Projecting the 2024 NCAA men's hockey tournament field

Part of Boston College's potent freshman class, Ryan Leonard, right, celebrates a goal with Lukas Gustafsson. Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 26.

With the men's hockey season winding down, the selection of the NCAA tournament field is less than a month away. While some spots in the 16-team field are secure, there is a bigger and more unstable bubble of teams than usual scrapping for a chance to embark on the road to the Frozen Four.

The NCAA field includes the winners of the six conference tournaments -- Atlantic, Big Ten, CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and NCHC -- and 10 at-large teams based on the PairWise rankings. Conference tournaments will begin March 8, with the finals scheduled for March 23.

Pairings for the NCAA tournament will be announced March 24, with regionals to be held March 28-31 in Springfield, Massachusetts; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Providence, Rhode Island; and Maryland Heights, Missouri. The Frozen Four will be held April 11-13 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Here's a look at where the NCAA field stands, broken into tiers based on how secure each team's spot is, with teams listed in order of the PairWise rankings as of Feb. 26. Each team's résumé includes an outlook by ESPN college hockey analyst Colby Cohen.

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Safe and sound

Boston College

Record: 25-5-1, 17-3-1 Hockey East

Numbers to know: The Eagles are second in scoring offense (4.42) and fourth in scoring defense (2.19) while playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. BC also has the nation's top penalty kill unit and is third in power play percentage.

Cohen's take: BC has separated itself as the top team in the country, led by the freshman trio of Will Smith, Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault. Between those three and sophomore Cutter Gauthier, who can score from anywhere on the ice, no team plays with more speed, skill and puck possession than BC. Plus the Eagles are backstopped by future NHL goalie Jacob Fowler. To me, this is the favorite to win it all in St. Paul.

Boston University

Record: 22-8-2, 16-4-2 Hockey East

Numbers to know: BU's 17-year-old phenom Macklin Celebrini, the youngest player in college hockey and the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2024 NHL draft, is second in the country (and first among freshmen) with 26 goals.

Cohen's take: The entire bottom half of the NHL is "slackin' for Macklin" and for good reason: Celebrini has been sensational, leading BU to another 20-win season. Don't forget about sophomore defenseman Lane Hutson, who is having another big year offensively. Like BC, the Terriers love to play with speed and possess the puck. They have been a top-five team all season and there is no reason they can't get back to the Frozen Four for the second year in a row under Jay Pandolfo.

North Dakota

Record: 22-8-2, 13-6-1 NCHC

Numbers to know: North Dakota went 21 straight games without a regulation loss before being swept at Colorado College on Feb. 16 and 17.

Cohen's take: North Dakota entered this season with its sights set on the Frozen Four, and other than its games against Colorado College, the Fighting Hawks have looked the part. Jackson Blake leads the way with 47 points in 32 games and can overwhelm any team with his lightning speed, but the heaviness NoDak defends with is what should propel the Hawks to St. Paul.


Record: 24-8-2, 15-6-1 Big Ten

Numbers to know: Senior Kyle McClellan is second in the country with a 1.90 goals-against average, first with a .932 save percentage and has an NCAA-high seven shutouts. Wisconsin's penalty kill is second in the country (.889).

Cohen's take: What a difference Mike Hastings has made in his first year at Wisconsin. After a major shakeup this offseason, the Badgers have been one of the more consistent teams all season. They've slipped a little in February, but expect Hastings' heavy defensive-minded hockey to kick in as they push for the playoffs. I'm not sure this is their year to lift the big trophy, but they are going to play hard and with a lot of structure.

Michigan State

Record: 21-8-3, 15-5-2 Big Ten

Numbers to know: The Spartans, who are seeking their first Big Ten title since the league was formed in 2013, are 7-1-1 away from their home rink since the holiday break.

Cohen's take: It's great to see the Spartans back in contention at the national level. They have been consistent all season, losing a back-to-back series only once (at BC), and are on their way to a Big Ten regular-season title. To me, they are a bit of a wild card in terms of how far they will go in the NCAAs -- we could see them in St. Paul or it could be one and done -- but when you have defenders like Artyom Levshunov and goaltending like Trey Augustine, the sky's the limit.


Record: 21-8-3, 12-6-2 NCHC

Numbers to know: With a balanced attack that features 12 players with at least seven goals, Denver is the highest scoring team in the country with a whopping 4.88 goals per game. However, the Pioneers are 39th in scoring defense (3.09).

Cohen's take: Never sleep on a David Carle-coached team because he knows how to get the most out of his group come tournament time. This roster is full of talent -- Jack Devine, Massimo Rizzo, Shai and Zeev Buium -- the list goes on and on for one of the deeper teams in the field. The Pios have a hard road ahead as they sit third in the NCHC, but I expect them to play better down the stretch.


Record: 23-7-2, 16-3-1 ECAC

Numbers to know: The defending national champs lead the country in scoring margin, checking in third in scoring defense (1.94) and fourth in scoring offense (4.16). Junior Collin Graf, a star in last year's title run, leads the attack with 19 goals and 24 assists.

Cohen's take: It's another dominant season for the Bobcats. They won't surprise me anymore: This program brings it year in and year out. They have some big-time players in Graf, Jacob Quillan and Sam Lipkin, who all know how to win. Rand Pecknold and his staff adjusted on the fly last year in the national championship game -- a 3-2 win over Minnesota -- and they deserve a ton of credit. I see Quinnipiac as the team outside the top five that is most likely to make it to St. Paul.


Record: 19-8-5, 12-6-4 Big Ten

Numbers to know: Jimmy Snuggerud, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2022, is back after Minnesota's Frozen Four run last season. He leads the Gophers (and is in the top 10 nationally) with 19 goals.

Cohen's take: Losing the likes of Brock Faber and Matthew Knies is not easy, but the Gophers constantly reload with talent. Oliver Moore and Sam Rinzel have gotten better and better, showing why they were first-round NHL draft picks, and are surrounded by guys who have "been there, done that" in the NCAA tournament. I think Minnesota ends up a No. 2 or No. 3 seed and will be a tough out for anyone, but it can't look past the big weekend finale series against Michigan, which is fighting for its life.


Record: 19-9-2, 11-8-1 Hockey East

Numbers to know: Maine has been in the top 10 for 14 straight weeks, a first for the program since the 2006-07 season. The Black Bears have been, well, bears at home, going 10-2-2 at Alfond Arena; they are 7-7 on the road.

Cohen's take: No team has had a bigger turnaround this season than the Black Bears. They have been a top team in the rankings all season, slipping only during their current three-game slide. Brothers Josh and Bradly Nadeau carry the offensive load, but I'm not sure the Black Bears are deep enough for this to be their year. Big props to coach Ben Barr for breathing life back into Maine; I expect to see the Bears in the NCAA tournament field for years to come.

In the field -- for now


Record: 17-10-3, 10-7-3 Hockey East

Key games: March 7 vs. BU; March 8 vs. Northeastern

Numbers to know: The Friars have taken 339 more shots than their opponents (1,020-681); only Quinnipiac (+374) has a greater margin among teams projected to make the NCAA field.

Cohen's take: Another solid season for Providence, which always seems to have a heavy identity that comes from its forecheck. The Friars aren't exactly dynamic offensively, but they score by committee and are always responsible away from the puck. February hasn't been great to them, but they have a rubber match with BU ahead, providing a great opportunity to climb the PairWise rankings.

St. Cloud State

Record: 15-10-5, 11-5-4 NCHC

Key games: March 1 and 2 vs. Denver

Numbers to know: The Huskies are well positioned with two big home games against Denver on tap after compiling a 7-2-2 record on the road since November.

Cohen's take: St. Cloud State is an older team, with some Frozen Four experience from Zach Okabe and Veeti Miettinen. After a split with Western Michigan, if the Huskies play well against Denver, they'll roll into NCHC playoffs feeling like they can beat anyone.

Western Michigan

Record: 18-11-1, 9-11 NCHC

Key games: March 1 and 2 at North Dakota

Numbers to know: Junior Dylan Wendt (0.70) and senior Sam Colangelo (0.63) give Western Michigan a pair of players in the top 10 nationally in goals per game.

Cohen's take: The past few weeks Western hasn't had the results it would want, losing seven of its past 12 games, but three of those losses came in overtime. The Broncos are getting career years from Wendt and Luke Grainger, and some of their transfers, such as Colangelo and Ethan Phillips, have made great impacts. They just split a pair with St. Cloud State and face North Dakota this weekend.


Record: 17-10-3, 10-8-2 Hockey East

Key games: March 8 and 9 at Maine

Numbers to know: The Minutemen have a lot of high-pressure experience, with 17 one-goal games. They are 10-4-3 in those contests.

Cohen's take: I don't think UMass' ranking is an indication of the way Greg Carvel's team has played. Defenseman Scott Morrow is a special talent and his ability to dominate in all three zones is as good as it gets. The Minutemen play with good structure and when they manage the puck, they can play with anyone. This is a team I would hate to play in Round 1 of the tournament.


Record: 17-12-3, 10-10-1 Big Ten

Key games: March 1 and 2 at Minnesota

Numbers to know: The Wolverines have the best power play in the country, converting on 35% of their chances, as part of the third-best scoring offense (4.28 goals per game).

Cohen's take: It's been an inconsistent season for Michigan, which is loaded with talent. Rutger McGroarty is one of my favorite players in college hockey; when he goes, so do the Wolverines. They have six players who average more than a point a game, so goals will never be an issue, but Michigan needs to tighten things up defensively ahead of the Minnesota series and the Big Ten tournament.

One-bid league champions

Atlantic champion

The winner of the Atlantic Hockey tournament will get an automatic berth, with RIT getting the nod for now as the league's highest ranked team (No. 22 in PairWise). Holy Cross (No. 25) is not far behind, with Sacred Heart sitting third in the league standings.

CCHA champion

Another automatic qualifier slot will go to the CCHA tournament champion. Minnesota State (No. 30) is the highest-ranked CCHA team in PairWise, while Bemidji State sits atop the league standings. Those teams square off in the final weekend of the regular season March 1 and 2.

On the bubble

Over the weekend, Colorado College and Cornell fell out of the field, being replaced by UMass and Michigan. While Cornell's remaining schedule will limit its chances to move up the at-large ladder, CC still has two regular-season games against Denver to boost its résumé. Similarly, New Hampshire has a pair of games against No. 1 BC to gain some PairWise capital.

Of course, any of these teams could spare themselves some drama on selection day by winning their league's automatic bid. Conversely, the bubble would shrink if an upset winner emerges from the conference tournaments as a bid stealer.

Colorado College

Record: 18-10-2, 12-7-1 NCHC

Key games: March 8 vs. Denver; March 9 at Denver

Cohen's take: After a 5-1 run against projected tournament teams (NoDak, Western Michigan and St. Cloud State), the Tigers stubbed their toe with two losses against Omaha (one via shootout) to slip out of the projected field. Still, Kris Mayotte and his team is one of the best turnaround stories this season. Sophomore Noah Laba leads the way with 16 goals, seven of which were game-winners, and the Tigers have gotten strong goaltending from sophomore Kaidan Mbereko. CC is looking for its first tournament berth since 2011.


Record: 16-5-6, 11-5-4 ECAC

Cohen's take: The Big Red haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 2, but suffered an OT loss to Clarkson and a shootout loss to St. Lawrence this past weekend to fall out of the field. In a win over BU earlier in the season at Madison Square Garden, Cornell locked things down defensively and really made life in the neutral zone difficult for the high flying Terriers offense. Senior forward Gabriel Seger leads the way offensively with 34 points in 27 games and a plus-18 rating.

New Hampshire

Record: 17-12-1, 10-9-1 Hockey East

Key games: March 1 vs. Boston College, March 3 at Boston College

Cohen's take: The Wildcats salvaged two points out of a weekend series with UMass with some late heroics Saturday, but will need to make some noise against top-ranked BC to leapfrog their way into the field.