Here at BostonPucks.com we have never hidden that we are college hockey fans and we feel it is a viable route to the NHL.  NCAA hockey does not produce as many superstars like the CHL does, but year after year it does produce quality NHL players.  Even the Pittsburgh Penguins had 11 former NCAA players on their Stanley Cup winning roster this past season.

According to College Hockey Inc 31% of NHL players in the 2014-2015 season came from the NCAA.  Half of the 2016 NHL All-Rookie Team was made up of former NCAA players (including Shayne Gostisbehere, Colton Parayko, and Jack Eichel).  And let’s not forget Dylan Larkin who had a terrific rookie season as well.

The Bruins currently have 6 players that played NCAA hockey (David Backes, Frank Vatrano, Jimmy Hayes, Noel Accari, Torey Krug, and Kevan Miller) with the potential of Danton Heinen earning a spot on big club this season.  Heinen, Rob O’Gara and Matt Benning have all turned pro recently, however Benning (a Chiarelli picked Bruins draft choice) chose not to sign with the Bruins and instead recently linked up with his former B’s GM again and signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

In the 2016 NHL Draft the Bruins picked up 6 new prospects and 4 of them either play, or will be playing, NCAA hockey this season.

Here is the list of all the Bruins prospects that will playing NCAA hockey this upcoming season:

Forwards

Ryan Fitzgerald, Boston College

What we said last year:

Fitzgerald, North Reading, MA, is entering his Junior year at Boston College.  In his first two years to BC he has scored 30 goals and 24 assists for 54 points in 78 games.  With a good season at BC this season the 5’10”, 177 lbs Fitzgerald could sign with the Bruins once the season is over, but he will need a year or two of AHL seasoning.

Ryan Fitzgerald did have a good season at Boston College last year.  He led BC in scoring with 47 points (24 goals and 23 assists) in 40 games and almost doubled his point production in his Junior season.  Fitzgerald will be returning to BC for his senior season where he will have a chance to improve his stats even more.  Since Fitzgerald is a senior there is always the threat of him pulling a Jimmy Vesey and not signing in order to become a free agent.  Fitzgerald is a local kid and I would expect he will sign at the end of the season and start his pro career in Providence.

Andres Bjork, Notre Dame

Andres Bjork was not featured in this posting last season, but it certainly was not due to performance.  As a sophomore Bjork lead Notre Dame in points with 35 (12 goals and 23 assists) in 35 games.  Bjork represented the United States, who won Bronze, at the World Junior Championships last season.  The 5th round pick (146 overall) in 2014 should sign at the end of this upcoming Junior season.  It has been rumored that Bjork could play all four years and head to free agency as his stock does continue to rise.  Let’s hope it does not come to that.  He has shown a lot of development over the past few years and would be great to have in the Bruins pipeline.  Being a 5th round pick past over by every NHL team four times, he was originally projected to be a bottom 6 forward, but now is showing some offensive punch and is looking more like a top 6 guy.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Boston University

Forsbacka Karlsson was not featured in this posting last year.  I am not sure why that happened considering he was a 2015 second round pick (45th overall) thanks to the Dougie Hamilton trade to Calgary.  JFK had a fantastic freshman season at Boston University.  He scored 30 points (10 goals and 20 assists) in 39 games and was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.  He also represented his native Sweden at the World Junior Championships.  JFK is going to be a part of a loaded BU team this coming season, which could be his last in college for the Patrice Bergeron clone.

Ryan Donato, Harvard

What we said last year:

Donato bleeds black and gold.  Ryan’s father, Ted, played 9 of is 13 NHL seasons with the Bruins.  The Bruins acquired Ryan Donato in the 2nd round of the 2014 NHL Draft.  The Scituate, MA native will be a freshman, playing for his father, at Harvard this year.

Donato had a successful freshman season playing for his dad at Harvard.  He had 21 points (13 goals and 8 assists) for the Crimson in 32 games while also winning Bronze at the World Junior Championships for the United States.  Since Donato was a 2014 draft he only has 2 years left before the Bruins need to sign him.  Just like Ryan Fitzgerald above, Donato is a local kid who has dreamed of playing for the Bruins.  I do not foresee signing Donato being an issue.

Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin

What we said last year:

The Bruins acquired Hughes in the 2015 NHL draft in the 6th round.  Hughes is not the biggest guy.  He is listed at 5’11” and 161 lbs.  In 34 games for the Badgers last year he scored 3 goals and 10 assists.

Hughes is now listed at 6’0″ and 170 lbs and had a nice increase in production in his sophomore season.  In 31 games Hughes had 5 goals and 19 assists for 24 points.  He was 4th on the team in scoring and 3rd for assists.  Look for an increase in scoring from Hughes again in his junior season with Tony Granato now behind the Wisconsin bench.

Wisconsin plays at St. Lawrence and Clarkson the weekend of October 28-29th.

Trent Frederic, Wisconsin

The Bruins acquired Frederic with the 29th overall pick in this past draft.  Most thought it was a reach for him to be drafted there and the Bruins admit he may not be a top 6 forward despite a strong showing at the Bruins rookie development camp.  Frederic is big, physical, great on face-offs, and had 40 points (20 goals and 20 assists) in 60 games for the United States National Team Development Program.  Frederic participated in the US Junior Evaluation Camp this summer in Plymouth, Michigan.

Wisconsin plays at St. Lawrence and Clarkson the weekend of October 28-29th.

Defense

Charlie McAvoy, Boston University

Charlie McAvoy was the Bruins prize in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft who also happened to be the youngest player in college hockey last year.  While players the same age as McAvoy were playing in high school, prep, or junior, McAvoy was playing in the always difficult Hockey East.  Like his teammate listed above, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, McAvoy was a Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection.  In my opinion McAvoy is the Bruins #1 prospect.  He finished his freshman year at BU with 25 points (3 goals and 22 assists) in 32 games and was also on Team USA at the World Junior Championships.  McAvoy also got Bruins fans a little tingly when he buried Florida Panthers 2015 first round pick Lawson Crouse (who was recently traded to Arizona).

McAvoy will be taking shifts full time with Big Bruins sooner rather than later.  I am going to predict that McAvoy turns pro at the end of this collegiate season.

Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota

Ryan Lindgren was the Bruins second round (49th overall) in the 2016 draft.  A lot of scouts are raving about this pick by the Bruins.  Lindgren, who is a product of the USNTDP, is a hard working, strong defensive defenseman with some offensive upside.  He will just be starting his freshman year at the University of Minnesota.  Lindgren also has a chance to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships in Canada this year.

Minnesota plays at Clarkson and St. Lawrence the weekend of October 28-29th and they also visit Boston when they play Northeastern on November 25th and Boston College on November 27th.

Cam Clarke, Ferris State

The Boston Bruins selected Cam Clarke with the 136th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.  He had recently played junior hockey in the NAHL for the Lone Star Brahmas.  Clarke scored nine goals and 41 assists for 50 points in 59 games last season, and was named NAHL Defenseman of the Year.  Clarke looked a little out of his element at development camp this summer so it will be interesting to see how he develops in college.

Farris State does not make any trips to the New England area this season.

Wiley Sherman, Harvard

What we said last year:

Sherman is a 6’6” stay at home defenseman who was drafted by the Bruins in the 5th round of the 2013 NHL draft.  He is a long term project and will most likely play out his entire NCAA eligibility.  As a freshman Sherman played in all of Harvard’s games (37) and registered 3 assists.

Sherman is now listed as 6’7″ and 220 lbs.  The big fella increased his offensive production from 3 assists his freshman season to 3 goals and 7 assists in his sophomore season.  Sherman is an economics major at Harvard, so if this hockey thing does not work out I am sure he will be just fine.  Now starting his junior year coach Ted Donato will be looking to Sherman for leadership on the ice.  It would be a huge carrot for the Bruins depth at defense if Sherman takes a big step in his development.

NCAA hockey is a great league for players to develop in that isn’t solely viewed as the minor league system to feed its pro counterpart like NCAA basketball and college football are.  Yet NCAA hockey is not for every player which makes for the debate between what’s better for development, the NCAA and the CHL?  Well, why wouldn’t you want to play NCAA hockey?  You are on a campus surrounded by thousands of girls your age every single day while getting an education to boot.  And with fighting disappearing in hockey the style and quality of game you play is just as relevant as the CHL is to NHL teams today.  Not to mention in the CHL you often play in podunk cities in our neighbors country to the north.  The NCAA is also good for undrafted players to get noticed and get their chance at the NHL, which rarely happens in the CHL.

Although both leagues are great, it’ll be really nice to see some of these B’s prospects tear it up in the NCAA this winter.