NCAA men's Frozen Four: How each team wins, X factors, NHL prospects to watch

Can Filip Larsson help Denver win the NCAA men's hockey national championship for the second time in three years? Sam Wasson/Getty Images

A strong cast of teams has descended on Buffalo for the 2019 NCAA men's Frozen Four, including three of the past four national champions. Twenty-four NHL draft picks dot the four teams' rosters, none bigger than UMass sophomore defenseman Cale Makar, ESPN's No. 1 NHL-affiliated prospect.

The Frozen Four almost never disappoints when it comes to providing drama and men's college hockey at its very best, and this year should be no different. It all kicks off on Thursday night, with Minnesota Duluth meeting Providence (5 p.m. ET), followed by Denver-UMass at 8:30 p.m. The championship will be Saturday at 8 p.m. All three games will be on ESPN2.

Here's a look at all four teams and some of the key NHL prospects to know heading into the Frozen Four.

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Minnesota Duluth | Providence | Denver | UMass

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

The defending national champion is back for a third-straight Frozen Four and comes into Buffalo riding a six-game winning streak during which the Bulldogs have allowed more than one goal in a game just once. Minnesota Duluth has been particularly stingy this postseason thanks to some sensational play down the stretch from junior goalie Hunter Shepard.

How they got here: UMD bested Bowling Green, 2-1, in overtime in the opener before knocking off Quinnipiac 3-1 in the Midwest Regional championship. The Bulldogs went 25-11-2 during the regular season and won the NCHC championship in double overtime over St. Cloud State.

Why they will win: In a year when defensemen dominated college hockey, the Bulldogs might have the best blue-line depth in the country. This D corps has every variety of defenseman you could ask for, from dynamic puck-mover Scott Perunovich, to the more traditional shutdown style of Nick Wolff, to heady two-way defenders Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg. Coach Scott Sandelin doesn't have to overplay his top defensemen because they're all pretty effective.