The Wisconsin Badgers have historically been one of the best programs for hockey prospects and that looks to continue with a promising roster for 2019-20 campaign. Alumni of Wisconsin hockey include 13 players who played in the NHL last season, two Hall of Famers, and 82 total former Badgers throughout NHL history. In 55 seasons, the list is impressive.
Wisconsin’s roster for the 2019-20 season includes 12 NHL-affiliated prospects along with a potential early first-rounder for 2020 in Dylan Holloway.
A New York Rangers’ first-round draft pick (22nd) in 2018, K’Andre Miller was a standout on Wisconsin’s blue line last season with 22 points in 26 games. Miller, relatively new to the defense position, is a 6-foot-5 left-handed defenseman with rare athletic abilities. While he was never the offensive stalwart on the U.S. National Development Team Program (USNTDP) teams, the Rangers and Wisconsin saw something in common with his tools: unlimited upside. He was second on the team in points-per-game last season and is expected to be one of the top producers this season. What intrigues scouts with him is the blend of his unique tools.
Miller’s size and athleticism have been widely heralded before, but it’s his on-ice impact with Wisconsin which has turned heads. He is an aggressive playmaking defenseman who uses his gazelle-like stride to blow past defenders and forecheckers with ease. When he is caught out of position, which can be frequent, his skating allows him to recover properly. His main offensive weapon is his hard wrist shot with velocity, which he is successful with getting through from the point.
Miller was on the ice for 48.7% of Wisconsin’s goals last season. To say he was a large part of Wisconsin’s offense would be an understatement. His Corsi for in 2018-19 was 65% as well, meaning Wisconsin spent less time in their own zone when he was on the ice. This is exciting when you consider that Wisconsin has gotten much better in the offseason with additions like Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, Holloway, and Ryder Donovan. With Wisconsin getting better, Miller will have more talent to play with, leading to an uptick in everyone’s offense. While he has positional warts in his own zone along with questionable hockey IQ at times, he is still new to the position and his upside is undoubtedly one of the greatest among prospects league-wide. Watching Miller refine his game in the 2019-20 season will be interesting to follow.
Turcotte will be Wisconsin’s most promising addition. The fifth-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, he may not have the flashiest tools, but possesses a potentially Selke-caliber defensive game along with the highest hockey IQ in his draft class. In his recent campaign with the USNTDP, he notched 27 goals along with 62 points in 37 games, trailing only Jack Hughes in points-per-game. Turcotte is a leader by example and his relentless style of play and willingness to go to the dirty areas allows him to create space for his teammates. He’s a Jonathan Toews-type of center which the Badgers lack.
Expect Turcotte to secure the Badgers’ No. 1 center position almost instantly, with Caufield riding shotgun. Turcotte isn’t just a safer prospect, though, he has upside to be the best overall player from his draft class. While he may not impact the game tremendously with his creativity, many who have coached him or played with him are quick to point out the little things in his game that conjoin to make him an elite prospect. He is a cerebral center who excels in every area of the game; skating, goal scoring, passing, IQ, defense, aggressiveness, deking. He should be a one-and-done with Wisconsin, however, and could see NHL action with the Los Angeles Kings once Wisconsin’s season is finished.
“When you put a puck between Turcotte and another guy, he’s going to carve that guy’s heart out to win that puck. That’s a skill,”USNTDP U17 coach Seth Appert
The diminutive winger standing at 5-foot-7 and 163 pounds was selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the 15th-overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. A teammate and occasional linemate of the aforementioned Turcotte, Caufield’s game revolves around his explosive shot which has led to the nickname, “Goal Caufield,” which has certainly been justified. He scored a jaw-dropping 72 goals in 64 games with the USNTDP last season and also added 14 more in seven games at the U-18s. He is a highly energetic, complementary forward capable of playing both wings.
While his shot accounts for most of his offense, Caufield was playing on a USNTDP squad full of playmakers which saw him utilized primarily as a scorer. With Wisconsin, he may be able to show off his underrated playmaking abilities as a lead catalyst for the Badgers’ offense.
Holloway is a 6-foot-1, 192-pound power forward capable of playing center or left wing. Last season he was named the Albert Junior Hockey League’s most valuable player, potting 40 goals along with 88 points in 53 contests with the Okotoks Oilers, leading his team in scoring by 22 points. At the Hlinka Gretzky tournament, he added four points in seven games. Holloway, like Turcotte, is a relentless forechecker who stands out in every aspect of the game. He will be joining the Badgers in his draft year and is poised for a first-round selection, possibly even top 15, in what is considered the strongest draft class since 2015.
Holloway drives play whenever he steps on the ice and his well-rounded game is suggestive of a pro-Corsi player. In my viewings of him, he is rarely stuck in his zone for an extended period of time, and when he is, he’s usually the force behind getting the puck out. His play style indicates a comparison to a more refined Evander Kane. He may not see time on the first line or first power-play unit at the start of his rookie season, but expect him to quickly force coach Tony Granato’s hand.
The three first-round picks and a potential 2020 first-round pick make Wisconsin an interesting team to follow this season, but that’s not where it ends. Caufield may be considered a small forward, but the bouncy Sean Dhooghe is even smaller at 5-foot-3. He was passed over the three years he was eligible for the draft but received camp invites from the Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks. What makes him fun to root for is his attitude and stature. If he were to ever make the NHL, he would be the smallest player the league has seen since goalie Roy “Shrimp” Worters nearly a century ago. Dhooghe’s size does not deter him from the end goal, however, as he plays like he is several inches taller with a non-stop motor.
Vegas Golden Knights’ 110th-overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Ryder Donovan, is a prospect who really turned heads last season. I had him at #31 on my 2019 final rankings, and he was widely considered a second-round talent before slipping. Him playing high school hockey in his draft season may have been a reason for the fall, but it was not justified. Donovan is reminiscent of Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch. A big power forward at 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds, Donovan is an incredibly quick and athletic right winger who seemingly got better as the season went on, where he shined in the playoffs.
Donovan showed line-driving potential there and displayed his highly rated offensive qualities. He ended the season with a stat line of 63 points in 52 games, playing with Duluth East High, the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Dubuque Fighting Saints, and Team North. His USHL play was unimpressive, however, with only one point to show in nine games, although he received little ice time. He has the opportunity to prove that he can play against men with fellow 2019 draftees Turcotte and Caufield. I would not be surprised to see him excel with Wisconsin.
Wisconsin will certainly be one of the most exciting amateur hockey teams in the world next season and will possess one of the most stacked rosters in the NCAA. From watching Miller’s 6-foot-5 frame accelerate gracefully through the neutral zone to Turcotte’s shift-by-shift 200-foot impact and Caufield snipe goals effortlessly makes Wisconsin the team to watch in the NCAA this season.