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Ryan Cooper | NCAA.com | October 3, 2016

Top returning men's hockey players for 2016-17

  Brock Boeser (16) is primed to follow up an outstanding freshman year with another one for the champs.

Hockey might be a sport associated with the frost of the ice in the rink matching the frigid winter conditions outside, but the more pleasant October month is when it all gets started. And a quick glance at the calendar shows that is, in fact, now October, so it’s time to get ready for the puck to drop.

With that said, as teams work through the preseason, here is the ultimate lineup of returning Division I men’s hockey players for the 2016-17 season.

F: Brock Boeser, North Dakota

2015-16: 42 games, 27 goals, 33 assists, 60 points

A first-round pick by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2015 NHL draft, Boeser was absurd in his first year of college. The Minnesota native was the leading scorer for the national champions by a large margin, while also posting an absurd +45 plus/minus. He showed up when it mattered most, scoring six points in the two Frozen Four games, including four in the championship win over Quinnipiac.

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With incredible puck skills and a great eye for passing, Boeser is as lethal a scorer as you will ever come across in the college ranks. For him to do what he did as a freshman last year was a testament to his raw abilities, and that should only keep getting better with another year of game and practice experience under his belt.

F: Luke Kunin, Wisconsin

2015-16: 34 games, 19 goals, 13 assists, 32 points

The last couple of seasons were extremely disappointing for the Badgers, who posted just a 12-46-13 record over that span. However, a hockey hotbed like Madison, Wisconsin, is still bound to attract some elite talent, and Kunin certainly fits that mold.

Like Boeser, Kunin looked very at home as a freshman, especially toward the end of the campaign. He finished the season on a seven-game point streak and nine of the final 10. For his potential, the Minnesota Wild took the center — who played half of his freshman season at just 17 years old — with the 15th pick in this year’s draft.

F: Ryan Fitzgerald, Boston College

2015-16: 40 games, 24 goals, 23 assists, 47 points

Fitzgerald brings some experience to the front line, as the senior is teaming up with his younger brother Casey for one more year with the Eagles.

After a solid first two years at Boston College, Ryan Fitzgerald broke out last season. He was the best offensive player on a team that went to the Frozen Four, scoring a power-play goal in the quarterfinals that proved to be the game-winner. What he lacks in size at 5-foot-11, he makes up for sheer ability to make things happen with the puck.

D: Will Butcher, Denver

2015-16: 41 games, nine goals, 23 assists, 32 points

Butcher heads into his senior season after a second-team All-American 2015-16 campaign. The Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, native ranked third among defensemen nationally last season with his 32 points, as he was an important fixture of the power-play unit. With the man advantage, Butcher scored four of his nine goals, showcasing a powerful, accurate shot.

After an outstanding 2015-16 season that included a trip to the Frozen Four, expectations are high for the Pioneers. And after showing he can hang with the best, including a goal against North Dakota in the semifinals, a lot of eyes will be on Butcher to continue to step up for one more year.

D: Charlie McAvoy, Boston University

2015-16: 37 games, three goals, 22 assists, 25 points

McAvoy, a first-round pick by the local Boston Bruins, is the third player to appear on this list thanks to a breakout freshman season. The Terriers were unable to replicate their 2014-15 success following the loss of Jack Eichel, but McAvoy was still a big part of a perfectly solid team. The New York product is a very talented skater and is a prime candidate to take a further step forward after a very impressive rookie year.

G: Cam Johnson, North Dakota

2015-16: 34 games, 1.66 goals-against average, .935 save percentage

If the Fighting Hawks plan to repeat as champions this season, having Johnson in their arsenal will be a giant component of that. The junior was a brick wall in his first year as a starter last season, going 24-4-2 and ranking second in GAA and fourth in save percentage.

He finished the year with five shutouts and stopped 32 of 33 Quinnipiac shots in the championship. He has been considered a late bloomer as a young goaltender, but now the Fighting Hawks are reaping the benefits of his development.