WCHA Predictions: SB Nation Minnesota's preseason awards

Gophers Athletics/Paul Rovnak

Before the 2012-2013 college hockey season kicks off, SB Nation Minnesota tries to predict what happens to all 12 WCHA teams and the top players in the league.

A week ago I took part in the 3rd Annual WCHA Blogger & Website Preseason Poll as one of 18 participants and thought it would be a good idea to break down my own picks for the final year of the conference as we know it. The end result of the blogger poll ended up matching the WCHA media and coaches poll for all twelve picks and saw the University of Minnesota on top.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Minnesota

2. North Dakota

3. Denver

4. Wisconsin

5. Minnesota-Duluth

6. St. Cloud State

7. Nebraska-Omaha

8. Colorado College

9. Michigan Tech

10. Minnesota State-Mankato

11. Bemidji State

12. Alaska-Anchorage

All-Conference Team:

F - Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota)

F - Mark Zengerle (Wisconsin)

F - Ben Hanowski (St. Cloud State)

F - Danny Kristo (North Dakota)

D - Joey LaLeggia (Denver)

D - Nick Jensen (St. Cloud State)

D - Nate Schmidt (Minnesota)

G - Sam Brittain (Denver)

Player of the Year: Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota)

Rookie of the Year: Rocco Grimaldi (North Dakota)

Defenseman of the Year: Joey LaLeggia (Denver)

Breakout Player of the Year: Tied: Caleb Herbert (UMD) & Andrej Sustr (Nebraska-Omaha)

Besides the Gophers finishing first, the poll saw junior Nick Bjugstad named preseason player of the year as well as Bjugstad and junior defenseman Nate Schmidt named members of the all-conference team. Minnesota is basking in preseason glory although my WCHA ballot is a little different.

Nate's Preseason WCHA All Conference Team

F - Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota)

F - Mark Zengerle (Wisconsin)

F - Ben Hanowski (SCSU)

D - Joey LaLeggia (Denver)

D - Derek Forbort (UND)

G - Sam Brittain (Denver)

Explanation: Bjugstad and LaLeggia are there as my player of the year and defensive player of the year, respectively. Zengerle is the leading returning scorer from last season and is "the man" at Wisconsin. Hanowski is underrated and continues to improve from year to year; his 43 points last season without much help was one of the great accomplishments in college hockey. Forbort was a beast during the second half while Brittain has proven himself to be one of the more consistent goalies in the league.


Preseason Awards:

Player of the Year - Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota). The 2010 first round pick of the Florida Panthers proved his worth last season, leading the Gophers with 25 goals, and returns as the leading WCHA goal scorer. Bjugstad is one of the few players whose presence on the ice changes games and uses his size (6'6") and vision to make others better.

Other contenders: Ben Hanowski (St,. Cloud State), Mark Zengerle (Wisconsin), Erik Haula (Minnesota)

Rookie - Nic Kerdiles (Wisconsin). This might look ridiculously foolish given Kerdiles is presently suspended for a full year by the NCAA but keep in mind these picks were made before the news came to light. Kerdiles, who was drafted 35th overall by Anaheim in June, is a forward who fits in well with the Badgers' present lineup. He has great hands and hockey IQ for a player his age and can play on both ends of the ice. He has the opportunity to make an impact for Wisconsin if the current issues are resolved.

(As an aside, if you haven't read Andy Johnson's magnificent coverage of Kerdiles' situation over at Wisconsin SB Nation site Bucky's 5th Quarter please do.)

Other contenders: Rocco Grimaldi (UND - who as a redshirt freshman was my pick last year and goes to prove this award might be a jinx), Andy Welinski (UMD), Hunter Feijes (Colorado College)

Defenseman - Joey LaLeggia (Denver). LaLeggia is one of the premiere offensive defensemen - if not the premiere - in the league now that Justin Schultz left for the NHL after scoring 37 points as a freshman and dominating on the power play. While he will have a bit of a target on his back, and no big name to share the load on the blue line, LaLeggia has the ability to overcome it.

Other contenders: Derek Forbort (UND), Nick Jensen (SCSU), Nate Schmidt (Minnesota)

Breakout - Nick Shore (Denver). The definition of "breakout" player is pretty loose and one reason why it is possible to have someone who scored 41 points truly break out." For Nick Shore, who did just that last year, he has a chance to get out from beyond the shadow of two Pioneers who left - Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) and his brother Drew (Florida Panthers)- and a half-dozen more WCHA guys in name recognition. This is his time.

Other contenders: Caleb Herbert (UMD)

Agree with the picks? Disagree? Sound off below.

For more University of Minnesota coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. You can also read up on the WCHA and college hockey at Western College Hockey and SB Nation's NHL hub.

You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.

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