The 2022 Frozen Four, the final rounds of the men’s NCAA Division I hockey tournament, wrapped up over the weekend, with the University of Denver beating Minnesota State, 5-1, to win its ninth NCAA title, tied with Michigan for most by a single school all-time. Sixteen teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament, a few of which were filled with NHL prospects. Among those were three Florida Panthers draft picks, two of whom are still under contract with the team, with the third being traded away at the deadline. Here is a look at those three players and how they performed during the 2021-22 season, including the NCAA Tournament.
Mike Benning, Denver
Taken by the Panthers in the fourth round (95th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft, Benning had, by far, the best postseason performance of the three. The 20-year-old defenseman posted 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 41 games as the Pioneers, which feature 12 NHL prospects including top NCAA point-scorer Bobby Brink, went 31-9-1 and won an NCAA championship.
After tallying an assist in a 3-2 Pioneer win over UMass-Lowell and registering a shot in a 3-2 Pioneer win over Minnesota-Duluth, Benning really tuned it on in the Frozen Four. He assisted on two goals in Denver’s 3-2 win over Michigan and had a goal and an assist in the team’s 5-1 win over Minnesota State, earning the honor of the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Mackie Samoskevich, Michigan
The 19-year-old forward was taken 24th overall by the Panthers in the 2021 NHL Draft. This season, he was part of a stacked Michigan team that included three of the top-five picks in last year’s draft (first-overall pick Owen Power, second-overall pick Matty Beniers, and fifth-overall pick Kent Johnson). The team went 31-10-1 and won the Big Ten Tournament.
Samoskevich tallied 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games for the Wolverines this past season, his first with the team. In Michigan’s 5-3 win over American International in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, he registered a shot and an assist. He had one shot in the team’s 7-4 win over Quinnipiac and one shot in 3-2 loss to Denver in the Frozen Four.
Ty Smilanic, Qunnipiac
The 20-year-old center was a third-round pick (74th overall) by the Panthers in the 2020 NHL Draft. After scoring 14 goals and adding seven assists in 29 games as a freshman, he had 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 41 games this season for Quinnipiac. The Bobcats went 32-7-3, winning the ECAC hockey regular-season title and making it to the conference championship game, where they lost to Harvard.
Quinnipiac got into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid. Smilanic didn’t get on the stat sheet in the Bobcats’ 5-4, first-round win over St. Cloud State, but he did register two shots and an assist in the team’s 7-3 loss to Michigan in the second round. He also played in Beijing as a member of the United States team. Less than three weeks before making it to the NCAA Tournament, he was traded, along with a 2023 first-round pick and a 2022 fourth-round pick, to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Ben Chiarot.
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Neither Benning nor Samoskevich will arrive in Sunrise soon. Both are expected to return to school next season, Samoskevich for his sophomore season and Benning for his junior year. Obviously, Smilanic also won’t be playing for the Panthers anytime soon, although he did make a mark on the team by bringing Chiarot.
But getting to play in the NCAA Tournament against other top NHL prospects can only help Benning and Samoskevich as they hope to eventually make it into the Panthers lineup, and can lead to opportunities to showcase their skills. Benning got that opportunity and took advantage of it, outperforming several higher draft picks on the way to a national title.