2013-14 NCAA Hockey Preview: Big 10 Conference
Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. Today we start previewing the NCAA, looking for our next National College Hockey Champion. We start with a big name conference that is entering the realm of hockey for the first time in 2013-14 as it is the first season of the BIG 10. As always you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Yes we know the Big 10 conference only has six teams. Fans of teams in rival conferences can feel free to include their obligatory jokes about the conference not being able to do math jokes here. Be careful though, Big 10 fans are used to them with 11 and now 12 teams in their football and basketball conferences for several years.
Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers return 10 seniors for this season, giving them an experienced and powerful team. The Badgers won the WCHA final five tournament last year in their final season in the conference and are the pick of fellow Big 10 coaches to win the new conference in its inaugural year. Upfront the Badgers return top scorer and LA Kings prospect Michael Mersch who had 23 goals last year. They also bring back Ducks prospect Nic Kerdiles who had 33 points in 32 games as a freshman after serving an early season suspension. We know those two will score, and if Mark Zengerle, who is looking for a bounce back year after an outstanding sophomore season and a slight regression in his junior year, joins them the team will have plenty of offence. On the back end, they are lead by Sabres prospect Jake McCabe, and team captain Frankie Simonelli. Its an excellent one-two punch who can be matched against any players in the country. The goaltending is also solid with Joel Rumpel as the starter. He is the best returning goalie in the conference. The Badgers biggest edge this season is being solid in offence, defence and goaltending. Many other Big 10 teams can claim to be solid in 2 of the 3 areas, but have question marks in the third, and that is why I pick Wisconsin to win the conference.
Minnesota Golden Gophers: The Gophers return their top point getter in Panthers prospect Kyle Rau who put up a point per game last season. He’ll be supported up front by Colorado prospect Nate Condon. Incoming freshmen Hudson Fasching (LAK) and Taylor Cammarata (NYI) will be looked at to add punch up front. On defence the Gophers really lost a lot with Seth Helgeson and Mark Alt leaving and top recruit Tommy Vannelli choosing to go to the WHL. Senior Justin Holl (CHI) and junior Ben Marshall (DET) will lead the defence and Michael Brodzinski (SJS) is a freshman recruit, but this is an area of concern for Minnesota. In goal Adam Wilcox (TBL) was solid last season, and should be able to make up for some of the mistakes of the group in front of him.
Players to Watch
Nic Kerdiles, Centre/Left Wing, Wisconsin Badgers: A second round pick of the Ducks last year, Kerdiles was Wisconsin’s best player down the stretch, despite being a freshman. He is a talented offensive player and incredibly smart player with very high hockey IQ. Kerdiles is great at working down low, and playing the cycle game. He makes great tape to tape passes and has very good vision. He also has a real knack for finding open space from where he can unleash an extremely accurate shot. He’s got soft hands in close which he uses to score goals from tip=ins and rebounds. He’s a versatile forward who can be used both at Centre and on the Wing. A natural leader, Kerdiles possesses an insatiable work ethic. He is an effective forechecker chasing down opposing defenders and getting on the puck. He’s also extremely gritty, winning a ton of board battles and taking punishment in front of the opponents net. He’s fearless, committed to winning, and willing to take a hit to make a play. Kerdiles is also known to look for the big hit if it is available. Its not something he’ll do recklessly or get himself out of position, but if an opponent makes a mistake, Kerdiles can lower the boom. Kerdiles is also good in his own zone. He is an active and committed back checker. His hockey IQ translates into the defensive zone, as he is excellent positionally and anticipates plays well. He is very good at cutting down passing lanes, and has an uncanny ability to strip opponents of the puck. Kerdiles is very much a complete player, capable of playing in any situation. Kerdiles has improved his skating over the last year, but should continue to work to improve his first step and his acceleration. While we wouldn’t say that Kerdiles is slow, he is merely average in these aspects. His great work ethic and smart play helps him to cover up his average skating, however if he can show improvement he can really take his game to the next level. He does have solid balance and is strong on the puck, and difficult to knock off of it though, which is seen on the cycle.
Jake McCabe, Defence, Wisconsin Badgers: A second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2012, he’ll be tasked with leading the Wisconsin defence. McCabe is a very good skater. He has a very good top end speed, quick acceleration and a smooth stride. He pivots and changes directiions quickly and efficiently. He has good agility and balance, and uses his edges well. McCabe’s excellent skating helps him in all aspects of the game. He is good at rushing the puck, is capable of getting to a lot of loose pucks, and able to create space for himself in both the offensive and defensive zone. It is his biggest asset in creating the all around game that and on makes McCabe an intriguing prospect. McCabe is at his best defensively. He is very good defending the rush, keeping his opponent in front of him, and using a quick stick to knock the puck off an opponent’s stick. He’s not known as a big hitter, but is willing to engage in physical battles along the boards, and in front of his own net. McCabe has excellent hockey IQ, and plays a strong positional game, using his body and his stick to cut off passing and shooting lanes. McCabe also has a decent offensive skill set. He’s not much of a gambler, and doesn’t do it often, but his skating does give him the ability to go end to end at times. He’s a smart player, who makes a good first pass to start the breakout in his own end, and has good vision and passing skills to make plays in the offensive end. McCabe has a hard slap shot which he is able to keep low and on net. A valuable player who will be used in all situations by the badgers.
Eamon McAdam, Goalie, Penn State Nittany Lions: An incoming freshman for the Nittany Lions, the third round pick of the 2013 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders will have to fight for ice time with two returning goalies from last season. However McAdam is the most naturally talented of the three and even if he doesn’t play big minutes as a freshman, its only a matter of time before he takes over the net. At 6’2″ McAdam is the type of big goaltender that NHL teams seem to be favoring in recent years. McAdam plays a hybrid style, and his good skating and lateral movement allows him to get out far to cut down angles and challenge shooters, while still being able recover on cross ice passes or if a forward attempts to deke him. He has quick legs and takes away low shots very well. He has good athleticism and a quick glove hand. One area for McAdam to work on is his rebound control.
Mac Bennett, Defence, Michigan Wolverines: Don’t let his size fool you, Mac Bennett is one of the top defencemen in the conference. He was recently named the captain of the Wolverines and is looking to lead them to better results than last year. He is a strong skater, and moves the puck very quickly for the Wolverines. He possesses a good first pass as well as the ability to stickhandle and skate the puck up the ice. On the powerplay Bennett’s good vision and passing skills make him dangerous from the point. Bennett is also a solid defender, as his strong skating and excellent positioning allow him to keep most dangerous forwards at bay.
J.T. Compher, Left Wing/Centre, Michigan Wolverines: A second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Compher is an incoming freshman. Compher is a talented agitator who plays an irritating game. He is always yapping and always in an opponents face after the whistle. Compher has the ability to get opponents off their game and draw penalties. Compher always seems to have a nose for trouble, finding himself in the middle of any scrum that starts when he is on the ice. He is not afraid to go to dirty areas of the ice, and wins board battles and establishes position well in front of the net. He also drives the net hard, and has been known to take a goalie interference penalty or two for his efforts. He also has the skills to back up his chirping and agitation as he has the vision, and passing ability to be an extremely effective playmaker. Compher has very good stickhandling skill and can protect the puck well and control the play off the cycle. Compher combines this with a very good shot and release, and he knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. He also has the hockey sense to always find himself in the right place at the right time. Compher’s skating stride is not pretty, but it gets him where he is going and it is effective. He has decent speed and acceleration. He is very strong on his skates, and has good balance allowing him to fight through checks and get to the net. He is difficult to knock off the puck. His agility and edgework could use some work, and better skating technique through practice could certainly help in those aspects. Defensively, Compher is well developed. He brings his tenacious, hard working, physical game to the defensive end of the ice. He is willing to sacrifice for his team and puts his body on the line to block shots. His hockey sense, and ability to diagnose plays is very good and he often finds himself in the right spot in the defensive zone as well.
Hudson Fasching, Right Wing, Minnesota Golden Gophers: An L.A. Kings draft pick, Fasching is an incoming freshman for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Fasching has all the tools you would want in a power forward prospect. He is already 6’03″ and 213 lbs. Fasching takes the puck to the net, and can score goals in tight, or via a good wrist shot and snap shot with a quick release. He gets to the front of the net, where he uses his big body to establish position, and his soft hands to bang in rebounds or make deflections. Fasching is a load to handle in the corners and loves to play a strong, physical game, with plenty of hits on the forecheck. He has also shown good vision and passing skill off the wing. Fasching is a powerful skater with a long stride. He is a natural power forward who has excellent balance and is very tough to knock of the puck. His power and size allows him to fight off checks, and to bulldoze through defencemen off the rush or own the cycle. His top end speed is good, but the acceleration could be improved going forward, especially his first step. Fasching shows good agility and he has the natural athletic ability but must refine his skating technique with some work on his turning and edgework. Fasching is also a valuable two way player, playing important penalty killing minutes for the USNTDP club last year. He shows very good hockey sense and anticipation, cutting down passing lanes. He shows his aggressive physical side in the defensive zone, pressuring the puck carrier and not being afraid to mix things up along the boards. He does show some inconsistency in his defensive work and intensity though, and must learn how to keep himself dialed in at all times.
Ryan Dzingel, Centre, Ohio State Buckeyes: A Senators seventh round pick in 2011, Dzingel is developping into an offensive threat for the Buckeyes and led the team with 38 points in 40 games last year. He is a smooth skater, with decent speed and acceleration. Dzingel is at his best as a playmaker, using his good vision and passing skill to set up teammates. He makes smart decisions, has good poise with the puck on his stick and excellent stickhandling allowing him to extend plays waiting for a teammate to get open. While he’s not known as a goal scorer, he does have a good shot and an accurate release. He is not known as a big hitter, but does not shy away from being hit or from driving to the net to make a play. He is a decent defensive player who was used by the Buckeyes in tough matchups and penalty killing situations last year.
John Draeger, Defence, Michigan State Spartans: A third round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2012 draft, Draeger will miss at least half of this season with recovering from off-season surgery. He will be missed, and the Spartans will hope he has a similar (or bigger) impact when he returns to the lineup as the one he did as a freshman last year. Draeger is an excellent defender. He has very good pivots, agility, and edgework, along with good speed in both directions, and decent acceleration. This allows him to keep players in front of him, and maintain excellent gap control in his own end. He pokechecks well, and clears the front of the net and works in the corners. While not having a particularly powerful shot, Draeger can add offensive with his solid puck poise and passing skill.
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @TheHockeyMitch, @LastWordBigMick, @crimsonskorpion, @CMS_74_, @TwoTurtleDuffs, @dasimonetta, @LarryScotti, @ddmatthews, @evan_lacey, @thetq21, @CanuckPuckHead, @jaynichols11, @LastWordOnNHL, and @darrinharmy and follow the site @lastwordonsport.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.