It's that time of year again, folks. The NCAA season is upon us and I put together my list of the 100 men's hockey players I'm most excited to watch. It is both a labor of love and a maddening exercise in which I never have enough spots for all the talent in today's college game. This year seemed particularly tough and there are reasons for this: A number of high-end players, robbed of the typical college experience by Covid, decided to return to school rather than sign their pro deals. We also had a robust transfer window and the advent of a one-time eligibility extension that will see a number of prominent fifth-year players in the sport. And of course, the uptick of talent continues in the NCAA year over year.
That ascent is great news for the sport, but bad news for me when I can't squeeze the likes of Gunnarwolfe Fontaine or Vladimir Firstov onto my list, but that's the burden I chose, wasn't it? In the meantime, here's a refresher for the hardcore and an explainer for the first-timers: This list represents the 100 players I am most excited about in the game, not necessarily the highest scorers or best goalies. I focus on NHL prospects and tend to skew more towards freshmen and sophomores because they're the shiny new toys. While I like to include as many different programs as possible, I don't go out of my way to be inclusive: this is a merciless meritocracy and some programs have a ton of selections (Michigan and Minnesota this year). I was happy that the sport's newest addition, the University of St. Thomas, had a player worthy of inclusion, however.
With all that in mind, let's get to the list.
1. Owen Power, D, Michigan (BUF): Two-way force and first overall pick last seen helping Canada win gold at the World Championship (not the world juniors – the worlds).
2. Matty Beniers, C, Michigan (SEA): The Kraken's first-ever selection can rack up points while also being dependable on key defensive faceoffs.
3. Kent Johnson, LW, Michigan (CBJ): Final member of Michigan's 'Big 3' from the 2021 draft is a highlight machine who will continue to ascend as he gets stronger.
4. Jake Sanderson, D, North Dakota (OTT): Already a gem for NoDak, Sanderson is going to be an absolute two-way beast as a sophomore in Grand Forks.
5. Luke Hughes, D, Michigan (NJ): Freshman blueliner with incredible wheels will fit in perfectly with the Wolverines' high-octane attack.
6. Sean Farrell, RW, Harvard (MTL): The wait was longer than expected, but the Crimson finally get the uber-talented Farrell into their lineup. Expect a lot of points.
7. Alex Vlasic, D, Boston U. (CHI): One of my favorite players to watch last year, the big Vlasic has truly taken his offensive game to another level without sacrificing 'D.'
8. Jack Peart, D, St. Cloud State (MIN): One of my favorite players from this summer's draft, Peart is on a huge incline, with tons of potential as an offensively-gifted defenseman.
9. Chaz Lucius, C, Minnesota (WPG): Big-time goal-scorer joins a stacked Gophers lineup where he will no doubt find great linemates to play off as a freshman.
10. Drew Commesso, G, Boston U. (CHI): If I'm Team USA, he's my world junior goalie. Exciting to see what the promising netminder can do as a sophomore with the Terriers.
11. Matt Coronato, RW, Harvard (CGY): Poised to be a dominant college player, Coronato has strength, a terrific work ethic and enough skill to devastate a scoresheet.
12. Sean Behrens, D, Denver (COL): The Avs know defense and landing Behrens was a coup. The Pios freshman controls the play and can contribute in any situation.
13. Mackie Samoskevich, C, Michigan (FLA): Another flashy weapon for the Wolverines to deploy, Samoskevich has speed, dynamism and excels at creating zone entries.
14. Mason Lohrei, D, Ohio State (BOS): One of the top players in the USHL last season, Lohrei dominated in Green Bay and now brings his offensively-leaning game to the Buckeyes.
15. Corson Ceulemans, D, Wisconsin (CBJ): Two-way player with a great physical dimension probably didn't get enough publicity last year, but Badgers fans will love him.
16. Jay O'Brien, C, Boston U. (PHI): It seems like O'Brien is back on track and that's excellent news for the Flyers, who have a reborn offensive weapon marinating with the Terriers.
17. Shai Buium, D, Denver (DET): There's tons of potential in Buium, the still-growing freshman with size, instincts and offense in his arsenal.
18. Wyatt Kaiser, D, Minnesota-Duluth (CHI): UMD has been a factory for blueliners lately and Kaiser is the latest star, bringing excellent skating to the back end.
19. Ayrton Martino, LW, Clarkson (DAL): Breakaway machine was excellent for USHL Omaha last season; now he takes his smart, skilled game to Potsdam.
20. Josh Doan, RW, Arizona State (ARI): Still on the ascent, Doan has the size and skill to make an immediate impact with the Sun Devils, despite his freshman status.
21. Brock Faber, D, Minnesota (LA): Super-smart defender is already an integral part of the Gopher's back end; let's see if he can help them make a deep run this season.
22. Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (2022): Not that one – a different Jack Hughes. But this one is also a talented center who comes from a hockey family, so not that different, either…
23. Drew Helleson, D, Boston College (COL): Big defender had a breakout sophomore campaign; it's gonna be fun to see what he can do as a junior.
24. Veeti Miettinen, LW, St. Cloud State (TOR): Playing for a high-end squad, Miettinen was a go-to guy as a freshman. Expect more scoring punch this season.
25. Ty Smilanic, C, Quinnipiac (FLA): With Odeen Tufto gone, look for Smilanic to be the focal point of the Bobcats offense; he's certainly got the skills to be that guy.
26. Scott Morrow, D, UMass (CAR): Freshman blueliner loves to contribute to the offense, while UMass is the perfect place for him to develop the defensive side of the game.
27. Nick Abbruzzese, C, Harvard (TOR): It's truly a shame Abbruzzese missed last year with Harvard's cancellation, but it will be fun to see him build off his massive freshman campaign.
28. Brendan Brisson, RW, Michigan (VGK): The shot and the smarts make him a lethal weapon in the offensive zone. Brisson was almost a point-per-gamer as a freshman.
29. Ryan Ufko, D, UMass (NSH): This kid makes so many plays, it's silly. Nashville knows defensemen and Ufko will give the Minutemen some of what Zac Jones took with him.
30. Luke Tuch, LW, Boston U. (MTL): Big, strong frame and a wicked shot make Tuch a weapon. Came into college with raw potential and has already realized a good chunk of it.
31. Thomas Bordeleau, C, Michigan (SJ): Great skater with good edgework and a flair for playmaking, Bordeleau led the Wolverines in scoring last year and did so as a freshman.
32. Jackson LaCombe, D, Minnesota (ANA): Smart, mobile blueliner will be a key cog on one of the nation's top defense corps. Look for a lot of points from him.
33. Jayden Struble, D, Northeastern (MTL): Hard-hitting blueliner brings lots of experience and two-way play back to a Huskies squad with high expectations.
34. Jordan Harris, D, Northeastern (MTL): The Huskies' other promising Habs defensive prospect, Harris is a great puckmover who put up a point per game as a junior.
35. Alex Jefferies, LW, Merrimack (NYI): Quick and dynamic, Jefferies had a fantastic abbreviated freshman year for the Warriors and they'll need that again.
36. Isaiah Saville, G, Nebraska-Omaha (VGK): He took the starter's job as a freshman and never looked back. Now a junior, Saville will be crucial to the Mavs' season.
37. Michael Karow, D, Michigan Tech (ARI): Transferring over from Boston College, Karow is one of those fifth-year seniors and will bring a ton of experience to the Huskies.
38. Aidan Hreschuk, D, Boston College (CAR): There's a lot of raw potential in Hreschuk, especially as an offensive blueliner. He's in a good spot with the experienced Eagles.
39. Bobby Brink, RW, Denver (PHI): Hard-working and skilled, Brink will once again be a great threat up front for the Pioneers after a bit of a tough sophomore campaign.
40. Jack Bar, D, Harvard (DAL): Big, strong kid has a bomb for a shot and comes in from a great USHL Chicago squad. Look for him to be a solid freshman.
41. Guillaume Richard, D, Providence College (CBJ): Smooth skater with size has a great transition game already. Still raw in other areas, so there's a lot of upside there.
42. Peter Thome, G, St. Thomas (CBJ): The Tommies' first NHL prospect, Thome transfers after four years at North Dakota and the NCAA's newest team will need him to be a wall.
43. Landon Slaggert, LW, Notre Dame (CHI): Tenacious and talented, Slaggert finished third in team scoring as a freshman, behind older bro Graham and the departed Alex Steeves.
44. Aaron Huglen, C, Minnesota (BUF): A serious back injury led to an heroic recovery and now the offensively-gifted Huglen finally arrives in Minnesota to help the Gophers' attack.
45. Ryan Tverberg, LW, UConn (TOR): Quite the pleasant surprise as a freshman, Tverberg joined the Huskies midway through the year and immediately made an impact.
46. Nathan Smith, C, Minnesota State (WPG): The flagbearer for this golden era Mavs team is Smith, a responsible two-way center who can still burn you in the offensive zone.
47. Brent Johnson, D, North Dakota (WSH): His draft year was cut short by a shoulder injury, but Johnson showed plenty beforehand. He's a great skater and transition defenseman.
48. Jakub Dobes, G, Ohio State (MTL): Czech national comes in with tons of size (6-foot-5, 197 pounds) and a chance to play significant minutes with Tommy Nappier off to the pros.
49. Jackson Kunz, LW, North Dakota (VAN): Powerful winger really lit up the USHL with Green Bay after developing at Shattuck-St. Mary's. Will be fun to see what he can do in college.
50. Tomas Mazura, C, Providence College (EDM): Big, playmaking center from the Czech Republic spent time in Finland last year but already has lots of North American experience.
51. Lucas Mercuri, RW, UMass (CAR): Another big kid with lots of promise and a great scoring touch around the net, Mercuri joins the Minutemen from USHL Des Moines.
52. Matthew Knies, RW, Minnesota (TOR): Power forward really turned his draft year around in the second half by focusing on playing in a straight line. Adds nice dimension to Gophers.
53. Jake Kucharski, G, American International (CAR): The Yellow Jackets have been hot in Atlantic Hockey and Kucharski had a 1.69 goals-against average in his first year with the team.
54. Dylan Duke, LW, Michigan (TB): This kid feasts around the crease, even though he doesn't have a lot of size. Brings a different offensive element to the dynamic Wolverines.
55. Alex Laferriere, RW, Harvard (LA): An extra year with USHL Des Moines was great for Laferriere's development; he'll be dangerous for the Crimson.
56. Clayton Phillips, D, Penn State (PIT): Veteran blueliner who can really skate enters his fifth NCAA campaign, which will be a boon for the Nittany Lions.
57. Cam Berg, LW, Nebraska-Omaha (NYI): Passed over in one draft, Berg took his revenge on the USHL and now he brings his potent offensive toolbox to the Mavericks.
58. Luca Munzenberger, D, Vermont (EDM): Big, physical blueliner played for Germany's world junior squad, where he caught the Oilers' eye. Now he's a freshman Catamount.
59. Eamon Powell, D, Boston College (TB): Well-rounded blueliner with great hockey IQ made a positive impact as a freshman and will undoubtedly add to his numbers this year.
60. Cole Brady, G, Arizona State (NJ): Big netminder with the ability to steal games was by far the Sun Devils' best goalie last year and the sophomore is back for more.
61. Ryan Johnson, D, Minnesota (BUF): It's a big year for the smooth-skating Johnson, who will be a key member of that vaunted Gophers blueline corps.
62. Tyler Boucher, RW, Boston U. (OTT): Freshman power forward is sure to stir up some rivalries in Boston thanks to his bone-jarring hits.
63. Carter Savoie, RW, Denver (EDM): The Pioneers' second-leading scorer last year, Savoie has a lethal release on his shot and returns for his sophomore campaign.
64. Ethan Edwards, D, Michigan (NJ): Talented defenseman can really skate and it will be fun to see where the freshman fits in with the Wolverines.
65. Josh Lopina, C, UMass (ANA): North-south center who plays with an edge and contributes at both ends of the ice, Lopina was crucial in the Minutemen's run to the title.
66. Carson Bantle, C, Wisconsin (ARI): Massive left winger transfers over from Michigan Tech, where the offense wasn't there as a freshman. Perhaps a Badgers jersey will be the tonic.
67. Benton Maass, D, Minnesota State (WSH): Fifth-year transfer from New Hampshire never replicated his freshman offensive numbers, but maybe he rebounds with the Mavs.
68. Brandon Kruse, C, Boston College (VGK): Erstwhile Bowling Green star transfers over to Eagles for his fifth year. Kruse can really put up numbers.
69. Red Savage, C, Miami (DET): Faceoff demon and shutdown specialist, Savage comes in to Miami as a freshman from the NTDP.
70. Justin Ertel, RW, Cornell (DAL): Talented winger spent last year killing it in the Maritimes; now he jumps to another level with the ECAC.
71. Brett Berard, LW, Providence College (NYR): Energy guy was a pleasant surprise on Team USA's gold-medal world junior squad and now his dad David works for Friars, too.
72. Michael Benning, D, Denver (FLA): Big-time offensive defenseman in his AJHL days put up nice numbers as a freshman and will surely build on that in his Denver return.
73. Dominic Basse, G, Colorado College (CHI): Towering netminder did what he could for the Tigers as a freshman; they'll need him to be big again this season.
74. Ty Murchison, D, Arizona State (PHI): Underrated defenseman was quietly impressive with NTDP last season; brings size and a variety of attributes to the Sun Devils.
75. Ronnie Attard, D, Western Michigan (PHI): Offensive defenseman was nearly a point-per-gamer for the Broncos as a sophomore.
76. Blake Biondi, C, Minnesota-Duluth (MTL): Had small but effective role on sturdy Bulldogs team last year; that experience will serve him well as he continues to evolve.
77. Carter Gylander, G, Colgate (DET): Big netminder seized the starter's job as a freshman and acquitted himself well. Will be fun to see what he can do for the Raiders this year.
78. Artem Shlaine, C, UConn (NJ): Talented pivot goes to the greasy areas and put up secondary offense for the Huskies as a freshman. Look for more this season.
79. Jack McBain, C, Boston College (MIN): Big center has steadily gotten better for Eagles. Now in his senior season, he should be a big-time producer.
80. Nick Leivermann, D, Notre Dame (COL): Offensive defenseman really improved his defense as a junior, so the Fighting Irish will lean on him in his final campaign.
81. Sammy Walker, RW, Minnesota (TB): It seems like Walker has been a Gopher forever but they'll miss him when he's gone: the winger can really produce offense.
82. Jack Devine, RW, Denver (2022): Former NTDP product with a late birthday is eligible for the draft this year and his playmaking skills will be fun to watch in Denver.
83. Jachym Kondelik, C, UConn (PIT): Towering center heads into his senior season on a high; the Czech national was basically a point-per-gamer last season.
84. Tyler Kleven, D, North Dakota (OTT): Physical defenseman gives NoDak a different look on the back end, but opponents better not forget when he's on the ice.
85. Colby Ambrosio, RW, Boston College (COL): Talented waterbug made a pretty nice transition from the USHL to college last year and Eagles will need his offense.
86. John Farinacci, C, Harvard (ARI): Went back to the USHL when Harvard cancelled last season, allowing him to dominane offensively and earn gold with Team USA's world junior team.
87. Aidan McDonough, LW, Northeastern (VAN): Talented producer with size heads into a crucial junior season with Huskies, where he will be counted on up front.
88. Johnny Beecher, C, Michigan (BOS): Injuries have dogged him, but when Beecher is healthy, he's flying around the ice. Here's hoping we see him at full speed again.
89. Devon Levi, G, Northeastern (BUF): Undersized goalie has proven that pressure is no big deal for him. Injury kept him from making his NCAA debut last year.
90. Matt Thiessen, G, Maine (VAN): The Ben Barr era begins at Maine and the new coach will need goaltending. Thiessen and undrafted Victor Ostman will be counted on.
91. Henry Thrun, D, Harvard (ANA): Another Crimson player coming in a year late, Thrun is a solid two-way defenseman who developed even further with USHL Dubuque last season.
92. Tristan Broz, LW, Minnesota (PIT): A slippery customer in the offensive zone, Broz can both score and distribute. The incoming freshman was a standout with USHL Fargo.
93. Matt Kessel, D, UMass (STL): heavy-shooting blueliner finished third in goals on the team last year and will be counted on for experience on an exciting and evolving 'D' corps.
94. Michael Callahan, D, Providence College (ARI): Veteran defenseman took a bit of step back offensively last year, but he's got the skills to put up numbers again as a senior.
95. Noah Cates, C, Minnesota-Duluth (PHI): Two-way center could have signed with the Flyers, but he's back for another kick at a national championship (he already has one title to his name).
96. Nick Perbix, D, St. Cloud State (TB): Veteran blueliner with size can put up points from the back end and will surely want revenge for last year's loss in the national championship.
97. Timofei Spitserov, LW, Vermont (SJ): Talented kid who can squeeze himself through defenses, Spitserov is an exciting addition to the Catamounts' offensive attack.
98. Erik Portillo, G, Michigan (BUF): The Wolverines have championship aspirations, but they'll need to keep the puck out of the net and that's up to big Portillo, the Swedish national.
99. Ethan Haider, G, Clarkson (NJ): Big goaltender had a very impressive freshman campaign with the Golden Knights, registering a 2.00 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
100. Jack Malone, C, Cornell (VAN): Versatile forward went back to USHL Youngstown last year when Cornell cancelled its season and the playmaker dominated.