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2016 Beanpot Preview: NHL Prospects to Watch

Boston University freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy
Boston University freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy
Matt Dewkett

Boston -- When the 2016 Beanpot kicks off Monday afternoon at the TD Garden, there won't be the same intrigue and hype surrounding the games as there were a year ago.

Gone are Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin, who were two of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft. Both are now plying their trade in the NHL for the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively.

While this year's Beanpot lacks two high-end draft eligible players, there is still plenty of interest in the NHL prospects from all four teams. Boston College and Harvard meet in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. followed by Boston University and Northeastern in the nightcap. Both games are broadcast on New England Sports Network (NESN).

2016 NHL Draft

Boston University freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy is the only player in the tournament ranked inside the top 100 of NHL Central Scouting Service's Midterm Rankings. The Long Beach, NY native is ranked ninth among North American skaters.

The US NTDP alum is a smooth-skating, mobile defender that can move the puck and push the pace in transition. The confidence and poise he exudes with the puck is noteworthy. The offensive side of his game and his skating ability has been what scouts have drooled over for years. It is why McAvoy is considered a sure thing to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

The part of his game that has seen the most improvement since his arrival on Commonwealth Avenue is his play on the defensive side of the puck. Through his first six collegiate games, McAvoy was -8, but has been +13 since then, including a +12 stretch over the last eight games.

Many people overlooked McAvoy's youth when he struggled in the first month of the season. He didn't turn 18 until Dec. 21, when he was playing against players that were six years older than him in some instances. It is a big caveat when looking at his numbers and performance, considering most of his peers that will be selected in the draft are playing Canadian major junior or in the USHL, playing against 16-20 year olds.

One of the big reasons McAvoy came to BU was to learn under the tutelage of head coach David Quinn, considered one of the best defensive minds in the game. It has certainly paid off and McAvoy will hear his name called in the first round of the draft.

Boston College freshman defenseman Casey Fitzgerald is ranked 108th in Central Scouting's Midterm Rankings in his second season of draft eligibility. He's another swift skating defenseman, but his upside isn't as high and he needs to prove to scouts he can mature in his own zone.

Potential Free Agents

In recent years, NHL teams have placed an increased emphasis on finding the top college free agents. Just last summer, two NHL teams hired scouts to solely scour the U.S. for the top college free agent prospects. Former Brown associate head coach Mark White took a job with Winnipeg to do just that.

This season's crop of college free agents, undrafted players, lacks a marquee name compared to past years. However, there are several big name players that could use a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to become free agents despite their rights currently being owned by an NHL franchise.

The Beanpot features several prominent seniors in that category. Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, Boston University's Matt Grzelcyk and Northeastern's Kevin Roy are three of the prominent players across the country that could become free agents if they hold off on signing with the NHL team that drafted them.

Vesey, the front runner to win the Hobey Baker Award, was a hat trick finalist a year ago, but chose to come back to school to earn his degree and have a chance to have his pick of NHL teams. Vesey, whose dad is the all-time leading scorer at Merrimack and a current Toronto Maple Leafs scout, has always had the talent, but he has become a more complete player over the past two years. His lower body strength gives him the ability to explode and go from 0 to 60 quickly. He has a heavy shot and is an underrated passer. His line, with Kyle Criscuolo and Alexander Kerfoot (New Jersey Devils) will have to produce in order to oust BC.

Grzelcyk has come back after two separate bouts with a knee injury this season to be an impact player once again for the Terriers. Possibly the best compliment one can give the Charlestown, Mass. native is his ability to make those around him better. The two-time captain has eight goals and six assists in just 13 games this season. BU is 6-5-1 without him compared to 8-2-3 when he plays. Although he was drafted by his hometown Boston Bruins, there is the thought he might opt for free agency to get in an organization that will allow him to make the NHL quicker.

Roy, Northeastern's captain and an Anaheim Ducks draft pick, has also missed significant time this season. The Quebec native has just seven assists in 13 games this season, but has played some of his best hockey in the Beanpot. Roy had a goal and two assists in each of the last two Beanpots, but had five goals in his first Beanpot as a freshman. He was named Beanpot MVP in 2013 despite the Huskies not winning, a rare fete. A Deerfield Academy alum, Roy has been NU's leading scorer in all of his first three seasons.

BU senior Danny O'Regan also files into this category after being drafted by the San Jose Sharks out St. Sebastian's.

Studs on the Blue Line

There will be a decided advantage in the blue line talents in each of Monday's semifinals. Boston College and Boston University both have an enormous edge on the blue line in the talent department over Harvard and Northeastern, respectively.

BC juniors Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini are two of the top NHL prospects in all of college hockey. They don't put up the offensive numbers or have the flare to their styles that wow the casual observer, but no two players in college hockey are as NHL ready.

McCoshen, known for being a shutdown defender, has quietly picked up his offensive numbers and has registered at least a point in six of the last seven games. He has a long, powerful stride that looks almost as if he's gliding out there, but he can catch up to anyone. His skating is extremely underrated. His ability to control puck possession and keep opposing teams at bay is impressive. His +24 plus/minus is second nationally, only behind Robert Morris senior Tyson Wilson.

Santini is more of a physical presence and plays a little bit more of a high risk game, but is also a pro style defenseman. He has a good stick and can intimidate opposing forwards looking to slide past him.

The Terriers also have their fare share of elite pro prospects on the blue line, led by Calgary Flames prospect Brandon Hickey who played for Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championships. The Leduc, Alberta native hasn't produced as much offensively in his sophomore season, but he's still a dynamic skater who could step into the NHL more easily than most. He has a very good stick and has a physical presence. He does a good job keeping opponents to the perimeter.

Junior Doyle Somerby, a Marblehead, Mass. native, has improved dramatically since playing in his first Beanpot as a local boy out of Kimball Union. His mobility and skating ability has become much better and he's learned to reel in his physical play. He's also gained somewhat of an offensive touch. After only scoring two goals and nine assists in his first two years at BU, he has four goals and seven assists this season.

The Next Patrice Bergeron

It's high praise to compare anyone to Boston Bruins alternate captain and two-time Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron. However, it's not too far fetched to consider BU freshman Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson to be a clone of Bergeron, especially considering the Bruins drafted him with that very thought in mind.

Forsbacka Karlsson was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft out of the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. A native of Stockholm, Sweden, he has seven goals and 15 assists. He has registered at least a point in five of his last seven games and has been +4 over that period.

He isn't as dynamic offensively as some the other top forward prospects in the tournament, but his vision and hockey IQ is uncanny. His ability to think the game and be one step ahead of his opponents is eye-catching. He made a pass from behind the goal line to Ahti Oksanen for a goal in last month's game at BC that made many wonder if he had eyes in the back of his head.

Forsbacka Karlsson is one of six Bruins draft picks among the four teams. BC junior forward Ryan Fitzgerald, Harvard freshman forward Ryan Donato, Harvard sophomore defenseman Wiley Sherman, Northeastern junior defenseman Matt Benning and the aforementioned Matt Grzeylcyk are the others with aspirations of someday calling the TD Garden ice their full-time home.

Plethora of Riches

Often times when discussing college hockey recruiting, the term "rich get richer" is thrown about. No school has this term more accurately described recruiting than at Boston College since Jerry York took over in 1994. As mentioned above, the Eagles have two of the country's top defensive prospects, but York's team is loaded at forward as well.

Colin White is the second leading scorer in the country among rookies, trailing only Michigan's Kyle Connor. White, a Hanover, Mass. native, will be playing in his first Beanpot after watching the tournament countless times growing up. The NTDP alum is a dynamic skater with the ability to gain separation by his speed. He is an elite offensive talent who can create offense all by himself. He's been great on a line with Fitzgerald and Matt Gaudreau this season.

The most improved forward prospect in the tournament is Washington Capitals pick Zach Sanford. The Auburn, NH native has come a long way in four short years. He was playing for Pinkerton Academy in New Hampshire in 2012 and quickly skyrocketed up everyone's draft charts before arriving at BC. He's a power forward in every sense of the definition. He is a big presence in the offensive zone with a powerful stride. He does an excellent job of drawing attention and winning puck battles before dishing it out to open teammates.

Miles Wood could have been mentioned when discussing potential free agents as the freshman out of Noble & Greenough is an interesting case. He was drafted prior to his junior season of prep hockey. If he elects to return for his sophomore season, and not sign with the Devils after this year is over, he'd also become a free agent. The son of former NHLer Randy Wood, the Manchester, Mass. native has been one of the top three forwards for BC this season. He's incredibly quick and has been a force on the forecheck. He can blow past defenders, but he can also grind it out. He has eight goals and 18 assists.

2014 Minnesota Wild first round pick Alex Tuch has suffered through somewhat of a sophomore slump, but he still has 10 goals and 10 assists. He's found his way onto the score sheet in three consecutive games and has the skill set to be a game changer in a short tournament like this.

Fellow Wild pick Adam Gilmour and Chicago Blackhawks pick Chris Calnan are two more power forwards north of six-feet that could play a major role in the semifinal against Harvard.

The Demko Wall

There is little doubt who the best goaltender in the 2016 Beanpot is, at least on paper entering the tournament. San Diego, Calif. native Thatcher Demko has eight shutouts already this season for Boston College. The Vancouver Canucks second round pick in 2014 has a .939 save percentage and appears to be healthy once again after missing two games to start the calendar year.

After missing last season with a concussion, BU's Sean Maguire has returned to take over the starting job from Connor LaCouvee. A Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, Maguire has picked up his play over the past month or so. The Powell River, British Columbia native has a .921 save percentage on the season, but that number increases to .938 since he took over the full-time starting duties starting with the Quinnipiac game on Dec. 12.

Harvard sophomore goaltender Merrick Madsen, a Proctor alum, has been sensational in his first season as the starter for Ted Donato's team. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect has a .936 save percentage and an 11-1-2 record. He has four shutouts.