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10 prospects to watch at the Frozen Four

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The 2023-24 NCAA men's hockey season culminates this week in St. Paul, Minnesota, with Boston College, Boston University, Denver, and Michigan challenging for the Frozen Four title.

The No. 1 ranked Eagles take on the No. 10 underdogs from Ann Arbor in one semifinal, and No. 2 BU faces No. 3 Denver in a battle of two top seeds from the regional bracket in the other.

Here are 10 prospects to keep an eye on ahead of the tournament's action Thursday and Saturday.

BC's fab freshmen

When Boston College recruited the U.S. NTDP's entire first line from its 2005 age group, many expected the trio to be successful in the NCAA before long.

But the freshmen line of Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and Gabe Perreault hasn't just been successful; They've arguably been the best line in all of college hockey.

Smith, drafted fourth overall last summer by the San Jose Sharks, leads the nation in scoring with 23 goals and 69 points in 39 games. Leonard (eighth by the Washington Capitals) and Perreault (23rd by the New York Rangers) aren't far behind.

Leonard has been a beast in the postseason. He scored two goals in each of the Eagles' regional wins and has recorded seven points in three games going back to the Hockey East final.

By the way, Smith casually bagged four goals and five points in the Hockey East final.

The trio has obliterated every level they've played at. The USHL, Under-18s, World Juniors, and now the NCAA have all been brushed aside by the three of them as if it were supposed to be this easy.

With NHL contracts on the horizon, this weekend is likely the last time we see the dominant trio together for a number of years, if not ever. Enjoy the show before it leaves town.

The most hated man in Philadelphia

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The Philadelphia Flyers surprised the hockey world when they traded Cutter Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a second-round pick in January.

The revelation that Gauthier refused to sign in Philadelphia only made the situation more shocking.

That saga has impacted a lot of people's opinion of Gauthier. But let's make one thing abundantly clear: The Boston College winger is a helluva hockey player.

Gauthier could be the best-drafted prospect who's not currently in the NHL. He led all American players with seven goals at the 2023 Worlds, paced Team USA in points at the world juniors, and is gunning for the best goal-scoring season in college hockey since the turn of the millennium.

Gauthier ticks every box a general manager could want in a prospect. He's got a pro frame at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. The 20-year-old also plays a physical game and has a cannon of a shot, not to mention the puck-handling skills to go with it all. Gauthier can make a no-look assist like this appear simple:

And despite the success of his aforementioned freshmen teammates, those skills are why Gauthier is the Eagles player nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.

You'll get a taste of what we'll see for years to come on the Ducks' first line this weekend.

2024 draft prospects on display

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Macklin Celebrini entered the season as the favorite to go first overall in June but had competitors for the top spot.

However, he's gapped the field with a remarkable freshman campaign at Boston University to firmly establish himself as the No. 1 prospect in the class. We've seen great NCAA campaigns from draft-eligible prospects like Adam Fantilli and Jack Eichel, but Celebrini's age differentiates him.

Fantilli and Eichel turned 18 in October of their draft seasons. Celebrini celebrates his birthday in June.

Celebrini broke Craig Simpson's 39-year-old NCAA record for goals by a 17-year-old with a tally against RIT in Boston University's tournament opener. He also became the youngest player ever to be a top-three finalist for the Hobey Baker, and there's a good chance he'll become the youngest to win the award.

The Vancouver native drives play in so many ways, whether with his prowess in transition, high-end skill and lethal shot in the offensive zone, or competitiveness and hard work in the defensive zone.

Come on, what is this wizardry?

He's not the generational prospect that Connor Bedard was, but he still projects to be an elite, star-caliber first-line center.

Celebrini isn't the only 2024 prospect on display, as Denver's Zeev Buium is expected to go in the top 12 this summer.

Buium is more of the typical NCAA draft prospect as a December birthday, but that doesn't diminish anything he's done on the ice this season. The left-shot blue-liner has 49 points in 40 games, making him the most productive draft-eligible defenseman in NCAA history.

Although Buium's defensive game needs to improve, his skating, ability in transition, and offensive zone prowess make him an electrifying player, especially at the college level.

Hutson's last hurrah

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It can't be overstated how impressive Lane Hutson's last two seasons have been.

Not taken until the end of the second round in 2022 amid concerns over his size, Hutson immediately became a dominant offensive defenseman with Boston University as a freshman.

Hutson's put up a nearly identical stat line as a sophomore with 15 goals and 49 points in 37 contests, and he enters the Frozen Four on a seven-game point streak.

He's ridiculously good at the NCAA level with the puck on his stick. Hutson was the No. 1 college defender in primary assists and offensive zone entries (among other stats) this season, per SportLogiq. He also paced all NCAA players in completed passes to the slot.

Hutson will likely turn pro and sign with the Montreal Canadiens after this weekend. The matchup against Denver and a potential Frozen Four final will be his last hurrah as a collegiate player before taking on his next challenge in the NHL.

Michigan's crew looks to play spoiler

Three of the four No. 1 seeds made it to the Frozen Four. The exception was Michigan State, who were upset by their rivals from Ann Arbor.

Michigan has weathered the losses of Adam Fantilli, Luke Hughes, and Mackie Samoskevich with internal progression.

Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Gavin Brindley took a huge step to become the Big Ten's best player. Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Rutger McGroarty has flourished in a bigger role.

But no player has taken a bigger step than Frank Nazar. The Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick had an underwhelming freshman season after returning from hip surgery, posting two goals and seven points in 13 games.

With 17 goals and 41 points in 40 contests this time around, it's been sophomore success for the Detroit native.

Nazar bagged two goals in the Big Ten final against Michigan State and helped sewer the rivals from East Lansing in the NCAA Tournament regional final with a remarkable between-the-legs assist.

Almost 50 NHL-affiliated prospects will compete in Thursday's semis across the four teams. Whether you're cheering for one of the schools or simply a fan looking to get a glimpse of the next generation before they arrive in the NHL, you won't want to miss what's sure to be an electrifying ending to the NCAA season.

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