Nathan Smith was named Second Team All-WCHA last spring, a year after being named the WCHA's Rookie of the Year.

Smith was all but impossible to stop down the stretch last spring as he helped the Minnesota State University men's hockey team win the WCHA regular season championship, then win an NCAA tournament game and reach the Frozen Four for the first time in program history.

Smith's dynamic play down the stretch of a historic 2020-21 season for MSU has stuck in the head of coaches in the Mavericks' new league, the rebooted Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Smith was named the CCHA's Preseason Player of the Year on Monday.

The 6-foot, 185-pound 22-year-old forward enters his junior season after putting up nine goals and 16 assists in 28 games as a sophomore. A 2018 third-round NHL Draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets (No. 91 overall), Smith had a strong regular season last year, then took his game to another level in the NCAA tournament. He recorded four goals in three games in the national tournament, including two in the national semifinals loss to St. Cloud State.

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He was named to the All-WCHA Second Team and the NCAA championship All-Tournament Team.

"He had a fantastic summer in the weight room," MSU coach Mike Hastings told The Rink Live last month. "That’s never been a weakness for him, but he’s shown up in terms of great shape. He’s coming off a very good finish to last season. His expectation of his own success is at an all-time high. He’s put in the work and I think he can be be even better."

Prior to arriving at Minnesota State, Smith accumulated 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists) in 110 with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the United States Hockey League. The Hudson, Fla., native played high school hockey in Florida for Mitchell, where he amassed 86 points in just 15 games. He played his youth hockey in Florida with the Tampa Scorpions.

The Preseason Player of the Year nod is one of two awards Smith earned on Monday.

He is one of four Mavericks to be named to the CCHA Preseason All-Conference Team.

Joining him are goalie Dryden McKay, forward Julian Napravnik and defenseman Akito Hirose.

McKay was a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist and a Mike Richter Award finalist last season, among a lengthy list of honors the Minnesota State University men's hockey goalie received in the 2020-21 season.

Napravnik was the WCHA's Offensive Player of the Year.

Hirose made a splash as a freshman defenseman last season, averaging more than a half-point per game en route to being named the WCHA Rookie of the Year.

Those four are also a big reason why coaches in the conference picked the Mavericks to win the CCHA regular season title this season.

MSU received five of the eight first-place votes in the coaches poll. Bemidji State, picked to finish second, received one first-place vote and Michigan Tech, picked to finish third, received the other two first-place votes. Northern Michigan was picked to finish fourth in the eight-team conference, followed by Bowling Green, Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Division I newcomer St. Thomas.

Mavericks players earned four of the six spots on the preseason all-conference team, which is voted on by the head coaches of the eight teams in the league.

Northern Michigan senior forward Joseph Nardi and Michigan Tech defenseman Colin Swoyer earned the other two spots on the preseason all-conference team.

Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay makes a save during a game against Bowling Green on Feb. 5, 2021, at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay makes a save during a game against Bowling Green on Feb. 5, 2021, at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato. Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

McKay, a senior, was a unanimous selection as the CCHA preseason Goaltender of the Year. The Downers Grove, Ill., native had one of the best seasons in program history last year, when he posted a 21-4-0 record, a 1.54 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and 10 shutouts.

He was the WCHA Goaltender of the Year, the WCHA Player of the Year, as well as a finalist for the Richter Award (given to the top goalie in college hockey) and the Hobey (given to the top player in college hockey).

Minnesota State men's hockey forward Julian Napravnik (15) was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Year in 2020-21. He is one of four Mavericks named to the Preseason All-CCHA Team this year.
The Rink Live file photo / Pat Christman
Minnesota State men's hockey forward Julian Napravnik (15) was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Year in 2020-21. He is one of four Mavericks named to the Preseason All-CCHA Team this year. The Rink Live file photo / Pat Christman

Napravnik and Smith both earned six of a possible seven votes to earn two of the three forward positions on the Preseason All-CCHA Team.

Napravnik, a senior and a native of Bad Nauheim, Germany, was fifth in the WCHA in scoring last season. He recorded 10 goals and 28 total points in 27 games. He led the league in game-winning goals (six) and had the third-most power-play goals (five). He was a First Team All-WCHA forward last spring, in addition to being name the league's Forward of the Year.

MSU-Mankato freshman defenseman Akito Hirose
MSU-Mankato freshman defenseman Akito Hirose

Hirose received seven votes to earn one of the two defense positions on the All-CCHA preseason team. The sophomore from Calgary had a goal and 14 assists in 28 games as a freshman. He was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year and he led MSU in plus/minus rating with a plus-18 mark.

Swankler named Preseason ROY

Bowling Green freshman forward Austen Swankler was named the CCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year. The 20-year-old had 45 points in 59 games for the Erie Otters of the OHL. The 6-foot, 185-pound center also spent time in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede, where he had 11 goals and 36 points in 44 games, helping the Stampede win the Clark Cup in 2019.