Thatcher Demko. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
With the college season about to kick off, our prospect expert counts down the names that will be making noise across America in 2014-15, including five freshman who are up for the draft.
It's gonna be a great year for college hockey. Not only will the usual array of prospects be on display as they build up their games at school, but there is a special bonus: The Fab Five Frosh.
A mixture of late birthdays, incredible skill and tantalizing opportunities have coalesced to produce a class of first-time draft eligible players rarely ever seen before. Who are these incredible teens? Check out the list below.
Along with the Fab Five, you will also find the most intriguing players for this year. My choices are largely based on NHL upside, so you won't find a ton of upperclassmen, nor free agents. It was tough getting the roster down to 50, but here we go:
1. Jack Eichel, Boston University – Dynamic center will challenge for first overall in 2015 draft and lead the U.S. world junior team's offense.
2. Noah Hanifin, Boston College – Big, poised blueliner a near lock to go third in 2015 after Connor McDavid and Eichel. And he'll start the year as a 17-year-old.
3. Mike Reilly, Minnesota – Columbus pick is a great mobile defenseman who will take a shot at the Hobey Baker Award.
4. Dylan Larkin, Michigan – Talented freshman center is a Detroit first-rounder who will bring speed and character to Wolverines.
5. Jon Gillies, Providence College – Towering junior goaltender is a Calgary pick who will determine how far a great-looking Friars team will go.
6. Zach Werenski, Michigan – Freshman defenseman has great offensive ability and is up for the 2015 draft – like Hanifin, he's still only 17.
7. Alex Tuch, Boston College – Freshman Minnesota first-rounder has a power forward's build, great hands and a blistering shot.
8. Riley Barber, Miami – Incredible offensive prowess has boosted the Washington pick's stock since he came to RedHawks; look for more of the same from the junior.
9. Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota – St. Louis first-rounder is a maturing, mobile defenseman who doubled his points as a sophomore last season.
10. A.J. Greer, Boston University – Big prep school power forward jumps up to Hockey East for his NHL draft year.
11. Kyle Rau, Minnesota – Small but ultra-talented, the Florida prospect led the Gophers in scoring as a junior last year and will likely do so again.
12. Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota – Jordan's younger bro joins him in Grand Forks. The Chicago first-rounder is blessed with a number of sick offensive moves.
13. C.J. Motte, Ferris State – Senior goaltender is a rare free agent on the list, but NHL scouts have been circling him for a couple years now.
14. Thatcher Demko, Boston College – Can the Vancouver pick replicate his incredible freshman season with Eagles? World juniors also on the checklist.
15. J.T. Compher, Michigan – Gritty, annoying and talented, Compher is a Buffalo prospect who will be key to Team USA's forward corps at the world juniors.
16. Hudson Fasching, Minnesota – Tank-sized power forward was brilliant at 2014 world juniors. Rights strangely traded from Los Angeles to Buffalo last season.
17. Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State – Gifted goal-scorer will once again light the lamp large for the Huskies; he's a Los Angeles selection.
18. Josh Jacobs, Michigan State – New Jersey second-rounder will bring a good dose of skating and athletic ability to the Spartan blueline.
19. Jack Dougherty, Wisconsin – The Nashville second-rounder has a knack for offense and getting the puck through from the blueline, plus he has good size.
20. Kevin Roy, Northeastern – The Anaheim pick is one of the most dangerous goal-scorers in the land and will propel the Huskies attack again.
21. Evan Cowley, Denver – With Sam Brittain gone, Cowley can put his stamp on the crease with the Pios. The big netminder is a Florida pick.
22. Devin Shore, Maine – Vision, playmaking and production are all hallmarks of Shore's game. The Black Bears center is a Dallas selection.
23. Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin – Last of the first-time draft-eligibles, Hughes is a gifted skater who will use his college time to bulk up.
24. Mark Friedman, Bowling Green – A slick offensive defenseman, the Philadelphia pick is one of the more high-profile Falcons commits in recent years.
25. Warren Foegele, New Hampshire – Carolina grabbed the raw winger in the third round this summer; Foegele has great size and skates like the wind.
26. Tyler Bird, Brown – The Columbus prospect is a power forward who played on a line with Greer (No. 10) and Devils pick J.D. Dudek at Kimball Union prep last year.
27. Jake Guentzel, Nebraska-Omaha – Smaller Pittsburgh pick had an outstanding freshman season with the Mavs and they'll need his playmaking prowess again.
28. Andy Welinski, Minnesota-Duluth – Mobile Anaheim pick with great size led the Bulldogs in points from the blueline as a sophomore.
29. Adam Wilcox, Minnesota – The Tampa Bay pick was a rock in net for the Gophers and no doubt has a national title on his mind as a junior.
30. Brandon Hickey, Boston University – Calgary's third-rounder this summer brings size and speed to the Terriers blueline.
31. Brett Pesce, New Hampshire – Big Carolina third-rounder experienced a huge jump in offense from the blueline as a sophomore.
32. Connor Hurley, Notre Dame – Buffalo pick set for his freshman season with Irish, where he'll bring speed and vision up front.
33. Zane McIntyre, North Dakota – Boston prospect formerly named "Gothberg," will hold down the fort in net for UND as the team eyes a national title.
34. Jaccob Slavin, Colorado College – The Carolina prospect is much bigger than he was when the Canes drafted him and he plays all situations on the back end.
35. Quentin Shore, Denver – The third of four hockey brothers, Shore is an Ottawa prospect who brings some nice scoring punch back to the lineup.
36. Anthony Florentino, Providence College – Buffalo pick looked great as a freshman on defense. He hits hard and can contribute in all areas of the game.
37. Michael Matheson, Boston College – Entering his junior campaign, the Florida prospect will once again bring skating and smarts to the blueline.
38. Paul LaDue, North Dakota – A late-blooming defenseman snagged by Los Angeles as a depth pick, LaDue was great as a freshman, grabbing all-conference rookie honors.
39. Colton Parayko, Alaska-Fairbanks – The St. Louis prospect has a huge frame and plays a great two-way game for the Nanooks.
40. Teemu Kivihalme, Colorado College – Incoming freshman boasts a crazy set of wheels from the blueline; he's a Nashville pick.
41. Cliff Watson, Michigan Tech – The San Jose prospect is a huge shot-blocker and Tech's reigning defensive player of the year, winning as a freshman.
42. James De Haas, Clarkson – Mobile defenseman with great size is a Detroit selection who is also steady in his own zone.
43. Jimmy Vesey, Harvard – Nashville prospect was Harvard's leading scorer as a sophomore and returns with an eye on rounding out his game.
44. John Hayden, Yale – Chicago pick is a big center with puck protection skills who can handle himself in the defensive zone as well.
45. Aidan Muir, Western Michigan – Raw Edmonton project kicks off his college career in Kalamazoo; he boasts size, speed and skill.
46. Michael Downing, Michigan – Defensive defenseman is a Florida selection who can bring the pain when opponents encroach on his turf and add some offense.
47. Sean Kuraly, Miami – San Jose prospect was known for his responsible side early on, but now the big forward has added offense, too.
48. Ryan Collins, Minnesota – Incoming freshman boasts great size and all-around ability; he a Columbus prospect.
49. Michael Prapavessis, R.P.I. – A smart defenseman who is valuable on the power play, the incoming freshman is a Dallas pick.
50. Joey LaLeggia, Denver – The skilled offensive blueliner is an Edmonton pick primed to put up big numbers as a senior.