The Top Recruiting Classes for 2011
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Whether it's the likes of forward Paul Kariya (Maine) in 1993 or goaltender John Muse (Boston College) in 2008, freshman phenoms often play an important role in the drive to a national championship. Just a few months ago, Minnesota-Duluth's then-rookie J.T. Brown scored a goal and two assists in the NCAA Frozen Four, en route to earning the distinction of Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.
Now, as the 2011-12 college hockey season approaches at last, here's our look — in no particular order — at nine of the nation's best incoming freshman classes.
Fresh off a national championship game appearance last April, the Wolverines relied heavily on their now-graduated senior class, which included four of their top five scorers (Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso, Matt Rust, and Scooter Vaughan).
This fall, coach Red Berenson will welcome an incoming class that is highlighted by Zach Hyman, a 2010 fifth-round selection of the Florida Panthers. Hyman previously starred for the Hamilton Red Wings of the CJHL, amassing 214 points in 141 games over three years, and as a straight-A student, had originally committed to Princeton. However, once coach Guy Gadowsky decided to leave the Tigers for the Penn State head coaching position, Hyman — the RBC Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year — decided to head to Ann Arbor instead.
"I like to think I'm a two-way player — to protect your zone in order to attack the opposing team's zone," Hyman told The Michigan Daily. "I really believe in being a defensive player because that's the only way you're going to succeed."
Hyman led all junior players in Canada in 2010-11, with 2.37 points per game.
Other rookies to watch in Ann Arbor include Ontario natives Brennan Serville and Alex Guptill. Serville, a 6-3, 200 pound defenseman, was a second-round NHL draft pick this summer, taken by the Winnipeg Jets with the 78th overall pick. Guptill, meanwhile, is a 2010 draft pick of the Dallas Stars. Guptill tallied 13 goals and 12 assists in 43 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) in 2010-11.
Of note, an already strong class could have been even stronger. For the second straight season (Stars prospect Jack Campbell a year ago), the Wolverines lost an incoming goaltender before the academic year even began. Netminder John Gibson, taken by the Anaheim Ducks with the 39th overall pick in the NHL draft this summer, had previously committed to Michigan but decided over the summer to play in the CHL instead. Shawn Hunwick remains the starting goaltender for Michigan, but Gibson's decision leaves Berenson and the Wolverines scrambling for a backup option.
North Dakota is also coming off a Frozen Four appearance a year ago, and although the Fighting Sioux lost seven strong players to graduation or the pros, half of North Dakota's incoming 10-man incoming class has already been drafted by NHL organizations: defensemen Nick Mattson (Chicago) and forwards Rocco Grimaldi (Florida), Mark MacMillan (Montreal), Brendan O'Donnell (Tampa Bay) and Michael Parks (Philadelphia).
"This is a quality freshman class which will provide character, skill and depth for our team, both up front and on the blue line," said Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol.
Grimaldi — a 5-foot-6 forward from southern California — was the highest draft selection, at No. 33 overall. He spent the past two seasons with the United States National Team Development Program (NTDP), leading the team in points and goals and earning a gold medal at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World U18 Championship in Germany.
Like Michigan, the Fighting Sioux received news of a de-commitment over the summer. J.T. Miller, the 15th overall pick (New York Rangers) was originally headed to North Dakota but decided in July to play for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL instead. At the time, Miller was the highest incoming college player selected in the 2011 draft.
Vermont incoming freshman defenseman Michael Paliotta was selected by Chicago with pick No. 70 in the third round of this summer's NHL draft. Paliotta was part of the gold medal winning team at the IIHF U-18 Tournament in April.
"His experience of playing on the world stage as well as competing against college teams will allow Mike to be an impact player for us from day one," said Catamounts head coach Kevin Sneddon. "We'll need Mike to continue his physical play on a consistent basis while continuing to enhance his ability to make plays."
Also take notice of incoming freshman Kyle Reynolds, who was a league MVP finalist in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Okotoks Oilers in 2010-11. The Alberta native won the Ernie Love Trophy as the AJHL's scoring champion after leading the league in goals (38) and assists (40).
Said Sneddon, "Kyle had a magical season in the AJHL. He proved to be one of the top forwards in Canadian junior hockey, and will be counted on to help produce offense this season. He has great vision, speed, work ethic, and the ability to make big plays when needed most."
The CCHA's top scorers list will look quite a bit different this year now that Carter Camper and Hobey winner Andy Miele aren't around anymore. Nevertheless, the RedHawks boast one of the top incoming classes in the nation.
The buzz in Oxford this fall is centered around a player taken in the first round of this summer's NHL draft: right-winger Tyler Biggs (No. 22 overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs). Unfortunately, another first-rounder and Ohio native, Connor Murphy, decided to bail out on his commitment.
Nevertheless, Miami has plenty coming in.
Later draft selections included centers Blake Coleman (New Jersey) and Sean Kuraly (San Jose). Coleman is expected to contribute offensively right away, having been named the 2010-11 USHL Player of the Year and Forward of the Year after scoring 93 points in 59 games for the Indiana Ice.
The incoming class at Notre Dame is small — only five players — and is led by defenseman Robbie Russo, a fourth round New York Islanders draft pick.
"The freshmen are going to have to earn their roles, just like every other player," head coach Jeff Jackson told the Notre Dame and Saint Mary's The Observer. "But I have high expectations for [players] like Robbie Russo and [right wing] Peter Schneider being able to contribute right away."
Russo, a native of Westmont, Ill., was a reliable blueliner for the National Team Development Program and captained the USA's gold medal squad at the 2011 U-18 World Junior Championship. He is expected to steady the defense in front of goaltender Mike Johnson, as the Irish look to return to the Frozen Four.
Six-foot-4 rookie defenseman Scott Mayfield highlights the incoming class for the Denver Pioneers. The USHL All-Star played for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL in 2010-11 and was drafted by the New York Islanders with the No. 34 overall pick in the NHL draft — just one pick after incoming North Dakota freshman Rocco Grimaldi was selected by the Florida Panthers.
Other freshmen to watch include Zac Larraza a draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, and Josiah Didier, who netted 21 points as a defensemen for Cedar Rapids of the United States Hockey League. Didier was selected by Montreal in the fourth round (97th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Joe LaLeggia should provide strong defensive play for the Pioneers. The Burnaby, B.C., native was named the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) Defensive Player of the Year last season after tallying 20 goals and 62 assists in 58 games.
The departure of head coach Greg Cronin from Northeastern opened the door last month for highly-touted freshman left-winger John Gaudreau, a fourth-round NHL pick of the Calgary Flames, to change his original commitment to the Huskies. Gaudreau will don an Eagles sweater this fall, as BC looks to overcome the graduation of stars Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes.
Gaudreau earned USHL Rookie of the Year honors as a member of the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010-11, ranking fourth in the league in scoring with 72 points in 60 regular season games.
Destry Straight is another incoming forward who may play a significant role for Jerry York's BC squad. Destry registered 67 points in 49 regular season games for the Coquitlam Express (BCHL) last season. 11 of his 26 goals came on the power play.
Finally, with the graduation of goaltender John Muse, incoming freshman Brian Billet will certainly challenge for the starting goaltending position. The Brunswick, ME, native led the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs to consecutive Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He finished the 2010-11 season with a 19-2-1 record (three shutouts), a 1.93 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
With the Gophers losing their top three goal scorers from last season (Mike Hoeffel, Jacob Cepis and Jay Barriball), the freshmen will be expected to step in and contribute immediately.
Offensively, Seth Ambroz (Columbus Blue Jackets fifth-round selection) provides both skill and strength. The New Prague native — 6-3 and 215 pounds scored 46 points for Omaha in the USHL last season. Joining him on the front lines are Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers), who captained Eden Prairie to the Minnesota Class AA high school championship last season, and Travis Boyd, a sixth round selection of the Washington Capitals.
Seven forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender comprise the large incoming class for the Big Red this season — a class that, according to head coach Mike Schafer, has "international experience, a winning attitude and pretty impressive accomplishments."
6-2 forward Brian Ferlin scored 73 points on 25 goals and 48 assists last season for the USHL's Indiana Ice and looks to help the Big Red replace the offensive production of last year's captain and leading scorer Joe Devin. Ferlin was drafted in the fifth-round of the NHL draft by reigning the Boston Bruins, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
Also drafted this summer were incoming Red forwards Joel Lowry (Los Angeles Kings) and Philippe Hudon (Detroit Red Wings). Both were fifth-round selections. In 117 games for the Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) over two seasons, Lowry amassed 133 points.