In recent years, the floodgates from NCAA hockey to the NHL have opened up with more and more college players making the jump to the professional ranks. In 2003, 21 percent of NHL players were NCAA alumni. By 2015, the number jumped to 30 percent and continues to rise.
The Boston Bruins are one of many teams that have been tapping into the NCAA hockey pool. Between recent draft picks and players already in the system, the Bruins had 31 players with ties to the NCAA in 2016-17. Of those 31 players, 20 made at least one appearance with the big club in 2016-17. Some of those players include David Backes (Minnesota State), Riley Nash (Cornell), Frank Vatrano (Massachusetts) and Torey Krug (Michigan State).
With the NCAA having a significant impact on the Bruins, we will look at a few of the players that have come through the college ranks and others on their way.
The Next Bruins
Three of the Bruins’ top-rated prospects come from Boston University and Notre Dame. Of course, we are talking about Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, and Anders Bjork. At the conclusion of the college season, Terriers teammates McAvoy and JFK chose to leave school early to join the Bruins.
McAvoy got his first call from the Bruins during the playoffs after injuries left the blue line thin. It turned out to be a great call as he dazzled in all six of his playoff appearances. Many expected big things from the first-round pick, but no one thought he would perform at such a high level right out of the gate. At the conclusion of the playoffs, it became apparent McAvoy will be contending for a top-four spot on the blue line at the start of the 2017-18 season.
Forsbacka-Karlsson saw his first and only NHL action in the final game of the regular season against the Washington Capitals. He received 8:25 of ice time in his debut, playing on the third line. Depending on what the Bruins decide to do with Ryan Spooner, JFK could start next season as the third-line center. He will have to earn his spot but expect to see the smooth skating playmaker factor into the Bruins’ offense at some point next season.
Bjork, the former Fighting Irish forward, is the most recent college player to leave school to sign an entry-level contract with the black and gold. As a left-shot forward, he will most likely be looking to secure one of the many open left wing spots when training camp gets rolling. Although it is unclear how well his game will translate to the NHL level, the skilled forward has a lot of fans excited after he posted 52 points in 39 games with Notre Dame last season.
Alumni to Build off Last Season
Leading the charge of players looking to build off of their performances from last season is former Providence Friar Noel Acciari. Acciari has played in 48 games for the Bruins over the past two seasons but has yet to secure a nightly role with the big club. This season he should go into camp as a favorite to land a spot on the fourth line as a high-energy, heavy-hitting forward capable of producing some offense.
After two extremely productive seasons at the University of Denver (36-57-93), Danton Heinen had a quick cup of coffee with the Bruins in 2016-17. Although he did not post any points, he easily passed the eye test by generating quality scoring chances and appeared to fit into the Bruins’ system nicely. Cracking the roster out of camp will be difficult for Heinen, but if he does make a few appearances, he will be looking to convert his scoring chances into goals this time around.
Sean Kuraly stopped at the Miami University (Ohio) for a full four years before joining the professional ranks. He was relatively unknown to most of the fanbase until he burst into the spotlight when he scored the final two goals to seal a victory over the Ottawa Senators during Game 5 of the playoffs. Like most young players, he was able to spark the Bruins’ offense with high-energy play. He will be in the fourth-line mix come training camp, but it is tough to tell if he will be able to break onto the roster as a full-time player.
Future NCAA Graduates to Keep an Eye On
Highlighting the list of future Bruins still in school is Harvard’s Ryan Donato. The 2014 second-round draft pick has been more than impressive during his time with the Crimson. In his sophomore campaign last season, he registered 21 goals and 40 points in 36 contests. He possesses elite offensive creativity, great skating and a lethal shot, and it appears he will be ready to step into an NHL lineup when the time is right.
General Manager Don Sweeney surprised everyone when he selected Trent Frederic with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft. It did not take Frederic long to show why Sweeney reached for him at the draft, as he scored 15 goals and 33 points at the University of Wisconsin in his freshman season. His impressive first season has put him on the radar of the Bruins’ faithful as a player to watch as he continues to improve in the NCAA ranks.
Anthony Pagliarulo is a Boston Bruins contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a Massachusetts native and a Worcester State University alumni. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @APags87.