(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee Violent Turtle Photography)
Every year for the past few seasons, Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan and Youtuber extraordinaire, Steve Dangle, has created a prospect pyramid for the Leafs and inspired countless blogs and videos with this system. A few years ago, I created an NCAA adaptation of this with the NHL Pyramid for UND. Let’s see what this year’s tiers look like for the Fighting Hawks. This pyramid will focus on a player’s chance to make the NHL, and play at least enough games to no longer be considered a rookie.
Tier One: 75 percent or better chance
Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jonny Tychonick, Grant Mismash, Colton Poolman
The pair of incoming recruits were both drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first and second rounds, respectively. Bernard-Docker, and Tychonick have played together before on a defensive pair. The two compliment each other quite well. Bernard-Docker is more of a two-way defender that can make the occasional play on offense. On the other hand, Tychonick is an offensive dynamo who is able to generate offense in bunches. Both have strong components to their game. Each defender also had the advantage of spending this summer with the newest Senator and former UND defender Christian Wolanin. They know what it takes to get drafted, and spending time learning about what to expect from Wolanin, combined with a coaching staff featuring head coach Brad Berry, who has a track record of working with and developing defenders in the pro game. How long they each spend here will be a function of their personal goals, and what happens with the Senators this season. One good thing UND fans have going for them with Bernard-Docker and Tychonick is their drafting team. Ottawa has seen what three years can do for development with Wolanin. They will not be rushed to the pro game, as the Senators already see the reward for waiting for a player to develop.
As for Mismash, the second round pick of the Nashville Predators is in the mix for another spot on the World Juniors’ roster this year. One thing that stands out to me about his game is his consistency. Even if his stats don’t reflect themselves in the box score, he is improving in the defensive end with his positioning. The Predators’ prospect looks to earn himself more time this season, and be a key contributor for the Fighting Hawks in all situations.
As for Poolman, he is the only undrafted free agent to make this list. He has already turned down NHL offers, according to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. Poolman is a strong two-way defender that will be called on to lead the younger defensive corps the Fighting Hawks will have this season. He did earn an invite to Vancouver Canucks’ development camp. As a junior, look for him to embrace his captaincy for UND and lead the team from the back end. He will not jump up into every single rush for the Fighting Hawks, but when he does he usually makes good things happen. Every NHL team has a need for strong, puck-moving, and responsible two way defenders. Look for more from Colton this year, and look for him to consider his options when the season ends.
Tier Two: 50-75 percent chance
Nick Jones, Peter Thome, Colin Adams, Rhett Gardner
Each of these three players has a strong quality to their game, and something to add on this season. Nick Jones is coming off of a season where he averaged nearly a point-per-game (30 points in 34 games). He is a smaller forward who does not let his height define him. Jones plays a solid two-way game, and this season his chances of earning an NHL deal hinge on his ability to replicate his success, and show scouts his defensive prowess on the penalty kill. The NHL is filled with superb forwards under six feet, no reason why Jones can’t develop into one with a consistent well rounded game this year. His continued development and leadership will be a strong benefit to a younger UND team this season.
As for Thome, to me his rank this high is for a few reasons. First, he earned multiple games in net from a national champion goalie (Cam Johnson who signed a pro deal with the New Jersey Devils upon his season ending) because of his calming play. The Minneapolis native is 6’4″ and uses every bit of his frame to cover a lot of net.Thome plays a smooth game as a netminder. He does not make a lot of highlight reel saves because his positioning and frame allow him not to have that as a constant need. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect gained key experience going up against high-powered teams last season in his limited time. What Thome can build on this season, is lateral movement and puck handling this year. If Thome can improve his lateral game to help his defense out, combined with his superb glove play and positioning he could rise to the top tier here relatively soon. The other issue for Thome is Columbus itself. While Sergei Bobrovsky is locked in as the starter, Thome will have to develop for a few more years at UND and then look to move up from Columbus’ AHL team, the Cleveland Monsters’ soon.
The Blue Jackets have three goalies that are drafted and not signed, just like Thome. His toughest competition within the system comes from Elvis Merzlikins playing overseas for HC Lugano in Switzerland this year. Look for Thome’s game to take the next step as he moves into a full time starting role for the Fighting Hawks this season.
As for Colin Adams, he showed flashes of brilliance with his goal scoring prowess this year. He scored a goal in two of his first three games last year. Adams only finished with five tallies but still profiles as a strong sniper able to generate offense as needed, especially on the power play. With one year under his belt, I look for him to have an improved season as long as his defense can allow him to generate more ice time and therefore more goal scoring chances. Good, and cheap goal scoring is always in demand in the NHL, Adams developing his game to get more time on the ice will allow him to better showcase his skills. He put up 51 goals in two seasons in the USHL. If Adams can earn more ice time he will score more this season. The Islanders will be closely watching their prospect develop this season.
Finally, while I think Rhett Gardner has developed dramatically in his time at UND, he is in this tier more as a function of who else the Stars have and the amount of time I expect him to spend in the AHL. Rhett will get an NHL look and very soon, but he will be competing against Riley Tufte and other forwards who possess Rhett’s same defensive prowess, but are able to score a few more goals more consistently than Rhett has shown so far. Will Rhett Gardner play in the NHL? In my opinion, yes. Will that happen before a longer stint in the AHL than some other Stars’ prospects, I don’t know. Gardner has a senior season ahead of him to build the offensive side of his game and become a leading goal scorer for UND.
Tier Three: 25-49.9 percent chance of making the NHL
Jasper Weatherby, Gabe Bast, Gavin Hain
The Oregon native is a strong power forward that the Sharks thought enough of to trade up to get in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He developed in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with the Wenatchee Wild. He put up 106 points in 104 BCHL games. Weatherby is 6’4″ like Thome and will see immediate chances on UND in at least a bottom-six role. If he showcases the gains he has made in his game over the summer, combined with the needs of the team he could get even more time. UND develops all types of forwards, but, like Austin Poganski before him, he is a strong two-way player that will develop into an all around player at the NCAA level.
As for Bast, he came off shoulder surgery as a freshman and only played 27 games on defense for UND. I think he is a potential gem for the Fighting Hawks for a few reasons. Bast’s physical style of play and responsibility on the back end will help open up opportunities for UND’s offensive-minded defenseman this season. In addition, there is offensive potential not discovered at this level for Bast. He can generate offense as shown in his last full season of junior hockey, he put up 40 points (9 goals, 31 assists) in 49 regular season games for Penticton.
Gavin Hain was also drafted this offseason by Dave Hakstol’s Flyers. Look for him to compete for time on ice with sophomores Jordan Kawaguchi and Colin Adams, just to name a few. He will develop here for a few years, and has an impressive background playing for the USA National Development Team before coming to UND.
Tier Four: Everyone Else
As for every other UND player, I hope to be proven wrong. This team has a lot of depth this year, including senior leader Hayden Shaw. The point is to say that this team, like every college hockey team, has a lot of depth and players develop at irregular intervals and times.
Also, college hockey championships are not won without depth players. Regardless of NHL capability, every player on this roster is here for a reason and belongs on this team.
Finally, UND has over 40 players playing in pro leagues around the world. To me that means that all players are being scouted every game by pro organizations around the world. Look for a lot out of everyone on this team this season. I hope multiple people not named on this list make the NHL and prove me wrong.