- Doug McIntyre
When NHL Central Scouting released its preliminary "Ones to Watch" list of the top North American skaters Nov. 17, just two NCAA freshmen -- Michigan forward Phillip Di Giuseppe and Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe -- were projected to go in the top two rounds.
That's no surprise; as we pointed out recently, the majority of future NHLers playing college hockey are drafted well before they ever hit campus.
Nonetheless, several more student-athletes could end up being early round picks and/or make it to the world's best league one day. Here are five draft-eligible collegians you'll want to keep an eye for the rest of the season.
Phillip Di Giuseppe, LW, Michigan (CCHA)
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Maple, Ontario product has had little trouble adapting to the physical scholastic game, where he's facing players up to six years his elder. After registering 63 points in 49 games as a 17-year-old in the Ontario Junior Hockey League last season, Di Giuseppe -- who didn't turn 18 until Oct. 9 -- leads the Wolverines with seven goals in 16 matches. The fast start was good enough to earn him a coveted tryout for Team Canada's entry at this month's World Junior Championship; Insider's own Grant Sonier believes Di Giuseppe has a legitimate chance of making the cut. Even if he doesn't, the CCHA's rookie sensation could still be the lone NCAA player taken in the first round in Pittsburgh.
Jake McCabe, D, Wisconsin (WCHA)
A hand injury has limited McCabe to just five games for the Badgers this season, but the local (his hometown is Eau Claire, Wisc.) is still highly regarded by scouts after helping the USA win the Under-18 World title earlier this year. When he returns to action, the 6-1, 195-pound shutdown D's offensive game should improve playing alongside senior Justin Schultz, a second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008. UW has long churned out NHL-caliber D-men, including American legends Chris Chelios, Brian Rafalski and current New York Ranger Ryan McDonagh. McCabe continues the tradition.
Joakim Ryan, D, CORNELL (ECAC)
At 5-10 and 182 pounds, Ryan isn't a bruiser like ex-Big Red D Douglas Murray of the San Jose Sharks. But although he'll need extra muscle to eventually compete at the top level, there's little doubt about his skill. Ryan's been a hit in Ithaca so far. He leads all NCAA D-men in shorthanded goals, with four -- not bad for a guy who netted just three times (to go with 29 assists) in 53 games for USHL champion Dubuque last season. The New Jersey-born Ryan's international experience playing for Sweden -- where his mother, a two-time Olympic tennis player, is from -- won't hurt his stock, either.
Destry Straight, C, Boston College (Hockey East)
With just two points in his first 14 games for the Eagles, the former BCHL standout from West Vancouver hasn't done himself many favors during his brief college career. But while the stats might drop Straight significantly in June -- he was initially projected as a first or second rounder -- smart NHL teams understand that he's a long-term project. A true freshman after spending just one scholarship-earning season with the Coquitlam Eagles, Straight needs time to fill out his six-foot, 165-pound frame. By the time he does, the skillful pivot should be filling up scoresheets, too.
Brendan Woods, LW, Wisconsin (WCHA)
If NHL teams truly value character and perseverance as much as talent, one will certainly take a chance on Woods. The 19-year-old Fairfax, Va. native was a healthy scratch for the Badgers' first two games this season; now he's playing on coach Mike Eaves' first line. Woods' fighting spirit was no doubt instilled by his father, a former minor league journeyman who until this week was an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals. Did we mention that the younger Woods, a solid 6-3 and 200 pounds, has some moves, too?
• Michigan signee Cristoval Nieves, a prep star with the Kent School in Connecticut, could be chosen higher than any of the players mentioned above ... Other U.S. high schoolers on Central Scouting's list include fellow left wings Brian Hart of Phillips Exeter Academy (N.H.), who is Harvard-bound, and Lawrence Academy's (Mass.) Devin Tringale.
• Peterborough Petes defenseman Slater Koekkoek became the latest high-profile prospect to suffer a serious injury when he dislocated a shoulder Sunday in an OHL game. Fellow blue-chippers Alex Galchenyuk (Sarnia) and Morgan Rielly (Moose Jaw) are out for the season with knee injuries, while Halifax forward Martin Frk hasn't played yet due to lingering concussion symptoms. Everett D Ryan Murray, who has missed over a month with a high ankle sprain, could return this weekend.
Doug McIntyre looks around the NCAA hockey landscape at the top 5 prospects right now in college hockey, led by Michigan's Phillip Di Giuseppe. The Wolverine could make the Canadian World Junior team and be selected in the top 50 picks of June's draft.