Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. Previously I reviewed the prospects of all thirty NHL teams, and previewed the CHL season. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
Over this past weekend many NCAA teams started their pre-conference schedules with various exhibition games against Canadian Universities, pre-season tournaments, or in other showcase games against teams from other NCAA conferences. With that in mind we turn our attention to previewing the NCAA season, and looking at conference play.
Today I move on to the Hockey East Conference. While conference re-alignment has created major changes for many conferences in the NCAA, Hockey East will only see minor changes after this season, as Notre Dame joins the group in 2013-14.
However that is a year away, and lets look at Hockey East today. The conference features last year’s national champion, and must be seen as a threat to produce another National Champion this year. Hockey East is filled with potential NHL talent, and we should be in for a treat with plenty of competitive games this season.
Boston College Eagles: The Eagles were a dominant team last year, winning the Hockey East regular season title, the Conference tournament, and the National Championship. The Eagles have won 3 of the last 5 National Titles and are looking to win their first repeat title this year. While the team suffered big losses in forwards Chris Kreider, Paul Carey, and Barry Almeida along with defencemen Brian Dumoulin and Tommy Cross; they are still very talented and are the best bet to win the conference. The Eagles feature a top notch goaltender in Parker Milner. He’s been through the pressure situations and come up big, and given that experience we should expect no different in 2012-13. In Milner the Eagles have the type of goaltending that can match any other true contender in the NCAA. Up front the Eagles will look to sophomore John Gaudreau to take over as the team’s primary threat. The undersized winger was phenomenal as a freshman, and should be more than capable of leading the offence. He will get support from returning forwards Pat Mullane and Bill Arnold, and incoming freshmen Peter McMullen. On defence the loss of Dumoulin is huge. However the team does have Patrick Wey, Patch Alber, and Isaac MacLeod as the only 3 returning players on the blueline and they will be given huge minutes this season. The incoming Freshman class on defence is talented with Florida Panthers first round pick Michael Matheson, and Montreal Canadiens prospect Colin Sullivan, leading the way.
Maine Blackbears: The Blackbears had the best first line in the NCAA last year, but suffered big losses with Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn moving on to pro hockey. Leading goal scorer Joey Diamond is back and will be expected to lead the offence. Bigger offensive contributions will be asked of Kyle Beattie, and Adam Shemansky this season while star recruit Devin Shore will also be asked to make big contributions as a freshman. On defence Nick Pryor returns and will be asked to take over the role of number one defencemean. One area where Maine remains strong is in goal where Dan Sullivan returns. His calming presence should help the team early in the season while the lineup gels around him. Even with all the losses, Tim Whitehead has done too good a job rebuilding Maine over the last two years to overlook his squad.
Boston University Terriers: Last year was an unmitigated disaster for Boston University, there is just no other words for it. Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro were arrested and dismissed from the program; Charlie Coyle defected to the QMJHL at midseason, and a task force was put together to investigate the hockey program. The findings were very concerning and a major embarrassment for the university and coach Jack Parker faces a long road to restore the program’s and his own off-ice reputations. That said the on-ice product is still strong and he may be able to put together a contending team again this year. Upfront the team is lead by Matt Nieto who returns for another season with the Terriers. Meanwhile Garrett Noonan will lead the defence. These veterans along with Sahir Gill, Wade Megan, and Alex Privitera will be asked to provide leadership for a talented freshman class that includes four recent NHL Draftees. The Terriers biggest issue is in goal where freshman and Penguins draftee Sean Maguire is the expected starter. Does he have what it takes to backstop the club to success in his first season in the NCAA?
Players to Watch:
John Gaudreau, Left Wing, Boston College Eagles: Listed at just 5’6″ and 150 lbs, it is easy to see why Gaudreau fell to the 4th round of the 2011 NHL draft despite good stats for Dubuque in the USHL. Gaudreau joined the Eagles as a freshman last season, and was an integral part of the team that would win the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. His 21 goals and 44 points in 44 games including a number of clutch performances, including production throughout both the conference and NCAA tournaments. He even scored in the NCAA Championship Game. What Gaudreau lacks in size he makes up for in skill and heart. He is an explosive skater who leaves opponents in his dust, and is able to cut wide on defenders and take the puck to the net. He also has very good hands, and a wide variety of moves that enable him to beat defenders one on one. Gaudreau has excellent puck control and good vision. He is a creative player who is willing to try plays that many other players never would, and has found these moves work against NCAA competition. Gaudreau has shown no fear challenging opponents in the corners and the front of the net. He has high level hockey IQ and is often able to find the soft spot in a defence and get open to unleash his accurate one timer. Expect Gaudreau to continue to impress this season and lead the Eagles in scoring. He has a legitimate chance to take a run at Conference MVP and at the Hobey Baker Trophy.
Mike Matheson, Defence, Boston College Eagles: With only three returning defencemen on the Eagles blueline, Matheson will be given big responsibility and big minutes right out of the gate as a freshman in the NCAA. The first round draft pick of the Florida Panthers should be up to the challenge. Matheson is an excellent skater with a smooth, powerful stride. His sublime skating helps him in all aspects of his game, but his primary skill is as a defensive defenceman. He has excellent instincts, and plays a solid positional game. Matheson angles attackers to the outside and forces them into non-dangerous areas of the ice. He keeps the front of the net clear, and is quick to pounce on loose pucks. Matheson is willing shot blocker and understands how to cut down passing lanes. He is also very good at winning puck battles, and while he isn’t regularly a big hitter, he understands how to pin an opponent on the boards and take him out of the play. The offensive game is a work in progress and something he will hope to develop at Boston College. Matheson’s slapshot has decent velocity, but more importantly he keeps his shots low and accurate. Matheson makes a great first pass in the defensive zone which greatly helps the transition game. He has also shown a willingness to pick his spots and join the rush at key times.
Joey Diamond, Left Wing, Maine Blackbears: With high scoring linemates Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn gone, Diamond must take the lead for the Blackbears offence this year. The sniper led the team with 25 goals last season, but goals will be tougher to come by this year without his talented set up men. At just 5’7″ tall Diamond is undersized, but that doesn’t stop the winger from going hard to the net where he scores a lot of his goals. He is a tenacious and hardworking forward with a non stop motor and a knacck for finding himself in the middle of the action. Diamond is also a very good shooter who has an excellent wrist shot and release.
Devin Shore, Centre, Maine Blackbears: Shore is an incoming freshman who played Junior A hockey in Ontario last season. He was a 2nd round pick of the Dallas Stars. An intriguing forward, he’ll be a freshman to watch at Maine as the Blackbears attempt to replace all the scoring they lost last season. Shore is said to be a talented playmaking centre, who plays a strong two way game. He is also said to have an excellent shot and release, and is equally capable scoring goals. It would appear that Shore’s biggest attributes are his intelligence and hockey sense. Given his skills he could find himself playing with Joey Diamond as the new playmaking centre for the sniping winger.
Kyle Bigos, Defence, Merrimack Warriors: Bigos is a huge defenceman who plays with a mean streak for the Merrimack Warriors. Last season Bigos found a bit of an offensive game putting up 17 points in 34 games as a junior for Merrimack, but its unclear if he can reapeat those kind of numbers. Bigos’ strengths are in the defensive end of the ice where he is a feared hitter, and is not afraid to mix things up in the corners or in the front of the net. As a senior Bigos will be one of the leaders of the Merrimack team, and looks to put in one more year of solid college hockey to convince the Oilers brass that their draft pick is worthy of an NHL contract come the end of the season. He will need to improve his skating if he wants to succeed at the next level.
Matt Nieto, Right Wing, Boston University Terriers: Nieto scored 16 goals and 42 points in 37 games for the Terriers last season. Nieto is a great skater who creates offence with his speed. His excellent acceleration, ability to change gears, crisp edgework and cuts, and great top end speed make him extremely difficult to defend off the rush. Defenders must back off and respect his speed, because if they don’t he can blow by them on the outside and cut hard to the net. If they do back off, Nieto is given the room to be creative and use his strong stickhandling, vision, and passing ability to set up teammates. He also has a very good, very quick release on his wrist shot which makes him a dangerous shooter off the wing. However he needs to add velocity to the shot before he can be considered a sniper. Nieto is willing to work on the boards and in front of the net, but quite simply is not strong enough at this point. Defensively Nieto also shows strong skills. He is relentless in pressuring the puck carrier, causing many opponents to panic and cough up the puck. Nieto also has very good positioning, great anticipation, and quick feet which help him to create a lot of turnovers in the defensive end. Since his skating is so good and the transition game so quick, causing turnovers in the defensive zone has become a way that Nieto is able to create offence with his strong defensive play. During his next season with BU, Nieto should focus on bulking up and preparing for the pro game. With Alex Chiasson graduated, Corey Trivino out of the program, and Charlie Coyle nothing more than a memory for the Terriers, Nieto will be asked to lead the BU attack this year.
Mark Jankowski, Centre, Providence Friars: Mark Jankowski comes from excellent bloodlines. He is the nephew of Ryan Jankowski, a current scout for the Montreal Canadiens, and the former head scout for the New York Islanders. His grandfather was Lou Jankowski who enjoyed an 18 year pro career including NHL stops in Detroit and Chicago. His great uncle is Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly. The incoming freshman was also the First Roundpick of the Calgary Flames. Of all the incoming freshman in the NCAA this year, Jankowski is the one I’m most excited to see, as I didn’t get to see him play in his draft year. He is said to be a very good skater, with excellent vision and playmaking abilities. Janakowski has great size, and is said to be adept at handling the puck with his huge wingspan. He is also said to have a good wrist shot that helps him to score goals.
Mike Pereira, Left Wing, University of Massachusetts Minutemen: Pereira returns to UMass for his junior season after a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him score 17 goals and 34 points in 35 games for the Minuteman. Pereira is undersized, but he is an absolute speedster off the wing, playing each game like it is a track meet. He has great hands and is capable of controlling the puck and making slick plays at top speed. Equally adept as a scorer or a playmaker, Pereira has great vision and hockey sense. He reads the play exceptionally well, and almost always makes smart decisions. His wrist shot is accurate and has good velocity, and a good release. Pereira should lead the Minutemen in scoring this season, and will be looking to get the scouts attention to earn a pro contract going forward.
Chris Rawlings, Goalie, Northeastern Huskies: Many are surprised to see Rawlings back at Northeastern as the goalie had many offers from NHL teams to take a two-way contract and go pro this summer. At 6’5″ tall, Rawlings is part of the new breed of goalies who play a solid positional game, and use their great size to take away much of the net from shooters. He plays his angles extremely well which only serves to further minimize the size of the openings the shooters have to look at when they come in on Rawlings. Rawlings is a hybrid style goalie who shows great ability to go from side to side and is exceptionally quick in the net. He could use some work on his rebound control going forward, and will try to work on that this year. Expect that Rawlings will again be among the top goalies in the NCAA and will keep the young Huskies team in games against more talented opposition by keeping the opponent at bay. Rawlings should again have a number of ELC offers waiting for him at the end of this, his senior season.
Kevin Roy, Left Wing, Northeastern Huskies: Roy is an incoming freshman who absolutely destroyed the USHL last season, putting up one of the best offensive seasons in recent league history. The Ducks draft pick is an undersized winger. However he has tremendous puck skills, and hockey sense. He has a great shot and release which fools goalies and the puck is in the pack of the net before you know it. At age 13 Roy was a youtube sensation due to his talented puck handling and great shootout moves. Now all grown up the talented Roy continues to be an offensive force and hopes to bring that offence to Northeastern where he will be a key piece of the Huskies offence, this year and going forward.
Doug Carr, Goaltender, Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks: As a sophomore Doug Carr had a 2.13 GAA and 0.928 save percentage for the River Hawks. Can he be even better this year as a junior? Another big goalie (6’2″) who takes up a lot of net and cuts down angles well. Carr has very quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net well. He’s also got very good puck tracking skills and lateral movement. The River Hawks are looking to build on last year’s regular season success, and in order to do that Carr will need to come up with another stellar season.
Nick Sorkin, Left Wing, New Hampshire Wildcats: Sorkin had 35 points in 37 games as a sophomore for the Wildcats last season, and will be looked upon to again lead the offence this year. Much more of a playmaker than a scorer, Sorkin’s has great vision and the ability to thread the puck through tight spaces. His shot is decent enough but his release needs work if he wants to score more than the 9 goals he put up last season. Still the strength of his game is setting up teammates, and his good hands and puck protection abilities help him to do this.
Connor Brickley, Left Wing, Vermont Catamounts: Brickley was a 2nd round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He had a good first season, and looked to be breaking out as a sophomore before a calf injury at the World Juniors really derailed his year. He came back and just didn’t seem to be the same player as before getting hurt. Now fully healthy, Brickley looks to break out this season, and Vermont could certainly use a big offensive performance from him, as goals may be hard to come by for the Catamounts. Brickley is already a good defensive forward, who understands his assignments and is used to check top lines, but the Catamounts and the Panthers want a little more offence from him. He needs to get a little stronger to win more board battles and be more of a force in front of the opponents net.
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