The 2022 Grand Forks Herald preseason college hockey top 20
Rivals North Dakota and Minnesota should be two of college hockey's best teams this season.
GRAND FORKS — A year ago, the Grand Forks Herald was mocked for selecting Denver, a team that finished the previous season with a sub-.500 record, as its preseason No. 1 team in the country.
But the Pioneers went on to win the NCAA national championship with a third-period comeback over Minnesota State-Mankato.
The Herald's No. 2 and No. 3 preseason teams last season — Minnesota and Michigan — also reached the Frozen Four.
After last year's success, why not stay a little bold with this season's preseason predictions?
After analyzing returning rosters, transfers and incoming recruiting classes, here is the Herald's preseason top 20 for the 2022-23 college hockey season:
This spring, it seemed, day after day, Quinnipiac received a new pledge from a player to stay for a fifth season. It included most key members from last year’s 32-7-3 squad — star defenseman Zach Metsa, 104-point scorer Ethan de Jong, forward Michael Lombardi, forward Desi Burgart and forward T.J. Friedmann. Add in transfer defensemen Jake Johnson (RPI) and Jacob Nordqvist (Lake Superior State), and the Bobcats have seven fifth-year seniors on their roster. That's more than a quarter of their team. Goaltending should be a strength with the return of Yaniv Perets, who posted an NCAA-best .939 save percentage last season. Offense may dry up some nights, just as it did a season ago. But the Bobcats simply don't allow much at all. Even in losses, Quinnipiac's underlying numbers were excellent last season. The Bobcats lost just seven times. They outshot their opponent in all seven, including by 12-plus in six of them. Teams with first-round draft picks get the publicity. But it's often the veteran squads that win in college hockey.
The position that merits the most weight when giving preseason rankings is defense. Minnesota surprisingly got Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson to pass up NHL deals to return, giving the Gophers a loaded back end. Justen Close, Minnesota’s third-stringer-turned-starter, was good when called upon last season, and he might not see a lot of work this season. Up front, Minnesota’s top players — Matthew Knies and rookie Logan Cooley — are Hobey Baker Award contenders. If there’s any question, it’s Minnesota’s forward depth after the departures of Chaz Lucius, Blake McLaughlin, Sammy Walker, Grant Cruikshank and Jack Perbix. The talent is there with players like Aaron Huglen and Jimmy Snuggerud, but it’s unproven.
Sticking with the defense theme, Denver brings back the NCHC’s two preseason all-conference blue liners in Mike Benning and Sean Behrens. The Pioneers also have Shai Buium and captain Justin Lee coming back to anchor an excellent blue line to play in front of national title-winning goalie Magnus Chrona. Up front, Denver sustained some major losses with Bobby Brink, Cole Guttman, Carter Savoie, Brett Stapley and Cameron Wright moving on. But adding Casey Dornbach and Tristan Broz out of the transfer portal and bringing in NHL draft picks Aidan Thompson and Rieger Lorenz should help.
4. North Dakota
UND is another top team with another high-end, veteran blue line. The returners include fifth-year senior Chris Jandric, fourth-year senior Ethan Frisch, junior Tyler Kleven and junior Cooper Moore. The Fighting Hawks notably added fifth-year senior Ty Farmer, an NCAA national champ at UMass, to that group. There’s not a single freshman defenseman on the roster. Offense was an issue at times last season, but the Fighting Hawks bring a significant number of forwards back, led by goal-scorer Riese Gaber, while adding in USHL stars Jackson Blake, Owen McLaughlin and Dylan James.
5. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a veteran team all over its lineup. The Fighting Irish have six fifth-year seniors, led by defenseman Nick Leivermann, who averaged more than 25 minutes per game at the end of last season. Leivermann is surrounded mostly by defensive defensemen like Flames pick Jake Boltmann, Zach Plucinski and Minnesota transfer Ben Brinkman. But Bentley transfer Drew Bavaro could add some offense. Up front, the Fighting Irish should have a good mix of skill and physicality. In net, the Irish lost Matthew Galajda, but Ryan Bischel has proved to be more than capable when filling in. He had a .924 save percentage in 16 games last season.
6. Minnesota State-Mankato
It feels like the Mavericks lost a ton from last year, considering the departures include forwards Nathan Smith and Julian Napravnik, defensemen Jack McNeely, Benton Maass and Wyatt Aamodt, and Hobey Baker-winning goalie Dryden McKay. But the Mavericks are actually loaded up for another run. They’re extremely deep at center with Brendan Furry, Ondrej Pavel and David Silye back. They’ve got two of the best blue liners in the country in Jake Livingstone and Akito Hirose, both of whom will be tracked by NHL scouts all year. And they’re bringing in the USHL’s Clark Cup-winning goalie, Alex Tracy, to replace McKay.
Northeastern is starting the season with, perhaps, the best player in the country on its roster, and he just so happens to play the one position where you can be on the ice the entire game. Goaltender Devon Levi is a game-changer and can steal any game for the Huskies. Northeastern might not need him to steal many, though. It has talent at the other positions, too. Aidan McDonough is potentially Hockey East’s best forward and Justin Hryckowian is one of the league’s most underrated. The returns of Sam Colangelo, Jack Hughes, Gunnerwolfe Fontaine and Jakov Novak gives the Huskies a deep forward group, which will also include rookie Cam Lund, a San Jose Sharks second-rounder. Northeastern needs to rebuild its defense a little bit, but Jayden Struble is back for a fifth year and Levi will cover up some mistakes.
Harvard is loaded with talent. It leads the country in NHL Draft picks with 15. A lot of them are top-100 picks, too. Last season, the Crimson may have been a little on the young side, but they’re a year older now and should be a Frozen Four contender. The combination of Flames first-rounder Matthew Coronato and Canadiens pick Sean Farrell was magic in the USHL for the Chicago Steel two seasons ago and will be again this season in Cambridge.
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9. Boston University
Boston University returns nearly its entire roster from last season’s 19-13-3 team. That alone should make the Terriers a better squad this season. But then you add in a dynamite freshman class — the USHL’s leading scorer Jeremy Wilmer, Muskegon’s leading scorer Quinn Hutson, Green Bay’s leading scorer Ryan Greene, third-round Flyers pick Devin Kaplan and dynamic, shifty defenseman Lane Hutson — and Boston University should be in the mix for a Hockey East title. Like Northeastern, the Terriers have a game-changer in net with U.S. Olympian Drew Commesso, while Domenick Fensore anchors the blue line.
10. Minnesota Duluth
Blake Biondi, Dominic James and Quinn Olson proved they’re a legit NCHC first line last season. Minnesota Duluth will pencil in first-round Lightning pick Isaac Howard into a top-six spot, too, but they’ll need players like Ben Steeves, Jesse Jacques or Tanner Laderoute to pop offensively to get some secondary scoring. The Bulldogs’ power play was lethargic at times last season, but they addressed that by adding fifth-year senior defenseman Derek Daschke, who was outstanding at running the power play at Miami. At full strength, the Bulldogs are a top-10 team. If key injuries pop up, depth could be an issue.
Michigan is once again loaded with first-round picks — No. 4 overall Luke Hughes, No. 13 overall Frank Nazar, No. 14 overall Rutger McGroarty, No. 24 overall Mackie Samoskevich and future top-five pick Adam Fantilli. But last year, Michigan had even more high-end talent and didn’t win the Big Ten. Michigan is young and likely to go through some ups and downs. It will need some of its older players to lead the way like goalie Erik Portillo, defenseman Jacob Truscott and forward Eric Ciccolini, who had a season-ending injury early last season. Portillo was quietly excellent last season and could help guide Michigan through any growing pains.
12. St. Cloud State
Last season, St. Cloud State finished tied for fourth in the NCHC, didn’t make the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, then said goodbye to five of their top seven point-per-game scorers and their five-year starting netminder. So, the Huskies are in trouble, right? Not so fast. St. Cloud State could be one of the sneakiest good teams in the country this year. Their Finns, Jami Krannila and Veeti Miettinen, are high-end players. They’re adding in USHL star Adam Ingram and proven NCHC forward Grant Cruikshank to boost the scoring. They got a couple of defensemen, Spencer Meier and Brendan Bushy, to stay for a fifth year. If Jack Peart can take a step on the blue line and Dominic Basse can take the goaltending reins, look out for St. Cloud State.
Providence finished in the bottom half of Hockey East last season, but was a win away from being tied for fourth. The Friars return nine of their top 10 scorers from last season and seem poised to return to the NCAA tournament. Goalie Jaxson Stauber signed with Chicago, but Bruins draft pick Philip Svedeback comes in with high acclaim. Providence lost a couple of key defenders, but landed Minnesota Duluth’s Connor Kelley out of the transfer portal as a solid, veteran replacement.
14. UMass Lowell
Is there any team that more consistently outperforms preseason expectations than UMass Lowell? The River Hawks again seem to be flying under the radar entering this season, but not here. Lowell lost star goalie Owen Savory, but landed one of the most coveted transfers on the market this offseason in Alaska (Fairbanks) netminder Gustavs Grigals. Carl Berglund could put up solid numbers offensively, but otherwise this will be your classic River Hawks team — few big names, but reliably good results.
15. Ohio State
Ohio State had freshmen leading them at all three positions last season — Georgii Merkulov at forward, Mason Lohrei at defense and Jakub Dobes in net. Lohrei and Dobes are back for the Buckeyes and both have all-Big Ten potential. Ohio State fills the loss of Merkulov with one of the best players in the USHL from last season — power forward Stephen Halliday.
16. Arizona State
Arizona State needed to hit it big in the transfer portal to be a contender this season. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they did. They nabbed five high-profile transfers who will make huge impacts this season. Four of them are up front: Bemidji State standout Lukas Sillinger, second-round Red Wings pick Robert Mastrosimone and former USHL stars Ty and Dylan Jackson. They also picked up goalie T.J. Semptimphelter from Northeastern. He starred last year when Devon Levi was at the Olympics. When you add in returners like Josh Doan and Matthew Kopperud, Arizona State is loaded up front.
Clarkson finished second in ECAC last season to Quinnipiac and the Golden Knights return nearly their entire back end — five regular blue liners and starting goalie Ethan Haider. The Golden Knights also can keep together the prolific line of Predators pick Alex Campbell, Coyotes pick Anthony Romano and center Mathieu Gosselin. There aren’t many question marks for Clarkson.
The Big Red were streaky last season. They started 12-3-1, then went on a stretch where they won just once in eight games. Leading scorer and Avalanche draft pick Matt Stienburg is back, as are the other top six scorers. Cornell is a big team like usual — they have 12 players on the roster listed as 6-foot-2 or taller — and, surprise, a goalie with great numbers. Ian Shane had a .933 save percentage as a freshman.
UMass had substantial losses in the offseason — Hobey Baker Award finalist Bobby Trivigno (Rangers), forward Josh Lopina (Ducks), defenseman Matthew Kessel (Blues), defenseman Ty Farmer (UND) and goalie Matt Murray (Texas Stars) to name a few. The Minutemen are bringing in an excellent recruiting class led by forwards Cole O’Hara and Kenny Connors, but it might not be enough to replace what it lost.
20. Bowling Green
Bowling Green has nearly all of its offense back, led by fifth-year senior Taylor Schneider, fifth-year senior Alex Barber, fifth-year senior Nathan Burke and sophomore Austen Swankler. The biggest question mark facing the Falcons is on defense, but coach Ty Eigner answered those by recruiting Merrimack’s Zach Vinnell and Minnesota Duluth’s Hunter Lellig out of the transfer portal and bringing in Dalton Norris, a USHL superstar who hammered one-timers for the Lincoln Stars. The Falcons need their goaltending to be a little better this season, though.