NCAA Tournament: Players to watch

Friday, 29.03.2013 / 3:40 PM NHL.com

College hockey's version of the Sweet 16 gets under way Friday night when the NCAA Tournament begins. The winners of the four regionals will reconvene at the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh on April 11, with the two winners squaring off for the championship two nights later.

NHL.com looks at one player from each team to keep an eye on as the tournament unfolds.

East Regional (Providence, R.I.)

Matthew Peca -- Sophomore, C, Quinnipiac

34 GP, 11 G -14 A - 25 Pts.

Tampa Bay Lightning / 2011, 7th Round

At 5-foot-9, Peca can hardly be described as intimidating, but there's little that gets him off of his game. His feet are always moving at a high rate -- with or without the puck -- making him dangerous every time he's on the ice. He's become a go-to player for the Bobcats, and was a major piece of their 21-game unbeaten streak this season. His ability to score, create plays and come up big in clutch situations (he has four game-winners this season) are big a reason why Quinnipiac earned the top seed in the East Regional.

Pat Mullane -- Senior, C, Boston College

37 GP, 16 G - 27 A - 43 Pts.

Undrafted

The Eagles' senior captain might not get the accolades that sophomore teammate Johnny Gaudreau has received, but Mullane's seasoned play helps to pace BC's deep offensive attack. Already a two-time national championship winner, he brings vision and hockey sense to the lineup, and has progressed statistically in every season. His veteran presence is a major reason BC is competing for its fourth title in six years.

Kyle Gibbons -- Junior, RW, Canisius

41 GP, 20 G - 22 A - 42 Pts.

Undrafted

After going pointless in his first eight games this season, Gibbons found his groove -- in fact, since the calendar turned to 2013, he's the second-leading scorer in the country. The Griffins have reaped the benefits: they captured their first-ever Atlantic Hockey crown earned their berth in the tournament. In the final nine games of the season, he had six goals and 18 points, including four in the AHA league championship against Mercyhurst.

Troy Grosenick -- Junior, G, Union

32 GP,16-9-5, 2.06 GAA, .928 SV%

Undrafted

As a sophomore, Grosenick was a big piece of Union's explosion into the national scene, backstopping the Dutchmen to their first Frozen Four appearance in 26 years. The 2011-12 EACA goalie of the Year has seen his numbers fall back to earth a bit this season, but he's come up big when called upon. He'll have to find the same form he had in last season's tournament, when he posted a 1.68 GAA and .935 save percentage in three games before the Dutchmen met their end.

Northeast Regional (Manchester, N.H.)

Connor Hellebuyck -- Freshman, G, UMass-Lowell

21 GP, 18-2-0, 1.39 GAA, .949 SV%

Winnipeg Jets / 2012, 5th Round

Hellebuyck had his work cut out for him as a freshman on a team with an incumbent goaltender, Doug Carr. The two split time at the start of the season, but the 6-foot-4 freshman from Commerce, Mich., took the starting job in mid-February, went 12-0-1 down the stretch and backstopped the River Hawks to their first Hockey East postseason title and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. He's been aided by one of the nation's most underrated defensive corps -- a group that has faith in their freshman goalie.

Trevor van Riemsdyk -- Sophomore, D, New Hampshire

37 GP, 7 G - 24 A - 31 Pts.

Undrafted

The second van Riemsdyk to make his way through UNH, TVR has shown some of the offensive flash his brother James brought to campus a few years back. A big blueliner who plays smart and clean, he's a big piece of the nation's top penalty-killing unit. He's also not shy about jumping into the offense when called upon -- his 31 points are the third-highest among defenseman, and he has two goals and 11 points on the power play.

Joey LaLeggia -- Sophomore, D, Denver

38 GP, 11 G - 18 A - 29 Pts.

Edmonton Oilers / 2012, 5th Round

LaLeggia is a premier puck-moving defenseman. Though he's on the smaller side at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he's quick and smart, and has shown he can more-than-ably quarterback a power play, as evidenced by his six goals and 14 points with the man advantage this season. He's been tasked with improving his defensive game, though his offensive skills are his bread-and-butter.

Nic Kerdiles -- Freshman, C, Wisconsin

31 GP, 10 G - 22 A - 31 Pts.

Anaheim Ducks / 2012, 2nd Round

It's been a roller-coaster season for Kerdiles. His eligibility was called into question early on, and the NCAA suspended him for the Badgers' first 10 games. Since then, it's been nothing but good things for the 6-foot-1, 196-pound forward, who ended the regular season on a six-game streak that added eight points onto his season total. Kerdiles has thrown it into overdrive in the postseason, putting up four goals and 10 points in five games to take home WCHA postseason MVP honors.

Midwest Regional (Toldeo, Ohio)

Mario Lucia -- Freshman, LW, Notre Dame

31 GP, 12 G - 11 A - 23 Pts.

Minnesota Wild / 2011, 2nd Round

After missing the first nine games of the season, the Irish expected the freshman to have some rust, but points in his first four games dispelled that notion. He's chipped in five power-play goals, tied for the team lead. While the vision of a national championship is more than enough to motivate anyone, Lucia might have a little extra incentive -- he could see his father, Minnesota coach Don Lucia, in the title game.

Riley Barber -- Freshman, RW, Miami

38 GP, 15 G - 23 A - 38 Pts.

Washington Capitals / 2012, 6th Round

The RedHawks lost some firepower with the departure of Reilly Smith and company last season, and Barber quickly found the ground under him. He's been as consistent as they come, not going more than two games without a point and tying Boston University's Danny O'Regan as the NCAA's top-scoring freshman. He can play in all situations, having scored four power-play goals and one while shorthanded, and is in the running for the Rookie of the Year honors. He's a big part of Miami's strong freshman class.

Eriah Hayes -- Senior, RW, Minnesota State

40 GP, 20 G - 16 A - 36 Pts.

Undrafted

There's a prototype for the power forward, and Hayes has fit himself right into it. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, the Minnesota-born winger plays a physical game and is capable of dominating his opposition. Witness a four-goal, seven-point weekend against Minnesota-Duluth that touched off his third goal-scoring streak of three or more games this season. His long reach and big frame contributed to his 13 power-play goals this season and will help the Mavericks capitalize on mistakes in the tournament.

Ben Hanowski -- Senior, LW, St. Cloud State

34 GP, 16 G - 13 A - 29 Pts.

Calgary Flames / 2009, 3rd Round (by Pittsburgh)

Despite missing five games early in the season with a head injury, Hanowski was still a big piece of the nation's fourth-best offense. He's a natural scorer who finished second on the team with 16 goals, helping the Huskies to their first WCHA regular season championship. In the postseason, he's picked up his production, notching two goals in five points in three games before losing to Wisconsin in the conference semifinals. Though the Huskies are a No. 4 seed, players like Hanowski (who was traded to Calgary by Pittsburgh in the Jarome Iginla deal on Thursday) make them dangerous.

West Regional (Grand Rapids, Mich)

Erik Haula -- Junior, LW, Minnesota

36 GP, 16 G - 33 A - 49 Pts.

Minnesota Wild / 2007, 7th Round

On a roster littered with high NHL draft picks, it's hard to stand out among names like Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, but Haula, a speedy 5-foot-10, 187-pound Finn with great hands, has outscored both players in each of the last two seasons. He's ranked in the top-10 nationally in both campaigns, adding six game-winners and 11 power-play goals in that span. His discipline and calmness under pressure are also big assets -- he took just seven minor penalties all season.

Rocco Grimaldi -- Freshman, C, North Dakota

38 GP - 13 G - 22 A - 35 Pts.

Florida Panthers / 2011, 2nd Round

The pint-sized forward played four games in 2011-12 before a season-ending knee injury, but returned this season and has quickly left a mark, scoring numerous highlight-reel goals and becoming a fan favorite in Grand Forks. His speed, hands, vision and work ethic make him dangerous in all situations, and his first appearance in the NCAA postseason should be more than long enough to create some memorable moments, as North Dakota is deep, and primed for a long run.

Carsen Chubak -- Junior, G, Niagara

34 GP, 23-6-5, 1.91 GAA, .938 SV%

Undrafted

A 2013 Hobey Baker candidate, Chubak's first two seasons of college hockey were limited to just 10 games due to hip and knee ailments. This time around, he's healthy, and shown all of Division I what he can do. In 34 games, he's among the national leaders in shutouts (1st), wins (3rd) save percentage (4th) and goals-against average (8th). While he's not a large goalie at 5-foot-11, he's quick, athletic, and doesn't play just one style, which keeps opponents guessing.

Kenny Agostino -- Junior, F, Yale

33 GP, 15 G - 22 A -37 Pts.

Calgary Flames / 2010, 5th Round (by Pittsburgh)

For the second straight season, Agostino has improved his numbers across the board, and gone from a cog in the machine to the Bulldogs' motor. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he's not afraid to get into high-traffic areas and be physical, but he also has the hockey sense and skill to put the puck in the net. Yale is annually an offense-first squad, and Agostino will be one of the players who gets things going in his team's first-round matchup against high-powered Minnesota. He was also part of the Iginla trade.

Author: Michael Blinn | NHL.com Staff Writer

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