Whether they’re replacing an all-american, assuming a new role, or are expected to be one of the best players in the country, these five players will help shape their conference races.
1. Adam Murray, Goalie, Denver
Murray replaces Cheverie, who last year had a 2.05 GAA and a .934 save percentage in WCHA. George Gwozdecky hasn’t officially made Murray the #1 guy yet, but as the only returner with experience, it’s likely he will get the first shot to seize the job. If so, he needs to improve on his 2009-10 numbers. Although his record wasn’t terrible (3-4-1), he had a 3.81 GAA and a .874 save percentage, numbers that would have put him 14th and 13th in the WCHA respectively.
This summer Murray went to Toronto along with Cheverie to work with a goaltending coach. If he can grab the reins of the starting job this year in similar fashion to Cheverie two years ago, the Pioneers might be on to something.
2. Denny Kearney, Forward, Yale
Pretty soon this is going to turn into the Denny Kearney blog. After losing Sean Backman (21-14–35) and Mark Arcobello (15-21–36), Yale has some holes to fill. Bringing back Broc Little and Brian O’Neill helps, but someone will have to step up to ease their workload. That someone seems to be Kearney. The Senior from New Hampshire has increased his point total from 22 as a Freshman to 37 last year. More of a playmaker than goal scorer, Kearney will have talented forwards to pass the puck to, regardless of whose line he is on.
3. Paul Thompson, Forward, New Hampshire
Last year UNH’s Bobby Butler was the regular season national leader in goals. With him gone, UNH has a huge void to fill. Enter Thompson, who was the 2nd leading scorer on that team. The Senior from Derry, New Hampshire had 19 goals and 39 points last season for the Hockey East champion Wildcats. In order to make his mark, Thompson will have to help UNH on the power play. Although they were the 10th highest scoring team in the country, the Wildcats were horrible on the power play (16.4%, 42nd nationally). Thompson attended prospect development camp with the Penguins last year and appears to be poised to make the most out of his last year in college hockey.
4. Cam Atkinson, Forward, Boston College
Atkinson was having a very nice season last year, until the postseason. Then he was excellent. It started with a hat trick in the first Hockey East quarterfinal game vs. UMass and ended with a two goal night in the national championship game. Atkinson had 8 goals in 8 total post season games en route to winning a national title for BC. By the time his year was over Atkinson had 30 goals, the most in the country, and was 4th in goals per game with .71 per game.
This year, with the majority of the goal scoring back, Atkinson is poised for yet another great year. Like many of BC’s great forwards, Atkinson isn’t very big, but he is extremely fast and skilled. He has great hands and watching him in the postseason last year he had a much better shot than I thought he would have. It’s a good bet that he will be a Hobey finalist this year.
5. Brian Flynn, F, Maine
Everyone knows about Gustav Nyquist. The Swede is probably the best player in the country and a Hobey favorite going into this year. But while Nyquist’s numbers were impressive, Flynn’s goals per game (.49) was the exact same. Flynn went from 12 goals and 25 points as a Freshman to 19 goals and 47 points this past season for the Black Bears. Last year Flynn set the Maine record for goals in a game, and while Nyquist may dominate the headlines, his fellow Junior will have just as much say in determining how far Maine goes this year.