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Commentary: Picking the 10 best college hockey players of the last 10 years no simple task

CBS Sports Network is celebrating its 10th anniversary of broadcasting a national package of college hockey games. It started with a test game, Michigan at Ohio State in the months before the official launch of the network, and has never looked back.

Well, actually, it is looking back. The network that was started as College Sports Television (CSTV) and became the CBS College Sports Network before settling into its current identity is looking back at the decade on air in college hockey. The challenge is to name the top 10 players of the past 10 years in college hockey. The fan voting just closed and your results will be shown on the network starting soon. My list will also air in the upcoming weeks during our broadcasts.

This idea started as a random thought in my head last spring, and when testing the waters on Twitter it gained some traction. People love lists, people love arguing over who was best, and college hockey fans are passionate about the sport and their teams (if they weren’t we would have never made it out of year two at the network).

The question I get asked about this is what are the criteria? In tossing this out to NHL scouts, player development people, NCAA coaches (a group from which I wish more had participated) and trusted hockey minds I explained the basis for evaluating candidates for the top 10.

Here they are in no particular order of importance. The biggest thing to remember is that where the student-athlete played has no bearing on candidacy. Whether he played at West Point or Western Michigan, what we are looking at is the player’s career.

That being said, accomplishments are criteria. That includes individual or team. For example, if a kid played in three Frozen Fours, was in the top three in scoring on his team a couple of those seasons, was an All-American, made a Hobey Baker Award top 10 a time or two, well, that is a tremendous career. Look at the body of work.

Another is that whether the player went on to stardom at the NHL level has NO bearing on his candidacy. There are several really good NHLers who had above-average NCAA careers but there are also some players who had great college careers that either flamed out as NHL players or just became good AHL guys. The post-college-hockey career does not factor in.

The third is draft status. It means little to us if the kid was a first-round pick or played his NCAA career as a free agent.

Skill level matters, but this is one you can debate to the end of time and get no answer. Who was better: Gretzky or Lemieux? I have no answer for that. Who had the better career? Well, that is another issue and taking the pure skill out of it opens a different avenue for debate. Skill might be a deciding factor when numbers are similar and accomplishments are similar. Something has to break a tie. Skill level counts but is a sub-category to career accomplishments.

Career numbers also matter, but remember that numbers can be inflated depending on which opponents the player faced. What counts is how good a career the player had. If the player played on a powerhouse for his time in the NCAA his numbers should be pretty good. This is where some unique chatter happened.

Two names came up in the great-career category. One was Eric Ehn of Air Force, the other was Cory Conacher of Canisius. Fans of the big four conferences always go nuts when Atlantic Hockey guys get too much publicity because they feel the competition is not the same there as it is in, say, the WCHA. I’m not getting into that debate.

What was said about Ehn was that despite not being surrounded by high-end kids like T.J. Oshie was at North Dakota, Ehn had a better career. He had to do more by himself than Oshie, whose linemates were Jonathan Toews and Hobey winner Ryan Duncan. Conacher’s name came up in a similar fashion when compared to dynamic, smaller players like Carter Camper, Marty Sertich, Brett Sterling, James Marcou and Duncan who were better known.

You could argue some goalies were left off the list of the top 30 that we have identified after putting my list of 150 players in front of scouts. Two goalies have been brought up by fans as not being in that group of 30: Michigan’s Shawn Hunwick and Wisconsin’s Brian Elliott. The outrage seems sparked by the inclusion of Denver’s Peter Mannino over both.

Mannino and Elliott both won national titles. Both were important parts of those teams that won. Both have very good career numbers. Hunwick also had a great career and played in a Frozen Four. He was an overtime goal away from being a national champion. Trying to identify the best of those three is nearly impossible. All were big-game goalies and all have accomplishments that are somewhat equal.

One is in the ECHL (Hunwick), one is in the AHL (Mannino) and one is in the NHL (Elliott). That does not factor in. Mannino had three seasons of double-digit wins; that is a factor. Hunwick had two but unlike Mannino he was not a big factor for all four years of his collegiate career. Hunwick was a rock for two-and-a-half seasons. Mannino saw a lot of action for all four, only once playing fewer than 20 games. He played more games as a freshman then Elliott had played entering his junior year. These are some of the numbers criteria we used to make selections.

Somehow, Mannino passed the eyeball test better than the other two when it came to his NCAA career. Some scouts just felt, with everything else being equal, Mannino was the best of that trio skill-wise at the NCAA level.

Now, how good the player was is a factor. Mike Brennan of Boston College had a great career but his great career is different than Nathan Gerbe’s great career based solely on numbers and accomplishments. Jack Johnson had a nice career at Michigan but was his time there comparable to Matt Carle’s at Denver or even that of Brett Skinner?

Is our top 30 list flawed? You bet it is. (See the list at the end of this story.) Why? Because everyone sees things differently. We needed to get it narrowed down so we could get input from you. People who read USCHO are passionate college hockey fans.

Here is your challenge: Be objective! Look at that list and don’t make an argument for your favorite player. That doesn’t help unless your favorite player is a legit candidate that you feel was overlooked. I got a lot of that from the Matt Gilroy backers, and to me that is legit. I loved Gilroy’s career at Boston University and when I fought for Gilroy I got a lot of “real good player, good career, his age was a factor in some of his later dominance.” That hurt Maine’s Michel Leveille, who I loved as a player.

Older guys who dominated as juniors and seniors got a little less love by the expanded committee. Should that count? That’s up to you. You want Gilroy, fight for him. The list is not mine but one to gauge opinion from the fan base. Write-ins are allowed. You matter.

When all is said and done and it is time to pick the top 10, my notes from those we polled, fan voting and some hard looks at the minute details that define a great career will determine my list.

Like our list or not, the chatter generated about some of the players that played in the last 10 years is terrific for our game and our industry. When was the last time you had an excuse to debate the merits of players like Steve Saviano, Robbie Earl, Matt Rust or Lee Sweatt?

Use your brains, use your hockey sense and see who passes the eyeball test as one of the top 10 players of the last 10 years. The list will be revealed during CBS Sports Network broadcasts later this season. If you want to make a case for a player, post in the comments below or hit me on Twitter at @DaveStarmanCBS.

Here’s the list of 30 that will be whittled down to the top 10:

Spencer Abbott, Maine
David Backes, Minnesota State
JT Brown, Minnesota-Duluth
Carter Camper, Miami
Matt Carle, Denver
Cory Conacher, Canisus
Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth
Ryan Duncan, North Dakota
Justin Faulk, Minnesota-Duluth
Gabe Gauthier, Denver
Nathan Gerbe, Boston College
Jack Johnson, Michigan
Ryan Jones, Miami
Jeff Lerg, Michigan State
Peter Mannino, Denver
Ryan McDonagh, Wisconsin
Andy Miele, Miami
John Muse, Boston College
Brian O’Neill, Yale
Zach Parise, North Dakota
Scott Parse, Nebraska-Omaha
Joe Pavelski, Wisconsin
Kevin Porter, Michigan
Matt Read, Bemidji State
Justin Schultz, Wisconsin
Marty Sertich, Colorado College
Brett Skinner, Denver
Brett Sterling, Colorado College
Thomas Vanek, Minnesota
Colin Wilson, Boston University


The following is a self-policing forum for discussing views on this story. Comments that are derogatory, make personal attacks, are abusive, or contain profanity or racism will be removed at our discretion. USCHO.com is not responsible for comments posted by users. Please report any inappropriate or offensive comments by clicking the “Flag” link next to that comment in order to alert the moderator.

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  • Heavy

    As a Minnesota fan I was surprised to see John Pohl and Jordan Leopold missing. Turns out they finished up 11 years ago. Hard to believe it’s been that long.

    • reardensteel

      Thought the same thing.

      Good call.

    • Satriani92

      yes, too bad on that. I would also say yes to Leopold. Pohl has a great senior year, but before that didn’t do much.

    • jmsptrk

      wow. really? man…i’m getting old. was thinking leopold too.

  • CS

    Impossible to pick. I will say this – absolute must have players on the final 10 have to be Vanek, Gerbe, and Muse. Vanek was dominating in the 2003 Frozen Four. We hadn’t seen many of those for a long while. And then Gerbe comes along and goes berserk in 2008 in the FF. Muse backstopped 2 national titles there is nothing more that needs to be said, him and Marty Turco are basically the only two guys to do this in the modern era of college hockey that I know of.

  • Heavy

    Keith Ballard was a first team all-American with 2 NCAA championships in a 3 year career. His Soph and Jr years he was about a point per game defensemen. I can’t see how he’s behind Jack Johnson (2 years, no champ) or Justin Faulk (1 year, 1 champ) given the stated emphasis on their overall college career.

    • reardensteel

      You’re saying there are dudes in this list who played only 1 or 2 years of college hockey?
      That’s stupid.
      How can anyone have an outstanding “career” in 1 year?

      • http://MichiganHockey.net/ Jason Paul

        Paul Kariya. That’s how.

        • reardensteel

          Yeah, he was amazing for that one year, but he didn’t really care much about college hockey.
          He was more interested in the money/fame of the NHL. He had no ties to ME, no dreams of playing for his favorite school.
          So he left.
          Now, you could say that doesn’t matter b/c he was so dominant during his one year.
          But even the pros know that one year is not enough to deserve a spot in the hall of fame.

          • http://www.facebook.com/steve.l.philbrick Steve Lawrence Philbrick

            This list is supposed to contain the best 10 players of the LAST 10 YEARS. Thus, talking about Kariya is pretty much a moot point. However, since you opened the door:
            (via Wikipedia)
            In his first year with the Black Bears, he scored an NCAA record 100 points (25 goals and 75 assists) over 39 games.[7] He was named Hockey East’s Rookie and Player of the Year, becoming the second player to receive both awards in the same year after Brian Leetch did so with the Boston College Eagles in 1987. Kariya also received Hockey East First All-Star Team honours, alongside teammates Jim Montgomery, Chris Imes and Mike Dunham.[8] Nationally, he was recognized with the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player, becoming the first freshman in history to earn the distinction.[9] During the Black Bears’ playoff run, head coach Shawn Walsh heralded him as one of the top three college players all-time.[3] Kariya’s efforts led Maine to a record of 42 wins, 1 loss and 2 ties, en route to the Lamoriello Trophy as the Hockey East’s playoff champion and the NCAA title as the country’s top college team. Facing the Lake Superior State Lakers in the NCAA final, Kariya registered three assists in the third period
            to help Maine overcome a two-goal deficit; they won the game 5–4.[7]

            A top prospect heading into the off-season, Kariya was projected to be selected between second and fifth overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.[10] Kariya went on to be chosen fourth overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, one of the league’s two expansion teams. In addition to becoming Anaheim’s first-ever draft pick, he also became the second-highest pick from Vancouver (after Barry Beck was chosen by the Colorado Rockies second overall in 1977).[11] Following his draft, he returned to the University of Maine for his sophomore year as team captain. He had been voted by his teammates for the role, along with defenceman Chris Imes.[12] With Imes joining the United States’ national team full-time in 1993–94, however, Kariya returned as the lone captain.[13] Kariya was also committed to the Canadian national team in preparation for the 1994 Winter Olympics and left the Black Bears in December 1993.[14] Following the Olympics, Kariya chose not to return to Maine, foregoing
            his remaining college hockey eligibility to turn professional with the Mighty Ducks.[15]
            He finished the season with 7 goals and 41 points over 23 games with the national team, as well as 8 goals and 24 points over 12 games with
            Maine.

          • Cory

            I’m not sure if the NCAA record of 100 points you referred to was a record for a freshman, but the overall season points record still belongs to Tony Hrkac with 116 points (46 goals and 70 assists) set in 1987, six years before Kariya’s freshman year.

          • reardensteel

            Uhh… I think you could have just posted a link.
            Also, I wouldn’t say I opened the door; I was simply replying to Jason Paul.

            Anyway, I had already read the wikipedia page before I posted since I didn’t know much about Kariya. All the stats are amazing – the guy was an amazing player. That’s not in question.

            But just because you take one year out of your track to stardom to grace college hockey with your presence, doesn’t make you an all-time great.

            I don’t know; I guess it’s just a thing with me.
            I like the players who love college hockey and want to play it for its own sake, not just as a stepping stone to the pros.

          • inshock1

            oh no you didn’t!! did you go to UMaine? if you didn’t, and it sounds like you didn’t, then you have no idea. PK was committed to UMaine and actually stayed longer than 1 year. His family remained very loyal to the program personally/relationally. He is the most humble player i have ever met and was not interested in fame or $ but interested yes, in going on to PRO hockey because that’s the level player he was – PRO. aaaand he returned to Maine for Alumni games when he hadn’t graduated from Maine, to coach an Alum game (while he was concussed!! and couldn’t be on the ice, so Walsh named him as one of the coaches of the game) and was happy to return and be with the people of Maine hockey, the FAMILY he belonged to. Then his 2 brothers and 1 sister joined Maine athletics also… brothers in men’s hockey, and sister for soccer. blam!

          • reardensteel

            Ok, why did he leave Maine then?
            Look, I never said he was a jerk or not a good guy or anything like that.
            I just said that college hockey was not his thing, which you confirmed, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sidney Crosby would fit into the same category.

            But this is about college hockey. And I’m just drawn to the players who stay.
            It’s just my opinion; I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

          • inshock1

            dude, it appears you don’t read. another person AND I said why he left. (now i’m remembering that canadian olympics drew him. dude, u go with where your career and talent lead you, up the ladder not stagnant) and your view is really stupid, btw. college hockey was his thing. just was his thing for a shorter time, obviously his talent was far greater than college. think outside the box a lil.

          • Snark_Week

            Paul Kariya’s 1 season at Maine revolutionized college hockey. When Kariya went to Maine it began the trickle of highly-rated Canadian NHL prospects to the NCAA over Major Juniors until we reach the point today where the NCAA is comparable to the CHL in terms of talent and development. I’m not a Maine fan, but to discount his “one season” is a disservice to the history of the NCAA. Before Kariya – NCAA was full of Americans and Canadians not good enough for the CHL. After Kariya it started to become an ALTERNATIVE to the CHL.

          • JohnGaltIam

            there was a lot more to Kariya leaving DURING his second year at Maine

        • inshock1

          boom! you know it, PK!!

  • http://twitter.com/AICJacketsVoice Seth D

    It’s too bad this list is being made now and not next year when Brett Gensler would be a senior. Bentley’s superstar already has 105 career points in two and a half seasons. If he can keep it going for another year…hard to argue with a pace of about 180 P…

    • Scott Reed

      Have him play in any other league and see what his pace would be… take any of the blue chip stars from any WCHA team of the last 10 years and look out if they were playing out there… a 150 point man in the WCHA = 200 in AH

  • reardensteel

    One Minnesota player?

    As mentioned below, what about Ballard?

    Jay Barriball was also pretty good, but I suppose he was not exactly a legend.

    Well, maybe MN didn’t have that many superstars over the past decade, but I’m still a little surprised.

    • Satriani92

      Barriball had one good year, after that he was mediocre. If we are going to go back to the Ballard era, I would suggest Poltulny, either one of them would be better options than Barriball. Yes, it has been thin since the championship years!

  • reardensteel

    Can we get a few vital stats above to help us decide?

    One’s memory of things is hardly ever accurate and it would be nice to have a little reality check (especially since USCHO has obviously already researched this).

  • RBTGT

    Dave, I commend you for putting Scott Parse of UNO on the list. Where, exactly, in the hierarchy of it he belongs, I don’t know, but he definitely deserves his spot on it.

    As good as Ryan Walters has been for UNO this season, he is behind Parses’ numbers and Walters might win the Hobey Baker Award this season.

    That ought to tell you a little bit about how good Mr. Parse was.

  • staind86

    Gustav Nyquist?

  • Ineverquit

    I would think Jimmy Howard would be on here… Brought Maine to TWO National Championship Games in 3 years, had a 2.45, 1.19 and 1.92 GOALS AGAINST AVERAGE and is playing in the NHL AS A GREAT STARTER.

    • Justin

      First player who came to my mind as well. Good call.

    • JohnGaltIam

      was he wearing a Morrison Sweater or a Yeats sweater in the first national championship game that he was in?
      because he was not wearing a Howard 33, I promise

  • Guest

    Thank you for recognizing the talent and accomplishments of Matt Read! It is easy to overlook players from the smaller programs, but Read is oh so deserving of a top ten spot. He was the main reason, in my opinion, that the 2009 Cinderella run to the Frozen Four ever happened. Leading scorer on the team his sophmore, junior and senior seasons…. 37 points in 37 games…
    CHA All-Rookie Team (2007–08)
    CHA Rookie of the Year (2007–08)
    NCAA Frozen Four participant (2008–09)
    CHA Player of the Year (2009–10)
    CHA First All-Star Team (2009-10)
    NCAA West First-Team All-America (2009–10)

  • CCHA FAN

    I am looking for Chris Kunitz on the list. He led Ferris to the NCAA tourney for the first time in program history. He finished second in Hobey vote, and has since gone on to win two cups. I don’t think he is the best, but he is top 30 and should be top 10

  • http://twitter.com/JPykko Joel Pykkonen

    Great list of players. I find it hard to keep Toews and Oshie off the list though. Sure it was one of the best lines in college hockey (with Duncan), but look at their success in high school and in the NHL. Not all of the players on this list can say the same. Line-mates aside, these guys were/are the real deal.

    • reardensteel

      And weren’t they the three who decided together to come back for their senior year (with legit hopes of winning a nat’l championship)?
      I thought that was pretty commendable.

      • Joseph Crowley

        Similar to Matt Gilroy not being on the list after coming back for his senior season, winning the Hobey and the Frozen Four.

        I think this is the problem with such a list.

  • Powers

    Conacher was a great player, but what did Canisius ever do with him on the roster? A great big zilch-o.

  • William Blake

    Just an FYI for whoever runs the uscho site: white font does not show up well or clearly on top of ice. They are pretty much the same color. Might want to look into that.

  • inshock1

    really, you actually mentioned levs! but this whole article is crap, in my opinion, if you fail to put GUS NYQUIST at the top of your list!! shame shame.

    • inshock1

      spencer abbott??? he’s no gus!!!

  • Wetmullet

    Muse a top 10, hands down.

  • Satriani92

    Why even bother with such lists. All it is, is an opinion and invariably some great players will be left off the list and this will cause endless debate and arguments. Additionally, looking at stats only is a mere shadow of what it take to be a great player. I can think of many that I would replace on this list with other that are not on the list.

    • reardensteel

      Agreed. Take, for instance, the intangible quality of leadership.

      Great leaders inspire their teammates, calm them in moments of potential panic, and bring their focus to the right place.

      That may not show up in the stat books, and any given player’s leadership ability is always debatable.

      So these lists, while still kinda fun, don’t really mean anything.

  • RG

    Where is Oshie-UND Toews-UND Leopold-Minnesota

    • reardensteel

      Leopold just missed the time-frame (I guess).
      His last season was 01-02.

  • gg

    TJ Oshie? Travis Zajac? Matt Greene?

  • Adam

    J, Connolly, P. Maninno, Z. Parise, M. Read, T. Vanek, S. Parse, N. Gerbe, J. Muse, J.t. Brown, D. Backes.
    And i cant remember when R. Miller played maybe he was older. Lots of guys who could be involved. Gotta love college hockey.
    Go. dogs.

  • jmsptrk

    “When all is said and done and it is time to pick the top 10, my notes from those we polled, fan voting and some hard looks at the minute details THAT DEFINE A GREAT CAREER will determine my list.”

    huh? how does a guy who played 1 year (Justin Faulk), qualify for having one of the best college “careers” in college hockey???

    can already tell this is going to pointless.

  • Tax Bastard

    Looking at the Bulldogs, Mike Connolly was better than Brown and Faulk. In the three years he and Jack played together, Mike was the better Connolly. Faulk was elite for the last 15 games of his one and only season. Not sure that gets you on the list. Brown was a fine player, but took a ton of stupid penalties. That should count against him.

  • http://twitter.com/Butterz07 Aaron G.

    this list is totally biased…………..Matt Frattin totally man handled everyone on the ice.

    • reardensteel

      He was really good, but I think his rep is tarnished b/c of his suspension.

    • reardensteel

      Also, there are several names from NoDak that are curiously absent.

      UMD, DU, Miami, and WI are over-represented, IMHO.

  • reardensteel

    Did I miss something or are current players explicitly excluded from this list?

    If not, I really Eric Haula and Johnny Gaudreau would be as legit as a few of the names on this list.

  • http://twitter.com/JPykko Joel Pykkonen

    My suggested must haves in the top 10:
    -Vanek
    -Parise
    -Connolly
    -J. Johnson
    -Gerbe

    • jmsptrk

      not a bc fan, but a good call on gerbe. how does he get left off?

  • steviepell29

    Jason Krog (UNH)…23 G 44 A as a soph, 33 and 33 as a jr. and 34 and 51 as a sr when he won the Hobey. Go Cats!

  • http://www.facebook.com/erick.zamora.925 Erick Zamora

    Ryan Lasch: 79-104-183… how many forwards on this list can match that?

    As for WCHA goalies, I’d take Elliot or Goepfert over Mannino both were only really dominant for two years. There are few that have been really impressive for three or four years in the WCHA.

  • Duluth06ChE

    I’m a HUGE Minnesota-Duluth fan, but there is no way Faulk or JT Brown deserve to be on this list. They were both outstanding players, but Faulk only played one season and JT Brown only two. I think Mike Connolly is a glaring omission, but then again he only played three seasons.

    Ryan Miller’s last season was 2001-2002, so does he just miss the cut?

  • samhall

    Hey Sioux Sioux

  • Morgan

    Jack Connolly-UMD

    197 career points in 167 career games.

    2 time Hobey top 10 finalist.

    1 time Hobey winner

    back to back 59+ point seasons

    In 2011, he helped the UMD win their first NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship. The following year, he received numerous awards, including Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, the WCHA Player of the Year, and the College Hockey Player of the Year Award. Two time All-american as well.

    Not to mention 2012 Premier Player in College Hockey winner.

    Might not have the best post college career because of his size but if Jack does not appear on this list it will be a disgrace. 4 full years with his hometown team. Put the team on his back as Captain and led them to a National Championship. His career is unmatched by anyone at UMD and the nation.

  • MNGolden

    Thomas Vanek, Zach Parise, Jack Connolly, Spencer Abbott, Ryan Duncan, Justin Schultz, Kevin Porter, Marty Sertich, John Muse, Joe Pavelski

    • JohnGaltIam

      any list that puts Duncan over either Oshie or Towews is just silly.
      the hobby that Duncan won was a joke…. Duncan was the third best player on his line that year and NOT the best player in college hockey

      • MNGolden

        I overlooked write-ins. Yeah, Oshie should make the list. Jordan Leopold straddles that year division. Kellen Briggs had a successful tenure as well. The article title is right – no easy task making a list of just 10.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.wack.9 Chris Wack

    Jonathen Toews?? North Dakota…