We began our season previews with a look at the NCHC's best newcomers. Now, it's time to look at the league's top undrafted prospects. College hockey has become a breeding ground for players that were initially passed over in the NHL Draft, but developed at a later stage, and went on to have great careers in the NHL. There are more than a few good candidates to do the same playing in the NCHC this year.
Here's our look at five players who could be inking NHL contracts after this season:
1. Austin Czarnik, Forward, Miami
Czarnik has been a college standout for the past three seasons at Miami, and many thought he might take the leap to the pros after last season. Perhaps it was the bad taste left in his mouth by Miami's last place finish in the NCHC last season, but Czarnik announced he was returning for his senior season before the Frozen Four was over.
Czarnik's size--generously listed at 5-9 160 lbs.--may scare some teams off, but we believe he has the speed and hockey sense to make up for that lack of size. If Miami can rebound from their disastrous season last year, Czarnik could be in line to be a Hobey Baker finalist like he was as a sophomore and earn a nice pro contract.
2. Kenney Morrison, Defenseman, Western Michigan
It was Morrison's teammate, fellow defenseman Jordan Oesterle that signed a free agent contract last summer with the Edmonton Oilers, but Morrison arguably has more potential upside as a pro prospect. Morrison is a power play quarterback with a huge shot and the size--listed at 6-2 205 lbs.--to handle the physical rigors of professional hockey.
Playing in his own end has always been the biggest challenge for Morrison, but he made big strides in that department last season, making the move from just a power play specialist to being a legitimate top pairing defenseman. Morrison should see a lot of playing time this upcoming season, and if continues to develop as a defender, he will be highly-sought by the NHL.
3. Ty Loney, Forward, Denver
The son of former NHLer Troy Loney has always shown potential as a power forward, measuring in at 6'4" 200+ lbs. But Loney really came into his own at the end of last season. Denver's surprising run through the NCHC playoffs to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament was in large part because of the dominating play of Loney. He showed up on the scoresheet in all six of Denver's playoff games, and made his presence felt on both ends of the ice.
If Loney plays that way consistently this year, he should be one of the top forwards in the NCHC and in line for a nice NHL contract.
4. Andrew Prochno, Defenseman, St. Cloud
Prochno became the leader of the St. Cloud defense last season after Nick Jensen signed an NHL contract, and his absence was deeply felt by St. Cloud late last year when he went down with an injury. He logged heavy ice time in all situations for the Huskies, and was their go-to guy in close games. Prochno's size isn't ideal for the pro game, and his skating isn't considered exceptional for his size, but he has a pro-caliber shot and above averaging vision and hockey sense, which should give him a fighting shot at a nice pro career.
5. Josh Pitt, Forward, Western Michigan
Pitt is a bigger forward that is a prototypical late-bloomer. He's filled out to a solid 6'3" 205 lbs, up from a generous 6'2" 175 lbs when he was first passed up in the NHL Draft four years ago.
Despite all that added muscle, Pitt maintained the skating ability to play center, and has the skill to score goals like this one from last year's Great Lakes Invitational. He doubled his point from nine as a freshman to 18 points as a sophomore, and seems poised to improve on that again this year as an upperclassman. A power forward with skill and the skating and two-way play necessary to up the middle is one of the most valued commodities in the NHL game, and should create a ton of interest in Pitt.