The NCAA men's crown will be contested by 16 programs. We take a look at the first-round pairings and the prospects who can make a difference
The Frozen Four is here, with the field of 16 set for the men's programs. There are some pretty big names that just missed the cut this season, with North Dakota, Minnesota and Boston College all falling short. But there's still a ton of talent that will be vying for the national championship, which will take place in Minnesota this year.
With that in mind, here are some players to watch as the tournament unfolds, many of whom are either NHL draft picks, soon-to-be draft picks or potential free agents garnering interest on the open market. Teams were ranked 1-4 for the four regionals, so I have kept that seeding here.
St. Cloud State Huskies (1)
The Huskies take on Air Force and will have a Hobey Baker Award finalist on their side in defenseman Jimmy Schuldt, a coveted college free agent. Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Ryan Poehling is a two-way threat at center.
Air Force Falcons (4)
The Atlantic Hockey champs boast a balanced attack led by 6-foot-3 senior Erik Baskin. There are no NHL draft picks on the Falcons, but they're a tough out nonetheless.
Minnesota State Mavericks (2)
The Mavs draw state compatriots Minnesota-Duluth in the first round after a very successful WCHA season. Defenseman Daniel Brickley is a top free agent target, while left winger and Hobey Baker nominee C.J. Suess is a Winnipeg Jets draft choice.
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (3)
Dallas Stars first-rounder Riley Tufte is blossoming as a towering force up front, while New Jersey Devils draft pick Joey Anderson has quickly become a very effective power forward (he also captained Team USA at the world juniors).
Ohio State Buckeyes (1)
With Tanner Laczynski (PHI) and Dakota Joshua (TOR), the Buckeyes have plenty of threats up front - and gritty ones, at that. They'll need it against Princeton.
Princeton Tigers (4)
The Tigers ride a surprise ECAC playoff title into the national tournament, where a lot of NHL teams will be getting a final look at speedy right winger Max Veronneau, one of the most talked-about free agents on the NCAA circuit this season.
Denver Pioneers (2)
The defending champs still look pretty dangerous thanks to Hobey Baker nominee Henrik Borgstrom (FLA) and center Troy Terry (ANA), who was a point-per-gamer for Team USA at the Olympics and is already a legend thanks to his world junior heroics.
Penn State Nittany Lions (3)
Penn State draws Denver in the first round and though it will be tough, the Nittany Lions have weapons of their own. Denis Smirnov (COL) has skills up front, while defenseman Cole Hults (LA) put in a very successful freshman campaign.
Cornell Big Red (1)
Goalie Matthew Galajda was huge for Cornell all season, garnering himself a Hobey Baker nomination. Up front, power forward Anthony Angello (PIT) led the squad in scoring. The Big Red draws Boston U. in the first round.
Boston University Terriers (4)
Big power forward Jordan Greenway (MIN) will draw a lot of attention thanks to his stellar college career and Olympic experience with Team USA. Meanwhile, a dynamic defense corps is led by Nashville Predators pick Dante Fabbro. Power forward Brady Tkachuk is one of the top prospects for the 2018 draft.
Michigan Wolverines (2)
Another one of the top prospects for the 2018 draft is super-slick blueliner Quinn Hughes, who has a big profile for a freshman. Up front, Philadelphia Flyers selection Cooper Marody had himself a breakout season. The Wolverines draw Northeastern first.
Northeastern Huskies (3)
The Huskies are led by twin Hobey Baker nominees Adam Gaudette (VAN) and Dylan Sikura (CHI). They're linemates with excellent chemistry up front. In net, Cayden Primeau (MTL) has been a revelation as a freshman.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1)
Hobey Baker nominee Cale Morris has been outstanding in net for the Irish, while Notre Dame has a lot of firepower to back him up. Playmaker Jake Evans (MTL) led the team in scoring and also wears the 'C' for the squad.
Michigan Tech Huskies (4)
Michigan Tech will provide the opposition for Notre Dame in the first round, with the Huskies coming in as WCHA champs. Defenseman Dane Birks (PIT) broke out offensively as a senior, while Jake Jackson (SJ) is part of a balanced attack up front.
Providence College Friars (2)
Erik Foley (STL) led the Friars in scoring this season thanks to his skilled, athletic game. Right behind him was Washington Capitals pick Brian Pinho and the team is pretty deep overall. They draw Clarkson in the first round.
Clarkson Golden Knights (3)
Ottawa Senators pick Kelly Summers led the Golden Knights in offense from the blueline, while leading scorers Sheldon Rempal and Nico Sturm are both NHL free agent targets once they leave school - but that won't necessarily be this summer.