The NCHC released their official preseason media poll on Wednesday. I didn't get a vote in the poll this year, but since it's an effective means of providing a general overview of expectations for the season, I decided to post my thoughts on how the league will shake out this year.
The NCHC should once again be the toughest league top-to-bottom in college hockey. Here's how I think the league will look this year.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. North Dakota
3. Minnesota Duluth
4. Nebraska Omaha
5. St. Cloud State
7. Western Michigan
8. Colorado College
Like in my WCHA predictions, I see some clear tiers within this ranking. The top tier is North Dakota, Denver, and Minnesota Duluth. The NCHC media poll went with Minnesota Duluth, and I really have no argument with that. Duluth returns a lot and adds some nice pieces to replace what they did lose. They'll be a contender. I went with North Dakota. There is not another team in the country as good as they will be on the blue line. I can understand some concerns about scoring and in goal, but I think they brought in a solid group of recruits that should make an immediate impact. Denver's goalies and top line will give them a great chance to win every game.
Behind that group is 4-7 in the league. All very good teams, but just flawed enough that I can't see them being consistent enough to compete for a league title. I shuffled Nebraska-Omaha to the top because they're the one out of those four that shouldn't have trouble putting the puck in the net. I think it's a little more likely that Kirk Thompson makes the jump to being a good goalie than those other teams greatly exceed offensive expectations. Also, for what it's worth, I think only one or two of this group makes the NCAA Tournament. I don't think six NCHC teams will make the field again.
And finally, there is Colorado College. It's going to be a very long, tough season for Colorado College. They do have a lot of freshmen this year, and while none of them look like surefire bets to make an immediate impact, there is perhaps hope that second-year coach Mike Haviland can mold this young group into a competitive bunch.
Player of the Year: Danton Heinen, Denver
Newcomer of the Year: Brock Boeser, North Dakota
Last year while previewing the NCHC, I said it may take Danton Heinen a year to build some strength before he really made an impact in the league. He ended up leading the conference in scoring. Now with that extra year of strength under his belt, he should be ready to do huge things this year.
Boeser and Miami's Jack Roslovic are the two clear choices here, both for their high draft status and for the fact that both will need to contribute immediately to offset the scoring losses on their respective teams.
F-Danton Heinen, Denver
F-Drake Caggiula, North Dakota
F-Jake Guentzel, Nebraska Omaha
D-Andy Welinski, Minnesota Duluth
D-Troy Stecher, North Dakota
G-Kasimir Kaskisuo, Minnesota Duluth
There were so many good options at forward. It feels criminal to exclude Trevor Moore and Sean Kuraly. On defense, there were two or three other defenseman from North Dakota that could have placed alongside Welinski. Stecher is the most dynamic of that group though. Goalie of the year likely goes to the goalie whose team wins the conference. Of the three prime candidates to win the conference, it's too difficult to separate between Cowley and Jaillet at Denver, and North Dakota's Matej Tomek hasn't played yet, so it seems wrong to pick him in a preseason poll, which leaves Kaskisuo, a very respectable choice.