NCAA Stock Watch: Logan Cooley looks like a franchise player
Quinnipiac's stunning 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota in Saturday's NCAA Championship Game officially marks the conclusion of the 2022-23 college hockey season.
While it's a bummer to see it all end, you can't really complain about how it all went down. That was one of the better title games in recent memory, with rich storylines going into the big game that will make it all the more memorable.
It was a fitting end to an excellent year of college hockey, one that had a little bit of everything for just about everyone. Now, all that's left is to take stock of the action and look at whose star is rising, who's holding steady, and who's falling. You know the drill.
Logan Cooley, C, Minnesota (Arizona Coyotes)
There was never any denying Logan Cooley's ability. He was one of the most singularly gifted, inventive puckhandlers in last year's draft; a human highlight reel with the ability to pull you out of your seat whenever the puck landed on his stick.
The one quality that was decidedly absent at times was discretion. Cooley wouldn't just push the limits of his skill set; he would abuse them, often playing an inefficient game of hero puck in lieu of a more translatable approach.
That isn't the case anymore though. Not to the same degree anyway. Cooley's game has scaled up exceptionally well to college – as evidenced by his 60 points in 39 contests and a spot in the Hobey Hat Trick – as Minnesota's first-line centre, and I can't think of any reason why the same won't be true when he moves on to the NHL.
Logan Cooley's (#Yotes) done it again, working some unreal dangles to set up the Mason Nevers goal.@GopherHockey now lead 7-2 in the Fargo Regional.#NCAATournament pic.twitter.com/lmUUvjvMtF— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) March 24, 2023
If this is the end for Cooley at Minnesota, then he can hold his head up high. He was one of if not the best skaters in the NCAA tournament, picking up eight points in four contests. On top of that, the Coyotes draft pick continued to build on the physical dimension that he's added in his freshman year, routinely winning pucks on retrievals. You add that to his immense handling skill, pacey, deceptive playmaking, and explosive, agile skating – you've got yourself a potential franchise centre.
Sam Lipkin, F, Quinnipiac (Arizona Coyotes)
From a Coyotes pick at the top of the draft to one they grabbed in the seventh round, Sam Lipkin has played above and beyond his pedigree at Quinnipiac this year. With his primary helper on the Jacob Quillan goal that sealed their first title win in program history, Lipkin finished the year with 43 points in 39 games as a freshman. Like Cooley, eight of those points came in the NCAA tournament.
Jacob Quillan called game! Zach Metsa (FA) and Sam Lipkin (#Yotes) the assists.@QU_MIH wins the NCAA Championship game 3-2 in overtime.#MFrozenFour pic.twitter.com/s2EnsTOKqf— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) April 9, 2023
That's about where those comparisons end, though. Lipkin isn't quite the offensive star that his fellow Coyotes prospect, but he's a shifty, manipulative playmaker with some finishing skill. Mostly, the draw with Lipkin is his ability to support the play and keep things honest in all three zones. He's a real jack-of-all-trades player.
There's some talk that the Coyotes will try to sign Lipkin out of college now, but I'd probably keep him in Quinnipiac for another season. The (likely) departures of Collin Graf and Ethan De Jong could elevate him to a starring role on that team, which could really bring out the best in him long term.
Luke Mittelstadt, D, Minnesota (2023 NHL Draft, re-entry)
Luke Mittelstadt was a breakout star for Minnesota in the tournament, scoring at a point a game clip with one particularly heroic two-goal, one-assist performance in their 6-2 Frozen Four semifinal win against Boston University.
Make that two goals in about two minutes for Luke Mittelstadt (#2023NHLDraft) who hammers the puck home to give @GopherHockey a 4-2 lead.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) April 6, 2023
Ryan Chesley (#ALLCAPS) and Aaron Huglen (#LetsGoBuffalo) the assists on the play.#MFrozenFour pic.twitter.com/HK1wgKGsCk
He's likely done enough to earn himself a trip to the NHL Draft in Nashville this June, but I'll be curious to see where exactly he goes and when.
A quick look at Mittelstadt's counting stats would give you the impression that he's a lock for the middle of the draft, kind of on a similar trajectory to Scott Perunovich a few years ago. Certainly, it wouldn't surprise me. Where things get complicated is that Mittelstadt played as carefully managed a set of minutes as I've ever seen a defenceman play at the college level.
I'm rooting for Mittesltadt. We've seen enough from the Golden Gophers defenceman to rank him in the past, at No. 87 on our 2021 NHL Draft board when he was first eligible. I'm not sure he'll land quite that high on this year's board, but he's a candidate for the end of it, at the very least.
Frank Nazar, C, Michigan (Chicago Blackhawks)
It's the ultimate testament to Frank Nazar's toughness and his love for the game that he played at all this season. Many close to him wanted Nazar to punt on the year after October hip surgery, get healthy, and return with a vengeance as a sophomore.
Instead, Nazar recovered well ahead of schedule, and he was playing games centring Michigan's third line by February 10.
Now, the seven points in 13 games don't necessarily look inspiring, but I'd call that a win for Nazar given the circumstances. His timing was way off when he returned to the lineup, and it took a while for him to get back up to speed physically. It looked like Nazar had started to regain his form by the time his year ended, though. Look for him to put video game numbers as Michigan's top centre next season.
Luke Tuch, W, Boston University (Montréal Canadiens)
This season has to be viewed as a disappointing one for Luke Tuch. Sure, he set new career highs in goals and assists, but getting to 20 points in 40 games as a 20-year-old junior just isn't good enough. Certainly, it doesn't augur a high likelihood of graduating to the NHL anytime soon, much less a particularly productive career.
Tuch has legitimate handling skill, some cunning off-puck, and is a tough customer. Everything is there for him to be a productive college player and perhaps leverage those tools into a bottom-six role in the NHL. We just need to see a lot more from him at this level as a senior to feel good about that projection. That he finished the tournament with one point and the season as a whole with only four points in 10 contests doesn't exactly instill a lot of confidence.