The 16-team field is set. The 2023 NCAA men’s hockey tournament will drop the puck on Thursday for opening-round games, with the national championship final set for April 8 in Tampa.
It’s a chance to see yesterday’s draft picks, today’s amateur free agents and, in the case of Michigan center Adam Fantilli, tomorrow’s franchise players.
Here’s a look at some of the names in the NCAA tournament with current and future NHL connections, from draft prospects to previous selections to the free agents pro teams will be chasing.
NHL draft prospects
Adam Fantilli, C, Michigan
As Connor McDavid had Jack Eichel, Connor Bedard has Adam Fantilli. In other words, the NHL draft has a clear No. 1 choice followed by a clear No. 2 choice that would have been No. 1 under different, generational player-absent circumstances.
The 6-foot-3 center had 61 points in 33 games this season with the Wolverines, including 27 goals. He led the nation in points per game (1.85) in earning a Hobey Baker nomination as a freshman. “He’s a hard-driving player. He’s got the speed and the size, but he’s always driving and attacking. He’s a dog on the bone — in and around the net with the puck,” TSN senior draft analyst Craig Button said. “He’s relentless. Adam has the size, the will and the skill.”
Gavin Brindley, C/RW, Michigan
Button believes that a strong NCAA tournament could really bolster the stock of Gavin Brindley, ranked No. 24 overall for the draft by Elite Prospects. He had 36 points in 38 games playing on Fantilli’s wing.
Matt Copponi, C, Merrimack College
The 19-year-old center is one of the top 100 North American prospects according to NHL Central Scouting. He leveled up offensively as a sophomore with 29 points in 36 games. He’s found a groove on Merrimack’s top line, and a run in the tournament could open more eyes.
Charles-Alexis Legault, D, Quinnipiac
The 19-year-old defenseman is ranked in the top 200 draft prospects by Central Scouting. Button believes with a strong showing at the tournament, the blueliner could move up some draft boards.
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Drafted NHL prospects
Seamus Casey, D (New Jersey Devils)
Drafted 46th overall by New Jersey in 2022, the freshman defenseman had 25 points in 34 games for the Wolverines. He’s a very solid puck-handling right-shot defenseman … but not the blueliner that Devils fans have their eyes on when it comes to Michigan.
Luke Hughes, D (New Jersey Devils)
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has said that Hughes will join his brother Jack on the Devils after Michigan’s season is complete. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft has lived up to the hype this season with 42 points in 36 games and several appearances in the highlight reels.
“He’s unbelievable. They play him 30 minutes a night. If he played for me, he’d play 40,” Arizona State head coach Greg Powers said.
Frank Nazar, C (Chicago Blackhawks)
Nazar suffered a hip injury that required surgery last October, limiting him to 10 games for the Wolverines this season in which he tallied five points. The 13th overall pick in 2022 by the Blackhawks, who acquired that pick in the Kirby Dach trade with the Montreal Canadiens, Nazar has settled into an important depth forward role on Michigan.
Rutger McGroarty, LW (Winnipeg Jets)
Drafted 14th overall in 2022 by the Jets, the 18-year-old playmaking winger overcame an early season slump to score 34 points in 36 games for Michigan. Of course, playing on Fantilli’s wing didn’t hurt. McGroarty scored two goals in 34 seconds during Michigan’s 4-3 Big 10 championship game win over Minnesota.
Mackie Samoskevich, RW (Florida Panthers)
The Panthers made Samoskevich the 24th overall pick in last year’s draft because of his terrific offensive sense and stickhandling ability. His shooting ability was at the forefront this season with 19 goals in 36 games, seeing plenty of time in the Wolverines’ top six.
Erik Portillo, G (Los Angeles Kings)
The 22-year-old Swede struggled to match the standards he established in his first two NCAA seasons. He had a 3.08 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in going 23-10-2 for Michigan. The Buffalo Sabres drafted him 67th overall in 2019 but committed to Northeastern goalie Devon Levi as their netminder of the future. Hence, they traded the 6-foot-6 Portillo’s rights to the Kings at the deadline for a third-round pick in this year’s draft.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Logan Cooley, C (Arizona Coyotes)
From a four-year-old player in Sidney Crosby‘s Little Penguins program to the fourth leading scorer in the nation (1.49 points per game), Cooley’s speed and playmaking earned him a Hobey Baker nomination as a freshman. Drafted third overall by the Coyotes last season, the Pittsburgh native has shown the kind of offensive spark typically associated with his hockey idol, Patrick Kane.
“Him being the same height as me, I watched how he used his skill to maneuver around bigger guys,” Cooley told ESPN. “I definitely took stuff from him and used it in my game.”
Brock Faber, D (Minnesota Wild)
The Minnesota captain was named Big 10 defensive player of the year for the second straight season. The 20-year-old defenseman, who played with Knies in Beijing, was selected 45th overall by the Kings in the 2020 draft. They traded him to Minnesota in the Kevin Fiala deal last summer. Wild GM Bill Guerin believes his team “got lucky” in acquiring Faber, who had 23 points in 34 games this season.
“All the people I’ve talked to about him give him fantastic reviews and a great character check,” he said.
Ryan Johnson, D (Buffalo Sabres)
The Sabres drafted Johnson 31st overall in 2019. The finesse defenseman had 18 points in 36 games this season for the Gophers. His future with Buffalo is murky, but the Sabres would receive a compensatory pick if he signs with another team.
Matt Knies, LW (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Perhaps no player had his status boosted at the NHL trade deadline more than Knies, with GM Kyle Dubas all but labeling him an untouchable in negotiations. The 6-3 winger was drafted 57th overall in 2021 and played for the United States men’s hockey team at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. He had 41 points in 36 games for the Gophers this season.
Jackson LaCombe, D (Anaheim Ducks)
The 22-year-old senior, drafted 39th overall by the Ducks in 2019, was the leading scorer among Minnesota defensemen with 32 points in 33 games. He’s an excellent skater.
“He’s moving up the ice, but no one can catch him. That’s how strong a skater he is,” Ducks GM Pat Verbeek said.
Jimmy Snuggerud, RW (St. Louis Blues)
The 18-year-old winger, drafted 23rd overall in 2022 by the Blues, had a star-making performance at the IIHF world junior championship, with five goals and eight assists in seven games. He had 49 points in 36 games with Minnesota this season, rounding out the team’s formidable top trio with Cooley and Knies. Minnesota hockey icon Lou Nanne told the Star Tribune that “it’s the best line I’ve ever seen at the University.”
Sean Behrens, D (Colorado Avalanche)
The 19-year-old blueliner was selected 61st overall in the 2021 draft by the Avalanche. The mobile defenseman had 21 points in 30 games for the Pioneers. He’s the kind of player that’s active in all three zones and is considered the Avs’ top defensive prospect.
Michael Benning, D (Florida Panthers)
The 21-year-old defenseman had an outstanding Frozen Four last year, and was an offensive dynamo on Denver’s blue line this season: 34 points in 38 games. The Panthers drafted him 95th overall in 2020 as a player with loads of talent by limited size, as Benning is listed at 5-foot-9.
Magnus Chrona, G (San Jose Sharks)
The 22-year-old in his fourth season with the Pioneers, and went 22-8-0 with a .915 save percentage this season. Will the 6-foot-6 netminder end up joining the prospect pool for the Sharks, who acquired him from the Lightning at the 2021 trade deadline?
Carter Mazur, LW (Detroit Red Wings)
Red Wings fans are eager to see what the 20-year-old winger can bring to the NHL, as Detroit drafted him 70th overall in 2021. He plays with an edge and has a nose for the net: 22 goals in 39 games this season, after notching 14 in 41 games as a freshman last season.
Boston University Terriers
Drew Commesso, G (Chicago Blackhawks)
The 20-year-old goaltender is in his second season at BU and appeared in two games for the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics. The Blackhawks drafted him 46th overall in 2020, and he figures into their rebuilding plans. Commesso was 22-7-0 with a .912 save percentage this season for BU.
Lane Hutson, D (Montreal Canadiens)
Hutson has had a history-making season as a freshman defenseman. His 47 points tied Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch for the most by a frosh blueliner in NCAA history, and he did it in one fewer game than Leetch. He’s a Hobey Baker finalist and won Hockey East Tournament MVP honors. While his size dropped him down the draft board, he’s now listed at 5-foot-10. A terrific passer and a shifty playmaker who still needs some work in handling one-on-one defensive battles.
Jay O’Brien, F (Philadelphia Flyers)
The 23-year-old forward had 30 points in 36 games for BU this season. He was selected 19th overall by the Flyers in 2018, ahead of players like Rasmus Kupari, K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist. Whether he opts for free agency, returns to school or finally joins the Flyers, fans haven’t exactly been pleased with his progression as a first-round pick, although injuries were a factor.
Matt Coronato, RW (Calgary Flames)
The 20-year-old winger had 20 goals in 33 games during his second season at Harvard. The Flames drafted him 13th overall in 2021. In case you were wondering about his professional future, Calgary GM Brad Treliving is expected to be in attendance at Harvard’s regional NCAA games to potentially ink him to an entry-level deal if the Crimson are bounced.
Sean Farrell, C (Montreal Canadiens)
The junior forward was second to Adam Fantilli in points per game this season (1.58), earning a spot as a Hobey Baker finalist. He also had six points in four games representing the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics in men’s hockey. It’s expected that Farrell will join the Canadiens after Harvard’s run concludes.
Henry Thrun, D (San Jose Sharks)
Thrun was drafted by the Ducks at No. 101 overall in 2019 but was acquired by the Sharks at the trade deadline for San Jose’s third-round selection in 2024. The Sharks have until Aug. 15 to sign the Harvard captain, who previously told the Ducks that he intended on becoming an unrestricted free agent. GM Mike Grier called Thrun “a very good two-way defenseman with high character and leadership skills.”
Ohio State Buckeyes
Jakub Dobes, G (Montreal Canadiens)
The 21-year-old Czech has put together two strong seasons with the Buckeyes, going 20-15-3 with a .918 save percentage this season after posting a .934 save percentage in his first NCAA season. The Canadiens selected him 136th overall in 2020.
St. Cloud State Huskies
Jack Peart, D (Minnesota Wild)
The 19-year-old defenseman was selected 54th overall by the Wild in 2021. He had 23 points in 37 games for St. Cloud State this season, playing an effective 200-foot game. He’s a Minnesota native on track to join the Wild.
“We’re happy to have Minnesota kids here and helping them navigate playing in their home town, blocking out the noise,” Guerin said.
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Top NCAA free agents
Brendan Furry, F, Minnesota State
Furry had interest from NHL teams last season but decided to return to Minnesota State for his senior season. He had 28 points in 38 games.
“I think he’s one of the best players we’ve played against all season,” Powers said. “He’s outstanding. I think his game translates to the highest level. He does everything right. He’s got hard skill. Not a lot of people talk about him.”
Collin Graf, F, Quinnipiac
Graf transferred from Union and hit the jackpot at Quinnipiac: Third in the nation in points per game (1.49) with 55 points in 37 games. The Hobey Baker finalist is only 20 years old, which is a bit younger than most NCAA free agents.
Akito Hirose, D, Minnesota State
The 23-year-old defenseman is in his third season with Minnesota State. His last two campaigns have been similar: 26 points in 38 games in 2021-22 and then 27 points in 37 games this season. He’s 10th in career scoring by a Minnesota State defenseman with 68 points.
T.J. Hughes, C, Michigan
First point of order: There’s no relation between T.J. Hughes and Luke Hughes. Second point of order: T.J. Hughes is really, really good, even if his name isn’t mentioned as prominently as the center he plays behind, Adam Fantilli.
“He’s a kid that gets a little bit overshadowed because of all of their draft picks,” Powers said. The 21-year-old Hughes had 33 points in 36 games this season. He made the jump to Michigan after an incredible season with the AJHL Brooks Bandits: 127 points in 60 games, including 66 goals. There’s a notion that with Fantilli headed to the NHL, Hughes might stick around Michigan to build up his résumé for another season.
Jake Livingstone, D, Minnesota State
The 6-foot-3 defender had 35 points in 38 games for Minnesota State this season, and has been courted by NHL teams during his three seasons at the school. “Everyone talks about Livingstone,” Powers said.
Sam Malinski, D, Cornell
Malinski is Cornell’s captain. He had 26 points in 32 games, exhibiting a great transition game that should attract NHL teams’ attention. One team to watch, according to multiple reports: The Vancouver Canucks.
Ryan McAllister, RW, Western Michigan
The 21-year-old winger made a huge impact in his first NCAA season with 48 points in 38 games, good for eighth in the nation in points per game (1.26). He led the AJHL in scoring before making the jump to Western Michigan, with 139 points in 60 games in that league.
Jaxon Nelson, C, Minnesota
No doubt a 6-foot-4 center will garner attention from NHL teams. The senior had his best offensive season in 2022-23, with 22 points in 36 games. Although those numbers are lower than other NCAA free agents, Nelson’s frame might be enough to entice someone to invest in the 22-year-old’s future.
Yaniv Perets, G, Quinnipiac
Perets is up for the Mike Richter Award for the nation’s best NCAA goalie after a 30-win season. He’s also a finalist for the Hobey Baker. The 23-year-old native of Quebec has excelled on a solid defensive team. The question is if returning to Quinnipiac this season turned some NHL heads that were apathetic to him as a free-agent option last season.
Jason Polin, LW, Western Michigan
The Western Michigan captain had a breakout offensive campaign, with 46 points in 38 games, earning a Hobey Baker finalist spot. His 29 goals led the nation, on the strength of five (!) hat tricks this season. The Athletic reported that the Minnesota Wild have interest in the 23-year-old
Max Sasson, F, Western Michigan
Sasson has 42 points in 37 games as a sophomore, combining with Polin and McAllister on the incredibly named “Assassin Line” for Western Michigan. “That came from our teammates and they gave us that name, which is cool but it’s all about anything we can do to help the team win,” Polin told MLive.com.
Wilmer Skoog, C, Boston University
The 23-year-old Swede is in his fourth season at BU and was one goal away (14 goals, 15 assists) from matching his totals from last season. Their top-line center, he generated 107 shots this season.