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 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. While conference re-alignment has created major changes for many conferences in the NCAA, ECAC Hockey will remain unscathed.
The ECAC might be the most competitive conference in the nation as there are five or six legit contenders to take down the title. The conference continues to produce great teams and great players and has made a name for itself nationally in recent years. ECAC teams can legitimately challenge teams from any of the current big three power conferences.
Union Dutchmen: Union made it to the NCAA Frozen Four last year, losing to Ferris State in the National Semi-final. It was a remarkable performance for the squad, as Union is a small school of only 2200 students and they don’t even offer any athletic scholarships in building their program. That said, Union looks good on paper again and is back looking for more this season. It won’t be easy after the team lost Jeremy Welsh to the pro game and a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Kelly Zajac to graduation. However the team does return Troy Grosenick the star goalie who was outstanding for the club all season long as a sophomore. Now a junior, Grosenick, will be the backbone of the club, and should provide them with the best goaltending in the ECAC. The team will look to Daniel Carr, Kyle Bodie, and Matt Carr to lead the offence. While Shayne Gostisbehere and Mat Bodie lead a veteran group of defencemen. Senators draft pick Timothy Boyle is the big recruit and should add to the teams defensive depth. It all starts in the defensive end of the ice for the Dutchmen, and they will again look to suffocate their opponents and grind out wins.
Harvard Crimson: Last season was the story of as Danny Biega goes, so went the Harvard Crimson. Biega is one of the best defencemen in the NCAA, and there may not have been a player more valuable to his team in all of college hockey. The defensive leader plays 30 minutes (plus) per game, in all situations, and generally does it all for Harvard. This season Biega returns, and should provide the same exceptional play, but the surrounding cast is greatly improved. Besides Biega, the team returns most of their defence core, and the experienced group should provide plenty of support this season. Raphael Girard returns in goal and he is a solid goalie who is greatly aided by all the defensive talent in front of him. Up front, the team is bolstered by the return of Colin Morrison’s return from injury and the best recruiting class in the conference including Lightning second round pick Brian Hart, and EJHL Superstar Jimmy Vesey who had 91 points in 45 games last year. The Crimson are a legit threat to Union in the conference, and could even do damage on the national stage.
Cornell Big Red: Cornell finished 2nd in the conference last year and earned an invitation to the NCAA tournament, the 20th appearance in the program’s illustrious history. Brian Ferlin, John Esposito, Dustin Mowrey and Greg Miller are all back to lead the high powered Big Red attack. Incoming Finnish forward Teemu Tiitinen, and 6’6″ forward Christian Hilbrich are recruits who played USHL hockey last year. While Penguins prospect Nick D’Agostino is back to lead an experienced crew on defence. However, if Cornell are going to improve on last year’s 2nd place finish, they must get better goaltending from Alex Iles, who is capable of playing well, but just didn’t show consistency.
Quinnipac Bobcats: The Bobcats finished fifth in the conference last season, but look to take a big step forward this year. The team returns most of last year’s squad, and with top line Matthew Peca, and twins Connor and Kellen Jones, the squad’s offense is in good hands. All three were point-per-game players last season. With Jeremy Langlois on the second line, the team certainly has the ability to score goals. Senior Goaltender Eric Hartzell and his backup sophomore Michael Garteig, also return, ensuring the goaltending will be solid. On the blueline, the Bobcats have a wealth of experience with three returning seniors in Loren Barron, Zack Currie and Mike Dalhuisen, along with junior Zach Tolkinen all back this year. Another all-around team that can challenge in this very competitive conference.
Top Players to Watch
Danny Biega, Defence, Harvard Crimson: As mentionned above Danny Biega is among the best defencemen in the NCAA. The junior defenceman, and Carolina Hurricanes prospect, put up 35 points in 34 games for the Crimson last year. He provided more than just offence and powerplay time though, Biega did it all. He played big minutes against other team’s top lines, was a key penalty killer, and generally played close to 30 minutes a night and over that amount in the playoffs. Biega is an outstanding skate who has very good speed, acceleration, agility, and edgework. His pivots and transitions are excellent and aid him to transition from defence to offence and vice-versa extremely quickly. As a result he almost never gets caught flat footed. Despite being listed at just 6’0″, Biega plays a physical game, as he is not afraid to take the buddy off the rush, or to battle in corners and in front of the net. Offensively Biega has outstanding vision and great passing ability. He is the quarterback of the Crimson powerplay and does so extremely effectively. Biega is a Hobey Baker award contender, and will go pro shortly after his senior season is done.
Brian Hart, Forward, Harvard Crimson: Brian Hart played hockey and soccer at Exeter High School and was offered division one scholarships in both sports. He decided to focus on his hockey career and was drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hart is said to play a power forward style game and drive the net hard. He is a goal scorer who is willing to get down and dirty, and go through defenders if necessary to put the puck in the back of the net. He is also said to have an excellent wrist shot and released. It will be intriguing to see where his game goes this year.
Matt Beattie, Forward, Yale Bulldogs: Beattie was Brian Hart’s teammate at Exeter Academy and actually outscored him last season. He did enough to get the scouts to notice him as well and became a 7th round pick of the Vancouver Canucks. Beattie’s best attributes are said to be his outstanding skating, and soft, smooth hands. It is also said that he could stand to work on his shot, and his physical game. He should be a valuable weapon for Yale in the coming years, and a rivalry with former linemate Hart could be a nice side storyline in the always intriguing Yale/Harvard matchups.
Kenny Agostino, Right Wing, Yale Bulldogs: A 2010 pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Agostino had 14 goals and 34 points in 33 games last year as a sophomore for the Bulldogs. He plays a very straightforward and gritty game, working hard in the corners and in front of the net. Agostino is a quick and powerful skater who gets in hard on the forecheck and is difficult to knock off the puck. He’s not the slickest with the puck on his stick and he doesn’t dangle around defensemen very often, but Agostino’s power game generates offence and goals for the Bulldogs. In fact he plays for the right team as comparing him to a bulldog is probably apt. His hard work on the boards also helps him in the defensive zone and Agostino’s responsible two way game will be relied upon by Yale as they look to challenge the big four in the conference and gain the first round bye that comes with finishing in the top 4 in the ECAC standings.
Ryan Jacobson, Right Wing/Centre, Brown Bears: As a freshman, Jacobson scored 12 goals and 21 points in 32 games for the Brown Bears. Jacobson was a streaky scorer last season and looks to be more consistent as he grows into a bigger role for Brown this year. Jacobson has good speed and is most dangerous off the rush as he loves to go wide on a defenceman and then take the puck to the net. He has a decent shot, but could stand to improve his release. He also has a tendency to get tunnel vision at times and must use his linemates better to reach the next level.
Dustin Walsh, Centre, Dartmouth Big Green: Walsh was a 2009 Draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens. Last season Walsh came out of the gate strong and really looked poised for a big season for Dartmouth. He had clearly improved his skating and it had gone from being a weakness in his game to a real strength. With his new fleeter skating he had 10 point in 8 games (after 20 points in 34 games as a sophomore) and looked to becoming one of the most dangerous forwards in the conference. Unfortunately Walsh suffered a leg injury and was lost for the season. He’s got good size and is a smart playmaker with good vision and passing skills. Walsh also has a good wrist shot and good release that he just doesn’t use often enough. Going into his senior season, Walsh will need more of the offensive production he showed as a sophomore and a little bit of improvement in the defensive end of the ice to earn a pro contract with the Habs next year.
Tim Boyle, Defence, Union Dutchmen: The younger brother of Rangers forward Brian Boyle, it was interesting to see Tim get drafted by the Ottawa Senators given the well publicized feud between Brian and the Senators in last year’s NHL playoffs. The younger Boyle is a defenceman who joins Union as a freshman this season. He’s not the giant that his brother is, as Tim Boyle comes in at 6’1 and 180 lbs. He’ll have to spend his time in college adding weight to his frame. He is said to play bigger than his listed height though, a tough and gritty defenceman who knows how to throw his body around on the boards and battle in front of the net. He’s also said to have decent passing skills and the ability to put up some points for the Union powerplay.
Daniel Carr, Left Wing, Union Dutchmen: As a sophomore Carr had 20 goals and 20 assists for 40 points in 41 games playing on the Dutchmen top line. With centre Jeremy Welsh gone, Carr will be asked to lead the Dutchmen offence this season. Carr is a sniper with an excellent wrist shot and one timer. He’s got decent skating, which is aided by his good positioning and hockey sense. Carr finds holes in the defence and sets up where he can unleash his accurate and powerful shot. He also has decent vision and playmaking skill for a winger. He returns to Union after attending the Boston Bruins Development camp this summer, and hopes that the experience will make him an even better player at the college level and earn him a pro contract with the Bruins or another NHL team going forward.
Brian Ferlin, Right Wing, Cornell Big Red: A Boston Bruins 4th round Draft pick in 2011, Ferlin had 21 points in 26 games for Cornell last season. Ferlin has a very strange, choppy skating stride. It certainly isn’t textbook, but it is effective as he generates good speed out there. He also has very good hockey sense and makes the smart play most times out there. He also has a very good shot and takes the puck to the net effectively. Ferlin looks like a natural goal scorer and I expect to see him put more pucks in the net for the Big Red this season as he will be asked to take a bigger role in the offense.
Matthew Peca, Centre, Quinnipac Bobcats: A 7th round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 Draft, Peca had 8 goals 31 assists and 39 points in 39 games as a freshman for the Bobcats last season. Flanked by the Jones twins, Connor and Kellen, the entire line returns this season for the Bobcats. Peca is undersized at 5’9 and 165lbs but he’s definitely got offensive talent. He is an extremely good skater, with very good speed, quick acceleration and the ability to change gears that fools opponents off the rush. He’s well balanced on his skates and is not afraid to battle in corners or in front of the net despite his size. He will however need to add some more muscle to be more effective in playing that type of game. He does have good vision and playmaking skills and will continue to be the pivot man between the twin snipers this season. He’s an important two way player for the Bobcats and is featured on the team’s penalty kill.
Thomas Larkin, Defence, Colgate Red Raiders: Larkin was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 5th round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The young defenceman became the first ever Italian trained hockey player to be drafted in the NHL. Larkin is a defensive anchor for the Red Raiders, using his huge frame (6’5″) and long stick to cut down passing lanes and block shots. He will be expected to lead Colgate’s young squad this year as the team continues a rebuilding effort. One big criticism of Larkin is that he just doesn’t play as physical as you’d hope someone with his size would.
Christian Finch, Forward, Clarkson Golden Knights: Its a rebuilding year for Clarkson after they lost Senior Goalie Paul Karpowich to graduation. Karpowich was among the best goalies in the conference last season and without him the Golden Knights will struggle this year, and are in serious rebuild. One of the fresh faces who the team will build around going forward is Christian Finch, the team’s prize recruit this year. Finch was the CJHL MVP last season scoring 104 points in the OJHL for the Stouffville Spirit. Finch originally started as a defenceman for Stouffville, before transitioning to forward last year and showing his offensive potential. He is said to have excellent skating, puckhandling and playmaking ability and should further develop his game as a forward over his college career.
Andrew Calof, Centre, Princeton Tigers: Calof scored 17 goals and 31 points in 32 games for Princeton last season. Two years ago he was the ECAC rookie of the year as a freshman. I’ve mentionned a number of players who are good skaters, but Calof might be the best of the bunch. He is absolutely lightning quick out there and has outstanding acceleration and edgework. Calof is deadly off the rush as defenders must back off and respect his speed or he is capable of taking them wide and driving to the net. When they do this Calof is fully capable of unleashing an accurate wrist shot or setting up a play for a teammate. His skill set makes him extremely difficult to defend in the transition game. As a junior Calof will again be the go to guy for the Tigers as they continue to build towards being a true contender in the conference.
Nick Bailen, Defence, RPI Engineers: Bailen is the leader of the RPI offence despite the fact he plays defence. Heading into his senior year this year, he is the true quarterback of the RPI attack getting things started with a good first pass, or rushing from his own end of the ice. He has great stickhandling ability and the poise to make plays under pressure and in traffic. On the Powerplay he is a true quarterback for the Engineers as everything flows through his spot on the point. Bailen is undersized at just 5’9″ and as such he’s really going to need a huge year as a senior in order to force NHL teams to give him a second look and offer a pro contract after this season. Otherwise a minor league deal or European hockey may await. However at the NCAA level, his size hasn’t been a hindrance and he’s one of the most productive defencemen in the conference.
Greg Carey, Centre, St. Lawrence Saints: Carey had 15 goals and 37 points in 36 games for the Saints last season. The team will rely on him to continue to put up offence in his junior season as he is one of the biggest threats on a team that is a little weak on paper. Carey is a pure goal scorer blessed with one of the best wrist shots in the conference and a great release. He really could put up even better offensive numbers if he had a setup man to play with and a bit better supporting cast. He is absolutely lethal when he gets the opportunity and seeing his shot, its easy to see how Carey put up 72 goals in 48 games to set the OJHL record in his last season with the Burlington Cougars. Greg may find that playmaker this season though, as his brother Matt joins the St. Lawrence roster. It will be interesting to see how the brother act will work for the Saints going forward.
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