Top NHL Prospects to Watch in the College Hockey Postseason
UConn goalie Adam Huska leapt from the NCAA ranks to an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers, and 2019 Hobey Baker nominee Quinn Hughes wasn’t far behind, leaving Michigan and joining the Vancouver Canucks on March 10. Their departures mark the beginning of the conclusion to the college hockey season, when the door to the NHL widens as teams get eliminated from tournament play. Casey Mittelstadt, Charlie McAvoy, Clayton Keller and Brock Boeser all made the same jump from college to the pros.
Many collegiate NHL hopefuls are still in action, though, and postseason play gives fans a chance to watch their teams’ blue-chip prospects before they step onto NHL ice. There are players who will immediately transition from college to the pros, others who will be donning their college’s jersey for one last time, and more who still need time to develop. Here are the top prospects to watch before season’s end:
UMass, D, COL 2017 No. 4 overall pick
Where to watch: Hockey East conference tournament, NCAA tournament
The highest UMass player ever drafted, it’s almost unfair Cale Makar is still playing college hockey. Makar possesses elite skating and puckhandling abilities and has no weakness in his game. Last year, Makar recorded eight points in seven games to help lead Canada to the 2018 WJC gold medal. The 20-year-old defenseman returned to UMass this year and notched 42 points in 34 games—breaking Brian Leetch’s Hockey East record for most single-season points by a defenseman. UMass is ranked third in the country; expect to see a whole lot of Cale Makar throughout the Hockey East conference tournament, deep into the Frozen Four or potentially the NHL playoffs if the Avalanche get in.
Boston University, D, NSH 2016 No. 17 overall pick
Where to watch: Hockey East conference tournament
Standing at 6’1” and weighing 193 pounds, BU’s Dante Fabbro is the prototypical two-way defenseman. Fabbro commands the Terriers’ power play with calm puck movement and a heavy slap shot, while his 77 blocked shots rank eighth in the country. The New Westminster native joined Makar on Canada’s blue line in the 2018 WJC and has recorded 77 points in 108 games in his college career. The Terriers, though, are on the precipice of missing their first NCAA tournament in five seasons and the best chance to see Fabbro will be in the team’s Hockey East quarterfinal matchup against UMass-Lowell. When Fabbro decides to make the jump, he’ll have to fight to crack his way onto the Predators’ loaded blue line.
Boston University, W, PHI 2018 No. 14 overall pick
Where to watch: Hockey East conference tournament
Joel Farabee captained the silver-medal winning U.S. U-18 last year and parlayed his experience into a fast freshman campaign with Boston University. The 19-year-old winger’s 31 points is third among freshmen, and he rejoined the international scene and scooped another silver medal at the 2019 WJC. Farabee has a quick, deceptive wrist shot—one that beat goaltender Carter Hart top shelf twice in the Flyers’ 3-on-3 tournament at development camp—and his elusive skating ability helps dampen concerns about his size. BU’s season will end before April, so the time to catch Farabee will be in the Hockey East conference tournament.
Harvard, D, CGY 2016 third-round pick
Where to watch: ECAC conference tournament, NCAA tournament
Coming to the end of his third year in Cambridge, Adam Fox became the first defenseman since Justin Schultz in 2011–12 to reach 100 career points and also leads all NCAA defensemen in points per game (1.43) this season. Fox was moved from Calgary to Carolina in the Noah Hanifin–Dougie Hamilton trade and eschewed an entry-level contract to return to Harvard for his junior season. The Nassau-county native has excelled through a combination of a high hockey IQ, smooth playmaking ability and elite vision from the blue line. Fox has helped fuel a Harvard hockey renaissance and should lead his team into the NCAA tournament. There’s no question if Fox will play in the NHL, but the question is when: Fox will become an unrestricted free agent if he returns for his senior season.
St. Cloud State, C, MTL 2017 No. 25 overall pick
Where to watch: NCHC tournament, NCAA tournament
Ryan Poehling earned MVP and top forward honors for the U.S. at the 2019 WJC to go along with a silver medal. The Canadiens’ prospect also had five goals in seven games at the WJC before returning to St. Cloud State—the unquestioned No. 1 team in the country. Operating as the Husky’s second-line center, Poehling doesn’t have the flash of his cohorts, but he uses his size to slam home rebounds, win battles in the corners and get pucks to his teammate. St. Cloud State and Poehling will play deep into the Frozen Four and, with the Canadiens playoff hopes in the air, the 20-year-old center probably won’t turn pro until after the 2018–19 season.
Northeastern, G, MTL 2017 seventh-round pick
Where to watch: Hockey East tournament, NCAA tournament
The son of former NHLer Wayne Primeau, Cayden improved on his stellar freshman year by posting 21 wins with a 2.12 goals against average and .932 save percentage (second, 13th and fourth best in the country, respectively) in 31 games for Northeastern this season. He has led the Huskies to back-to-back Beanpot championships and earned player of the game honors in the U.S.’s 2–1 win over Russia in the 2019 WJC semifinals. Primeau pairs athleticism with his 6’3”, 200-pound frame to cut off angles and has played extraordinarily well for a 19-year-old. If Northeastern is going to make a serious tournament run, Primeau will have something to do with it.
Honorable Mentions: Oliver Wahlstrom (Boston College, 2018 NYI first-round pick), Jack Dugan (Providence, 2017 VGK fifth-round pick), Riley Tufte (Minnesota-Duluth, 2016 DAL first-round pick), Scott Perunovich (Minnesota-Duluth, 2018 STL second-round pick), Wade Allison (Western Michigan, 2016 PHI second-round pick), Ian Mitchell (Denver, 2017 CHI second-round pick), Morgan Barron (Cornell, 2017 NYR sixth-round pick), Tanner Laczynski (Ohio State, 2016 PHI sixth-round pick).
And, finally, there’s a group of undrafted NCAA players who should find a home in the NHL by season’s end. Mercyhurst’s Joseph Duszak and Princeton’s Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner already signed with the Maple Leafs, Senators and Red Wings, respectively. St Cloud State’s three-time captain, Jimmy Schuldt, participated in the Vegas Golden Knights development camp and turned in his second consecutive 30-point season from the blue line. Playing for Clarkson, Nico Sturm is one of the best defensive forwards in college hockey and notched 41 points in 34 games this season. Andrew Shortridge leads the NCAA with a 1.39 goals against average and .944 save percentage for No. 5 Quinnipiac and is also in the Hobey Baker conversation.