Ranking the Top 10 NHL Prospects That Played College Hockey This SeasonMarch 24, 2023
Ranking the Top 10 NHL Prospects That Played College Hockey This Season
It's the most wonderful time of the year with the NCAA tournament underway.
No, the other big dance.
No, the other, other big dance, the one on ice played by the men's teams in college hockey, with the 16 best teams duking it out to see who goes to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. As exciting as it all is, loads of 18-to-24-year-old players across the country have been going at this since October, and a fair number of them have been or will be drafted by NHL teams. That's a lot of talent to see each weekend through winter.
But who's been the best player in the country? The Hobey Baker Award will answer that question (or fire up a lot of debate) when it's handed out during the Frozen Four weekend in early April, but we're going to get a head start on the discussion here.
There's too much talent to cut it down too far, so we're going to hit you with the top 10 players from this season. It's tricky to break them down given the various difficulties of conferences, but that's why we're here to do the dirty work. Disagree with it? Tell us all about it in the comments, why don't you!
10. Mackie Samoskevich, Florida Panthers
The Michigan Wolverines have a boatload of talent, and among the top players they have is Mackie Samoskevich. He's the Florida Panthers' big prospect after they drafted him 24th overall in 2021, and he's shown why he's been worth waiting for again this season.
Samoskevich finished tied for 19th nationally in scoring before the start of the NCAA tournament with 40 points, including 19 goals. He averaged more than a point per game for the season (1.11) and he's ahead of where he finished last year, when he had 29 points in 40 games. Although he was tied for seventh on Michigan in scoring that year, here's a few of the players ahead of him: Matty Beniers, Owen Power, Kent Johnson and Luke Hughes. Not bad company to be in.
Now with a few of those guys playing pro hockey in the NHL or AHL, his output on a still-loaded Wolverines team put him third on the team in scoring behind Adam Fantilli and Hughes (you may hear about them later on in this list), and he's just a sophomore.
Samoskevich is vital to his team's chances in the NCAA tournament. After last season's super-team didn't come away with the title, this group will be more than hungry to correct that.
9. Alex Laferriere, Los Angeles Kings
When you think about Harvard, perhaps the last thing that comes to mind is elite athletics, but Ted Donato's Crimson team is loaded with talent, and key among them is Los Angeles Kings 2020 third-round pick Alex Laferriere.
The junior forward has made big strides after his freshman season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. His sophomore season saw him put up 31 points in 35 games, and he's jumped that this season with 21 goals and 21 assists. He is second on the Crimson in points behind Sean Farrell of the Montreal Canadiens.
The Kings have to be really happy with how Laferriere has progressed at Harvard, especially after losing a full season in 2020-2021.
Harvard was one of the best teams in the ECAC this season and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Laferriere is one of three Crimson players with 20 goals and has put himself at the top level of goal scorers in the country.
What will be interesting is to see whether or not he'll sign with L.A. when Harvard's season ends. The progression he's made has to please them, and getting him to Ontario in the AHL to continue progressing has to be appealing.
8. Devon Levi, Buffalo Sabres
For the second straight season, Devon Levi had the best save percentage in college hockey. He helped Northeastern to the Beanpot Tournament title this season that makes them essentially the kings of Boston-area college hockey. Although his Huskies didn't make it to the NCAA tournament, it doesn't take anything away from what Levi accomplished this season and through his collegiate career.
After he posted a .952 save percentage reminiscent of Ryan Miller at Michigan State last season, he followed it up with a .933 to lead all goalies once again. He's in the Hobey Baker top 10 for the second season and would seem to be the favorite to win his second straight Mike Richter Award as the best goalie in the NCAA. That he wasn't in the top three for the Hobey Baker last season is still baffling given he came within .004 of Jimmy Howard's record for all-time best save percentage in a season.
Levi was drafted in the seventh round by the Florida Panthers in 2020 (212th overall) and traded to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the Sam Reinhart deal in 2021. He signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Sabres on St. Patrick's Day and will be poised to make his NHL debut in the coming week or two. There's a wee bit of pressure on him with how the Sabres have allowed goals by the bucketload in the past couple of weeks.
7. Matthew Knies, Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been frothing at the mouth about getting Matthew Knies to The Six to give them yet another offensive weapon, and you can't blame them.
Knies is a 6'3", 210-pound sophomore forward the Leafs snagged in the second round of the 2021 draft. He was named the Big Ten player of the year this season, scoring 21 goals and 41 points and finishing third on his team in scoring.
His size sets him apart in college hockey, and having an elite scorer that size able to maneuver with ease around the zone is a big reason why the Gophers are the No. 1 team in the country.
Knies had Toronto fans excited when he had 33 points in 33 games in his freshman season, and the jump he's made this season on what amounts to a super-team in Minnesota is quite encouraging. The Leafs have a load of skill and speed, but Knies' skill and size would be a welcome addition.
But first things first for Knies, he's got Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud (among many outstanding others) to win a national championship with. Having Knies team up with fellow Arizonan Auston Matthews will have to wait for the time being.
6. Jimmy Snuggerud, St. Louis Blues
If there's a quality about St. Louis Blues forwards over the years that has a common thread, it's guys who can score but also play hard-nosed and physical hockey. 2022 first-round pick Jimmy Snuggerud could not fit that description any better.
Snuggerud is in the middle of his freshman season with Minnesota, and he's set a tone with his play already. He was second on the Gophers in scoring headed into the NCAA tournament with 50 points in 37 games, including 21 goals. He was fifth in the nation in scoring ahead of the tournament and, let's repeat this, he's a freshman.
Snuggerud is the son of Dave Snuggerud, who played in the NHL in the '80s and early '90s with Buffalo, Philadelphia, and San Jose. And with a last name like that, how could he not play an aggressive and skilled brand of hockey? When it's Snuggerud's time to get to the NHL, he'll win over his coaches with his ability to forecheck and score.
Putting up 50-plus points as a freshman in college hockey doesn't happen often, so what he and teammate Logan Cooley are doing this season is special and the biggest reason the Gophers have been a total terror in the Big Ten and beyond.
5. Luke Hughes, New Jersey Devils
If it feels like we're talking about an elite young hockey player with the last name "Hughes" all the time, it's because we have been for a few years now. First it was Quinn Hughes with the Vancouver Canucks, then Jack Hughes with the New Jersey Devils, and now their younger brother, Luke, is next in line. He's also headed to New Jersey after the Devils took him fourth overall in 2021.
Like Quinn, Luke is a defenseman who can fill the stat sheet. A year after he posted 39 points over 41 games in his freshman season, he recorded 42 points in 36 games as the Wolverines headed into the NCAA tournament. He's the second-leading defenseman in scoring in the nation this season and is in the top 20 in scoring overall.
Hughes comes with a lot of hype thanks to his NHL brothers and playing for Michigan, where oldest brother Quinn played as well, but he is second on the team in scoring this season behind a guy who is probably going to be the No. 2 pick in the draft in June. That's OK for a defenseman, I suppose.
It's hard to imagine Hughes sticking around in college for another year, so making up for last season's disappointing finish in the tournament is high on the to-do list. That he can help spark the offense almost at will can help make that happen.
4. Lane Hutson, Montréal Canadiens
Being the highest-scoring defenseman in college hockey while Luke Hughes is one of your contemporaries says a lot about how well Lane Hutson has played at Boston University.
Hutson was drafted by the Montréal Canadiens in the second round of the 2022 draft ahead of a freshman season that saw him head into the NCAA tournament among the nation's top 10 in scoring. At 5'9" and 155 pounds, being able to pile up points the way he does makes him unique.
Even though Hutson isn't a big player physically, his impact for the Terriers this season has been immense. He leads them in scoring and helped them to the Hockey East tournament title as well as finishing the regular season atop the conference. A player with the ability he's shown slipping to 62nd overall suggests his stature scared teams away. Forwards his size often slip down the board, and Hutson's size is rare for a defenseman.
Fortunately for him, Montréal has a history of success with smaller players. Whether he's 5'9" or 6'9", a guy who can produce points is valuable, and BU is back in the spotlight because of him.
3. Sean Farrell, Montréal Canadiens
Canadiens fans have a couple of really good reasons to pay close attention to hockey in the Boston area, and it has nothing to do with the Bruins. We already talked about Lane Hutson, but Harvard's Sean Farrell, their fourth-round pick in 2020, is another.
Farrell leads the Crimson in scoring this season and he's top-five in the country in points. He had 28 points in his first season in Cambridge, and he went from 1.17 points per game to more than 1.5 per game this season.
Farrell, like Hutson, is on the more diminutive side at 5'9", 175 pounds, but we've seen more than enough small forwards have success at the NHL level and his development under Ted Donato is working well. Farrell is a big reason why the Crimson earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
What's also good for Montréal, as well as Harvard, is that there may not be a hurry to advance Farrell to the next level just yet. He turns 22 in November, and they may decide they don't need him in the AHL yet. The Canadiens have been pretty bad this season, but they've got a boatload of prospects simmering at various levels.
Before all that, though, Harvard has a lot to prove in the tournament, and Farrell will need to be one of the main guys to make it happen.
2. Logan Cooley, Arizona Coyotes
The Minnesota Golden Gophers have been great all season long, and it's their freshmen who have been a big reason for that, chief among them Logan Cooley.
Cooley was the No. 3 pick in the 2022 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes, and he's showing that the future will be bright in the desert in the coming years. Cooley leads the Gophers in scoring and sits in the nation's top five in points. He's got incredible playmaking ability, supreme instincts and incredible hands around the net.
Seems pretty good.
At 5'10" 180 pounds, Cooley is built like the prototypical college hockey playmaker. Imagining him down the road feeding passes to Clayton Keller to fill the net is pretty easy. For now, he'll continue to do that for Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies at Minnesota.
Cooley has put up more than 50 points this season and is just shy of 20 goals, which as we've said before, is really good for a freshman. He also played in two World Junior Championships between August and January, and he had 14 points in seven games for the United States in the 2023 tournament.
1. Adam Fantilli, 2023 Draft-Eligible
We had to save the best player in college hockey for last and we broke a rule to do it, kind of. Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli is college hockey's leading scorer and, to this point, the only player in the country with 60-plus points.
Fantilli has been phenomenal for the Wolverines and has dominated on a roster that already included two players we wrote about earlier in this ranking.
Even though Fantilli missed out on the Big Ten Player of the Year Award to Minnesota's Matthew Knies, you have to think he will be in the Hobey Baker Hat Trick (the top three finalists).
College hockey hasn't had a freshman make an impact like this since Boston University's Jack Eichel back in 2014-2015. Eichel went No. 2 in the 2015 draft behind Connor McDavid, and history may repeat itself with Fantilli ending up as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft to another generational talent, Connor Bedard.
If we ever get NHL players back to the Olympics or can pull off a World Cup of Hockey again, it'll be ridiculously fun to watch Canada with Fantilli and Bedard.
This year's NCAA tournament should also be a treat as long as Michigan is alive, and Wolverines fans should enjoy Fantilli while they have him as he could be in the NHL next season.