It's not a huge surprise that UND ended the first month of the season ranked No. 1 nationally in fewest shots allowed per game at 17.67.

The Fighting Hawks led the nation in that category a season ago and only lost one defenseman from that squad -- senior Hayden Shaw.

They brought back senior captain Colton Poolman, who has NHL scouts flocking to watch him play this fall. They brought back junior Matt Kiersted, who also may get some NHL free agent looks this summer or next.

They have Gabe Bast, who dropped 15 pounds in the offseason while training with NHLers like Tyson Jost, Mathew Barzal and Dante Fabbro to prepare for his junior year.

They've got the two high draft picks -- Ottawa Senators first-rounder Jacob Bernard-Docker and second-rounder Jonny Tychonick.

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But it's the other guy who has perhaps been the most pleasant surprise through the first month of the UND hockey season: senior defenseman Andrew Peski.

Often overlooked on UND's talented blue line, Peski appears to have taken a major stride in the offseason. He has, on a nightly basis, put together performances that have made for easy decisions for the coaching staff to leave him in the lineup.

Peski's skating has improved to the point where he can use it as a weapon -- both cutting through the neutral zone to gain the offensive zone and also to skate deep in the offensive zone and create scoring chances.

Last season, Peski totaled 11 shots on goal. This season, he's already at seven. Last season, he attempted 1.62 per game. This season, he's at two attempts per game.

Defensively, opponents have hardly generated anything when he's on the ice.

Peski has only been on the ice for one goal against in UND's first six games -- and it was a fluky one that had nothing to do with him. It was a harmless point shot by Minnesota State-Mankato defenseman Edwin Hookenson that happened to hit the stick of Peski's defensive partner, Tychonick, and go five-hole on goalie Adam Scheel.

Peski's plus-minus rating is plus-6, which is the best of all UND defensemen so far this season.

Bernard-Docker is at plus-5; Poolman, Kiersted and rookie Ethan Frisch are at plus-4; Tychonick is plus-3; Bast, now injured, is plus-1; and Josh Rieger is even.

Peski won't be asked to put up big numbers offensively for UND, but he has chipped in. He made a beautiful backdoor feed to Jackson Keane for a tap-in goal at MSU-Mankato, and he scored one by being in the right spot at the right time against Canisius.

The 6-foot, 209-pound blue liner from Ottawa has been a big part of UND's strong 4-1-1 start to the season and its National Collegiate Hockey Conference-best 14.83 shots-on-goal margin per game.

Decisions aren't easy for the UND coaching staff when it comes to who plays each night on defense.

But through the first month, Peski has made a convincing case.