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Top rookie performances in the NCAA

Who stands out in this year’s freshman class?

Michelle Jay

It’s been an excellent year for newcomers to the NCAA this season, with plenty of impressive freshmen performances on display. This year’s rookie class members haven’t just stood out among their peers; they’re also asserting themselves nationally. The country’s leader in save percentage is a rookie. Northeastern and Princeton, two teams who have taken a big jump forward this year, are both being led in scoring by freshmen forwards. As a whole, the class has players at the top of the list in all different stats, including points, face-off wins, total saves, and blocked shots.

Here are a few players who are having outstanding seasons in their first year:

Lexie Adzija, Forward, Quinnipiac: Adzija has been a bit of an under-the-radar player this year, but there’s a lot to like about her game. Quinnipiac doesn’t have a particularly high-scoring offense, but she’s been a vital part of the Bobcats’ game plan there with seven goals, 11 assists, and 18 points, which ranks third on the team. She also holds a 63.7% winning percentage in the face-off circle on 284 draws, and puts up more shots on goal (110) than any Bobcat not named Melissa Samoskevich.

Chloé Aurard, Forward, Northeastern: Aurard has opened a lot of eyes this season, and deservedly so, as there’s no doubt that she’s thriving at the college level already. She’s fast and very skilled, and brings plenty of energy and offensive awareness to the Huskies’ lineup. She’s tied for sixth overall in points per game among all freshmen with 11 goals and 16 assists in 27 games.

Cayla Barnes, Defender, Boston College: Barnes had a few games under her belt last year with the Eagles before joining Team USA and winning an Olympic gold medal, and so far she’s used all that experience to her advantage. She leads all freshmen defenders in scoring with four goals and 16 assists in 30 games, and leads BC in blocked shots with 59.

Lauren Bellefontaine, Forward, Syracuse: Bellefontaine is having a solid year for the Orange in the CHA, with six goals and 10 assists for 16 points, which ranks fourth on the team. She also leads Syracuse in face-off wins with 298, and leads the team’s forwards with 45 blocked shots.

Maggie Connors, Forward, Princeton: Connors has been a big part of Princeton’s success all year, but she’s really come on strong lately and ranks third in the country in goals with 24 in 27 games. Her 144 shots on goal lead all rookies this year, and those offensive abilities make her an integral part of one of college hockey’s most dynamic lines.

Sarah Fillier, Forward, Princeton: There’s a lot to say about the impact Fillier is making at Princeton, and what she’s been able to accomplish over the past couple of months, but probably the most pertinent thing to know: nobody in the country has more points per game than Sarah Fillier. She has 16 goals and 31 assists for 47 points in 23 games played. She leads the nation’s rookies in assists and has shown game-breaking abilities with several big-time goals this year for the Tigers.

Taylor Heise, Forward, Minnesota: Heise is scoring at a point-per-game clip for the Gophers this year with 11 goals and 21 assists in 32 games. She’s been a standout on an already impressive offensive roster and a particularly impressive rookie class, too. To go along with her scoring totals, she’s also been good in the face-off circle, with a 52.7% win rate, and she leads the team with five game-winning goals.

Gabbie Hughes, Forward, Minnesota Duluth: Hughes may not have been quite as heralded as other players coming in, but she’s put together a monster season for the Bulldogs. She needed precious little time to get acquainted with the college game and she’s already the go-to player up front for UMD. She ranks fourth in points per game among rookies with 15 goals and 15 assists in 28 games played. Her 30 points lead the Bulldogs in scoring; so do her 255 face-off wins.

Sophie Jaques, Defender, Ohio State: Jaques has nicely filled a big role on the Ohio State blue line, stepping in next to Jincy Dunne on the top pairing. She’s just behind Cayla Barnes in scoring among freshmen defenders with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 30 games. She does a good job of driving offense from the back end, which fits well with what the Buckeyes generally try to do.

Mariah Keopple, Defender, Princeton: Taking on big minutes for the Tigers, Keopple has quietly been a big part of one of the most well-rounded top-four units in the country. Her production is very respectable (three goals, eight assists, 11 points, second among Princeton defenders) and she leads her team in blocked shots with 42.

Abigail Levy, Goaltender, Minnesota State: The Mavericks made some noise this season for the first time in a while thanks largely to Levy’s abilities in net. She’s faced the most shots out of any freshman goaltender this year with 929, and also leads the class in saves with 861. Levy has played all but one game for Minnesota State this season, giving the team a huge boost defensively with a .927 save percentage.

Alina Müller, Forward, Northeastern: Müller is second among the nation’s rookies in points per game with 43 (16 goals, 27 assists) in 31 games. She leads her team in face-off attempts and winning percentage, too, with a 58.1% success rate on 534 tries. In terms of poise and how quickly she can turn a game in all facets, she’s at the very top of this year’s class. She’s a heads-up player with dangerous skill and a wicked shot.

Jenniina Nylund, Forward, St. Cloud State: The Huskies don’t have the most robust offense, but Nylund has had an impact there right away. She played well enough off the bat to earn a call-up to Team Finland at the 4 Nations Cup in November. She leads St. Cloud State in points per game with 21 in 33, off of eight goals and 13 assists.

Lindsay Reed, Goaltender, Harvard: Reed leads all goaltenders nationally with a .945 save percentage while facing an average of more than 36 shots per game. She’s been a big bright spot for a Harvard team that has had some inconsistencies this season, and she gives them a chance to win every game. Notable performances include her efforts to take Wisconsin to overtime twice in a row, and making 103 total saves for Harvard at the Beanpot.

Sophie Shirley, Forward, Wisconsin: It hasn’t taken Shirley very long to settle into a role as an offensive leader for the Badgers. She has the benefit of playing with some really good and experienced players, but the fact that she plays a prominent role in such a deep lineup is more of a testament to her abilities, not less. She’s got 18 goals, 15 assists, and 33 points in 32 games, and her points-per-game rate puts her fifth overall among all freshmen.

Anna Wilgren, Defender, Minnesota State: Wilgren’s 111 blocked shots are the second-most in the nation, and that total leads all rookies. She’s also chipping in offensively for the Mavericks with three goals and 11 points in 31 games, which leads Minnesota State’s defensive corps.