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Four Pens’ Prospects to Feature in NCAA Tournament

The Penguins have tapped into the college talent pool, and it’s helped them win consecutive Stanley Cups. This weekend, the NCAA Tourney kicks off, and the next batch of college prospects are under the spotlight.

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Today marks the beginning of the 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament where 16 teams will face-off for the right to be crowned the national champion. The puck drops on regional play later this afternoon with the East and West regions beginning first round action. The Northeast and Midwest regions will begin play on Saturday. When the weekend wraps up, the four teams left standing will be regional champions and head to St. Paul Minnesota for the Frozen Four in two weeks time.

A quick look at the bracket:

Here at Pensburgh, we have discussed the Penguins affinity for tapping into the college talent pool and finding players that have played major roles in the franchise’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Players like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel have all been major factors in the Penguins’ recent run of dominance and all have come up through the college hockey system.

This year’s tournament features four Penguins’ prospects, all of whom played significant roles in helping their team qualify for the 2018 NCAA tournament. All four players were acquired through the draft and could be signing pro contracts after they are eliminated or in the very near future if they decide to return to college. While there is no guarantees for future success once they turn pro and enter the Penguins’ organization, given the team’s recent track record of farming NHL talent from the college ranks, there is a very good chance you could be watching a future Penguin if you tune in over the weekend.

Here are the four Pens’ prospects who will be taking the ice in the NCAA tournament this weekend:

Anthony Angello, Cornell University

Age: 22

Nationality: United States

Position: Center

Shoots: Right

Acquired by Pens: 2014 NHL Draft; 5th Round

2017-2018 Stats: 32 games played, 26 points (13 G, 13 A)

Tournament Schedule: 3/24 vs. Boston University @ 1 PM EST (ESPNews). If Cornell wins, 3/25 vs. Michigan/Northeastern @ 4 PM EST (ESPN2).

Playing in his third season at Cornell, Angello lead the Bears in scoring with 26 points and goals with 13 as a junior. Combined, Angello has posted 70 career points in college in 101 games played over the course of three seasons. This will the second straight year Angello plays in the NCAA tournament after the Bears slid in last year as a three seed. Cornell won the 2017-2018 ECAC regular season crown but lost to Princeton in the conference semifinals. The Bears hold the one seed in the Northeast regional and will take on Boston University in the first round on Saturday.

Kasper Björkqvist, Providence College

Age: 20

Nationality: Finland

Position: Right Wing

Shoots: Left

Acquired by Pens: 2016 NHL Draft, 2nd Round

2017-2018 Stats: 38 games played, 21 points (14 G, 7 A)

Tournament Schedule: 3/23 vs. Clarkson University @ 6:30 PM EST (ESPNU). If Providence wins, 3/24 vs. Notre Dame/Michigan Tech @ 6 PM EST (ESPNU).

Björkqvist was the third leading scorer for the Friars as a sophomore and finished as the team’s seventh leading scorer. In two combined seasons at the NCAA level Björkqvist has tallied 30 career points in 68 games. This will be Björkqvist’s second go around in the NCAA tournament after the Friars snuck into last year’s edition as a four seed. Earlier this season Providence won the Three Rivers Classic hosted at PPG Paints Arena where Björkqvist scored the game winning goal over Robert Morris. The Friars made it to the Hockey East championship game where they were upended by Boston University. Their 2018 tournament begins on Friday where they take on Clarkson in the first round of the East regional as the two seed.

Dane Birks, Michigan Tech University

Age: 22

Nationality: Canada

Position: Defenseman

Shoots: Right

Acquired by Pens: 2013 NHL Draft, 6th Round

2017-2018 Stats: 43 games played, 18 points (5 G, 13 A)

Tournament Schedule: 3/23 vs. Notre Dame @ 3 PM EST (ESPN2). If Michigan Tech wins, 3/24 vs. Providence/Clarkson @ 6 PM EST (ESPNU).

In his junior season at Michigan Tech, Birks posted 18 points from the blue line, good enough for second among defenseman on the Huskies’ squad. His five goals were also second amongst all defensemen on the team. His career numbers at the NCAA level are 30 points in 116 games played through three complete seasons. Birks will get his second taste of NCAA tournament action coming off a birth last year where his Michigan Tech squad qualified as a four seed. This season the Huskies finished fifth in the WHCA but won the conference championship over Northern Michigan to book a spot in the NCAA tournament again as a four seed. Tech’s tournament will kick off on Friday where they face-off against Big Ten champion Notre Dame in the East regional.

Nikita Pavlychev, Penn State University

Age: 22

Nationality: Russia

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Acquired by Pens: 2015 NHL Draft, 7th Round

2017-2018 Stats: 34 games played, 14 points (9 G, 5 A)

Tournament Schedule: 3/24 vs. Denver University @ 7:30 PM EST (ESPN3). If Penn State wins, 3/25 vs. Ohio State/Princeton @ 6:30 PM EST (ESPNU).

Standing at 6’ 7” off of skates, Pavlychev is hard to miss when he’s on the ice for the Nittany Lions. The monstrous Russian center has been a staple on Penn State’s fourth line since his freshman season and remains a key cog in their defensive game plan so you can expect to see him and his linemates on the ice in crucial situations including the penalty kill. For a big man, Pavlychev skates extremely well and posted 14 points as a sophomore on an emerging Penn State squad. Pavlychev was forced to miss the Big Ten tournament with an injury but he is expected to be back for the NCAA tournament this weekend. Penn State finished fourth in the Big Ten regular season standings but swept Minnesota in the first round of the conference tournament to claim a three seed in the Midwest regional. The Nittany Lions open play on Saturday against defending national champion Denver University in Allentown.