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Every NHL-Drafted Player at the University of Denver: An Evaluation (FROM 4/8/2022)

Does your favorite team have one or more prospects playing for the University of Denver? If so, and you’re interested to learn how they’re doing, I’ve taken the time to do a short write-up about each of them in light of them playing in the NCAA men’s ice hockey championship game tomorrow (Saturday the 9th) at 6:00 PM mountain time.

The prospects will be ordered by which team has their rights alphabetically.

Carolina Hurricanes

Massimo Rizzo (F)

Draft: 7th round, 216th overall by CAR in 2019

Height/Weight: 5’10”/179 lbs

National Team: Canada

Year: Freshman

Shoots: Left

Massimo Rizzo, on top of having the best name on the team, is an interesting prospect with a lot of room to grow. Playing on Denver’s quick forechecking line, he’s a shifty playmaker who isn’t afraid to go into the corners with some of the bigger players in the NCAA. He made a big splash at the beginning of the season as he spent the first few games as Denver’s leading scorer, but since has fell back into a solid role on the second line, with 11 goals and 24 assists in 38 games this season. I can see him showing up in the NHL as a third or fourth line center eventually, but for the foreseeable future he’s likely going to be staying at DU before spending considerable time in the AHL. My best NHL comparison is Tyson Jost.

Colorado Avalanche

Sean Behrens (D)

Draft: 2nd round, 61st overall by COL in 2021

Height/Weight: 5’10”/176 lbs

National Team: USA

Year: Freshman

Shoots: Left

Sean Behrens is my personal favorite player on Denver, partially because he’s a prospect for the Avalanche and partly because he’s one of the more underrated defensive prospects in the league. Behrens has done almost everything for the Pioneers this year-–PK, second PP unit, impressive passing, noticeable calmness with the puck, and solid hitting despite his size. He’s comparatively a bit lacking in the goal column, but when he’s normally playing alongside the offensively explosive top six, that’s the last thing you really need. His biggest knock against him is his small size, which was part of the reason why Justin Barron and even Drew Helleson at times were placed ahead of him on the Avs prospect rankings. If he was 6’2” and 200 lbs, I guarantee you’d be hearing a lot more about Behrens. He has 3 goals and 26 assists in 36 games played this season, which might seem underwhelming considering how much I’ve talked him up, but DU in general mostly relies on forwards assisting other forwards. With Colorado’s defensive depth, I doubt he’ll be in the pros anytime soon, but once he is I can see him breaking into the NHL fairly quickly and being a solid second pair defenseman. My best NHL comparison is a combination of Jared Spurgeon and Sam Girard.

Detroit Red Wings

Shai Buium (D)

Draft: 2nd round, 36th overall by DET in 2021

Height/Weight: 6’3”/209 lbs

National Team: USA:

Year: Freshman

Shoots: Left

I know I just said that Sean Behrens is maybe the most underrated defensive prospect in the NHL, but Shai Buium is the most underrated defenseman on DU and is similarly flying under the radar in national coverage. Not only is he big, but he has noticeable puck skill, fantastic eyesight, and a bit of a physical edge to his game. What he does with the puck on a nightly basis is a work of art—he’s able to deceive just about everyone in the building with fake shots, no-look passes, all without an ounce of panic. Again, point totals aren’t as impressive as one might expect, with 3 goals and 14 assists in 38 games played, but his main upside is zone exits and entries, where he’s able to use his unique skillset to set up the forwards to do whatever they want down low. He’s not enough of a generational talent to leave DU before the end of his junior year, but I’d be shocked if he hasn’t seen NHL action in five year’s time. My best NHL comparison (and I know this sounds insane) is Victor Hedman. He has a long way to go before he reaches that level, but watching Buium reminds me of him.

Carter Mazur (F)

Draft: 3rd round, 70th overall by DET in 2021

Height/Weight: 6’0”/170 lbs

National Team: USA

Year: Freshman

Shoots: Right

Carter Mazur, if he reaches the NHL, will be a lot of people’s least favorite players. He’ll also be a lot of Red Wings fan’s favorite players. He is just an asshole on the ice, in the best kind of way. He’ll hold sticks in his armpit, grab people from behind in scrums, sit on the puck, hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to untie someone’s skate laces on the faceoff. But on top of that, his skillset allows him to get grindy and high-skill goals on both the powerplay and 5-on-5. He has an offensively-minded playing style, and plays on that high-flying second line alongside Massimo Rizzo, where he has 14 goals and 22 assists in 40 games played. He is just a little bit comparatively underweight, at just 170 pounds and 6 feet tall. He’ll likely have to put on a little more weight to skate with the players in the NHL, but if he does I can see him being a nasty middle-six winger to play against. He’ll be staying with Denver for the next few years, but as long as he puts on a little more weight he’ll likely be going pro after his senior year. My best NHL comparison is a combination of Darren Helm (who was his favorite player growing up—he wore his number and tried to style his game after him) and Tom Wilson.

Antti Tuomisto (D)

Draft: 2nd round, 35th overall by DET in 2019

Height/Weight: 6’5”/205 lbs

National Team: Finland

Year: Sophomore

Shoots: Right

Antti Tuomisto worries me at times. He’s usually a solid defensive defenseman, but when he makes mistakes, he makes them at the worst possible times. I still haven’t gotten over his stupid penalty from the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals in overtime that led to a North Dakota goal, and Denver’s head coach David Carle has benched him on multiple occasions, including during the third period and OT in this year’s Frozen Four semifinal game. He has a booming shot from the point, but it gets blocked so often that he’s probably injured more people this year than he has points (1 goals and 8 assists in 34 games played). I am being a little harsh on him—as I said he’s normally a solid defensive defenseman, with solid size and decent zone exiting ability. One of the guys that you feel comfortable enough playing on the third pair and giving two to four minutes a night on the PK. But I don’t have very high hopes of him cracking the NHL, at least not for long. He’ll stay at Denver until his senior year, and after that I can see him either signing with Detroit to play in the minors or going back to play in Europe. Best NHL comparison is pretty much any 3rd pairing defenseman ever.

Edmonton Oilers

Carter Savoie (F)

Draft: 4th round, 100th overall by EDM in 2020

Height/Weight: 5’9”/192 lbs

National Team: Canada

Year: Sophomore

Shoots: Left

Most of you have probably heard of Matthew Savoie, who is projected to go in the top ten in this year’s draft. Carter Savoie is his older brother, but I doubt he’ll be known as just that for much longer. Savoie has arguably been Denver’s best pure goal scorer since the first period of his first game or his freshman year. About half of his production comes on the powerplay, where he usually plays on either the left point or the right circle. 5-on-5 he’s generally less noticeable, and he can have cold stretches at times, and his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s still able to score timely goals. He has a pretty good variety of goals this season, including his wrist shot (which is the best on DU), slapshot (which often comes on the powerplay), and occasionally down-low grindy goals. He made a lot of noise his freshman year where he led the Pioneers in points throughout the season. This season I honestly think he’s been not quite as good, but his clutch factor has multiplied seemingly tenfold, almost always coming up huge in this year’s national tournament. This year he has 23 goals and 22 assists in 38 games played. Savoie has been a solid scorer and a sneaky assist producer for the past two seasons, and he’s only going to get better with time in the AHL, which I suspect is coming sooner rather than later—I’m suspecting he might sign his ELC after Saturday’s game, especially if the Pioneers win. Once he breaks into the NHL, he can be an explosive top six winger for the Oilers. This year he has 23 goals (11 of which are on the PP) and 22 assists in 38 games played. Best NHL comparison is Mike Hoffman mixed with Cam Atkinson.

Florida Panthers

Mike Benning (D)

Draft: 4th round, 95th overall by FLA in 2020

Height/Weight: 5’9”/176 lbs

National Team: Canada

Year: Sophomore

Shoots: Right

Mike Benning played with Carter Savoie in junior, and they came to Denver together after being drafted just five picks apart in 2020, but Benning has managed to make a name for himself without being too overshadowed by Savoie. He’s a very solid offensive defenseman, whose role as the quarterback of the nation’s best powerplay has given him the most points for a defenseman on DU, with 14 goals and 22 assists in 40 games played. He took a huge step from his freshman to sophomore year as he climbed closer to the point-per-game mark with greatly improved confidence, which adding on top of his impressive hockey IQ and skating puts him as an interesting prospect for the Panthers. Like Sean Behrens, he’s still undersized, and will have to either bulk up or learn to better utilize his size to be an effective NHL defenseman. He’ll likely stay at Denver for the next year at least, as Florida isn’t exactly dying for talented offensive defensemen at the moment, but when he goes pro I can see him breaking the NHL roster before too long. My best NHL comparison is Cale Makar (although he’ll never be as good as the rosy-cheeked mayo chicken connoisseur).

Montréal Canadiens

Brett Stapley (F)

Draft: 7th round, 190th overall by MTL in 2018

Height/Weight: 5’10”/172 lbs

National Team: Canada

Year: Senior

Shoots: Right

Brett Stapley, as a seventh-round pick, is understandably likely not in Montréal’s NHL plans as it stands. However, he’s had a noticeable uptick in production in his senior year, and after a disappointing 7 points in 13 games last season, he’s at just above a point-per-game pace with 17 goals and 25 assists in 40 games played. Nobody expected him to be one of the steadiest scorers on DU, but here he is. Stapley has proven to be a good two-way player who in the past year has leaned heavily into the offensive side of the puck. Despite where it seemed his career was going in past seasons, he’s proven that he has what it takes to play professional hockey in some capacity, which he will very likely be doing here in a few days after the championship game. I’m still not convinced he’ll see NHL ice anytime soon, but I would not be surprised if he manages to crack Montréal’s roster in the next five years as a bottom six forward. My best NHL comparison is Jake Evans.

Philadelphia Flyers

Bobby Brink (F)

Draft: 2nd round, 34th overall by PHI in 2019

Height/Weight: 5’9”/173 lbs

National Team: USA

Year: Junior

Shoots: Right

Bobby Brink has probably received the most national attention among DU players this year, and for good reason. He’s leading the nation in scoring (14 goals and 43 assists in 40 games), and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, unfortunately losing to Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay. He’s an incredible playmaker, and playing alongside Carter Savoie and Cole Guttman has certainly helped him, but on his own he’s most likely Denver’s all-around best player. He’s an American hero, winning a gold medal with team USA at the 2021 WJCs, where he had six points in seven games, including a two-goal game. He’s gotten better every year at Denver, and has developed into an aggressive winger that may end up being one of the bigger steals of the 2019 draft. As is the case with many college players, he’s not as big as one might like him to be, but his passing ability more than makes up for his size. I’m certain he’ll be signing a contract with the Flyers in the coming days, and with the way things are going for them this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him playing in the NHL before the playoffs start. If not, he’ll be playing in the AHL and will likely sit in Philly’s bottom six next season, although if he continues to develop he’s likely going to see top six minutes. Best NHL comparison is TJ Oshie.

San Jose Sharks

Magnus Chrona (G)

Draft: 5th round, 152nd overall by TBL in 2018

Height/Weight: 6’6”/216 lbs

National Team: Sweden

Year: Junior

Catches: Left

Magnus Chrona is a goaltender. It is notoriously difficult to accurately evaluate or project what happens with goaltenders, but I’ll do my best. Despite having a regression last year, he’s been solid for the Pioneers this season. He has a .909 save percentage, a 27-8-1 record, and 6 shutouts on the season, playing in all but four games for DU. He’s certainly stolen a couple of wins when the Pioneers aren’t scoring at a high clip, but the Pioneers rarely aren’t scoring at a high clip. There’s not much else to say—like any goaltender, he comes up with big saves occasionally, lets in some stinkers here and there, and uses his length accordingly. His biggest asset is his size—at 6’6”, he’s the size of a modern NHL goaltender, which will automatically put him above shorter goaltenders if there’s any in the Sharks system. I doubt he’ll find himself in the NHL anytime soon, especially since San Jose has Kahkonen now, but he’ll be a solid goaltender in the minors for a while before potentially getting a call-up in the next five or so years. Best NHL comparison is any other 6’6” left-catching goaltender.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Cole Guttman (F)

Draft: 6th round, 180th overall by TBL in 2017

Height/Weight: 5’9”/175 lbs

National Team: Canada

Year: Senior

Shoots: Right

Cole Guttman is an interesting case. He plays on Denver’s top line next to Savoie and Brink, and predictably has a lot of points in part because of it: 19 goals and 26 assists in 40 games. Unlike his linemates, however, he’s flown under the radar and likely will never play on an NHL team’s top 6. He’s steadily improved throughout college, however, and has established himself as one of Denver’s more reliable players that can produce assists and goals at a respectable pace. What’s most integral to his eventual possible NHL game, however, is his tenacity, hard work, and leadership. Guttman is one of the best forecheckers on the team, and has worn the C for all of this season. From what I’ve heard he’s a locker room favorite and absolutely deserves his captaincy. He’s not going to be playing in the NHL very soon, especially with how stacked Tampa is at the moment, but with him being a senior I expect he’ll be signing within the next few days to play in the AHL. If he does break Tampa’s roster, you can expect him to be an energetic bottom six center with some offensive upside and a potential candidate to wear a letter in the future. My best NHL comparison is Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

McKade Webster (F)

Draft: 7th round, 213th overall by TBL in 2019

Height/Weight: 5’10”/185 lbs

National Team: USA

Year: Sophomore

Shoots: L

McKade Webster is one of the players that I always seem to forget is on the team. Unlike the rest of the drafted players on Denver, there’s not much that sets him apart, and he usually just seems to blend into the rotating cast of the bottom six. I will say that he’s a good forechecker and skater, but with only 6 goals and 8 assists in 38 games played, he’s presently not an NHL-level prospect. Luckily for Lightning fans, he’s only a 7th round pick, and is still just a sophomore, so he has plenty of time to grow his game, but as it stands right now I’d be surprised if Webster turns out to be anything more than an AHL journeyman. My best NHL comparison is any number of AHL injury call-ups.

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