The men's college hockey season is upon us, finally. The excitement around the NCAA is palpable, even if this will be a bittersweet campaign: at least seven programs have already bowed out of playing the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic. The Ivy schools (Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton) and RIT will all take a pass on competing and that is truly unfortunate, but also understandable.
On the bright side, this is truly an historic class of players, led by three Michigan freshmen who could go top-10 and maybe even top-five in the 2021 NHL draft - Owen Power, Kent Johnson and Matty Beniers. There is a ton of talent in the ranks around the country and that's why, for the first time, I have expanded my Players to Watch list from 75 to an even 100. I always had to leave off some kids, but this year there were simply too many not to include - and I still had to make some tough calls to get to 100.
For those who haven't seen the list before, let me lay it out for you: first, this is more alchemy than science and it is not a straight-up power ranking. This is a list of the players I am most excited to follow this season, with a heavy emphasis on NHL potential. There is also a newness factor at work, as I tend to favor freshmen and sophomores over upperclassmen, simply because the next wave brings new flavor to the ice. Also, while I try to get in as many different programs as I can, this is not a democracy. You're going to see a lot of kids from big-name programs because those teams tend to recruit the best. I make no apologies here. There is some limit however, so eventually I try to cap the amount of players from one squad. And since the Ivies aren't playing, I naturally haven't included any of their kids this year.
With all that said, let's get to a very fun list. Games start this weekend - get excited.
1. Owen Power, D, Michigan: The last time a college player went first overall in the NHL draft was Erik Johnson in 2006. Power could change that in 2021.
2. Cole Caufield, RW, Wisconsin: Pin-point accuracy makes Caufield a threat to score from any angle and the Montreal Canadiens pick will pile up points as a sophomore.
3. Jake Sanderson, D, North Dakota: All-around star blueliner is an athlete who is still on the ascent; Ottawa made him the first defenseman taken in 2020.
4. Alex Newhook, C, Boston College: Talented and driven, Newhook is a Colorado Avalanche prospect who put up more than a point per game as a freshman last season.
5. Shane Pinto, C, North Dakota: One of the most pleasant surprises in college last year, Pinto was great for NoDak and Team USA at the world juniors. He's an Ottawa Senators pick.
6. Spencer Knight, G, Boston College: Few goalie prospects in North America can hang with Knight right now: the Florida Panthers pick has the entire toolbox at his disposal.
7. Cam York, D, Michigan: The Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder had a decent freshman campaign, but his skill set indicates a sophomore break-out in Ann Arbor.
8. Dylan Holloway, LW, Wisconsin: Scouts gave him props for going to school early; now he's an Edmonton Oilers prospect with a year of experience under his belt. Great size and speed.
9. Kent Johnson, C, Michigan: Another potential top-10 pick in the 2021 draft, Johnson is a dynamic offensive threat who rolled up points in the BCHL last year.
10. Matty Beniers, C, Michigan: The third of Michigan's elite 2021 draft prospects, Beniers is a former NTDP standout who can really make things happen in the offensive zone.
11. Bobby Brink, RW, Denver: You can knock his size and skating, but Brink came through as a freshman with 24 points in 28 games. He's a Philadelphia Flyers pick.
12. Tyce Thompson, C, Providence College: A late bloomer with NHL roots, Thompson exploded as a sophomore, making the New Jersey Devils look pretty smart in the process.
13. Aidan McDonough, LW, Northeastern: Another breakout star from last season, McDonough is a Vancouver Canucks find who finished fourth in Huskies scoring as a freshman.
14. Jacob Bernard-Docker, D, North Dakota: His two-way game is so, so good. 'JBD' was smooth at the world juniors for Canada and he'll be key to the Fighting Hawks again as a junior.
15. Ryan Johnson, D, Minnesota: He was raw when Buffalo drafted him in 2019; now it's time for the skating ace to put up some numbers for the Golden Gophers' blueline corps.
16. Matthew Boldy, LW, Boston College: There was a lot of pressure on Boldy early, but the Minnesota Wild first-rounder really stepped up in the second half of his freshman campaign.
17. Jackson LaCombe, D, Minnesota: An excellent skater with nice offensive upside, the Anaheim Ducks prospect finished second in team blueline scoring as a freshman.
18. Wyatt Kaiser, D, Minnesota-Duluth: One of the best prospects in Minnesota high school last season, Kaiser and his great mobility are now property of the Chicago Blackhawks.
19. Ty Smilanic, C, Quinnipiac: An excellent 1-on-1 threat with great athleticism, Smilanic gives the Bobcats some young, high-end talent. He's a Florida Panthers pick.
20. Luke Tuch, LW, Boston U.: Alex's younger brother has a great shot and is still pretty raw. The Montreal Canadiens pick will get some great development time with the Terriers.
21. Magnus Chrona, G, Denver: Mammoth Swedish netminder was a big-time stopper for the Pioneers as a freshman. Now the Tampa Bay Lightning pick is back for more.
22. Brock Faber, D, Minnesota: One of the Gophers' top recruits, Faber is an NTDP product with great smarts and defensive details. He's a Los Angeles Kings pick.
23. Jordan Harris, D, Northeastern: A great offensive defenseman, Harris is a Montreal Canadiens prospect who racked up assists as a sophomore.
24. Brendan Brisson, C, Michigan: Very smart and in possession of a lethal one-timer, Brisson is a Vegas Golden Knights first-rounder and yet another elite Wolverines freshman.
25. Brandon Kruse, LW, Bowling Green: One of the Falcons' top options for offense the past three years, the Vegas Golden Knights prospect heads into a big senior year.
26. Jordan Kawaguchi, RW, North Dakota: If the Frozen Four hadn't been cancelled Kawaguchi might have left for the pros as a national champ. As it is, he is the NHL's top NCAA free agent.
27. David Farrance, D, Boston U.: The senior defenseman had a monster 43 points in 34 games last season. Let's see what the Nashville Predators pick does for an encore.
28. Aarne Talvitie, LW, Penn State: A talented leader and New Jersey Devils prospect, Talvitie will bring a veteran presence to a Nittany Lions team with high expectations.
29. Veeti Miettinen, RW, St. Cloud State: He destroyed the Finnish junior ranks, now the Toronto Maple Leafs pick sets his sights on the college landscape as an exciting freshman.
30. Johnny Beecher, C, Michigan: The speedy center was luminous as a freshman, proving the Boston Bruins were savvy in grabbing him in the first round of the 2019 draft.
31. Peter DiLiberatore, D, Quinnipiac: An offensive defenseman who has looked solid in his first two campaigns, the Vegas Golden Knights pick returns for a highly-anticipated junior season.
32. Jay O'Brien, C, Boston U.: His first go with Providence College was a bust; now the Philadelphia Flyers pick returns to college in hopes of getting on track with the Terriers.
33. Cole Brady, G, Arizona State: The Sun Devils have done pretty good on goalies early on. The newest is the 6-foot-5 Brady, a New Jersey Devils pick with a lot of raw upside.
34. Landon Slaggert, LW, Notre Dame: A two-way threat with a physical side to his game, Slaggert is a Chicago Blackhawks pick whose dad and brother also played for the Irish.
35. Carter Savoie, LW, Denver: One of the deadliest snipers in Canadian Jr. A last season, Savoie jumps up to the college ranks after being selected by the Edmonton Oilers.
36. Zac Jones, D, UMass: His freshman campaign was excellent, as the New York Rangers pick earned conference all-rookie team honors thanks to his skating and his hands.
37. Zach Uens, D, Merrimack: Passed over in the draft once, Uens used an incredibly strong freshman campaign with the Warriors to catch the eye of the Florida Panthers in 2020.
38. Blake Biondi, C, Minnesota-Duluth: Another highly-touted Minnesota high schooler, the solidly-built Biondi now joins the powerful Bulldogs as a Montreal Canadiens pick.
39. Jayden Struble, D, Northeastern: A mobile D-man who plays with a nice physical edge, Struble is a Montreal Canadiens pick looking to build off a solid freshman campaign.
40. Sammy Walker, C, Minnesota: Expect a lot of offense from Walker in his junior season with the Gophers. The Tampa Bay Lightning pick led Minnesota in scoring last year.
41. Logan Hutsko, RW, Boston College: Another high-scoring veteran, Hutsko enters his final year with the Eagles on a roll. He's a Florida Panthers pick.
42. Sam Colangelo, RW, Northeastern: The big-bodied Anaheim Ducks prospect can really dot the scoresheet. Colangelo brings a great shot and slick hands to the Huskies.
43. Layton Ahac, D, Ohio State: A defensive puckmover in the Chris Tanev mould, Ahac is still growing into his frame. The sophomore is a Vegas Golden Knights pick.
44. Michael Benning, D, Denver: The offensively-gifted defenseman put up massive numbers in Jr. A last year. Can the Florida Panthers prospect get similar results with the Pioneers?
45. Jonny Tychonick, D, Nebraska-Omaha: Transferring over from North Dakota, the Ottawa Senators pick gets a second chance to show off his offensive game with the Mavs.
46. Nathan Smith, C, Minnesota State: One of the top players on one of the most consistently excellent programs in the nation, Smith is a Winnipeg Jets pick heading into his second year.
47. Drew Commesso, G, Boston U.: Probably a little underrated, Commesso is a very promising goalie with size and quickness. He was just selected by the Chicago Blackhawks.
48. Jakov Novak, LW, Bentley: Big power forward exploded for 30 points as a sophomore with the Falcons - and he's still on the upswing. Novak is an Ottawa Senators pick.
49. Ethan Haider, G, Clarkson: Promising goalie with great size begins his college career after busy USHL season. Haider is a Nashville Predators prospect.
50. Robert Mastrosimone, C, Boston U.: Tenacious puckhound and Detroit Red Wings selection is coming off a very impressive freshman campaign with the Terriers.
51. Artem Shlaine, C, UConn: Shattuck-St. Mary's alum joins the Huskies after getting taken in the draft by the New Jersey Devils. He'll get you the greasy goals and more.
52. Sampo Ranta, LW, Minnesota: Veteran Finnish forward and Colorado Avalanche pick doubled his goal production year-over-year. Now the big junior looks to break out further.
53. Owen Lindmark, C, Wisconsin: The two-way center put up an impressive 17 points as a freshman with the Badgers. Lindmark is a Florida Panthers pick.
54. Isaiah Saville, G, Nebraska-Omaha: Poised and athletic netminder grabbed the starter's job as a freshman. Now the Vegas Golden Knights pick can focus on building his game.
55. Michael Callahan, D, Providence College: Big, playmaking defenseman nearly tripled his production year-over-year. The junior Friar is an Arizona Coyotes pick.
56. Carson Bantle, LW, Michigan Tech: Great size, long reach and a tough kid to get the puck off, Bantle joins the Huskies' freshman class as an Arizona Coyotes prospect.
57. Jack McBain, C, Boston College: Big-bodied pivot enters his third season with the Eagles. Can the Minnesota Wild prospect break out as a junior?
58. Ryder Rolston, RW, Notre Dame: Competitive kid with NHL roots (he's Brian Rolston's son) enters his freshman season in South Bend after getting picked in the draft by Colorado.
59. Dominic Basse, G, Colorado College: Massive goalie with raw potential joins the Tigers from USHL Youngstown. Basse is a Chicago Blackhawks pick.
60. Marc Del Gaizo, D, UMass: The Nashville Predators prospect was hit by injuries in his sophomore year, but Del Gaizo has already proven he can bring the 'O' from the back end.
61. Benton Maass, D, New Hampshire: The big Washington Capitals selection hasn't been able to replicate the offense from his freshman season; can he come through again as a senior?
62. Trevor Janicke, C, Notre Dame: Seen as a savvy pick when the Anaheim Ducks grabbed him in the fifth round, Janicke looks to build off a nice freshman season with the Irish.
63. Tyler Kleven, D, North Dakota: An old-school defenseman with size and physicality, Kleven is an Ottawa Senators pick who gives the Fighting Hawks a different look on the back end.
64. Ben Meehan, D, UMass-Lowell: The shifty and deceptive puckmover put up nice numbers in the USHL; now the Los Angeles Kings prospect will help out the River Hawks.
65. Noah Cates, C, Minnesota-Duluth: He was a point-per-gamer as a sophomore last season, now the Philadelphia Flyers pick has earned the captaincy for the Bulldogs.
66. Drew Helleson, D, Boston College: The smooth-skating defensive defenseman enters his sophomore season with the Eagles. He's a Colorado Avalanche pick.
67. Alex Vlasic, D, Boston U.: Great size (6-foot-6), reach and skating ability make Vlasic a big asset on the back end. The sophomore is a Chicago Blackhawks prospect.
68. Thomas Bordeleau, C, Michigan: The freshman and San Jose Sharks selection is an excellent playmaker - and that'll be fun with all the snipers the Wolverines have now.
69. Brett Berard, LW, Providence College: Pesky and talented, Berard is going to be disliked in Hockey East, but loved by Friars fans. He's a New York Rangers selection.
70. Blake McLaughlin, LW, Minnesota: The promising Anaheim Ducks prospect showed some growth as a sophomore after a nice freshman campaign for the Golden Gophers.
71. Vladislav Firstov, LW, UConn: Strong kid with a great shot was one of UConn's top scorers in his freshman year. Now the Minnesota Wild pick is back for more as a sophomore.
72. Nick Swaney, RW, Minnesota-Duluth: He's already won two national titles with UMD; now the Minnesota Wild pick returns with an 'A' on his jersey.
73. Ethan Phillips, RW, Boston U.: Smart, energetic and skilled, Phillips had a decent freshman campaign but now the Detroit Red Wings pick comes back for more.
74. Ronnie Attard, D, Western Michigan: Offensive defenseman with size put up nice numbers for the Broncos as a freshman. He's a Philadelphia Flyers prospect.
75. Jachym Kondelik, C, UConn: Massive pivot has been a consistent producer and playmaker for the Huskies through two seasons. He's a Nashville Predators pick.
76. Clayton Phillips, D, Penn State: Veteran puckmover enters his second year with Penn State after transferring from Minnesota. Phillips is a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect.
77. Spencer Stastney, D, Notre Dame: Physical two-way defenseman had a huge leap in production as a sophomore. Can the Nashville Predators pick continue to ascend as a junior?
78. Erik Portillo, G, Michigan: Big Swedish netminder will have to fight for starts on the Wolverines, but there's a ton of potential in the Buffalo Sabres prospect.
79. Alex Young, C, Colgate: A big-time scorer in the Alberta Jr. A League, Young is a San Jose Sharks pick who brings nice skill with him to the Raiders program.
80. Tomas Vomacka, G, UConn: Talented netminder with great size played nearly every game for the Huskies last season. He's a Nashville Predators prospect.
81. Slava Demin, D, Denver: Two-way defenseman with good size returns for his junior season with the Pios. He's a Chicago Blackhawks prospect.
82. Brett Stapley, C, Denver: The Montreal Canadiens pick is the leading scoring among returnees for the Pioneers this season. Can he become a point-per-gamer as a junior?
83. Alex Campbell, C, Clarkson: A gamer with skill and speed, Campbell enters his freshman year with the Golden Knights as a Nashville Predators prospect.
84. Dylan Peterson, C, Boston U.: With great size, skating and hands, Peterson has a great toolbox to work with. The freshman center is a St. Louis Blues pick.
85. Alex Jefferies, LW, Merrimack: Jefferies ripped up the New England prep circuit; now the speedy winger joins the Warriors frosh class as a New York Islanders draft pick.
86. Garrett Metcalf, G, Long Island University: The Sharks are the newest program in the land, so it will help to have a veteran transfer in net. Metcalf is an Anaheim Ducks pick.
87. Marshall Warren, D, Boston College: The offensive defenseman put up decent numbers as a freshman, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the Minnesota Wild pick make a sophomore leap.
88. Matt Thiessen, G, Maine: With Jeremy Swayman off to the pros, Thiessen gets a chance to grab major minutes in the Black Bears' crease. He's a Vancouver Canucks pick.
89. Sam Hentges, C, St. Cloud State: Under-the-radar producer should be able to hit the point-per-game mark as a junior with the Huskies. Hentges is a Minnesota Wild prospect.
90. Yan Kuznetsov, D, UConn: The defensive defenseman impressed scouts with his freshman play as a 17-year-old. Now he's a Calgary Flames second-rounder.
91. Filip Lindberg, G, UMass: He's got two sparkling seasons with the Minutemen under his belt already, so expectations should be high for the Minnesota Wild goalie prospect.
92. Max Crozier, D, Providence College: The solidly-built Tampa Bay Lightning pick put up some good numbers as a freshman for the Friars, finishing second in team 'D' scoring.
93. Peter Thome, G, North Dakota: Big netminder and Columbus Blue Jackets pick once again likely to split duty with Adam Scheel on a team with championship aspirations.
94. Andre Lee, LW, UMass-Lowell: Big kid from Sweden causes a lot of havoc on the ice and the Los Angeles Kings pick came away with impressive numbers as a freshman.
95. Trevor Kuntar, C, Boston College: One of the top scoring threats in the USHL last year, Kuntar is a Boston Bruins pick who will help the Eagles immediately.
96. Keith Petruzzelli, G, Quinnipiac: The towering veteran netminder and Detroit Red Wings pick has gotten better with each season in Connecticut. This is his senior campaign.
97. Devon Levi, G, Northeastern: A smaller goalie who comes up big in pressure situations, Levi is an intriguing freshman for the Huskies and a Florida Panthers pick.
98. Colby Ambrosio, C, Boston College: Speedy, energetic player in a smaller package, the Colorado Avalance prospect should fit right in with the Eagles program.
99. Nick Leivermann, D, Notre Dame: Another Colorado Avalanche pick, Leivermann came to Notre Dame raw but has already made some nice strides on the back end.
100. Angus Crookshank, LW, New Hampshire: The feisty forward returns as one of the Wildcats' top offensive threats. Crookshank is a junior and an Ottawa Senators prospect.