It's no secret that college hockey has produced a greater number of future NHL stars over the past few decades than it had in the past.
This weekend's Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass. will feature several prominent NHL prospects. In total, the four teams have 32 NHL Draft picks on their rosters. Providence, the defending NCAA Champion, will take on Minnesota Duluth in the first game at 4:30 ET Friday. Beanpot rivals Boston College and Harvard square off in the second semifinal at 8 ET. The two winners will meet Saturday at 9 p.m. ET with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
For the casual hockey fan venturing out to the DCU Center, there are several players on each team to keep an eye on for the future.
They rarely are on the ice together at the same time, but Boston College juniors Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini are the two most pro-ready, shutdown defenders in college hockey. Both were selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft.
McCoshen, a Florida Panthers prospect, has the third best plus/minus of any defenseman in college hockey at +29. He's big, rugged and steady. He's not going to wow fans with flashy moves or spectacular end-to-end rushes, but he just simply gets the job done. He makes smart, heady outlet passes, skates effortlessly, has a good stick and can ride opposing forwards to the perimeter. He added an offensive element to his game this season, with six goals and 14 assists. He has a booming slap shot and does a nice job moving the puck from the blue line on the man advantage.
Santini, whose father played college hockey at Maine, is a New Jersey Devils draft pick. The Mahopac, NY native won the Hockey East Best Defensive Defenseman Award this season. He's also not a defenseman that you will notice rushing up and down the sheet, but he has very good lateral mobility and likes to play with a mean streak. He's big, strong and skates well.
It's a good bet that both juniors will forego their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro, and it won't be long before they're plying their trade in the NHL.
Trophy Case Filling Up
After winning the Walter Brown Award as the top American-born college hockey player in New England and being a Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist, Harvard left wing Jimmy Vesey surprised a lot of people by returning to the Crimson for his senior season.
The 2012 third round pick of the Nashville Predators is back at it again this season. He won the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year for a second consecutive season as he led the Crimson in points with 22 goals and 24 assists.
He's a big power forward who has matured and developed quite a bit under head coach Ted Donato. He's improved his overall fitness, but most notably his lower body strength has gotten much better to the point where he's more explosive and can get going quickly. He has that extra gear to blow past defenders as he enters the offensive zone. He's a good passer and has a precise, hard shot with a quick release. His powerful stride and size allow him to be a force in the slot.
Vesey has once again been named a Hobey Baker Finalist, and is probably the second most likely to win the award come April 8 in Tampa, only behind Michigan freshman Kyle Connor.
His father, Jim Sr., is the all-time leading scorer at Merrimack and is currently a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His brother, Nolan, is a rising junior on the Maine hockey team.
Top Free Agent
A strong argument can be made for Minnesota State junior defenseman who recently signed with the Buffalo Sabres or North Dakota junior defenseman Troy Stecher, but Brandon Tanev is at the very least one of the best free agent prospects in college hockey this season.
How could that be, some might ask. He only has 15 goals and 13 assists. It's the intangibles and his style of play that most scouts believe will allow him to be a very good bottom six forward at the next level.
He has a high motor and an unbelievable compete level. He goes hard each and every shift. He's the fastest player in college hockey, has above average hands and a quick, heavy release. He's tenacious on the forecheck and on puck pursuit. He is terrific killing penalties and has a knack for scoring big goals.
The Toronto, Ontario native, who scored the third period game-winning goal in last year's NCAA Championship game against BU, quit hockey for a season when he was younger, but is back with a vengeance. The brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman and former RIT star Chris Tanev, he is coveted by several NHL organizations.
Plethora of Riches
Nine of the 12 forwards likely to dress for BC this weekend are NHL Draft picks, including two first round selections. Alex Tuch, a first round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2014, and Colin White, a first round selection of the Ottawa Senators in 2015, headline the group up front for the Eagles.
White is the fourth leading scorer of any rookie in college hockey. The Hanover, Mass. native has 19 goals and 22 assists in 34 games. The U.S. NTDP alum is a dynamic skater who can generate time and space to create offense. Standing at six-feet, he can't really be described as a big, power forward, but he plays bigger than his size.
Tuch, a sophomore from Baldwinsville, NY, is a big, hulking right wing whose stride looks effortless. He has great lower body strength and acceleration. His skating is smooth and long with a powerful stride. He has a heavy, hard shot that he can snap off.
On a line with Tuch for the majority of the season has been fellow sophomore Zach Sanford, whose development has been tremendous. He has similar size and skating ability with a stride that looks effortless. He has the ability to go from zero to 60 quickly and make plays off the wall. What fans will notice is his ability to draw defenders before dishing the puck to open line mates. He's still filling into his frame and has an even higher ceiling.
Freshman Miles Wood, a '95 who was picked in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Draft by New Jersey, is a speedster with good size. He's the son of former NHLer Randy Wood. He can burst up and down the left side of the sheet with authority. He has an extra gear that he can use to blow by defenders, beat out icings and for puck pursuit. He has 10 goals and 24 assists, but his role at the next level will be as a third or fourth liner that can grind, and he'll be very good at it.
BC's leading scorer, junior Ryan Fitzgerald, is the son of Providence alum and New Jersey Devils Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald. The fourth round pick of the Boston Bruins has 22 goals and 22 assists. He lacks the prototypical NHL size, but his defense has gotten better and he has a decent offensive skill set. He might find himself in that intermediate ground where he's not really a top six guy and not enough of a grinder to be a bottom six guy. However, he's a player that can have a big impact at the collegiate level.
The game has changed a lot over the years, and no position more so than goaltending. Never is that more evident than the goaltending match-up in Friday's second semifinal.
Both Boston College junior Thatcher Demko and Harvard sophomore Merrick Madsen are NHL Draft picks standing north of six-feet and from California. They showcase the growth of the game and the move towards bigger goaltenders that cover a ton of net.
Demko, a San Diego native, is a second round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks. He's a U.S. NTDP alum who has long had the physical tools and mechanics that NHL scouts and upper management dream of when scouring rinks for the next best goaltender.
At six-foot-four, he's athletic, quick and graceful. His footwork and explosion from post-to-post is stuff younger goaltenders should try to emulate. He tracks pucks well, limits rebounds and squares up to shooters. His movement and fundamentals make it so he rarely has to make an acrobatic save.
Demko's .935 save percentage is just three points behind Yale junior Alex Lyon for the national lead in that category. A finalist for the Mike Richter Award as college hockey's top goaltender, it would be no surprise if he opted to sign with the Canucks following the season.
Madsen sat behind Steve Michalek last season as a freshman, but has now been given the full reigns between the pipes for the Crimson. The Acton, Calif. native played prep hockey for Proctor Academy (NH) before heading to the Minot Minotauros in the NAHL. The six-foot-five Madsen is big and more raw than Demko. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Despite his terrific numbers, Madsen has had his ups and downs in his first year as the full-time starter. He'll have to be on his game Friday to keep BC's explosive offense at bay.
Most fans, outside of the few that make the trek from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, will be unfamiliar with Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs, making their second consecutive NCAA Northeast Regional appearance, have the fewest amount of NHL Draft picks at just four.
Senior Tony Cameranesi, a fifth round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012, is the team's leading scorer with 10 goals and 26 assists. He's a great skater with a powerful stride for a player that stands just under six-feet tall. His hockey sense ranks among the best in the NCHC, according to one scout who covers the Minnesota region.
Fellow Maple Leafs prospect Dominic Toninato, taken in the fifth round in 2013, is a pure goal scorer who puts himself in position to succeed in the scoring areas. The junior has regressed a little this season from a points production standpoint, but his size and shooting ability give Toronto reason for optimism.
Anaheim draft pick Andy Welinski provides the senior leadership on the blue line. He had a tremendous January and February. He's rugged and very solid on the back line.
Finnish-born goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo is a sophomore who can be a game changer for UMD when he's on top of his game. The six-foot-three free agent came to UMD from the NAHL, which has been quite the breeding ground for top goaltenders in recent years.