With the men's 2019-20 season kicking off, we asked our college hockey experts -- Chris Peters and John Buccigross -- to chime in on some of the bigger topics this year. Can the dominant Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs be stopped this season, and what other players and teams will we be watching this season? And be sure to check out Peters' full men's college hockey preview (ESPN+).
Can anyone catch Minnesota Duluth this season?
Peters: The short answer is yes, just because men's college hockey is never predictable and the parity is at an all-time high. But when you look at the combination of returnees who were part of both championships, especially goalie Hunter Shepard who has been lights out, it's hard to see too many teams across the country stacking up. Add in the consistency and the high standard head coach Scott Sandelin has brought in, and the Bulldogs are still my favorite to win it all and become the first team since Michigan in the 1950s to win three straight titles.
Buccigross: I really think Penn State can give UMD a run. The Nittany Lions have a lot of depth at forward and should put up a lot of goals. And they are very well coached by Guy Gadowsky, who has shown he could make a good NHL coach.
Which team do you think will surprise this season?
Buccigross: There is so much parity in #cawlidgehawkey that the days of major surprises are over. Air Force and Minnesota State should win their leagues and be able to make a run. Minnesota State, in particular, is much better and could be a real factor this season.
Peters: UConn is not a big-time power, but I think it has a chance to make some noise in Hockey East this season. The team has slowly been building with some intriguing recruiting classes heavy on European talent. Adding to a core that already includes talented forwards Ruslan Iskhakov (New York Islanders), Jachym Kondelik (Nashville Predators) and goalie Tomas Vomacka (Predators), the Huskies have a blue-chip recruit in Vladislav Firstov (Minnesota Wild).
I think this all hinges on Vomacka's ability to play big-time minutes in net and continue his success. The Huskies aren't likely to be a real power in college hockey, but they're going to start taking steps out of the shadows in Hockey East.
Which players are you most excited to watch this season?
Peters: It's hard to narrow it down to one, but I'll have to go to one of the guys I enjoyed watching most last season in the build up to the NHL draft: Boston University freshman forward Trevor Zegras. The Terriers desperately need their young guys to play big roles, and I think Zegras has the hockey sense and the speed to challenge NCAA defenses. His creativity with the puck and ability to make plays you can't see coming is why the entertainment value is so high with him -- and also why the Anaheim Ducks picked him ninth overall last year.
College hockey is going to challenge him, so I'm most interested to see how he absorbs that challenge and whether or not he excels under pressure.
Buccigross: I am excited to see Alex Limoges and Evan Barratt from Penn State, Hugh McGing from Western Michigan and obviously Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte from Wisconsin. Caufield could win the Hobey Baker Award. Western Michigan's Wade Allison could also have a monster season, if healthy.
And Spencer Knight of Boston College is definitely a goaltender to watch. Boston College could be back in the national picture this season, starting with Knight in net.
How about a Frozen Four prediction?
Buccigross: I'd go with Minnesota Duluth, Penn State, Denver and Minnesota State. And I have the Nittany Lions taking it home with that great offense.
Peters: Let's go with Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, Wisconsin and Cornell. As for a champion, I'm calling for a three-peat out of the UMD Bulldogs. They're just too good and too experienced.