2015 CHN Preseason Top 10
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
Providence. Union. Yale. Minnesota-Duluth.
Those are four of the last five NCAA hockey champions, and they all have some things in common. For each, the title was the first for the school, and not a single one was ranked first overall in the preseason polls for their trophy-raising seasons.
College hockey is not played in a vaccuum, so predicting the outcome of a six-league, 59-team season is nearly impossible, and the 2015-16 season is shaping up to be just as volatile. There's no way to know what will happen — which players will emerge, which teams will fall victim to injuries or mishaps, or just how the puck will bounce when the game is on the line — but that doesn't stop us from giving it a shot.
In a perfect college hockey world where everything goes as we expect, here's what our Top 10 looks like heading into the season.
1. Boston College
It's rare that a season starts without national title hopes on Chestnut Hill, and this season will be no different as the team returns the bulk of a roster that fell short of its goals. Up front, sophomore forward Alex Tuch will anchor a set of forwards that expects to see juniors Ryan Fitzgerald and Adam Gilmour step up their contributions. Miles Wood, Colin White and Jeremy Bracco will help Jerry York replenish the frontline depth. Senior Teddy Doherty and junior Ian McCoshen will anchor a strong defensive unit that will need to replace Mike Matheson and Noah Hanifin, underclassmen that signed pro deals. Though speedy freshman Casey Fitzgerald (brother of Ryan) and plus-sized classmate Josh Couturier will challenge for playing time from the get-go. Offseason surgery should help goalie Thatcher Demko improve even further, even after he set career-best numbers despite limited mobility as a sophomore.
If you didn't know the name Danton Heinen at the beginning of last season, you certainly did by the end of his freshman year. The sophomore forward — a member of CHN's Preseason All-America Team and a potential darkhorse Hobey candidate — will once again team up with junior Trevor Moore to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Freshmen Jarid Lukosevicius and Dylan Gambrell will get plenty of chances to show their offensive touch. Defensively, senior Nolan Zajac and junior Will Butcher take reins of a young crew that will most certainly be solidified by first year blueliners Blake Hillman and Sean Mostrom. Coach Jim Montgomery will have one of the top collegiate goaltending duos in junior Evan Cowley and sophomore Tanner Jaillet, who should continue to push one another.
Success for the Bulldogs starts from the net out. Sophomore goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo starred in his first go-round at the collegiate level, and his game should rise even higher behind highly-touted Andy Welinski. The senior defenseman headlines a deep veteran corps that includes juniors Carson Soucy and Willie Raskob. Senior forward Tony Cameranesi, and juniors Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo, will get plenty of help from Adam Johnson in his first season.
4. Boston University
Gone are Jack Eichel and Matt O'Connor. It may not matter, however, as the Terriers return 15 of their top 18 scorers from 2014-15. The question for BU is whether it can get over its agonizing loss in the national championship game, one that included an epic O'Connor faux pas. Seniors Danny O'Regan and Ahti Oksanen, along with junior Robbie Baillargeon and sophomore A.J. Greer, will handle the bulk of the offensive duties, but they'll get plenty of help from a freshman class that includes forwards Bobo Carpenter, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jordan Greenway. Captain Matt Grzelcyk is the anchor on defense, though he is expected to miss some time with an injury to start the season. Sophomores Brandon Fortunato and Brandon Hickey will have larger roles on a crew of blueliners that can all do a little bit of everything. Freshman Charlie McAvoy should make an immediate impact on the blueline.
5. Minnesota State
It’s a season of unfinished business for the Mavericks, who entered the 2015 tournament as the No. 1 seed and promptly bowed out to 16th-seeded RIT. They’ll carry a chip on their shoulder, but will carry on without the services of goalie Stephon Williams, who was lost to a pro deal. Junior Cole Huggins will have the inside track to rule the crease again, though freshman Jason Pawloski could steal some minutes in the blue paint. In front of him will be a blueline unit led by senior Jon Jutzi and junior Casey Nelson. Senior Bryce Gervais is the top gunner on a set of forwards that includes classmate Teddy Blueger, junior Zack Stepan and sophomores Brad McLure and C.J. Franklin. Expect first-year forwards Max Coatta and Ryan Schwalbe to etch their names on more than a few scoresheets in 2015-16 as well.
6. North Dakota
There was a lot of changeover in Grand Forks since a Frozen Four appearance in April: in addition to the graduated seniors, junior defenseman Jordan Schmaltz and Hobey Baker candidate goalie Zane McIntyre left town for the pros, as did coach Dave Hakstol. His replacement, Brad Berry, will have his work cut out for him, though he’ll have plenty of tools to work with. His forward lines include 2016 Hobey hopeful Drake Caggiula, junior Luke Johnson and sophomores Austin Poganski and Nick Schmaltz, for starters. Freshmen Brock Boeser, Shane Gersich and Chris Wilkie will help restock the offensive cabinet. Classmates Christian Wolanin and Hayden Shaw will be in mix to contribute to a deep offensive unit led by CHN Preseason All-American junior Paul LaDue and fellow third-year blueliner Gage Ausmus. In net, heralded true freshman Matej Tomek will certainly have a shot to challenge sophomore Cam Johnson for supremacy in the crease.
It’s off to a good start when you can name the top returning Hobey Baker candidate among your returning players. It’s an even better start when he’s coming off a 32-goal season and hungrier than ever. Senior Jimmy Vesey will be the focal point of Harvard’s offensive game, and he’ll get plenty of help from classmates Kyle Criscuolo and Colin Blackwell, who starred down the stretch after returning from a year-long absence with post-concussion issues. Juniors Alexander Kerfoot, Tyler Moy, Sean Malone and Luke Esposito will help provide a deep, balanced set of forwards that should see conributions from freshmen Ryan Donato (son of coach Ted), Francois Lemelin and Lewis Zerter. The blueline will take a hit with the loss of Patrick McNally, though junior Victor Newell will pick up some of the slack along with first-year d-man Viktor Dombrosvky. They, along with sophomore Wiley Sherman will have to play soundly in their own zone, as sophomore goalie Merrick Madsen and freshman Michael Lackey will duel it out for the starting gig with just one NCAA game between them.
The Wolverines boast a young, deep defensive corps that rivals almost any other in the country. Led by highly-touted sophomore Zach Werenski and juniors Michael Downing and Kevin Lohan, the blueline unit will see impacts from freshmen Joseph Cecconi and Nicholas Boka. Classmates Brendan Warren, Cooper Marody and Kyle Connor will add to an already talented offense that features senior Boo Nieves, juniors JT Compher, Alex Kile and Tyler Motte. That group should be able to absorb the unfortunate loss of Dylan Larkin to the NHL after just one season. In net junior Zach Nagelvoort and senior Steve Racine should continue to split time in the Michigan crease. As has been the case in recent years, the goaltending is the question mark, and the Wolverines' success hinges upon that unit pulling things together.
The loss of Jon Gillies is a big blow to the Friars, but it was not unexpected. Junior Nick Ellis and freshman Hayden Hawkey will be entrusted to keep the nets safe in his stead. Their job will be made easier thanks to a strong senior class that includes forwards Mark Jankowski, Nick Saracino, Brandon Tanev, and Trevor Mingoia and defensemen Tom Parisi and John Gilmour. Fellow blueliners Anthony Florentino and Jake Walman will take on bigger roles, while freshman Steven Ruggiero will aid the cause immediately. In his first season, Erik Foley will get the chance to replace the offense lost to the pros in Noel Acciari. Providence was expected to do well early last season, struggled, then poured it on down the stretch to win a national title. It may take time to adjust again this year, but the Friars should be in the mix again when the season is on the line.
It’s hard to count out a Gophers team, especially one that lost so much over the course of the summer. Though that seems to be the case almost every year for the Gophers, and they just keep reloading. Juniors Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos, Taylor Cammarata and Connor Reilly will handle the bulk of the offensive work, though sophomore Leon Bristedt should take a big step forward. Tommy Novak, Jack Ramsey and Tyler Sheehy have the chance to make an impact early in their first season. Juniors Michael Brodzinski, Jake Bischoff, and transfer Nick Seeler head up the backline, while sophomore Jack Glover, Steve Johnson and Ryan Collins continue to mature. They’ll have to do it quickly, as the Minnesota crease has a void to fill with Adam Wilcox’s graduation — coach Don Lucia will have to hope a starter emerges from a trio of sophomore Nick Lehr, and freshmen Eric Schierhorn and Brock Kautz.