Recruiting is a huge part of college football and basketball. If you have ESPNU, perhaps you have seen the all day special that the run on National Signing Day to argue about which school has the best football recruits. Although the one and done rule has made basketball recruiting less important, it doesn’t stop ESPN from airing the McDonalds All-American game every year.
Hockey has none of that. Although some of the incoming freshmen have already been drafted into the NHL, many people are unaware of most of the freshmen coming into the country. Still, with Freshmen goalies winning national titles in two of the past three years, these players should be paid more attention to (although only one Frosh has ever won the Hobey – bonus points if you guess it correctly in the comments).
What follows is a ranking of the top Freshmen in the country. When making this list I consulted the World of Junior Hockey as well as some people from the USHL and the Junior B leagues across Canada who didn’t laugh at me when I emailed them. This list does not consider (or at least only minimally considers) NHL potential, instead focusing on the potential collegiate impact of each of these players. Without further ado, my list:
1. Derek Forbort, D, North Dakota
Forbort had 5 goals and 23 assists for the NTDP this past year, and was a +9 at the most recent U-18 World Championships in which the United States successfully defended their gold medal. Last June Forbort was the 15th overall pick in the NHL draft. Though his offensive stats don’t jump out at you, scouts rave about his smarts on that end of the ice, and with his size (6’4″ 198 lbs), Forbort is a potential difference maker on the blueline.
2. Beau Bennett, F, Denver
Last year’s BCHL rookie of the year, Bennett put up eye popping stats (41 goals, 120 pts in only 56 games), leading the league in points. Bennett is most praised for his shot, but is a much better skater than he appears as well. The Penguins took him 20th overall in the most recent NHL draft.
3. Jaden Schwartz, F, Colorado College
The highest drafted collegian in June, Schwartz was the 2010 USHL forward of the year. He’s not very big (5’10”) but he makes up for it with great speed and tremendous hockey smarts. He played on both the power play and penalty kill for Tri City, so you know he’s a well rounded player. Schwartz joins his brother Rylan in Colorado Springs.
4. Jason Zucker, F, Denver
Zucker was on the 2010 gold medal winning USA team at the World Junior Championships. He had 24 goals and 19 pts for the USNTDP. Like Schwartz, Zucker is a bit on the smaller side, but he is also very fast. He has a great shot, but will need to improve the rest of his offensive game a bit.
5. Jon Merrill, D, Michigan
Merrill really came on strong last season, especially during the U-18 World Championships. Not the most physical player, Merrill instead relies on his passing and ability to handle the puck, as well has his good positioning. Although he didn’t score a lot for the NTDP last year, I think he will put up some pretty good numbers in Ann Arbor this season.
6. Matt Nieto, F, Boston University
Nieto doesn’t come from the nicest part of the country, but he defied all odds to become a great prospect. He won back to back U-18 golds with Team USA, and scored a goal in this past year’s championship game. He’s not eligible until next year’s draft, but he is already making huge waves.
7. Matt White, F, Nebraska-Omaha
White was this past season’s Junior Hockey Player of the Year while playing for Omaha of the USHL. White had 35 goals and 47 assists in 2009-10 for Omaha. Yet another California native on this list, White is a very physical player who definitely doesn’t shy away from the more rough side of the game, and he already has had an impact on the scoresheet this year for the Mavericks.
8. Andy Iles, G, Cornell
Iles had a 2.16 GAA and a .916 save% for the NTDP this year. While those stats are impressive, he also has his own Facebook group, which is much more impressive.
9. Anders Lee, F, Notre Dame
He was just the 152nd pick in the NHL Draft, but the USHL Playoff MVP appears to be college ready. Lee tallied 66 points last year (31 goals), which was 10th best in the league. He also had 9 game winning goals, and scored the game tying goal in the decisive 5th game of the Clark Cup this past year. And he is already fitting in at Notre Dame, having an arrest under his belt already.
10. Brock Nelson, F, North Dakota
A 1st round pick of the Islanders, Nelson had 95 points in 31 games for Warroad HS in Minnesota. Making the jump from high school hockey to the WCHA is a tough jump for anyone, but Nelson has played well so far for the Sioux. He has good size, and scouts rave about how fast he is for his size, as well as his good hands and good shot. He also has good bloodlines as his uncle Dave Christian played on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.
11. Mark Zengerle, F, Wisconsin
12. Steve Summerhays, G, Notre Dame
13. Adam Clandening, D, Boston U
14. Justin Faulk, D, Minnesota-Duluth
15. Charlie Coyle, F, Boston U
16. Nick Bjugstad, F, Minnesota
17. Martin Ouillette, G, Maine
18. David Makowski, D, Denver
19. Stephen Johns, D, Notre Dame
20. Nick Shore, F, Denver