Preview: BU Stands Out With Large Class
by Jasper Kozak-Miller/Recruiting Writer
Rating a recruiting class is a tough thing to do. It's really in the eye of the beholder. Is a good recruiting class the one with the most talent? If a team graduates only two guys and brings in two players who are perfect fits for the program, is that the best recruiting class?
It's a happy medium between the program bringing in the most talent, and the class poised to help the team soon, specifically filling holes from departing players who either graduated or otherwise won’t be a part of their respective programs any longer. In that sense, it's hard to choose Hockey East's top class — torn between Boston University, Providence and Boston College.
Top Recruiting Class
The ‘winner’: Boston University. BU brings in 10 freshmen this year, four of them ‘natural’ freshmen. The reason BU pulls away (albeit, barely) is the impact this class will have on day one from top to bottom. Starting in the net, BU starts fresh with two freshmen goaltenders this season, filling the hole four-year starter Kieran Millan leaves in the crease. Sean Maguire, a BCHL vet, comes in drafted by the Penguins in the fourth round, poised to take the reins from the start. Before that, though, Maguire will have to fight the Terriers' other freshman netminder first: 6-foot-5 Matt O'Connor, who is a USHL veteran. The goaltending tandem of Maguire and O’Connor, if successful, are what will make this class the best in Hockey East this season.
Moving out from the crease, the Terriers bring in Boston-area native Matt Grzelcyk, a hometown Bruins draft pick (3rd round). Grzelcyk will step right into the swing of things on the Terriers’ blueline, as the smart former NTDP and Belmont Hill defenseman will bring poise and smart defensive play from day one. The only other defenseman in the Terriers’ freshman class is recent commit Ahti Oksanen, who led defensemen in scoring for the Espoo Blues U-20 (Finnish Jr. A) squad this year. He’ll be an unknown to most at first, but his league-leading plus-42 and statistics make it seem like the 6-foot-3, 195-pound defenseman should fit right in. BU coach Jack Parker himself said that Oksanen would “fill the gap” left by Adam Clendening’s departure last season, which is high praise.
On the offensive end of things, the Terriers are loaded. Sam Kurker and Danny O’Regan are home-town forwards, playing for St. John’s Prep and St. Sebastian’s, respectively. The two of them are both drafted, Kurker by the Blues (2nd round) and O’Regan by the Sharks (5th round), and they are among the more exciting prospects to come out of the Massachusetts high school circuit in quite a while, a group that includes Charlie Coyle (Minnesota Wild) and Colin Blackwell (Harvard), just to name two. Kurker and O’Regan will likely both produce well their freshman seasons and should play big roles for the Terriers. Lastly, the Terriers round out the class with NTDP winger Matt Lane, BCHL pivot Wesley Myron, and former Taft captain Mike Moran, who will all pitch in their freshman year, likely in the top nine. It’s rare to find a class where the talent level is so consistently high.
Tied for Second
Providence and Boston College come in close second, but if I had to give the nod, it would be to Providence. Providence's class could easily be the most underrated in college hockey, because even without top recruits Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies, it's right up there next to Boston College.
Jankowski was the surprise pick of the draft this year, the 6-foot-3 pivot who became the highest player ever drafted out of the Canadian Prep School circuit, a league which is not highly scouted or known. Jankowski went 21st overall to the Calgary Flames, who clearly were very high on him and his upside. As captain, he led his Stanstead College Prep team with 53 goals and 40 assists in 57 games played, and that was just after a massive growth spurt. To get used to the new level of play (and likely, his newfound frame) Jankowski was initially slated to join the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) this year, but instead will find himself as a Friar this fall. It’s likely that he will step right in as the No. 1 center under Nate Leaman’s second season behind the bench.
Jon Gillies, Providence’s other story of the summer, was committed to Northeastern a few years ago, but after leaving Salisbury (New England Prep School) following his freshman year to play for the Indiana Ice for the last few years, he ultimately de-committed from Northeastern when junior Chris Rawlings decided to return for one last season of college hockey. Gillies, a 3rd-round pick of the Calgary Flames (along with Jankowski), would easily have the highest expectations on the Friars, if not for the early arrival of Jankowski. Nevertheless, how Gillies performs this season will be interesting and worth watching — to say the least. The rest of Providence’s class are no slouches either, though. It starts with Noel Acciari, who ultimately didn’t play for the team last season, but will be this year, and his arrival on the ice could be a game-changer for the Friars. His senior year at the Kent school, he led the team in scoring, and nearly tripled 2nd-round pick Boo Nieves' (Michigan) goals. He was lethal alongside fellow Friar Drew Brown (whose point total he topped as well) at Kent. Brown put up 18 points this season, and played every game.
Also worth noting is the arrival of Prince George Spruce Kings winger Paul DeJersey, the BCHL’s MVP and leading scorer, with 41 goals and 57 assists in 59 games played. Forward Nick Saracino and defenseman John Gilmour; both were big pieces of the puzzle for Cedar Rapids of the USHL. They also bring in a prolific scorer, from the OJHL’s Kingston Voyageurs, Steve McParland, who had 44 goals and 56 assists in 96 games played over the past two seasons. New England prep schoolers, 6-foot-4 Exeter D Will Goss and Berkshire pivot Kevin Rooney likely won’t contribute right away, but could prove to be nice pick-ups in the seasons to come.
And of course, we have the Boston College Eagles. Never out of any Hockey East discussion, the Eagles class is smaller than the other two, but certainly one that could be put up against any other in college hockey. It starts with 1st rounder (Florida) Mike Matheson, who will have an impact on the Eagles blueline immediately, in addition to likely QB-ing a power-play unit from day one. Joining him will be NTDP forward Frank Vatrano, who has a nice offensive upside as well. (Note: Following publication, Vatrano withdrew from Boston College.)
They also bolster their defensive unit with the arrival of Ted Doherty, who played with Matheson for the Dubuque Fighting Saints last season, as well as two guys who could pan out very interestingly for the Eagles: 6-foot-4 Northwood Prep D Travis Jeke, and former Yale commit Colin Sullivan, who last laced them up as captain for the Winged Beavers of Avon Old Farms. Jerry York will certainly have options as far as his new defensemen are concerned, as they all come with different playing styles. They bring in forwards Brendan Silk and Peter McMullen to round out their freshman class.
Casualties and Feel-Good Stories
Hockey East, like the WCHA, actually fared relatively well as far as de-commitments and losses to major juniors are concerned. The biggest loss for the league was UVM commit Zemgus Girgenson’s decision to sign with the Buffalo Sabres directly out of the USHL. Meanwhile, Hockey East won out on the de-commitment front as well. Northeastern picked up Kevin and Derick Roy, brothers who were previously committed to the ECAC’s Brown; and the Gillies de-commit drama ended up with him finding a new home still in Hockey East. Quite a few top players left for the pros this seasons, but the league stocked up on the class of 2016, and across the board bring in quite a bit of brand new talent.
Last but not Least
Some guys worth keeping an eye on. Firstly, draftees Devin Shore (Dallas) and Ben Hutton (Vancouver) are both incoming forwards from Canadian junior circuits who should have impacts on a very strong Maine recruiting class. In addition to Shore and Hutton, the Black Bears bring in Eagan (Minn.) captain Will Merchant, who should bring an offensive penchant, albeit from the backline, that they lose with the graduation of Brian Flynn and Spencer Abbott, who both signed pro contracts.
Massachusetts brings in a long-time BC commit in K.J. Tiefenwerth, who we’ll finally get to see play in Hockey East. Tiefenwerth ends up at UMass after winning a New England championship with soon-to-be teammate Mike Pereira at Avon Old Farms, and some time with the Jr. Bruins in the EJHL.
Mass.-Lowell brings in Connor Hellebuyck, one of the most intriguing goalie prospects in a class of very intriguing goalie prospects (Anthony Stolarz, Adam Wilcox, Ryan McKay, Jon Gillies, just to name a few), and if the fifth-rounder (Winnipeg) pans out, the tandem with junior RiverHawk netminder Doug Carr could be the best in Hockey East.
Merrimack brings in a solid recruiting class, including huge defenseman Matt Cronin, prolific EJHL scorer Vinny Scotti, as well as some gritty forwards and goaltender Rasmus Tirronen, who could fill the hole of departing star Joe Cannata (Vancouver). UNH brings in a solid class overall, including Jr. Bruins (EJHL) captain Kyle Smith, who had 153 points in 136 games over three seasons in the EJHL. Northeastern, of course, won the Kevin Roy sweepstakes, which meant picking up his goaltender brother Derick, as well. Kevin put on a clinic this season in the USHL for the Lincoln Stars, and his brother Derick could be a nice goaltending option for when Chris Rawlings does move on, after this season.
UVM lost out on Zemgus Girgensons this year, but they do bring in a neat goaltending tandem of Billy Faust and Brody Hoffman, who both played in Western Canadian junior circuits last season, posted solid numbers, and could pan out very well for the Catamounts.
Jasper Kozak-Miller can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @OTBPuckWatch.