following season due to the pandemic, Swankler and family applied to the NCAA to have his eligibility reinstated and won, to the consternation of some in the college hockey world.

Regardless of how he got to Bowling Green, Swankler has made an immediate impact with the Falcons, leading the team in scoring by a significant margin. He has tremendous offensive instincts and is a dangerous threat on the power play.

Scott Morrow, Defenseman, UMass, 10 games 3-6-9 (Drafted by Carolina, 2/40 2021)

Ryan Ufko, Defenseman, UMass 10 games 1-7-8 (Drafted by Nashville, 4/115 2021)

Morrow and Ufko were two players that I felt slid way too low in last summer’s NHL Draft, and so far into their college careers, that seems to be holding up. Morrow has already showed brief flashes of being able to take over games with his skating ability. Has he matures and becomes more consistent, he could become a dominating presence on the back end.

Ufko’s game is a little quieter and less flashy than Morrow, but he had a breakout weekend last weekend against Boston University, were he scored five points over the two games, giving him three multi-point games in a row. He’s a steady leader with good offensive upside that should continue to put up points for the Minutemen.

Matt Coronato, Forward, Harvard 7 games 3-5-8 (Drafted by Calgary, 1/13 2021)

Coronato got off to a later start to his season because the Ivy League starts the year later, but he made up for lost time and announced his presence in college hockey quickly with a four-point debut against Dartmouth on October 29th and followed that up with two points the next evening.

The five games since then have been a little quieter from an offensive perspective, but with the effort that Coronato consistently brings, combined with his skill, he’s going to put up plenty of points for Harvard.

Bradley Marek, Forward, Ferris State 12 games 5-2-7 (Undrafted Free Agent)

After a disappointing season last year in which the Bulldogs did not defeat a D-1 opponent, they’ve rebounded nicely this year with four wins already on the season, and Marek, who hails from Big Rapids, has been one of the catalysts in their turnaround. Marek is a big, strong presence that isn’t afraid to go into the tough areas of the ice to make plays. His net-front presence makes him a dangerous threat on the power play.

Mason Lohrei, Defenseman, Ohio State 10 games 2-6-8 (Drafted by Boston 2/58 2020)

Ohio State has been a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten season after being picked to finish last in the year in the preseason coaches poll. Lohrei’s ability to come in as a freshman and play a significant role for the Buckeyes has been an important part of that solid start.

Lohrei leads the Buckeyes in scoring from the back line with eight points on the season, but more than that, has provided a steady, reliable defensive presence for the Buckeyes, and has quietly been one of the better all-around rookie defensemen in the country.