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WCHA Predictions: #5 - University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

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. Fifth is the 2011 national champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who returned to the NCAA Tournament before bowing out to Boston College in the Northeast Region final.

If there is any team that could finish anywhere in the standings, it is the Bulldogs. Coach Scott Sandelin has brought a certain confidence (not to mention a championship) to the Twin Ports which can't be denied. It went a long way last year as Duluth's high powered offense finished the regular season in sole possession of second place and a 17 game unbeaten streak between October and January.

At the same time, however, that high powered offense loses 160 points between Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk (who both graduated) and J.T. Brown (who signed as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay). The Bulldogs have overcome turnover in the past - last year's team built upon the departures of Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine - and this year's team should get a boost from sophomore Caleb Herbert.

Their strength, meanwhile, lies on the blue line where freshman Andy Welinski (Anaheim Ducks) joins seniors Wade Bergman and Drew Olson (Columbus Blue Jackets) as a formidable corps.

In net, UMD is replacing 2011 national championship hero Kenny Reiter with junior Aaron Crandall and freshmen Alex Fons and Matt McNeely. It's the biggest question mark of many for Duluth. While there are signs that the Bulldogs can challenge for a MacNaughton Cup, with departures and new faces they still need a few things to go right for that to happen.

Agree with the picks? Disagree? Sound off below.

For more WCHA and college hockey coverage, check out Western College Hockey and 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.