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Two freshmen among top 10 players to watch

by Michael Blinn / NHL.com

NHL.com's college preview presents its players to watch.

NCAA hockey features a mix of players and personalities across its 59 teams. There are NHL draftees looking to improve their game, and soon-to-be free agents aiming to take that next step. While some of the bigger names and known commodities will attract plenty of attention, every season seems to bring the emergence of unheralded stars who can score goals, deliver hits, and make the big saves.

NHL.com NCAA Top 10 Players to Watch


(Photo Credit: Boston College Athletics)

1. Johnny Gaudreau (So., Boston College)
2. Kevin Roy (Fr., Northeastern)
3. Mark Jankowski (Fr., Providence)
4. Jon Merrill (Sr., Michigan)
5. Danny DeKeyser (Jr., Western Mich.)
6. Marc Zengerle (Jr., Wisconsin)
7. Rylan Schwartz (Sr., Colorado College)
8. Shayne Gostisbehere (So., Union)
9. Brian Ferlin (So., Cornell)
10. Brett Gensler (Jr., Bentley)

With so many putting new lessons to the test on the ice across several leagues and tournaments, it's no easy task to keep track of them all. Here's a primer of 10 players who should be among the statistical and positional leaders this season:

Johnny Gaudreau; Sophomore, Boston College

44 GP; 21 G; 23 A; 44 Pts; 7 PPG; 5 GWG; +20

The Calgary Flames draft pick (No. 104, 2011) is another in a long line of diminutive speedsters whom coach Jerry York centers his offense around. As a freshman, Gaudreau (5-foot-6, 141 pounds) used his speed and creativity to average a point per game, aided in part by a season-ending 21-game stretch when he tallied 14 goals and 29 points. He's the type of player who tends to run rampant in Hockey East, and with Chris Kreider gone, he'll be the focal point of the Eagles' offense.

Kevin Roy; Freshman, Northeastern

59 GP; 54 G; 50 A; 104 Pts; 14 PPG; +44 (Lincoln/USHL)

The Huskies are a strong team from top to bottom, and adding Roy will give them the go-to offensive threat they've been craving. Originally committed to Brown, he was the only player in the United States Hockey League last season to eclipse 50 goals, 50 assists and 100 points. He's a bona fide scorer and will have an immediate impact in league play, if not beyond.

Mark Jankowski; Freshman, Providence

57 GP; 53 G; 40 A; 93 Pts; +51 (Standstead College/CAHS)

It was a borderline hockey coup when coach Nate Leaman got Jankowski to make his way to the Friars this season, instantly giving Providence a No. 1 center and top playmaker. He'll learn to play against bigger, stronger competition while adding some bulk onto his 6-foot-1 frame; along the way, expect him to elevate the play of his teammates. If Flames fans didn't already have a good reason to keep an eye on one of their top prospects, Jankowski will be skating in front of fellow Calgary draft pick and freshman Jon Gillies, who should assume goaltending duties.

Jon Merrill; Senior, Michigan

19 GP; 2 G; 9 A; 11 Pts; +11

The offseason rumors about Merrill jumping ship to join the New Jersey Devils had plenty of merit. The big blueliner (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) has a solid all-round game; he can skate; plays strong, physical defense; and can quarterback an offense. What he's added to his portfolio this season is maturity. After sitting out the majority of last season for breaking team rules, Merrill returned and did not disappoint in his limited showing. He'll be the linchpin for the Wolverines, and the perfect mentor to freshman Jacob Trouba.

Danny DeKeyser; Junior, Western Michigan

41 GP; 5 G; 7 A; 12 Pts; 3 PPG, +15

Western Michigan defenseman Danny DeKeyser returns as one of the top defensive blueliners in the NCAA. (Photo Credit: GS Photo/WMU Athletics)

It wasn't an easy decision for DeKeyser to return for another season with the Broncos, but they're sure glad he did. The top undrafted defenseman spurned a number of offers to play in the NHL this season, and in doing so goes back to the NCAA as one of the top defensive blueliners in the game. Coach Andy Murray would like to see DeKeyser's offensive game step up a bit this season in addition to his standout shutdown skills.

Marc Zengerle; Junior, Wisconsin

37 GP; 13 G; 37 A; 50 Pts; 3 PPG; 2 SHG

If DeKeyser is the top undrafted defenseman in college hockey, Zengerle's case as the top forward is an easy one to make. He exploded offensively as a sophomore, finishing seventh in the nation with 50 points, despite playing the fewest amount of games among the top-10 scorers. With a 20-game scoring streak (the second-longest in Wisconsin history), he displayed outstanding consistency in his second season. With Justin Schultz off to the pro ranks, Zengerle should find himself in the spotlight this season, and his slick playmaking skills will keep him there.

Rylan Schwartz; Senior, Colorado College

35 GP; 23 G; 17 A; 40 Pts; 11 PPG

Along with brother Jaden, the Schwartzs were one of college hockey's most dangerous tandems over the past two seasons. Now that his younger brother is with the St. Louis Blues, Rylan inherits the offensive reins of a team that missed out on some lofty expectations last season. He more than doubled his goal total from his sophomore season, and his 23 as a junior placed him eighth in the country. The sky's the limit for the senior, and as a WCHA veteran, the Tigers will certainly benefit.

Shayne Gostisbehere; Sophomore, Union

41 GP; 5 G; 17 A; 22 Pts; +18

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As a freshman, Gostisbehere stood out on both ends of the ice; his five goals and 22 points to go along with his solid defensive play were major factors in Union's first Frozen Four appearance. His star has been on the rise since, too, with a very strong showing at the U.S. Junior Evaluation Camp in August. The Philadelphia Flyers' draft pick (No. 78, 2012) figures to continue developing in his second season and should give his ECAC competitors fits at both ends of the ice.

Brian Ferlin; Sophomore, Cornell

26 GP; 8 G; 13 A; 21 Pts; +15

In his first season with the Big Red, Ferlin contributed 21 points on the top line before an injury derailed the final weeks of his season. Now that he's healthy, he'll put his freshman-year lessons on using his size and skill to good use for Cornell. Standing at 6-foot-2, he's a prototypical power forward, and when combined with his defensive reliability and evolving hockey smarts, Ferlin can become an unstoppable force the Bruins look forward to cultivating.

Brett Gensler; Junior, Bentley

40 GP; 27 G; 27 A; 50 Pts; +17

Gensler may not get all the credit he deserves, playing for the Falcons in a less-publicized league, but the undersized forward (5-foot-9, 169 pounds) paced Atlantic Hockey in goals, assists and points as a sophomore, tying for seventh in NCAA scoring. The campaign earned him the Walter Brown Award as the top American-born player in New England, the first player in AHA history to win it. He's poised to join an elite group of AHA players who've become top-flight prospects over the past few seasons, including Cory Conacher, Cole Schneider and Chris Tanev.

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