The reloading of talent in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference continues this season with a new crop of outstanding first-year players that look to lead their teams to the promised land. Here’s an alphabetical look at ten impact rookies to keep an eye on in 2016-17.
- Jack Ahcan | St. Cloud State University Defenseman – Sure, he might be undersized for his position but believe me he’s the entire package. Two years removed from Burnsville, MN high school, Ahcan continues his dramatic ascension to the Division I ranks at SCSU. The complete package, Ahcan can log major ice time and is fully comfortable killing penalties or anchoring a power play. He’s hard to knock off his skates and competes hard along the boards for puck possession. The odds are good he’ll make the roster for the IIHF USA World Junior team coached by Bob Motzko later this season. The only head scratcher is why an NHL team did not not take a flyer on last years USHL Defenseman of the Year in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. With all the depth surrounding him at defense at SCSU he’ll progress at his own pace and be a fixture in the Huskies lineup for years to come.
- Wade Allison | Western Michigan University Forward – This second round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers is an ideal fit for the pro style game Western Michigan coach Andy Murray has his teams play. Allison had a tremendous second half of the season in the USHL and ended up with 25 goals, 22 assists and 47 points. He’s already carried that momentum to the Broncos with a goal in his very first regular season game vs Ferris State. A prototypical power forward at 6′ 2″ 205, Allison can drive to the net and use his strength to get things done. His game thrives when he’s moving his feet and winning battles down low and plays physical.The only down side for the Broncos is if he continues his progression, the NHL will come calling sooner than later.
- Joey Anderson | University of Minnesota Duluth Forward – Anderson committed early to the Bulldogs and then honed his skills at Hill-Murray High School and the US National Team Development Under 18 Program. Playing in the shadows of high scoring Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows, Anderson showed his knack for scoring compiling 27 goals and 30 assists in 64 games for the USA team. He slipped slightly from initial projections but was still drafted in the third round by the New Jersey Devils in the 2016 Entry Draft.. Anderson has a great motor, plays with high tenacity and has good speed, puck skills and an accurate shot. He’s been a little inconsistent his first four games for the Bulldogs but did pick up assists in each of his first two regular season games vs Michigan Tech. Anderson will only get better as the season progresses and he’ll be an impact first-year player by the second half of the 2016-17 season.
- Ben Blacker | Western Michigan University Goaltender – This two-year starter for Cedar Rapids of the USHL seems to have earned that role as a rookie for the WMU Broncos. Blacker started and won both games vs Ferris to start the season with a .923 SV%. Blacker was a consistent, durable and reliable goaltender for Cedar Rapids with a 33-13-4 record last season including 5 shutouts and posting a .926 SV% and 2.24 GAA. Technically sound, he’s not a big goaltender at 5’10” and 170 pounds but Blacker makes up for it with his athleticism, good glove hand and excellent rebound control. Undrafted, Blacker may not have the pedigree of others on this list and some may think he doesn’t belong here but from what I’ve seen thus far he’s a good fit for a WMU squad that could be the surprise team of the league this year. Already thrust into a role as a starter, he could be a fixture in the Broncos lineup for several years and that makes him an impact player..
- Henrik Borgstrom | Denver University Forward – The 23rd pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Florida Borgstrom has a huge upside and will develop his skills and become physically stronger as a player for Denver University. The 6″3″ 176 pound Borgstrom had an outstanding year for Finnish HIFK Jr team scoring 29 goals and adding 26 assists for 44 points in 40 games. After just two regular season games, Borgstrom is centering the second line and has been paired with Dylan Gambrell. Borgstrom is not an overly physical player but has great hands and playmaking skills and is already a key component on the Pioneers power play. Still a youngster, having just turned 19, there will be a growth curve for Borgstrom, particularly on defense but like all young players should have a bigger impact the second half of the 2016-17 season.
- Dennis Cholowski | St Cloud State University Defense – 18-year-old Cholowski rose to prominence after being selected 20th in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. At 6’1″ and 176 pounds, Chowlowski is still growing and will become stronger and bigger in the SCSU weight room. An effortless skater, Chowlowski logged 12 goals and 28 assists in 50 games for Chiliwack of the BCHL last season. As is the case with Jack Ahcan, he’s surrounded by great depth at defense and it’ll allow Cholowski to develop his game without a lot of pressure. He’s a smart, puck moving defenseman that should eventually move himself into a regular special teams role with the Huskies. It’ll be fun to watch this player develop in the competitive NCHC.
- Ludvig Hoff | University of North Dakota Forward – The Norwegian-born Hoff culminated his two plus years in the USHL with 21 goals and 39 points for 60 points with the Lincoln Stars last season. He also had an extensive amateur career in Norway playing for both Norway’s World Junior U18 and U20 teams. A tenacious player with excellent skating skills and good puck control, he’s already seeing some time on the power play for North Dakota. At 5’10” and 196 pounds Hoff is strong on the puck and not afraid to plant himself in front of the opponent’s goal. A good fit for North Dakota’s run and gun style of play, Hoff should be able to continue his offensive ways in Grand Forks. Hoff’s father Geir played hockey for the Michigan State Spartans.
- Tyson Jost | University of North Dakota Forward – Pencil this outstanding player in for the All NCHC Rookie Team – it’s guaranteed. Drafted #10 in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Jost is a dynamic playmaker and scorer highly coveted by the NHL. In addition to a great shot and excellent playmaking skills, Jost is competitive and wins battles for the puck. The top forward in the BCHL last season, Jost amassed 42 goals and 62 assists for 104 points in 48 games for Penticton. Jost has been paired on a line with North Dakota’s outstanding sophomore Brock Boesser and through two games already has 1 goal, 2 assists and is +4. Most likely a two-year player for the Fighting Hawks, keep an eye on Jost as he’ll be a future NHLer. He’ll be one of the most exciting players in the NCHC in just his first year.
- Ryan Poehling | St. Cloud State University Huskies Forward – The seventeen year old Poehling by-passed his senior year at Lakeville North High School to join his twin brothers Nick and Jack Poehling with the Huskies. Mature beyond his years, the 6’3″ 185 Poehling is likely a first-round draft choice in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. A skilled playmaker who battles hard down low and along the boards, Poehling amassed 144 points in 114 career games for Lakeville North High School. Subsequently, he was drafted #1 in the first round by the Lincoln Stars in the 2015 USHL draft. Obviously, this is a big jump for a youngster who only logged 9 USHL games before joining the Huskies. Certainly helping matters will be his ability to play alongside his two brothers and they will be a creative, hard-working line with excellent chemistry. It’ll be interesting to watch Poehling progress through the 2016-17 season.
- Riley Tufte | University of Minnesota Duluth Forward – Tufte is the nephew of long-time SCSU head coach Craig Dahl and was drafted #25 in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. He was also named Minnesota Mr. Hockey in 2016. The 6’5″ 205 pound Tufte split his time in 2015-16 between Blaine High School where he scored 47 goals and added 31 assists for 78 points in 25 games and the Fargo Force of the USHL scoring 10 goals in 27 games. Despite his size, Tufte has good speed, the ability to shoot the puck and good hands. He is big, strong and goes to the net well and uses his large frame and reach to his advantage. Unfortunately, Tufte fractured his wrist this past summer during the World Junior camp and has yet to be inserted into the UMD lineup. Once in the lineup, Tufte should see some time on the UMD power play and with his Bulldogs supporting cast should pile up some points and be an impact player for UMD in the 2016-17 season.
Other notables: Hunter Miska, Goaltender (UMD) | Ryan Jones, Defense (Omaha) | Karch Bachman, Forward (Miami) | Dixon Bowen, Forward (UND) | Zach Jordan, Forward (Omaha) | Branden Makara, Forward (CC) | Willie Knierim, Forward (Miami) | Teemu Pulkkinen, Forward (Omaha)