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WCHA Predictions: #2 - University of North Dakota

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 going from 12 to 1. The Broadmoor Trophy winners of the last three seasons, North Dakota, are second.

Although North Dakota lost 28 goal scorer Brock Nelson after he signed a pro contract with the New York Islanders, the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux retain enough talent to make a run for the final MacNaughton Cup.

At the forefront are senior forward Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens), who scored 45 points last year, and junior defenseman Derek Forbort (Los Angeles Kings). Forbort ended the season as one of the top defensemen in the league and could be primed for a big year.

In addition to those two, Dave Hakstol's team gets back redshirt freshman Rocco Grimaldi (Panthers) and brings in a trio of top recruits in goalie Zane Gothberg (Boston Bruins), defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues first round pick in 2012) and forward Drake Caggiula. The highly hyped Grimaldi only played in four games last season before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. He brings an explosive first step and speed to the UND lineup alongside players like seniors Corban Knight (Panthers) and Carter Rowney that could replace Nelson if he stays healthy.

Gothberg, meanwhile, will compete with University of Alabama-Huntsville transfer Clarke Saunders to replace Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness (who both left after last year) in net. It's the only question mark North Dakota has other than eight players (including all four captains and alternates) being suspended for part or all of next weekend's opening series.

Agree with the picks? Disagree? Sound off below.

For more WCHA and college hockey coverage, check out Western College Hockey. You can also go to SB Nation's NHL hub.

You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.