In a season that saw Eastern schools step to the forefront, placing three teams in the NCAA Frozen Four, it is perhaps ironic that the top-rated collegiate pick for the upcoming National Hockey League entry draft would come from the West.
Jeff Jillson, a 6-foot-2 defenseman from Michigan, is the top collegiate prospect in the land, according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau (CSB). He’s ranked 11th overall by the CSB, which would make him a relatively early first-round draft choice.
A native of North Smithfield, R.I., Jillson finished the season with the Wolverines ranked sixth in scoring with four goals and 19 assists for 23 points. He proved his clutch scoring touch by setting up the game-winning goal in the 5-3 come-from-behind victory over Denver in the first round of the NCAA East Regional.
Jillson is characterized by his size and strength, as well as his ability to use those assets to control play in his own zone. His play for the Wolverines this season netted him a four-spot improvement in his CSB ranking.
No less than eight college players are predicted by the CSB as first-round draft picks. Besides Jillson, the CSB ranks Maine center Barrett Heisten at 14, Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold at 16, Maine defenseman Doug Janik at 17, Notre Dame center David Inman at 19, RPI left winger Matt Murley at 23, North Dakota defenseman Mike Commodore at 24, and Wisconsin defenseman David Tanabe at 27.
At 14th, Maine’s Heisten is rated the top collegiate forward available this year, after finishing his rookie campaign for the national champion Black Bears with 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points.
Heisten registered only one point during the Frozen Four, but it was the assist on Bobby Stewart’s overtime game-winning goal over Boston College that propelled Maine into the championship game. But scoring was not the story of the tournament for Heisten — rather, his defensive role in the tournament gained him acclaim from Maine coach Shawn Walsh.
The next two players rated are blueliners, as two spots away from Heisten is Jordan Leopold. Known for his puck-handling ability, Leopold finished his rookie campaign with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) to lead Golden Gopher defensemen in scoring.
A second-team All-WCHA defenseman and a pick for the WCHA All-Rookie Team, Leopold was a force as the quarterback of the power play. According to NHL sources, Leopold has great value because of his ability to see the ice and his speed. The only concern is his size (6 feet, 190 pounds).
Also from the University of Maine, at number 17, is defenseman Doug Janik. In his freshman campaign, Janik finished third among defensemen in scoring for the Black Bears with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists), behind only All-American David Cullen and fellow rookie Peter Metcalf.
The book on Janik marks him as a solid two-way player, with the ability to rush the puck and jump into the offense. He played the point on the power play for much of the season, where he netted two of his three goals.
Leading the collegiate goaltenders into this year’s draft is Cornell’s Matt Underhill. Ranked eighth by the CSB, Underhill played in 25 games this past season posting a 7-10-4 record. He had a 3.00 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
Right after Underhill is Minnesota netminder Adam Hauser. He is ranked 10th among all netminders available. As a freshman for the Golden Gophers, Hauser played the role of workhorse, appearing in 40 games and compiling a record of 14-17-8 with a 3.42 goals-against average and an .878 save percentage.