– His fellow Big Ten coaches delivered a reminder to Don Lucia on Wednesday that there's little to doubt about his Minnesota roster. They picked the Gophers to win another conference title — and highlighted five reasons why — at Big Ten hockey media day.

The first reason is Adam Wilcox, the returning Big Ten Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year. The junior was one of five Gophers named to the preseason Player to Watch list. Wilcox, forward Kyle Rau and defenseman Mike Reilly were unanimous selections, and defenseman Brady Skjei and forward Sam Warning were honored as well.

A strong group of returning players changes the preseason tone from a year ago for the Gophers. Instead of entering a season hoping for a postseason berth while a young team matures, the Gophers again will be expected to win into April.

"Last year we caught some people by surprise," Lucia said. "That's not going to happen this year.

"Obviously, we had a great year. A big part of it was probably unexpected with the departures we had the previous season. I said when the year began a year ago, that if we're going to have success, we were going to have to do it as a team.

"And as it turned out, I think our leading goal scorer had 16 goals, and you really didn't know who was going to step up on a given night. I think our constant was Adam Wilcox. He gave us a chance to win, and we had a pretty deep lineup."

Rau, the Gophers captain, doesn't mind the high expectations after a national runner-up finish last spring. He returns for his senior season and was one of four players Lucia praised for giving up a pro contract for another year of college hockey.

"We've always had high expectations for ourselves when we came into the program, and coming from last year I think that's the position you want to be in," Rau said. "[The coaches' prediction] is a good honor, but nothing is won in the preseason."

Juniors Wilcox, Skjei and Reilly also turned down offers to leave early, and sophomore forward Hudson Fasching made an early decision to return after his standout freshman season.

Rau leads a strong senior class that includes big-bodied forward Seth Ambroz and quick defenseman Ben Marshall, the team's alternate captains.

Lucia said he's experimenting with the idea of shaking up last season's top line and pairing up Warning and Travis Boyd if it means better scoring opportunities for the senior forwards.

Nine of the Gophers' top 10 scorers from last season are back; five are seniors.

Another impressive freshman class won't have as many openings to fill, but Lucia expects contributors from that group to include two U.S. National Team products in defensemen Jack Glover and Ryan Collins and two Swedish-born forwards in Leon Bristedt and Robin Hoglund.

Bristedt, however, will be forced to miss the start the season because of an NCAA ruling on his participation with the Linkoping junior hockey team in Sweden. Bristedt, who has first-line skills, is expected to join the Gophers before the end of October.

Wednesday in Detroit, it wasn't only the coaches putting a big target on Minnesota.

"I played with Kyle at the development camp in Florida … and obviously he's a great player," Michigan senior Zach Hyman said. "He's going back, and to have that whole line going back, they probably have the most firepower coming back. They're the team to beat right now."