Commentary: Here’s the lineup I’d pick from the Frozen Four rosters

One thing coaches love to do is sit around and talk about who they’d love to have on their team. You have four really good teams heading to Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four. You look closely at every one and you could find yourself saying, “I’d love to have that line on my team or that defenseman run my power play.”

I decided to challenge myself (and you via Twitter @coachstarman) and see what 20 players I would take from these four teams to make what I’d call my all-tournament roster. The CBS Sports Network Power 10 that I’ve been involved with all season has been about the one roster you would want if you had to win one game. In this case I decided to build a roster from the four involved that I feel would give me a really good team.

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The easiest thing to do is take all four top lines. They are all pretty dynamic in their own right, but Massachusetts-Lowell will occasionally switch Ryan McGrath and Scott Wilson on the left of Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold. Do you leave Wilson off now? Not a chance. He might be the best all-around left wing heading to Pittsburgh (and happens to be a Penguins draft pick).

So what I tried to do here is put together a roster that is balanced. You need some grit, you need some scoring, you need some offensive defensemen and some who can shut it down. Here are my thoughts on a team picking off the rosters of the four left playing for the national title.

Down the middle, you have some tough choices. Wetmore is a top center because he can be both a scorer and a playmaker, but St. Cloud State’s Nic Dowd and Drew LeBlanc are pretty special. Connor Jones of Quinnipiac has been a workhorse all season long and does a lot well and adds grit.

Jeremy Langlois has been a good two-way center, wins draws and can play’s big minutes for Quinnipiac. Jesse Root of Yale scored two huge goals in wins over Minnesota and North Dakota and distributes the puck well. Stu Wilson of Yale is a great penalty kill player and might be the best defensive center of the group.

On the left side, you have the aforementioned Wilson, about whom I can’t say enough good things. St. Cloud State’s Ben Hanowski is terrific all around and at the moment the Huskies’ Joey Benik is the hottest scorer in the NCAA tournament. Yale’s Kenny Agostino has been a huge impact player for Yale his whole career and keeps getting better. Like Benik, Quinnipiac’s Matthew Peca is on fire, but he has been all year. A.J. White of Lowell gives you a two-way presence and has terrific hockey sense.

The right wings also give you a unique and diverse group of players. Jonny Brodzinski and Kalle Kossila from St. Cloud State bring a nice offensive flair. Lowell’s Arnold is explosive and offensively gifted yet can play big minutes defensively when he has to and is terrific in the hard areas.

Josh Holmstrom of Lowell is a leader and someone who quietly gets a lot done to make your team better. Kellen Jones and Jordan Samuels-Thomas give Quinnipiac strength and skill on their flanks. Both are good scorers and know how to play in big games.

Andrew Miller is the interesting one because his move to right wing after a career at Yale in the middle has shown how diverse a player he can be. As a wing he looks creative, is playing with confidence and his linemates are reaping the benefit of his hockey IQ and puck skills. He has been on the right side for about six weeks.

The defense corps can give you headaches. There is a lot to choose from and this area is one of the reasons this Frozen Four will be a great watch.

Quinnipiac’s Zach Davies and Mike Dalhuisen both catch your eyes when you watch the Bobcats play. Tommy Fallen of Yale reminds me a lot of former Bulldogs defensemen Kevin Peel. Colin Dueck is just a solid shutdown defender.

Rob O’Gara has made strides this season with his skating that has allowed him to be more effective in Yale’s skating style.

St. Cloud State has Kevin Gravel, who I have liked since his showing in the 2012 World Junior Championship with Team USA. Teammate Nick Jensen is someone who skates so well he can make a lot happen and has that Jon Merrill quality of not getting trapped with the puck in a bad spot. Andrew Prochno is pretty good with the puck and has good offensive vision.

Lowell has the defense corps I like as a whole, but Christian Folin jumps right out at you as someone who impacts games. Chad Ruhwedel is as good as any offensive defenseman in the NCAA. The rest of the corps, led by Zack Kamrass, is good in its own end, plays with discipline and has a high compete level.

In goal, you would think Eric Hartzell is a shoo-in for the No. 1 spot with a Hobey Hat Trick season. Ryan Faragher announced his arrival at St. Cloud State with a shutout in his WCHA debut last season. He blanked North Dakota after becoming the No. 1 that week when Mike Lee got hurt.

Yale’s Jeff Malcolm was a rock in the regionals against Minnesota and North Dakota. Connor Hellebuyck has been lights-out good since becoming the No. 1 at Lowell earlier this season.

Now, we all know that every player on these four rosters has contributed to the success of his team. You are as strong as your weakest link, and we’ve seen with these four teams that there are no weak links. You don’t get to the Frozen Four with a weak link.

The roster I’ll present to you is purely from my own observations of these teams over the season and I’ll toss out the disclaimer that I have seen each at least four times.

The forwards

On the left side, it comes down to Hanowski and Agostino, who both posses playmaking skill and scoring ability as Hanowski’s 17-14–31 line shows. (That should make the Flames happy as they just acquired both for Jarome Iginla).

Agostino was 17-17–34. Both are left shots, so if we think that is the side we get our scoring from we might have to think a right-handed center, but we’ll address that later. Scott Wilson is in this discussion but I’m thinking with the type of multi-faceted player he is and the grit he also provides, he might fill a role on the third line.

That leaves Peca out. He had a nice 15-15–30 split and showed this season he can score in many ways. He is strong to the net, has good backhand and forehand skills and slashes into traffic. Can we actually leave him off this roster? Maybe not. Maybe we move him to the second line and move Hanowski down to the third and Wilson to the fourth. That would leave Agostino as our No. 1 left wing, and I’m good with that.

In the middle, I’m thinking LeBlanc. He had a 13-37–50 line and he is a playmaker before he is a shooter with an uncanny knack for putting pucks on sticks in good spots. Hockey IQ is a must for a No. 1 center (think Bryan Trottier), and that is the case here. LeBlanc, a left shot, anchors the top line.

The other No. 1 line (how can you have a second line with this talent?) gets teammate Dowd, a right shot who had 40 points this year and is also a really dynamic playmaker. A plus-11, he has also shown a proclivity for playing in his own zone.

Wetmore gets the No. 3 slot. When you watch him play, you see a guy who at the next level could be a real good No. 3. He is a three-zone player who is all-in in his own zone and creative with the puck. He makes linemates better with his overall game but also thrives with snipers on his wings.

The No. 4 center will surprise you, but Stu Wilson is the best defensive center in the tourney.

That moves us to the right side. We referenced Andrew Miller earlier and his late-season switch to the right side from his longtime center position. Miller is a great playmaker who brings a center’s creativity to the right side. While he can score and is terrific on the power play, he might be best thought of as a playmaker here. Peca will need someone to get him the puck and Miller would be a nice complement to Peca’s style. I’m thinking Miller slots in as the No. 3.

This leaves us Brodzinski, Kossila and Arnold as the three to fit into two in the top six. Veteran presence should count for something, so you think Arnold. However, I think of the right wing usually as the sniper of the line (think Mike Bossy) so Brodzinski, with 22 goals, catches your eye.

Arnold is great by the net, wins a ton of battles and has hand skills and a quick release. Brodzinski just has a natural goal scorer’s presence at the NCAA level, which is unique because he didn’t trend as a scorer in the USHL (27 points in 68 games). So now we move to the eyeball test. Arnold gets the No. 1 spot. Brodzinski gets the No. 2. Miller goes to the No. 3. Now we are down to Kellen Jones and Kossila. Kossila has more points but Jones is probably a better defensive winger. Jones is the No. 4.

Let me just add that I really respect Samuels-Thomas as a player and he is a presence on his team and on the ice. I don’t want anyone from Quinnipiac nation to think he was not thought of here.

So our lines are Agostino-LeBlanc-Arnold, Peca-Dowd-Brodzinski, Hanowski-Wetmore-Miller, Scott Wilson-Stu Wilson-Kellen Jones.
Since I can roster extra players, I’m taking Samuels-Thomas, Joe Pendenza, Jeremy Langlois and Benik with me.

The defense

We have to separate left and right, scoring from shut down, and someone has to be the physical presence. If Michigan was in this I could just take Jacob Trouba for everything but we all know how that went.

Building a defense takes into consideration a couple of things. You need an anchor back there, a guy who can play big minutes, move the puck, impact your special teams and have a presence. The first look on the right side is at Ruhwedel or Jensen. Fallen jumps at me on the left, as does Kamrass.

Two guys who impressed me this season were the Quinnipiac duo of Davies and Dalhuisen. The Bobcats’ Loren Barron also can get the puck moving and be a factor offensively and defensively. Gravel is also solid. Let’s not forget Folin and Gus Young.

My right side is Ruhwedel, Folin and Jensen. The left is Prochno, Kamrass and Barron. The pairs are Ruhwedel-Kamrass, Folin-Barron, Prochno-Jensen. For spares, I’ll take Fallen, Quinnipiac’s Zack Tolkinen and Lowell’s Joe Houk.

The goalies

You get two choices from four candidates. All eyes point to Hartzell here as he is the Hobey Baker Award candidate, the all-NCAA goalie, the guy from the No. 1 overall seed. He is a senior and has veteran presence.

Faragher is a neat story. Expected to split time with Lee last year, he took the No. 1 job when Lee became the latest classic butterfly goalie to have his hips fail on him at a young age. Faragher slid into the top spot as a freshman and went out and shut out North Dakota in his NCAA debut last season. That was a North Dakota team that won the WCHA playoff championship and played in a regional final.

Hellebuyck is a freshman who took over from the highly successful Doug Carr. Carr led Lowell to the dance last year; Hellebuyck came in and did it this year. The kid is an elite-level NCAA goalie.

Malcolm is the off-the-radar guy here. Here is an idea what he has meant to Yale. When he got hurt in early February he missed five games and Yale lost all five. Since he came back (with the exception of the ECAC Hockey tournament) he has been lights-out and was to me the MVP in wins over Minnesota and North Dakota.

It’s a tough choice but I’ll take Faragher as my No. 1. To me, he is the top goalie on the WCHA co-champs, and that is a wide-open offensive league. The No. 2 spot is too close to call. You can’t lose.

Since I picked the roster I get to coach the team. My first choice for an associate head coach is Yale’s Red Gendron. I mean, really, how often do you get to coach a game with a Stanley Cup champion next to you?

Enjoy the Frozen Four. You can catch coverage of the games Thursday on ESPN2 with John Buccigross and Barry Melrose calling the games and Clay Matvick as the rink-side reporter. I’ll be at ESPN in studio for pregame, postgame and between-periods analysis. The title game is Saturday on ESPN.