Boston College Tops Hockey East Recruiting
by Jasper Kozak-Miller/Recruiting Writer
Hockey East added a formidable opponent to an already tough conference in Notre Dame this year, and the Fighting Irish will push Boston College in these rankings for years to come. As will the University of Connecticut to an extent, who are themselves stepping up their recruiting game while still skating as a member of Atlantic Hockey in 2013-14.
However, this season, the Eagles own the far-and-away top recruiting class in Hockey East. Their class of 10 — all top recruits in their own right — stand alone above the entirety of college hockey this season, which is a welcome reload after a year where Jerry York's squad finally wavered in the season's waning months.
To counterweight the hype, any recruiting class this large and meaningful to a team's success has an inherent downside — none of these skaters really know what they're getting into just yet. Additionally, goaltender Thatcher Demko enters the year with almost too much hype, but he'll be bolstered in the defensive zone by rock solid NTDP teammate Steve Santini and seasoned USHL veteran Ian McCoshen.
Up front, the Eagles have a little of everything, but power forward Chris Calnan will bring his ability to make huge, versatile plays on a nightly basis while skilled puck wizard Austin Cangelosi and cerebral superstar Ryan Fitzgerald will be sparking the offense for years to come.
Terriers Add Three NHL Picks
The Terriers slide into second with a strong class as well. Three NHL picks opted to take a season of development before arriving and head coach David Quinn will reap the rewards in his first year running the show at Agganis. Brendan Collier is a heart-and-soul talent out of local high school Malden Catholic, while Nick Roberto and Robbie Baillargeon are dissimilar players with one common trait: they score, and often.
Big defenseman Doyle Somerby, Roberto's teammate out of Kimball Union, is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound blue liner with the potential to be a star at the collegiate level and beyond, but has an uphill battle in the early going as the huge Islanders draft pick arrives straight out of high school.
Nate Leaman signed a long-term extension to keep himself a Friar for the forseeable future, and that should concern the rest of Hockey East as Providence brings in another high-talent, deep recruiting class for the second year in a row. As Leaman's fingerprints really start to show themselves on this roster, Providence will only find more success, and recruits can look at Leaman's pitch and see a proven coach with job security and a shiny new facility this season; it's easy to recognize why Providence is beginning to make some serious noise.
This year, Kimball Union forward Niko Rufo and defenseman Anthony Florentino could see a ton of ice time early, while goaltender Nick Ellis instantly gives the Friars a scarily talented tandem in net moving forward.
Northeastern Adds Big Numbers
Northeastern brings a huge class (eleven), and while it doesn't have the depth to match the 10 first-years skating on Conte Forum ice this month, it's still pretty talented top to bottom. Mike Szmatula, most recently out of the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints, is a tenacious, opportunistic forward who has proved doubters wrong at every level, while teammate (and Bruins pick) Matt Benning has the earmarks of a blue liner who will depress opposing fans for seasons to come.
Some quick hits for the rest of Hockey East, where there are really no traditionally 'weak' classes and generally a good influx of talent top to bottom.
Notre Dame brings in another Chicago Mission alum in Waterloo Black Hawks' compact scorer Vinnie Hinostroza, while 6-5 Penticton Vees stopper Chad Katunar has some undeniable potential in the crease. That said, this is an 'off' year for the Irish. Next year's could be a top three recruiting class in all of college hockey, while 2015 has an early claim to the top spot.
Forwards Joey Gambardella and Evan Campbell bring work ethic and scoring punch to Norm Bazin's Lowell Riverhawks, while Michael Kapla is a true freshman on the blue and could come on very strong in the final third as his career wears on.
Youngstown's Daniel Renouf, from Canada, looks to be a budding star on the blue line for Red Gendron's Black Bears. Zach Glienke makes it a second Eagan (Minn. HS) star to Maine in as many years and has the potential to become a game-breaking offensive talent for coach Gendron as soon as sophomore year, while imaginative playmaker Blaine Byron could slot right into the offense from game one.
Kevin Sneddon's Catamounts bring in the surprise of the year in diminutive netminder Michael Santaguida, who does nothing but front the puck time and time again. While Santaguida could challenge for time with talented sophomore Brody Hoffman, incoming forwards Brady Shaw and Mario Puskarich are BCHL vets with star power whose respective offensive games should translate terrifically to the collegiate game very quickly.
John Micheletto's Massachusetts Minutemen picked up forward Ray Pigozzi to bolster this class late in the summer but Saskatchewan circuit MVP Alex Wakaluk could be this year's surprise in the nets for Hockey East. At the end of the season, forward Frankie Vatrano will be eligible and could become a major storyline as a late-arriving impact forward. Micheletto is building UMass a talented stable of prospects down the line as well — a number of North America's top wiry, offensive spark plugs may indicate a penchant for that player type from the second-year head coach in Amherst.
New Hampshire will finally ice long-time commit Tyler Kelleher, an elusive, undersized wonder kid who caught national attention playing for Deerfield Academy prior to joining the NTDP and has not lost it since.
Merrimack brings in two massive forwards, firstly Swedish center (by way of the NAHL) Hampus Gustafsson (6-foot-3). The other is local boy Chris LeBlanc (6-foot-4), an NHL overage draft pick (Ottawa) with a serious frame. Leblanc plied his trade off the wing for the EJHL's South Shore Kings as a rookie this past season and with a slim few graduating players matriculating from North Andover this past spring, Leblanc will likely be allowed time to adjust to his ultimate role in college hockey.