The 2022-23 women's college hockey season is off and running as we've already seen some stunning upsets and entertaining back-and-forth contests.
Last season, Ohio State claimed its first national title, while several players around the nation put up amazing individual seasons worthy of winning the Patty Kazmaier Award, annually given to the top player in Division I women's college hockey.
Created in 1998, the award honors Kazmaier, who anchored the defense at Princeton for four years, leading the Tigers to three consecutive Ivy League titles from 1982 to 1984 and earning individual conference awards. In 1990, she passed away at the age of 28 after battling a rare blood disease for over a year.
The talent across women's college hockey is some of the best the sport has seen, whether it be Olympians returning to the collegiate ranks or dynamic veterans coming back for one final year of eligibility.
Here are the players that could have the best shot at winning the Patty Kaz in 2023:
Taylor Heise, Minnesota | Forward | Fifth Year
The reigning Patty Kaz winner is a no-brainer to be included on the list to begin the season.
Last year, Heise led the nation with 66 points while putting up the second-most goals (29). She enters this season picked to repeat as WCHA Player of the Year after leading the World Championships in scoring with 18 points (7g, 11a) in seven games for the United States en route to earning tournament MVP.
She will likely skate alongside fellow fifth-years Catie Skaja and Abigail Boreen once again after the trio showed tremendous chemistry last season. Heise is a threat every single time she's on the ice, and is one of the biggest reasons the Golden Gophers are tabbed to win the WCHA.
Sophie Jaques, Ohio State | Defense | Graduate
Jaques is as dynamic as they come on the blue line.
A top-three finalist for the award last season, Jaques was the third leading scorer in the nation last season with 21 goals and 38 assists for 59 points in 38 games (on defense!). A top-three finalist for the award last season, she is strong in the defensive zone and can set up teammates equally as well as she can finish her own opportunities. Jaques will look to lead the Buckeyes to consecutive national championships.
ROAD TO A CHAMPIONSHIP: How Ohio State won their first national title in 2022
Alina Müller, Northeastern | Forward | Graduate
Müller was a star even before stepping foot on campus at Northeastern.
The Swiss national team standout has been a top-10 finalist for the award each of her previous four seasons with the Huskies, racking up 194 points over the course of her career (third all-time in Northeastern's history and within striking distance of Kendall Coyne Schofield's leading 249). Last season she put up 39 points (11g, 28a) in an injury-shortened 21-game campaign. Müller returns poised to once again lead a high-flying offense alongside linemates Maureen Murphy and Chloe Aurard.
With three goals and an assist two games into the season, she'll surely be motivated to track down Coyne Schofield's record and bring the Huskies to a third straight Frozen Four, or perhaps their first title.
Sarah Fillier, Princeton | Forward | Junior
Fillier has quickly risen to the top of the ranks in the women's game.
Back from a full year with Team Canada that saw her win gold at the Olympics and World Championships, Fillier returns to Princeton looking to remind the NCAA that she's the real deal. She put up 11 points in seven games at both the Olympics and the Worlds after back-to-back 22-goal, 57-point seasons as a freshman and sophomore, finishing as a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kaz both years. The junior plays all situations, and can set up teammates just as well as she can finish her own opportunities. Between her talent, smarts and production, Fillier could be right there with Marie-Philip Poulin among the absolute best in the world in short order.
Gabbie Hughes, Minnesota Duluth | Forward | Graduate
Hughes continues the trend of upperclassmen and former finalists making the list.
Last season, the Bulldogs standout forward finished tied with Jaques with the third-most points in the nation (59), putting up 22 goals and 37 assists in 40 games. Hughes has scored at over a point per game pace every season of her career so far, but it will be interesting to see how she and linemate Anna Klein handle former NCAA star Elizabeth Giguère's graduation. So far, Hughes hasn't missed a beat, starting this season with nine points (1g, 8a) in five games.
A Hockey Humanitarian Award finalist as well last season, Hughes came up with seven game-winning goals, the second-most in the NCAA. She'll look to come through in the clutch again as the Bulldogs seek to bounce back from last year's national championship loss.
RANKINGS: Check out the latest USCHO poll
Cayla Barnes, Boston College | Defense | Senior
After becoming a regular on the blue line for Team USA in her second Olympics, Barnes is back to anchor the Eagles' defense.
The 5-foot-2 right-shot defender has blossomed into one of the most reliable blue-liners in the game, whether it be on the international stage or the collegiate level. She might not have the flashiest offensive numbers with 58 points in 92 career games (.630 points per game), but Barnes' ability to see the ice and move the puck in transition help set her apart from a lot of defenders at the collegiate level. The Eagles' captain can do it all from quarterbacking the power play to playing shut down defensive minutes in a tight game.
Barnes hasn't racked up the individual awards, but perhaps this is the year she changes that she and BC look to unseat Northeastern in Hockey East.
Maureen Murphy, Northeastern | Forward | Graduate
Entering her sixth season of college hockey, Murphy returns for another ride at Northeastern.
After leading the nation in goals last season with 30, the former Providence College Friar was, surprisingly, left out of the top 10 for the Patty Kaz. She put up 56 points (third-most in Division I) last season en route to the Frozen Four, and is back alongside Müller and Aurard this season. Murphy will look to make a statement for last season's omission as the Huskies' top line continues to lay waste to Hockey East in search of more hardware.
Elle Hartje, Yale | Forward | Junior
Hartje had one of the best seasons ever by a Yale skater last season.
Her 35 assists set a single-season program record, while her 51 points were the second-most in a season by a Bulldog, more than doubling her production as a freshman in 2019-20 (25 points in 28 games). She was the most efficient player in the ECAC, leading the conference with 1.42 points per game. The junior carries the play in all aspects of the game for Yale, leading the team in blocked shots last season (46) and doing most of her damage at even-strength with only two goals on the power play.
After taking the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four for the first time in program history last season, Hartje will need to keep building up her game as Yale tries to take control of a loaded ECAC.
Casey O'Brien, Wisconsin | Forward | Graduate
O'Brien headlines a stacked group of returners on an already-loaded Wisconsin team.
The Milton, Mass., native was a top-10 finalist last season with 27 goals and 28 assists for 55 points as a sophomore. Her nine game-winning goals led the nation and were the third-most in a single season by a Badgers skater. Wisconsin will rely on the junior assistant captain and fellow star Sophie Shirley to soften the blow of losing Darryl Watts' production. So far this season, O'Brien has nine points in four games.
After making massive strides from her freshman year to last season, O'Brien could take another step in her development this season on a Badgers squad that could reclaim its stranglehold on women's college hockey.
Grace Zumwinkle, Minnesota | Forward | Fifth Year
Zumwinkle marks another skilled Olympian returning to a loaded roster.
Zumwinkle had one goal in limited minutes at the Beijing Olympics before notching three points with Team USA at the Worlds. A former top-three finalist for the Patty Kaz, she put up 17 goals (second in the nation) and 24 points (eighth) in 24 games as a senior in 2020-21. The scrappy Golden Gophers captain has produced more than a point per game in every year she's been at the collegiate level with 148 points in 133 games, 10th most in program history.
An impact player every time she's on the ice, Zumwinkle joins Heise in trying guide the Gophers back to the top of Division I.
Honorable mentions: Jesse Compher (Wisconsin, senior forward), Emma Maltais (Ohio State, graduate forward), Theresa Schafzahl (Vermont, graduate forward), Caroline Harvey (Wisconsin, freshman defense), Ashton Bell, (Minnesota Duluth, fifth year defense), Kiara Zanon (Penn State, junior forward), Sophie Shirley (Wisconsin, graduate forward)