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College hockey produces the NHL’s best-producing rookie defenders


Their decision was a painful choice: they had the option to vote for Quinn Hughes, who earned 53 points for the Vancouver Canucks. They also had Cale Makar, who scored 50 points in an injury-shortened season for the Colorado Avalanche. Adam Fox also remained, who had 42 points for the New York Rangers.

All three had exceptional rookie NHL seasons, and all signs point to Hughes of Makar becoming college hockey’s first Calder Trophy winner since Dany Heatley in 2002.

They are also part of a larger trend in the NHL.

The NHL’s highest point-producing rookie defenders almost all come from college hockey.

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The top nine point totals for NHL rookie defenders over the past decade include: 1. Hughes, Michigan (53); 2. Makar, UMass (50); Zach Werenski, Michigan (47); 4. Shayne Gostisbehere, Union (46); Will Butcher, Denver (44); 6. Rasmus Dahlin, no university (44); 7. Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston University (43); Fox, Harvard (42); 9. Torey Krug, Michigan (40).

Eight out of nine are college hockey alumni.

The only outlier in the group is Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick, who played in his native Sweden before joining the Buffalo Sabers.

“I don’t know if it’s a trend that will continue or just something we’re in right now,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “It will be interesting to see. As for students, there is a lot of development time. You have all the practice time, where you can really work on your skill level to improve your game. I think that’s huge.”

Part of the trend may be related to good recruitment.

Four of the eight players were included in the top 15 of the NHL Draft – Makar (No. 4 overall), Hughes (No. 7), Werenski (No. 8), and Shattenkirk (No. 14). They were expected to be high-end players, developed and delivered.

But it is not alone.

The other half of the list lists players who were not in the top 60 of the concept.

Fox and Gostisbehere were both round three choices. Butcher was selected from the fifth round. Krug was not drafted.

“I think I’m going back to the environment they are developing in,” said UND coach Brad Berry, whose team has earned more defender points over the past decade than any college hockey program. “They come as young players in college hockey and play with high-end players in their own programs and play against high-end players in their league and across Division-I college hockey.

“They are young boys who play against boys of 20, 21, 22 years old. That is a difficult competition to play against. It is a difficult environment to play in. You practice against them every day. You play against them the weekend. Of course it makes you better every day. When you get out of here, you are fighting and ready to play at a high level in the pros. “

There is also no real trend in which league they come from. Alums from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the Big Ten, The Eastern College Athletic Conference, Hockey East, and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association are represented in those eight players.

Similarities in the stars

However, there are some similarities between the eight players that made the transition easy.

No. 1: They all stayed in college for at least two years, and almost all – if not all – of them missed out on the opportunities to sign a year earlier. Hughes, Makar and Werenski played college hockey for two years. Gostisbehere, Fox, Shattenkirk and Krug all played for three years. Butcher played four.

“Even though they are newbies, some are older,” said UND head coach Dane Jackson. “They have a lot of clever people.”

No. 2: They all had individual success at the university level. Six of the eight were finalists of the Hobey Baker Award. Butcher and Makar won. Fox was a Hobey Hat Trick finalist. Hughes, Gostisbehere and Krug were also finalists.

The two who weren’t finalists – Werenski and Shattenkirk – may have been overshadowed by teammates. In 2016, three of Werenski’s forward teammates were top 10 finalists in JT Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte. In 2009, Matt Gilroy, fellow defender of Shattenkirk at Boston University, won the award.

All eight were all Americans. Seven were first-teamers. Shattenkirk was the second team.

No. 3: Almost all of them had team success. Six of the eight reached the NCAA Frozen Four with their teams. Shattenkirk, Gostisbehere and Butcher won NCAA national championships. Hughes, Makar and Fox all played crucial roles in capturing Frozen Four droughts for their programs. Hughes led Michigan to its first Frozen Four in seven years. Fox led Harvard to his first Frozen Four in 23 years. Makar led UMass to his first Frozen Four ever.

“I think the game has changed,” said Pearson. “To give offense, you need your defenders to get involved in the offensive game. Because of the way the game is played, coaches are exploring ways to offend and it is part of helping your defenders get into the game. involve.

“The second part is the skill development with these guys. It’s incredible how skilled they are with their skates and Hockey IQ. We have some of our better defense players. Obviously you’re getting more ice age. Some of these ( youth) coaches are smart and throw their best player on the defensive and maybe they play more than an attacker. I see a trend: there are a lot of really good defenders. “

Who can be next?

Who are some candidates to be the next next level rookie offensive producers? It can be difficult to project, but here are 10 players to watch:

Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth (St. Louis Blues): Perunovich shares all three elements with the eight NCAA defenders who have had early success in the past decade. He stayed three years – a year longer than most thought he would. He was an All-American. He won the Hobey. He had team success and brought the Bulldogs two national titles.

Cam York, Michigan (Philadelphia Flyers): York had a solid freshman season in Michigan, and the flashes of brilliance and high-end insult were there. York wisely returns to Michigan for one more season, where he is expected to be the center of Michigan’s attack.

David Farrance, Boston University (Nashville Predators): Farrance, a finalist of Hobey and All-American in the first team in 2020, surprisingly chose to return to the BU for his senior season after 14 goals and 43 points from the rear.

Ian Mitchell, Denver (Chicago Blackhawks): An excellent skater, Mitchell ran the power play in Denver, helping the Pioneers with an NCAA Frozen Four and earning the honor of the All-American team.

Chase Priskie, Quinnipiac (Florida Panthers): Priske was a Hobey finalist, who starred in a Frozen Four in Quinnipiac in 2016. He spent last season in the AHL, but after an exchange to Florida, there may be a way for him to get into the NHL next season and make a contribution right away.

Jake Sanderson, North Dakota (design eligible for 2020): The top 10 defender choices in college hockey have proven excellent at the next level lately. While the power of Sanderson cannot go free, he is a great skater, who has the ability to generate. With a few years of development likely for him in college, he could be a future key for whatever team sets him up in 2020.

Owen Power, Michigan (design eligible for 2021): Despite being one of the youngest players in the USHL last season, Power dominated, hitting 40 points in 45 games for a loaded Chicago Steel team. He’s playing in Michigan this season, despite being only a year and a half old during the first month and a half, and will score high in the NHL Draft 2021.

Cole Hults, Penn State (Los Angeles Kings): The Big Ten player of the year in 2020 signed with the Kings in the low season. He has scored 58 points together for the Nittany Lions in the past two seasons.

K’Andre Miller, Wisconsin (New York Rangers): While the Badgers struggled as a team during Miller’s two collegiate seasons, and defending was a problem for Wisconsin, Miller has the potential to become a great attacking producer on the next level.

Jacob Bernard-Docker, North Dakota (Senators from Ottawa): Bernard-Docker is generally regarded as an all-round defender and someone who will not overwhelm teams in the attack zone, but he does have some good attacking skills. He is adept at changing the angle of his shot to get through pucks and he has a fairly good stride.

Most NHL rookie points ‘D’ in the past decade

53 Quinn Hughes, Michigan first round

50 Cale Makar, UMass, first round

47 Zach Werenski, Michigan, first round

46 Shayne Gostisbehere, Union, third round

44 Will Butcher, Denver, fifth round

44 Rasmus Dahlin, after his studies

43 Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston University, first round

42 Adam Fox, Harvard, third round

40 Torey Krug, Michigan, not listed

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