October 3, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hockey East Team Preview Capsules

 (photo: Matt Dewkett)

(photo: Matt Dewkett)

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

Providence

Head Coach: Nate Leaman
2016-17 Record: 22-12-5, 12-7-3 (5th)

Changes: Providence was one of the youngest teams in Hockey East last season, so not much changes for the Friars. Jake Walman signed with the Blues and Josh Monk graduated with Anthony Florentino, leaving some question marks on the blue line. The Friars bring in Ben Mirageas, who was a third-round pick this summer, to help fill one of those spots.

Strength: The Friars return almost everyone up front from a team that dominated in the second half last season, posting a 17-6-3 record after Dec. 3, with three of those losses coming in the final three games (Notre Dame in the Hockey East semifinals and Harvard in the NCAA Tournament). Included in that streak was three out of four points against Denver, the team that went on to win the national title, and a sweep over Mass.-Lowell. Top scorers Brian Pinho (40 points), Erik Foley (34 points) and Josh Wilkins (31 points) are all back. Defenseman Jacob Bryson had 20 points from the blue line as a rookie last season.

Weakness: Goaltender Hayden Hawkey was good in the second half, posting a .926 save percentage in that 17-6-3 run for the Friars after Dec. 1. However, prior to that, his save percentage was just .889. Consistency is key, especially with so many new defensemen, making it one of the only question marks for the Friars entering this season.

2017-18 Outlook: Leaman's teams find a way to get it done. After struggling in the early portions of last season, the Friars put it together in the second half. There's reason to believe, with so much of that group returning, that they can pick up where they left off.

Prediction: 1st

Boston University

Head Coach: David Quinn
2016-17 Record: 24-12-3, 13-6-3 HEA (T-1st)

Changes: The Terriers need to fill the void left by Clayton Keller on the first line. And two other early departures to the NHL, Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson and Charlie McAvoy, also leave some holes. Kieffer Bellows bolted for the CHL this offseason and Nick Roberto graduated. However, BU continues to bring in some of the top recruits in the country, with this season's class led by first-rounder Shane Bowers, Logan Cockerill, Brady Tkachuk and three third-round picks on defense, including David Farrance from the NTDP.

Strength: Despite what the Terriers lost to the NHL, they still return a massive amount of production. Patrick Harper scored 37 points as a freshman and had a three-point night against Union this past weekend to open the season. Bobo Carpenter flew under the radar and scored 32 points as a sophomore and the hulking Jordan Greenway was a 31-point scorer, coming into his own late in the season. That doesn't even bring up Dante Fabbro, Chad Krys and Brandon Hickey on defense. Oh, and the Terriers also return Jake Oettinger (.927) between the pipes after he was drafted in the first round by St. Louis this past summer following his freshman year.

Weakness: BU has six seniors, but most of the reliance on production comes from younger players. That lack of experience could hurt the Terriers in big games, as it did last season when BU lost in the Beanpot final to Harvard, lost in the Hockey East semifinal to BC and lost in the NCAA Tournament to Minnesota-Duluth, albeit that final defeat came after an impressive double-overtime win over North Dakota.

2017-18 Outlook: There's simply too much talent for BU to finish any lower than second or third in the Hockey East standings. Unless they suffer several catastrophes from an injury standpoint, BU is one of the top teams in the league, and the nation.

Prediction: 2nd

Mass.-Lowell

Head Coach: Norm Bazin
2016-17 Record: 27-11-3, 14-7-1 (T-1st)

Changes: Joe Gambardella (52 points), C.J. Smith (51 points) as well as defensemen Dylan Zink (36 points) and Michael Kapla (30 points) are all gone. Bazin and his staff, which do a tremendous job identifying players that fit into their system, bring in seven new recruits, spread out among the NAHL, CCHL and BCHL.

Strength: Goaltender Tyler Wall had games last season where he looked inconsistent, but on the whole, he posted a .918 save percentage as a freshman and in the final 10 games of the season, he was a .930 goalie. With some turnover offensively, Wall will be relied upon to be a strong presence the entire season.

Weakness: There's some unproven factors when it comes to Lowell's offense, but in the past the River Hawks have found a way to simply roll new players into those top-six roles. With Gambardella and Smith gone, the stage is set for John Edwardh, Ryan Lohin, Jake Kamrass and Kenny Hausinger to step up into those roles. The question becomes how quickly it takes for that group to hit the heights Gambardella and Smith did?

2017-18 Outlook: Under Norm Bazin, it doesn't seem to matter how much Lowell graduates or loses to pro hockey on a year-to-year basis. As long as Bazin is at the helm, it's safe to pencil the River Hawks in as a top-three team in Hockey East, until proven otherwise.

Prediction: 3rd

Northeastern

Head Coach: Jim Madigan
2016-17 Record: 18-15-5, 9-10-3 (8th)

Changes: Graduating a Hobey Hat Trick finalist normally leaves an enormous hole, but Northeastern's offense is so deep, and so potent, it doesn't even seem like a concern. The Huskies also graduated John Stevens. Recruits include goaltender Cayden Primeau, who was selected in the seventh round by the Montreal Canadiens this past summer, and Zach Solow, who was one of the top scorers in the USHL last season.

Strength: The Huskies will score ... a lot. Dylan Sikura is back after a 57-point junior season and the Huskies also return Adam Gaudette, and his 26 goals from last year. The defense will be led by Garrett Cockerill (33 points) and Nolan Stevens, who had 42 points as a sophomore two years ago, is back and healthy again after injuries plagued his junior season. Solow was the USHL's Forward of the Year and he was also USA Hockey's Junior Player of the Year last season after finishing with the most points (69) in the league.

Weakness: The Huskies struggled defensively last season, allowing almost three goals per game and posting a team save percentage of .895 (starter Ryan Ruck had a season-long save percentage of .897). Whether it's Ruck or Primeau (.895 save percentage in the USHL last season), that number has to improve for the Huskies to take the next step, despite a deadly offense.

2017-18 Outlook: Northeastern is right on the cusp of being one of the top teams in the nation. For the Huskies, it will be about balancing defensive responsibility with what will be a prolific offense. If that balance can be achieved, not only will Northeastern contend for a Hockey East title, the Huskies will be a legitimate contender nationally. If it can't, Northeastern will fall into the slot it was in last season, which was a team with top scoring, but porous defensive numbers kept Northeastern on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament.

Prediction: 4th

Boston College

Head Coach: Jerry York
2016-17 Record: 21-15-4, 13-6-3 (T-1st)

Changes: There are quite a few changes on Chestnut Hill this season. First, the Eagles lost first-rounder Colin White to the NHL's Ottawa Senators, and BC also graduated top scorers Austin Cangelosi, Matthew Gaudreau and Ryan Fitzgerald (who signed with the Boston Bruins). Combined with defenseman Scott Savage, the Eagles lost their top-five scorers. On top of that, recruit and first-round pick Eeli Tolvanen didn't get into the school and signed in the KHL. The Eagles do bring in a strong recruiting class, it just doesn't appear as flashy as we're used to now that Boston University seems to have taken over that role in town under David Quinn. NeutralZone.net doesn't have the Eagles with a top-10 recruiting class, which is a position that ordinarily has been a regular occurrence for them. Top recruits include forwards Jacob Tortora and Logan Hutsko, both who join the team from the U.S. NTDP.

Strength: A lot of responsibility for any BC success this season will fall on the shoulders of goaltender Joseph Woll, and that's not a bad thing. Woll posted a .913 save percentage as a freshman while starting 33 games and his save percentage was in the .920 range into February. In front of him, the Eagles bring back Casey Fitzgerald and Michael Kim, among others.

Weakness: It feels odd to even suggest this, but the Eagles could have trouble finding goals, at least early in the season. With the graduation of its top five scorers, BC loses nearly half of its goals from last season. The Eagles' top returning scorer — Christopher Brown — scored nine times last season and finished with 26 points. Brown, David Cotton, JD Dudek and Julius Mattila will have to fill the huge voids up front in order to prevent a slide down the standings for BC this season. In the past, BC was always great about having new players step up and become major impact players, but that may not be true this time.

2017-18 Outlook: It's not that the Eagles will have a huge chunk of new players, but they will have a huge chunk of players in new roles. That could take some time. This seems like a season where early departures in prior years — White, Miles Wood, Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford — come back to bite the Eagles.

Prediction: 5th

Merrimack

Head Coach: Mark Dennehy
2016-17 Record: 15-16-6, 8-8-6 HEA (7th)

Changes: The biggest loss for the Warriors is goaltender Collin Delia, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of July. Delia, who posted a .927 save percentage last season, was pegged to be a favorite for All-Hockey East. The Warriors also graduated Hampus Gustafsson (15 goals, 11 assists), who signed with the Washington Capitals. Newcomers include goaltender Logan Halladay from the USHL and three defenseman, including Philadelphia Fylers camp invitee Simon Loof. The biggest addition up front could be Cole McBride, who is entering as a sophomore after sitting out last season due to an NCAA eligibility issue. Two years ago with Camrose (AJHL), he scored 37 goals and added 47 assists in 70 games as a 19-year-old.

Strength: Merrimack's defense might be the deepest in the league. Jonathan Kovacevic was drafted in the third round by Winnipeg this past summer, and the Warriors also return Jared Kolquist and Marc Biega, who have been logging huge minutes since they were freshmen. Towering defenseman Aaron Titcomb also returns after two separate injuries kept him out for long stretches last season. Loof is an exciting prospect (he was hurt in the summer so could be out to begin the season), and the Warriors also have high hopes for Evan Bell.

Weakness: The biggest question for the Warriors will be goal scoring. After struggling to find offense through much of last season — Merrimack's power play was anemic — the Warriors finished the regular season 6-1-3, which included wins over Boston College, Vermont and two victories over Boston University. Brett Seney, Sami Tavernier, McBride, Jace Hennig and Ludvig Larsson will be relied upon to put up points.

2017-18 Outlook: Considering Merrimack returns so much, and Vermont graduated so much, it's fair to expect that these teams flip in the standings from last season.

Prediction: 6th

Vermont

Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon
2016-17 Record: 20-13-5, 10-8-4 (6th)

Changes: Vermont graduated a huge class (10 players), which includes leading scorer Mario Puskarich, 21-point defenseman Rob Hamilton, as well as forwards Brendan Bradley (20 points) and Brady Shaw (19 points). Incoming freshmen include Minnesota draft pick Bryce Misley at forward and four defenseman, including Christian Evers from the USHL.

Strength: Vermont has a lot of depth, with 29 total players on its roster (8 defensemen, 18 forwards, 3 goaltenders). Ross Colton (12 goals, 15 assists) and Brian Bowen (12 goals, 15 assists) provide some punch up front to soften the blow of losing Puskarich and Jared Privitera (8 goals, 11 assists) could take on a larger role with Craig Puffer (11 goals, 8 assists).

Weakness: With the exception of Trey Phillips, every single one of Vermont's defensemen are either a freshman or a sophomore. Projected starting goaltender Stefano Lekkas is also a sophomore, and while his .911 freshman save percentage was decent on average, he struggled in the second half (.900 save percentage) after posting a .923 save percentage through December.

2017-18 Outlook: Like with UMass, it's going to take some time for Vermont's 12 freshmen to find chemistry with the rest of the team. Ross Colton, Liam Coughlin and Jake Massie will be looked upon to take their games to a new level.

Prediction: 7th

Connecticut

Head Coach: Mike Cavanaugh
2016-17 Record: 12-16-8, 8-10-4 HEA (9th)

Changes: Tage Thompson (19 goals, 13 assists) signed in the offseason, leaving a spot open on the top line; and goaltender Rob Nichols (.913 in 16 starts), who was critical as the Huskies made the jump to Hockey East, also graduated. Recruits include three USHL forwards up front and one more — Adam Karashik — on defense.

Strength: Despite Nichols' graduation, UConn is solid in goal with sophomore Adam Huska, who posted a .916 save percentage as a freshman while splitting time with Nichols. Two years ago in the USHL, the 6-foot-3 goaltender set a USHL record with a .931 save percentage while posting a 1.82 goals-against average.

Weakness: Thompson accounted for nearly 20 percent of UConn's goals last season, so more players will need to emerge. Max Letunov is an elite center (27 points last season) but only found the back of the net seven times. That needs to improve. Spencer Naas (15 goals) will need to have a similar output and other forwards — Max Kalter, Kasperi Ojantakanen, Karl El-Mir — will need to have higher goal outputs. Letunov only shot 8.4 percent last season, and it's reasonable to expect that will improve, and the same goes with Kalter (7.5 percent) and Ojantakanen (8.2 percent).

2017-18 Outlook: Like the story with most teams pegged in the bottom tier of the league, much will depend on how efficient UConn's offense can be. The team shot 9.1 percent last season, which is low, so if that rises into the 10-11 percent range, and Huska posts a save percentage in the .920 range or higher, this is a team that could sneak its way up the standings in Hockey East. And, with players like Letunov and others shooting at such a low percentage last season, there's reason to believe those improvements could happen. Letunov shot 21.1 percent as a freshman, which is unsustainable, but somewhere in the 12-15 percent range is not out of the question for a player with such skill.

Prediction: 8th

New Hampshire

Head Coach: Dick Umile
2016-17 Record: 15-20-5, 7-11-4 HEA (10th)

Changes: Obviously, the loss of 63-point scorer Tyler Kelleher is the biggest change for the Wildcats as they enter Dick Umile's final season behind the bench. On top of that, UNH graduated its top defenseman, Matias Cleland (3 goals, 33 assists), leaving two enormous holes on the roster. The defense will be helped by newcomers Max Gildon and Benton Maass, who are both NHL draft picks. UNH also brings in Kelleher's younger brother, Charlie Kelleher, who had 51 points in 61 USHL games last season.

Strength: Despite the loss of Kelleher up front, UNH's offense should be OK. Michael McNicholas (13 goals, 30 assists) returns after a big junior season and the Wildcats also bring back Jason Salvaggio (23 goals, 13 assists) and Patrick Grasso (20 goals, 13 assists), who was one of the league's top freshmen last season. Liam Blackburn (9 goals, 9 assists), Brendan van Riemsdyk (5 goals, 10 assists) and Ara Nazarian (5 goals, 10 assists) should also be in line for big pushes.

Weakness: New Hampshire will be able to score, but will they be able to stop teams from scoring at the other end? UNH's team save percentage last season was a subpar .898. Senior Danny Tirone played well down the stretch (.918 in his last 8 games), but the sample size is obviously small. That's not all on the goaltenders, either. UNH needs to limit shot quality. It will be interesting to see if San Jose third-rounder Mike Robinson takes starting time as a freshman.

2017-18 Outlook: UNH's offense is potent, but it always has been. At the same time, the Wildcats' struggles defensively have stretched the last few seasons (they haven't had a team save percentage above .910 since 2014). Unless there are some drastic changes, a .500 record or slightly below likely, unless UNH draws some inspiration from Umile's swan song.

Prediction: 9th

Massachusetts

Head Coach: Greg Carvel
2016-17 Record: 5-29-2, 2-19-1 HEA (12th)

Changes: Where do you begin? UMass returns 13 players and brings in a whopping 15 newcomers, with none bigger than fourth-overall pick Cale Makar on defense. Makar and fellow freshman defenseman Mario Ferraro (2nd round to San Jose) are the two highest draft picks in UMass history. The Minutemen also bring in graduate transfer Niko Rufo from Providence, who is expected to take on a bigger offensive (and certainly a leadership) role. UMass also adds transfer Josh Couturier from Boston College on defense. Freshmen goaltenders Matt Murray (Fargo, USHL) and Brad Arvanitis (Coulee Region, NAHL) could see time as rookies.

Strength: With so many new players, the strength of this team is yet to be determined. The defense looks solid, and if one of the freshman goaltenders emerge, UMass should see a huge improvement on its 3.67 team goals-against average and .888 save percentage.

Weakness: With so many new parts, the Minutemen could be a work in progress. It takes time to develop chemistry and while there is plenty of excitement — and rightfully so — this team is still an unknown commodity. Massachusetts' defensive numbers were among the worst in Hockey East last season, but so were its offensive totals. There's nowhere to go but up, and with so much talent infused, the Minutemen will rise. But freshmen, even the best ones (with the exception of maybe Makar), traditionally have periods of struggle and with so many new players, UMass will have its ups and downs.

2017-18 Outlook: If UMass doubles its win total from last season, the Minutemen would still only be a 10-win team. While huge improvement is expected, Carvel and his staff had to strip the program down to bare bones last season, and the rebuild will get there, but it's going to take more than one year.

Prediction: 10th

Maine

Head Coach: Red Gendron
2016-17 Record: 11-21-4, 5-15-2 HEA (11th)

Changes: The Black Bears lose two huge pieces in forwards Blaine Byron, who led the team in scoring last season with 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists), and forward Cam Brown, who finished second on the team with 39 points (4 goals, 35 assists). In order to combat that, senior Nolan Vesey will be looked upon to take a leading role in the offense, as will sophomore Chase Pearson (14 goals, 8 assists). Maine also brings in a large recruiting class (10 players), including Emil Westerlund (Sweden) and Latvian native Emil Westerlund (Chicago, USHL).

Strength: Goaltender Rob McGovern needs to improve his .912 save percentage for the Black Bears to move up the standings, but he's battled tested (49 games his first two seasons) and showed improvement from his freshman to sophomore year, increasing his save percentage from .905 to .912. A similar improvement as a junior gets him close to a .920 save percentage. Maine also adds a top goalie recruit in Boston Bruins fourth-round pick Jeremy Swayman, who posted a .914 save percentage in the USHL last season.

Weakness: With Vesey and Pearson, Maine's top-line offense shouldn't skip a beat. It's the secondary scoring that could suffer, especially with so many young players added to the roster. Players like Brendan Robbins (6 goals, 13 assists) and Mitchell Fossier (8 goals, 8 assists) will need to up their game and become the 20-point scorers behind Pearson and Vesey in order for Maine to maintain its offense from last year, which scored 2.8 goals per game.

2017-18 Outlook: With so much turnover on the roster, finding chemistry early in the season will be vital. Maine has solid goaltending and should be able to defend, but it's a matter of how much offense the Black Bears can produce.

Prediction: 11th
 

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