Here is my WCHA preseason ranking. Notes and reasons why I picked a team where I did are provided.
1. Denver University Pioneers
Denver was the near consensus preseason #1 pick by both the coaches and the media, and I see no reason to disagree. Denver returns one of the best young goalies in the conference in Marc Cheverie, as well as a solid scoring core of Rhett Rakhshani, Anthony Maiani and Tyler Ruegsegger. Denver also boasts stellar defensemen like Luke Salazar and Patrick Wiercioch. Yes, Denver lost Tyler Bozak in the middle of the season last year, but, barring any mid-campaign defections this year, look for Denver to be hoisting the MacNaughton at the end of the season.
2. University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
This might be a homer pick. The coaches and media picked the U to finish 4th in the WCHA this season, but I think that's too low. The Gophers lost Ryan Stoa, the team's leading scorer, but they didn't lose much else. They'll be returning what is a very experienced team with 12 upperclassmen returning. If Alex Kangas plays with the confidence he found in his freshman season, expect to see the Gophers in contention for the WCHA title come March.
3. University of Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers return a vaunted defensive corps this year, and many think they have a squad that will contend for the WCHA title. I'm still not sold on whomever the Badgers decide to play at goaltender, but if he's solid between the pipes the Badgers should be a lock for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
4. St. Cloud State University Huskies
The Huskies return key players Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe, two big-name players who can bulge the twine. The question mark is at goalie, where newcomer Mike Lee from Roseau will battle old hand Dan Dunn for the starting spot. I expect St. Cloud to find a servicable enough goaltending situation to sputter into fourth place at the end of the regular season
5. University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux
The Sioux always find a way to get it done, and, while I think they'll finish in a fairly poor (for their standards) fifth place this year, they never seem to have an "off" year. The key to the Sioux' success this year will be the play of the team's underclassmen - a full 10 freshmen and 7 sophomores. Experienced this team is not. However, Dave Hakstol always seems to get his boys to play come crunch time, so look for the Sioux to be playing in Grand Forks in the first round of the playoffs.