NCHC's top 20 freshmen for 2020-21

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UND freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson played for the U.S. Under-18 Team last season. Photo by Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference has seven seasons under its belt.

The list of its rookie of the year winners is an impressive one: Colorado College's Jaccob Slavin (Carolina Hurricanes), Denver's Danton Heinen (Anaheim Ducks), UND's Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Denver's Henrik Borgstrom (former Florida Panthers), Minnesota Duluth's Scott Perunovich (St. Louis Blues), Omaha's Taylor Ward and UND's Shane Pinto.

Who could be next? Here are the Herald's top 20 preseason rookies in the league.

1. Jake Sanderson, D, North Dakota (OTT, 1st, No. 5)

Ottawa took Sanderson No. 5 overall in the NHL Draft, making him the highest pick in college hockey this season. The smooth-skating, polished blue liner was college ready last season.


2. Riese Gaber, F, North Dakota

Gaber was named the USHL’s MVP, an award that features players who routinely go on to be college stars. The only other UND-bound player to win it in the last 19 years was Jason Gregoire.

Riese Gaber of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Photo by Hickling Images.

3. Antti Tuomisto, D, Denver (DET, 2nd, No. 35)

Last year, UND’s Shane Pinto (No. 32 overall) and DU’s Bobby Brink (No. 34 overall) battled for NCHC rookie of the year. Tuomisto went No. 35, just behind them, in 2019. He’ll be ready to play a big role immediately.

4. Veeti Miettinen, F, St. Cloud State (TOR, 6th, 168th)

St. Cloud State has hit a home run with Finnish players before, most notably with Kalle Kossila. Former assistant Mike Gibbons has said that Miettinen is the best of them, which would be no small feat.


5. Carter Savoie, F, Denver (EDM, 4th, 100th)

When brothers Matthew and Carter Savoie committed to Denver, all the attention went to Matthew, who will be a top pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. But Matthew opted against the college route and Carter will be a terrific player for DU.

6. Wyatt Kaiser, D, Minn. Duluth (CHI, 3rd, 81st)

The biggest reason for Minnesota Duluth’s success the last five years has been its defensemen. The Bulldogs are now without Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg and Nick Wolff, so Kaiser will have to step into a key role.

7. Tyler Kleven, D, North Dakota (OTT, 2nd, 44th)

The big defenseman from Fargo brings several elements to his game. He’s the most physically dominant presence in the NCHC’s freshman class. He has a heavy shot. And he can bring some skill, too.

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UND commit Tyler Kleven of Fargo, who plays for the U.S. Under-18 Team, skates in a game earlier this season. Photo by Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP


8. Blake Biondi, F, Minn. Duluth (MTL, 4th, 109th)

Biondi captained Hermantown to the Minnesota Class A state tournament, where the Hawks finished runner-up. He was able to play 10 games in the USHL after that, too, to help his transition to college.

9. Michael Benning, D, Denver (FLA, 4th, 95th)

The defenseman has a rich family hockey history. His father, Brian, played 11 years in the NHL. His uncle, Jim, played nine years in the NHL and is the GM of the Vancouver Canucks. His brother, Matt, is entering his sixth NHL season.

10. Kaden Bohlsen, F, Omaha

Bohlsen is a powerful skater who can go through or around defensemen. He loves driving pucks across the crease and is good in front of the net. He’ll fit in at Omaha with his high compete level.

11. Jack Millar, D, Colorado College

Millar will bring a big, 6-foot-5 frame to Colorado College’s blue line. Along with it, he has some skill. Millar can defend and plays a strong two-way game.


12. McKade Webster, F, Denver (TB, 7th, 213th)

Webster has missed most of the last two seasons with a wrist injury, but he came back to captain the Green Bay Gamblers in 24 games a year ago.

13. Hampus Rydqvist, D, Miami

The 21-year-old Swede was the highest-scoring defenseman in the NAHL last season, racking up 41 points in 52 games.

14. Griffin Ness, F, North Dakota

The former Wayzata High School player might not be flashy, but he can get it done all over the rink. He was nearly a point-per game scorer last season in the USHL.

Griffin Ness played junior hockey with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the United States Hockey League. Photo by Hickling Images.


15. Brock Bremer, F, Omaha

The former Lincoln Stars forward will bring a bunch of different elements to Omaha’s roster. He’s fast, has good hands and a good skill level. If you make a mistake, he will make you pay.

16. Matthew Barbolini, F, Miami

Miami lost perhaps the fastest forward in the league when Karch Bachman graduated at the end of last season. No problem, the RedHawks are bringing aboard Barbolini, who can also fly.

17. Ludvig Persson, G, Miami

The 21-year-old Swede is coming off of a fantastic year in the NAHL, where he posted a .932 save percentage and a 1.56 goals-against average.

18. Connor Kelley, D, Minn. Duluth

Kelley won’t be a big point-producer from the back end for the Bulldogs, but he can provide a steady presence that Minnesota Duluth is looking for from him.


Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, center, talks with Wyatt Kaiser, left, and Connor Kelley, right, during a late October practice at Amsoil Arena. (Clint Austin/

19. Chad Hillebrand, F, Western Michigan

Western Michigan has had a lot of big, punishing power forwards in the Andy Murray era. Hillebrand, 6-foot-4, is next in line.

20. Chase Foley, D, Colorado College

The former St. Thomas Academy player was named the top defenseman for the Sioux Falls Stampede last season.

UND's Shane Pinto (left), Jake Sanderson (center) and Jacob Bernard-Docker have all been picked by the Ottawa Senators in the top 32. Submitted photo.

UND's Shane Pinto (left), Jake Sanderson (center) and Jacob Bernard-Docker have all been picked by the Ottawa Senators in the top 32. Submitted photo.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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