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NCAA Tournament Primer

Many players in this year's NCAA tournament will be NHL free agents at the conclusion of the season

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

The 2017 NCAA Tournament, featuring college hockey's 16 best teams in a single-elimination tournament to decide the national champion, begins on March 24.

While there are no players currently affiliated with the Golden Knights in this tournament, it could have significant implications for Vegas as it builds its roster.

Several top players in this tournament have already been drafted by NHL teams.

But any player whose rights are not owned is a free agent that any NHL team, including the Golden Knights, will have the chance to sign at the conclusion of that team's season.

Here's a breakdown of who's playing who in the tournament, and when and where the games will be available on TV.

Video: A look at the 2017 Expansion Draft rules

West Regional, Fargo, ND

 

Minnesota-Duluth (25-6-7) vs. Ohio State (21-11-6)

March 24: 3:30 PM (PST), ESPN U

What To Know: Minnesota-Duluth possesses a lethal combination of high-end prospect underclassmen and seasoned upperclassmen. As a result, the Bulldogs spent most of the season ranked in the top five nationally, routinely battling top competition (Denver, North Dakota, Western Michigan) in difficult in-conference games.

An interesting player to watch on this team is Alex Iafallo, who led the team in scoring (18g, 27a in 38 games) in his senior year and will be a highly sought NHL free agent the second his team finishes its season.

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Ohio State, normally a power in other sports, is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009 and is a decided underdog.

 

North Dakota (21-15-3) vs. Boston University (23-11-3)

March 24: 12:00 PM (PST), ESPN2

What To Know: Oh boy oh boy, this is some way to kick off the NCAA tournament.

Boston University, stocked with more high-end NHL prospects than any team in the nation, meets defending champion North Dakota…in North Dakota.

While the newly-named Fighting Hawks aren't as powerful as the championship squad they dressed last season, they're led by players that could be in the NHL next week if their team doesn't advance - Brock Boeser, who was drafted 23rd overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 2015, and Tyson Jost, 10th overall to the Colorado Avalanche last June, being chief among them.

 

Watch: Youtube Video

 

The Terriers' NHL prospect cupboard is even more impressive.

Consider this:

Boston University First-Round NHL Picks

 F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes (seventh overall, 2016)
D Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins (14th overall, 2016)
F Kieffer Bellows, New York Islanders (19th overall, 2016)
D Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators (17th overall, 2016)

Boston University Second-Round Picks

D Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Boston Bruins (45th overall, 2015)
F Jordan Greenway, Minnesota Wild (50th overall, 2015)
D Chad Krys, Chicago Blackhawks (45th overall, 2016)
D Jonathan MacLeod, Tampa Bay Lightning (57th overall, 2014)

Adding into BU's intrigue is that its goalie, Jake Oettinger, started this season as a 17-year-old freshman and will be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft this June.

 

East Regional, Providence, RI

 
Harvard University (26-5-2) vs. Providence College (21-11-5)

March 24: 1:00 PM (PST), ESPN U

What To Know: Not usually a power in other sports, Harvard is having one of the best seasons in its history, buoyed by its first Beanpot championship since 1993 earlier this winter. The Crimson have eight NHL draft picks, in particular, that have positioned Harvard as a national championship favorite.

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These include goalie Merrick Madsen (Philadelphia Flyers), coach's son Ryan Donato (Boston Bruins) and Alex Kerfoot (New Jersey Devils), the latter of whom is rumored to elect for free agency this summer.

 

Watch: Youtube Video

 

While Harvard if heavily favored, Providence, 2014-15's champs, won't be an easy out, especially having drawn a tournament game in its home arena.

 
Western Michigan (22-12-5) vs. Air Force (26-9-5)

March 24: 4:30 PM (PST), ESPN3

What To Know: Veteran NCAA basketball tournament watchers are well aware that every year, there are schools that play in "weaker" conferences that qualify for the tournament because they win their conference, and their conference champion receives an automatic berth.

In NCAA hockey, Atlantic Hockey is usually this conference, and its 2016-17 representative, Air Force, also doesn't have the benefit of attracting high-end NHL prospects as a fully functioning military institute.

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Backed by former NHL coach Andy Murray, Western Michigan is favored to easily advance.

 

 

Midwest Regional, Cincinnati, OH

 
University of Denver (29-7-4) vs. Michigan Tech (23-14-7)

March 25: 10 AM (PST), ESPN3

What To Know: The University of Denver was the NCAA's top ranked team most of the season. And loaded with players already drafted by NHL teams, the Pioneers are heavily favored to defeat Michigan Tech, which needed a double overtime goal against Bowling Green just to qualify for the tournament.

While most of Denver's top offensive players have already been drafted by NHL teams, goalie Tanner Jaillet, with his gaudy 1.82 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, is currently unclaimed.

The only catch with Jaillet is that as a 23-year-old junior (very old for a junior), and may not have as much room to develop as a teenage underclassman.

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Penn State (24-11-2) vs. Union College (25-9-3)

March 25: 1:30 PM (PST), ESPN3

What To Know: Penn State is the ultimate feel good story, quickly building its hockey program from scratch six years ago into its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2017. As Golden Knights fans, it may be fun to see an "NCAA expansion team" find success this quickly.

Union College, however, similarly built its program in recent years. The 1,800-student school won the national championship three years ago, and is looking for its third Frozen Four appearance since 2012.

 

Watch: Youtube Video

 

Union probably has the slight edge in this game.

 

Northeast Regional, Manchester, NH

 
University of Minnesota (23-11-3) vs. Notre Dame (21-11-5)

March 25: 12:30 PM (PST), ESPN U

What To Know: Loaded with NHL Draft picks, Minnesota enjoyed its 16th winning season in the past 17 years in 2016-17, and is considered a favorite to win a national championship. This is despite struggling in the tournament since winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

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Notre Dame has its share of NHL picks as well, but may have to largely rely on goalie Cal Petersen (Buffalo Sabres), who's considered one of the top college netminders in the nation.

 

Watch: Youtube Video

 

 
Cornell (21-8-5) vs. UMass-Lowell (26-10-3)

March 25: 9:00 AM (PST), ESPN U

What To Know: UMass-Lowell, long a doormat in NCAA hockey, has admirably built its squad into a perennial power in recent years. And with a ton of upper classmen on their roster, the River Hawks will be favored against Cornell, which squeaked into the tournament despite losing the ECAC title to Harvard.

If Cornell has anything going for it, it's a defensive-minded style that often produces close games, and allows the Big Red to evenly match up against squads with more talent.

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