The Best Active NHL Player from Every Hockey East Program
As many as 24 NHL draft picks will skate at TD Garden this weekend when Boston College, Boston University, Maine and Providence all vie for the 28th Hockey East postseason championship.
Of the Hockey East alumni currently in the NHL, an overwhelming majority took at least one skate over the Spoked-B as a student-athlete. And at least six of Friday’s semifinal participants, not counting those who will break off early, are in the twilight of their college careers, and thus on the cusp of taking a crack at The Show.
Of those now representing their alma mater, nine of the top 10 played in a conference semifinal or final, and seven went to at least one NCAA tournament.
Based on a combination of their collegiate achievements and their performance in the ongoing NHL season, here is each Hockey East program’s quintessential alum.
Boston College: Brooks Orpik
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Orpik relinquished his final year of eligibility and promptly entered the Pittsburgh Penguins organization after helping the Eagles to a national championship in 2001.
Now a veteran of eight NHL seasons and 571 regular-season games, the 31-year-old defenseman stands second on Pittsburgh’s plus/minus leaderboard at plus-14. That makes a solid reward for his team-high 220 hits and 114 blocked shots.
Runners-up: Brian Boyle and Nathan Gerbe
Boston University: Kevin Shattenkirk
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Shattenkirk is not only running away with the St. Louis Blues’ plus/minus lead, but is also one of their bright spots on the power play.
Neither of those ought to surprise his former teammates, coaches and followers at BU, unless they were not expecting the college-to-pro translation to take shape so quickly. Shattenkirk logged a cumulative plus-31 rating along with a 6-33-39 scoring transcript on the power play in 121 career appearances with the Terriers.
Runners-up: Adrian Aucoin and Matt Gilroy
Maine: Jimmy Howard
Howard won the Hockey East tournament MVP laurel in 2004, when the Black Bears were the most recent team not located on Commonwealth Avenue to win the conference playoff pennant. He blanked Boston University, 1-0, in the semifinals and backstopped a 2-1 victory in a triple-overtime title tilt versus Massachusetts.
Now in his third full NHL season, Howard has been steadily hovering within the NHL’s top 10 on both the goals-against average and save percentage leaderboard. In addition, the Red Wings are 33-14-2 when he starts and 11-10-1 when they rely on a backup.
Runners-up: Teddy Purcell and Dustin Penner
UMass-Amherst: Jonathan Quick
Quick left for the professional ranks at the halfway mark of his college eligibility, but not before backstopping the Minutemen to their first-ever NCAA tournament bid in 2007. Earlier that season, he was credited with a goal in a 4-2 victory over Merrimack.
Five years later, Quick is now preserving the Kings’ postseason aspirations in the midst of a career campaign.
Runner-up: Justin Braun
UMass-Lowell: Ron Hainsey
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
The only skater representing the RiverHawks in the NHL right now, Hainsey has pitched in nine assists for the Jets amidst an injury-shortened season.
Runner-up: Dwayne Roloson
Merrimack: Stephane Da Costa
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images
Head coach Mark Dennehy has all but terminated the small college’s protracted hardship, but the Merrimack program’s professional presence still has some catching up ahead of it.
Case in point: Da Costa wins this race by default in spite of the fact that he has spent the better part of his first full professional season on the Senators’ farm in Binghamton.
New Hampshire: James van Riemsdyk
Al Bello/Getty Images
Immediately after being drafted second overall by the Flyers in 2007, van Riemsdyk spent his freshman year feeding off a veteran strike force, led the Wildcats in scoring as a sophomore and then wet his professional blades with the defunct Philadelphia Phantoms.
Making the parent club after his first training camp in 2009, van Riemsdyk has not looked back since. And as deep as Philadelphia’s offense might be, his current foot injury is a doubtless dent in their lineup.
Runners-up: Daniel Winnik and Ty Conklin
Northeastern: Joe Vitale
No competition in this slide, but Vitale has made himself relatively worthwhile in his first full NHL season, seeing action in 61 of the Penguins’ first 68 games. The center is only three years removed from graduating from Northeastern and has ample time to develop.
Providence: Mark Fayne
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
As a professional rookie last season, Fayne was pressed into more NHL action than originally slated as the Devils struggled to supplement an injury-plagued roster.
He has clearly grown from that experience, being one of only six New Jersey skaters to have seen action in all 70 games this season. And Fayne’s productivity rate from the point, this year as well as last, is arguably further along than expected.
Runners-up: Hal Gill and Matt Taormina
Vermont: Viktor Stalberg
Patrick Sharp, Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas are all ineligible for this list, as they represented the Catamounts in their ECAC days. But in the program’s fourth season under the new banner, Stalberg evoked memories of the St. Louis/Thomas days when he piloted Vermont to its second-ever Frozen Four appearance.
Now a professional teammate of Sharp’s, Stalberg is one of the more physical Blackhawks and boasts a respectable 17-17-34 scoring log on the year.
By the way, Stalberg’s younger brother, Sebastien, just bolted UVM to join the San Jose Sharks’ farm system.