By Bryan Murphy | Follow Me on Twitter @bryan_murphy10
The college hockey pipeline has certainly been a favorite for the Boston Bruins.
From powerhouses like Boston University and Wisconsin, to smaller schools like Miami-Ohio, the Bruins have not shied away from drafting collegiately. Depending on who Bruce Cassidy roles with, there is a chance that four of the six defensemen the Bruins dress came from the NCAA (Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and if Cassidy goes Connor Clifton).
With a lot of talent coming via college, it begs the question – which current Bruins had the best NCAA career?
In a recent Twitter poll, fans seemed to bring six names – McAvoy, Krug, Grzelcyk, along with Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman and Jeremy Swayman. While Swayman has yet to play for the Bruins, his stellar season this winter makes it very hard to count him out.
The verdict on Twitter was in resounding favor of Chaaaahlie. I would say it’s a toss-up between Krug and McAvoy as to who is the best player on the Bruins that played college hockey, but did either have the best college career? Let’s dive in.
Anders Bjork (Notre Dame 2014-17)
While Bjork’s game hasn’t translated as smoothly to the NHL level, there’s no denying Bjork’s talent in college.
A Hobey Baker candidate in his final season with Notre Dame, Bjork was nearly a point-per-game player in college, with 85 points in 87 games. His 52 points in 2017 was tied for fourth-most in Hockey East and ninth in all of college hockey.
What stands out the most about Bjork’s collegiate career was his ability to show up in the big moments. His freshman season, Bjork has five points in the six playoff games he played in. In his final season, he scored two goals, including the game winner, in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals against Minnesota. He followed that up by recording assists on all three of the Fighting Irish’s goals in the Northeast Regional championship game, a 3-2 OT win to send Notre Dame to the Frozen Four despite being the No. 4 seed in the region.
Bjork’s accolades include 2016 All-Hockey East Second team, 2017 All-Hockey East First team, 2017 Hockey East Three Stars Award, 2017 AHCA All-American East Second team and 2017 Northeast Regional MVP. Bjork showed up when Notre Dame needed him most and helped them to a National semifinal. The Bruins have to be hoping to see some of the magic return at the pro level.
Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University 2012-16)
Grzelcyk’s collegiate career is well known in the Boston area. With Boston University, Grzelcyk was a two-year captain and helped lead the Terriers to two Hockey East Championship games, winning the title in 2015. The Terriers also went to the National Championship in 2015, losing 4-3 to Providence.
Grzelcyk’s best known accomplishment was his overtime winner in the 2015 Beanpot final against Northeastern, earning the Terriers their first Beanpot title since 2009. Grzelcyk had two goals in the game, and was tabbed the tournament MVP.
In terms of personal awards, Grzlecyk was named to the AHCA All-American East First team twice and the All-Hockey East First team twice, both awards in 2015 and 2016. The Terriers sensational 2014-15 season also earned Grzelcyk a spot on the All-Regional team in the NCAA Tournament, as well as the Hockey East All-Tournament team. That season, Grzelcyk led all Hockey East defensemen in conference points (20) and was fourth in the nation in points per game among defenseman (0.98).
A total of 95 points in 125 career games, Grzelcyk was a great D-man for the Terriers. He quarterbacked the power play unit while also a leader in the locker room. There’s no denying Grzelcyk’s impressive collegiate resume.
Torey Krug (Michigan State 2009-2012)
Krug had a very solid individual career at Michigan State. In total, Krug racked up 83 points in 114 career games and captained the team both his sophomore and junior year before foregoing his final year of eligibility to sign with Boston.
He was named to the First Team All-CCHA in 2011 and 2012, in addition to being named the CCHA’s Best Offensive Defenseman in both of those seasons. His junior year, Krug recorded 34 points to lead all CCHA defensemen and won CCHA Player of the Year, as well as a place on the AHCA All American West team and a nomination for the Hobey Baker award.
What Krug never had with Michigan State was postseason success. In fact, the Spartans did not win a single playoff game in Krug’s tenure. Michigan State was swept in the first round or quarterfinals of the CCHA tournament in each of the three years Krug was there. The Spartans made it to the NCAA tournament in 2012 as an at-large bid, but lost to Union 3-1.
While Krug certainly enjoyed individual success in East Lansing, his lack of postseason experience casts a bit of a black eye on his college career. All of Krug’s accolades are individual, with Michigan State not winning any regular season or tournament titles in Krug’s three years. Krug was a fantastic offensive defenseman at the NCAA level but the lack of hardware is his one knock.
Karson Kuhlman (University of Minnesota-Duluth 2014-18)
A sensational two-way forward, Karson Kuhlman found much success with the University of Minnesota-Duluth in his four years of college.
Kuhlman participated in the NCAA tournament every single year, playing in two National Championships and helping lead the Bulldogs to an NCAA Championship win in 2018. His goal and assist in UMD’s 2-1 championship win over Notre Dame earned him 2018 NCAA Tournament MVP.
In conference play, Kuhlman won the NCHC title in 2017 with the Bulldogs, a 4-3 victory over North Dakota to bring UMD its first NCHC championship and first conference title win since 2009. Kuhlman also won the NHCH’s Sportsmanship Award that year.
With the completion of his collegiate career, Kuhlman skated in 166 consecutive games, which tied a program record and puts him seventh all-time in NCAA history. While he hasn’t been able to see consistent time in Boston, he brings a ton of postseason experience and success, and could be a year or two away from becoming an every day player.
Charlie McAvoy (Boston University 2015-17)
The babyface killer in Boston has been a fan favorite since his college days.
McAvoy played just two seasons with Boston University before signing with the Bruins, but he built himself a pretty good resume those years. McAvoy had 51 points in 75 games as a Terrier, including the double-OT game winner in the Regional semifinals of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
McAvoy certainly benefited from playing alongside some collegiate studs like Clayton Keller and Jordan Greenway. However, the only title Boston University was able to claim in McAvoy’s short term there was a share of the Hockey East regular season title in 2016.
That same year, McAvoy was named to the All-Hockey East Rookie team. A year later, McAvoy was selected to the All-Hockey East First team and the AHCA All-American East First team. If McAvoy had continued his career for another year or two, he most likely would have seen more hardware, as Boston Univeristy won the Hockey East title the next season.
There’s no doubting how skilled of a player McAvoy was and is now. But playing only two seasons in college certainly hurts his argument as to the best college career.
Jeremy Swayman (Maine 2018-20)
Swayman has yet to dress in a Bruins or even P-Bruins uniform yet. But the season that Bruins fans saw out of the Maine Black Bear certainly placed him in the argument as having the best NCAA career.
Swayman was one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award this past season, an extremely rare feat for a goaltender. No goalie has won the award since 2001 when Ryan Miller took home the honor.
What Swayman did win however was a multitude of other honors. He took home the Mike Richter Award for NCAA goalie of the year, Hockey East Player of the Year, Hockey East Goaltending Champion and was named to the All-Hockey East First team and the AHCA All-American East First team.
In what would be his final collegiate season, Swayman finished the shortened year with a 2.07 goals against average (GAA) and a .939 save percentage. He finished in Orono with a career GAA of .260 and a save percentage of .924.
What stands out the most about Swayman’s career is he did it on a very sub-par Maine team with practically zero help from his fellow goaltenders. He was the starter right away when he got to Maine and the last two seasons, started or played in every single game but one. No relief for him in net, yet he was able to put up fantastic numbers.
Similar to Krug, the team around Swayman just wouldn’t good enough to get anywhere in the postseason. This season was the year for Maine to make some noise and it was unfortunately cancelled.
Swayman will certainly give other prospects like Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser competition for the starting goaltender job in the next couple of years in both Providence and possibly Boston. And frankly, he has the NCAA career to back it up.
This was by no means an easy decision. But if I had to select someone who had the best NCAA career in whole, I would have to go with …
Bjork just did it all at Notre Dame. He was far and beyond the best player on his team by junior year and one of the best in the nation. He was a dynamic player on a team with guys by the name of Jake Evans and Alex Oglevie. Who? Exactly. Bjork was the guy in South Bend and had the stats and awards to prove it.
Chris Wagner put up 51 points in 38 games at Colgate his sophomore season. But he was outshined that year by his teammate, Austin Smith, who was a Hobey Baker finalist and ECAC Hockey Player of the Year. Just had to give the Mayor of Walpole some love.