Whom Canadian NHL fans should be watching in the NCAA men’s tournament

Northeastern forward Adam Gaudette (8) leaps into a pile of teammates after defeating Boston University. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The NCAA’s 2018 men’s hockey tournament officially kicked off on Friday, pitting college hockey’s best against one another as they march towards the Frozen Four and the eventual championship tilt on April 7.

A handful of players among the 16 college rosters hold affiliations with Canadian NHL clubs, whose front office reps are sure to be watching closely to see how their prospects handle the pressures of the playoff grind.

That said, let’s take a look at whom Canadian fans should be keeping tabs on as the tournament progresses.

Vancouver Canucks fans should be watching… Northeastern University

Vancouver has higher stakes than most in this tournament, as Northeastern’s Adam Gaudette enters as college hockey’s leading scorer.

Coming off a career-best 30-goal, 60-point campaign in his third year of NCAA hockey — both offensive marks ranking as the best in the country — the Canucks prospect figures to be a handful for Northeastern’s opponents as the university attempts to claim its first ever national championship.

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Given Gaudette’s standout season and Vancouver’s thin forward depth, there’s a good chance the Northeastern star debuts in the big leagues in the not too distant future. But first comes the grind of championship hunt.

Adam Gaudette, Northeastern
Drafted: 149th overall, 2015
Age: 21 years old
2017-18 Stats: 37 GP | 30 goals | 60 points

Montreal Canadiens fans should be watching… University of Notre Dame

Montreal fans don’t have to do too much channel surfing to find a Canadiens prospect. No. 1-ranked Notre Dame is certainly worth a look, featuring Habs prospect Jake Evans whose 41 points put ranked him among the top 30 scorers in the NCAA. The Canadiens also had 2017 first-round pick Ryan Poehling (selected 25th overall in last year’s draft) in the mix, but Poehling’s St. Cloud State was eliminated in Friday’s slate of games via a 4-1 loss to Air Force Academy.

Jake Evans, Notre Dame
Drafted: 207th overall, 2014
Age: 21 years old
2017-18 Stats: 37 GP | 11 goals | 41 points

Though Montreal is fairly set between the pipes, the club has a few goaltending prospects to watch in the tournament as well — Northeastern’s Cayden Primeau (also a 2017 draft pick) and Providence’s Hayden Hawkey. Primeau finished the season with the sixth-best save percentage in the country (.932) while Hawkey finished tied for 15th with a mark of .919.

Cayden Primeau, Northeastern
Drafted: 199th overall, 2017
Age: 18 years old
2017-18 Stats: 33 GP | .932 SV% | 1.88 GAA | 4 SO

Hayden Hawkey, Providence
Drafted: 177th overall, 2014
Age: 23 years old
2017-18 Stats: 39 GP | .919 SV% | 2.04 GAA | 4 SO

Toronto Maple Leafs fans should be watching… The Ohio State University

The Leafs have former USHL champion Dakota Joshua going in the tournament, looking to help Ohio State win its first ever national title. Joshua potted 14 goals and 24 points this season in his third NCAA campaign, seeing his overall production dip from 2016-17’s 34-point effort while his goal-scoring numbers saw a slight improvement.

He isn’t the same type of high-flyer Toronto has seen elsewhere in its prospect pool, but with a notable mix of size and skill, there’s some intriguing potential here.

Dakota Joshua, Ohio State
Drafted: 128th overall, 2014
Age: 21 years old
2017-18 Stats: 31 GP | 14 goals | 24 points

Edmonton Oilers fans should be watching… University of Michigan

The Oilers didn’t have any blue-chip prospects in the tournament until a few days ago, when they sent a 2019 third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for University of Michigan product Cooper Marody. The 21-year-old tied for 10th place in the NCAA scoring race, piling up 46 points for Michigan.

Cooper Marody, Michigan
Drafted: 158th overall, 2015 (by Philadelphia)
Age: 21 years old
2017-18 Stats: 37 GP | 14 goals | 46 points

A few others to keep tabs on: Hulking defender Vincent Desharnais (who clocks in at 6-foot-6, 224 pounds) is worth a watch for Providence, as the 2016 pick has grown into a steady presence on the Friars’ blue line. The Oilers also have Cornell’s Matthew Cairns in the mix, though the young blue-liner has yet to break out at the college level since making the jump to the NCAA.

Vincent Desharnais, Providence
Drafted: 183rd overall, 2016
Age: 21 years old
2017-18 Stats: 37 GP | 0 goals | 11 points

Matthew Cairns, Cornell
Drafted: 84th overall, 2016
Age: 19 years old
2017-18 Stats: 10 GP | 1 goals | 1 point

Honourable Mentions

The Winnipeg Jets boasted one of college hockey’s top talents heading into the round of 16 — MSU-Mankato product C.J. Suess, who joined Gaudette as one of the finalists for the 2018 Hobey Baker Award. The 24-year-old (drafted 129th overall by Winnipeg in 2014) enjoyed a dominant campaign that saw him post 22 goals and 43 points 40 games — ranking him 11th and 15th in the country in each of those categories, respectively. Unfortunately for Jets fans, Suess’s club was eliminated on Friday in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth.

The other Golden Knights, these from Clarkson University rather than Vegas, house a solid Ottawa Senators prospect in defender Kelly Summers, who ranked in the upper echelon of college blue-liners when it came to offence this season, piling up 30 points in 40 games from the back end. The smooth-skating, right-handed defenceman has some potential for Ottawa, but had a short showing during the championship tournament — Clarkson was bounced from the Round of 16 on Friday via a 1-0 loss to Providence.

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