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10 Freshmen to Watch in the Big Ten

The Big Ten is bringing in an impressive array of talent.

Michigan's Dylan Larkin
Michigan's Dylan Larkin
Bruce Bennett

With the college hockey season fast approaching, it's time to look at some of the new faces that will be starring in college hockey this year. The Big Ten has their usual strong group, which this year, includes a first round draft choice, an uber-talented 17-year-old, and a couple players from Europe. Here is a look at ten players who could be lighting up rinks in the Big Ten this season:

1. Dylan Larkin, Forward, Michigan

Larkin will begin his freshman year as the highest drafted player to play in Big Ten conference history after Detroit selected him 15th overall in this past summer's NHL Draft. Larkin comes out of the NTDP program as about as complete a player as an 18-year-old freshman can be. Larkin combines size with skating with excellent hockey IQ to be an effective player on both ends of the ice. He'll likely start out this year on the wing with Andrew Copp and JT Compher already playing up the middle for Michigan, but Larkin has the ability to eventually excel at the center position, both at Michigan and at the NHL level.

2. Josh Jacobs, Defenseman, Michigan State

When Tom Anastos took over as head coach at Michigan State, the Spartans began to focus more on younger recruits, with the hopes that some day down the road, it would yield some major talent. It hasn't always worked out as planned, but it certainly did with Jacobs, who was one of the first to commit to Michigan State has part of that strategy. Jacobs was a second round draft choice of the New Jersey Devils last summer.

Jacobs combines 6-2 size and the strength to throw big hits and win battles along the boards with fluid, smooth skating ability. Michigan State will likely use him frequently and in every situation.

3. Zach Werenski, Defenseman, Michigan

Werenski spent this past summer furiously finishing up high school classes so he could  skip his senior year of high school to play for Michigan. Werenski won't turn 18 until next summer, making him the youngest player in college hockey next season. But he's also a special talent that could be picked in the first round of next summer's NHL Draft, and has the potential to make the same type of impact that Jacob Trouba did for Michigan as a freshmen.

Werenski excels as a one-on-one defender thanks to his strength and impressive lateral movement. He has excellent hockey sense and is strong positionally. The offensive side of his game isn't as advanced, but is an area that could develop, especially given that he'll likely see a lot of ice time for Michigan this year.

4. Jack Dougherty, Defenseman, Wisconsin

Dougherty was at one time committed to Ohio State. But after head coach Mark Osiecki was fired, Dougherty re-opened his recruitment and landed with the Badgers. That was huge for Wisconsin, as they look to replace three key defensemen from last year's team.

Dougherty was a second round draft choice of Nashville this past summer, after having a breakout year playing with the NTDP U18 team. Dougherty is a big defenseman that plays a reliable all-around game. The Badgers have a reputation for excellence in developing defensemen, and Dougherty gives them a lot of potential to work with.

5. Leon Bristedt, Forward, Minnesota

It's rare for Minnesota to go outside the borders of their own state when recruiting players, let alone outside of North America--Thomas Vanek and Erik Haula are the only Europeans to play at Minnesota prior--but Bristedt, who hails from Sweden, has the potential to be an outstanding player. He led Sweden's top U20 league in scoring last season. There aren't a lot of points of comparison between that league and the NCAA, but former Michigan forward Carl Hagelin also led that league in scoring prior to coming to North America. Bristedt's size kept him from being drafted, but he should bring some high-end skill to Minnesota's offense.

6. Scott Conway, Forward, Penn State

If nothing else, Conway seems primed to supplant Alabama-Huntsville's Jack Prince as the best NCAA hockey player born in England(Conway's father is Canadian, but had a legendary pro hockey career in the UK). Conway was impressive last year as a rookie in the USHL, finishing fourth overall in league scoring andhelping lead the Indiana Ice to the Clark Cup. He'll bring an influx of scoring ability and offensive talent to a Penn State program that needs scorers.

7. Steve Johnson, Defenseman, Minnesota

Minnesota brings in three NHL Draft picks to the blue line this year, joining five returning defensemen, all of whom are NHL Draft picks to make a very talented set of blue liners. Among the newcomers, Johnson is the lowest draft pick, and arguably has less upside than the other two, but should be the better, more consistent player right out of the gate for Minnesota. Johnson is an older freshman, and his maturity should aid him. He's not flashy, but is a good skater and moves the puck effectively. Minnesota should be able to rely on him more than their other two freshmen early in the season.

8. Jack Glover, Defenseman, Minnesota

Glover is a player with all the tools to excel at the collegiate and potentially pro level. But to this point in his career, he just hasn't quite found a way to put it all together and turn those abilities into tangible results. It may take some time before he becomes an effective player, but Minnesota has done a very good job at developing their defensemen since the return of assistant coach Mike Guentzel. If they can teach Glover to become more aggressive and assertive, he could be a star player.

9. Erik Autio, Defenseman, Penn State

Like Leon Bristedt, Autio is more of an unknown commodity because he's coming over from Europe. He's regarded as a smaller, skilled defensemen that skated with Team Finland at the teams' World Juniors summer camp, and is in the running to make the final roster for the World Juniors later this year. He should add mobility to Penn State's blue line and contribute on the power play.

10. Cameron Hughes, Forward, Wisconsin

In a different year, Hughes would likely draw much more attention as a first-time NHL Draft-eligible player playing NCAA hockey, with the potential to be drafted in the early rounds of the draft. But this year, with Zach Werenski, not to mention potential top-five picks like Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin in Boston, Hughes is flying a bit under-the-radar. Hughes can absolutely fly around the ice. He's a tremendous skater, and while it may take some time for him to adjust to more physically mature competition, he'll have ample opportunity for ice time at Wisconsin, and his skating ability should make him a dangerous threat.