2014-15 Hockey East Preview, Part 1: Boston College looks to new leaders in bid to repeat

By DJ Powers
Jack Eichel - Boston University

Photo: Boston University freshman forward and 2015 prospect Jack Eichel notched four points (2G, 2A) in his first conference game last weekend (courtesy of Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

 

This season, Hockey East features 50 NHL prospects representing all the member schools. Notre Dame leads all Hockey East teams with 10 prospects, followed by Boston College with nine and Boston University with seven. Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut makes their Hockey East debut this season, bringing the number of member schools to 12.

Part 1 of this NCAA hockey preview takes a closer look at Boston College, Boston University, Connecticut and Maine.

Boston College
NHL prospects: 9

The defending Hockey East regular season champions will look to successfully defend their crown in 2014-15.

Boston College had the nation’s most potent line last season that featured Hobey Baker Award recipient Johnny Gaudreau (CGY), Kevin Hayes (NYR) and Bill Arnold (CGY). They, along with Patrick Brown (CAR), accounted for nearly half of the Eagles’ points that will need to be replaced this season.

Among the players that Boston College will be relying on are sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald (BOS), who returns as the team’s top scorer, as well as highly touted newcomers Alex Tuch (MIN) and Zach Sanford (WSH).

“Both Alex and Zach have looked very comfortable so far,” BC associate head coach Greg Brown said of the freshmen. “I don’t think their adaptation to the college game will take long. Zach is a creative player and can make really clever plays. Alex is a little bit more of a pure goal scorer.”

Another player that Boston College will look to is sophomore Adam Gilmour (MIN). The Hanover, MA native quietly put together an excellent freshman campaign, posting 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 40 games. As Brown explains, the lessons that Gilmour learned last year will enable him to be successful this season.

“We’re hoping that Adam is one of the guys that can really increase his offensive output,” said Brown. “He’s got good size, soft hands and sees the game very well. I think the areas where Adam really improved last year was his defensive game and the fact that he’s got better command of what needs to be done to produce offense. So we’re hoping that Adam will have a big year.”

Junior captain Michael Matheson (FLA) anchors Boston College’s stellar defensive corps that returns intact this season. The Pointe-Claire, QC native is coming off of a stellar sophomore campaign where he led all Eagles defensemen with 21 points (three goals, 21 assists) in 38 games.

“Mike has come in and developed each year that he’s been here at Boston College,” Brown said of Matheson. “He is constantly working to improve what he feels are weaknesses in his game. I think the thing that might be underrated about Mike is how much he cares about his team. He really puts the team first and wants everything to go well for the team.”

Noah Hanifin, the Eagles’ lone freshman rearguard, is the youngest player in the NCAA this season. Hanifin, who is widely considered as one of the top defensemen eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, is noted for his tremendous hockey instincts and skating.

“Noah is very mature physically for his age and is a very cerebral player,” Brown said of Hanifin. “There aren’t a lot of people that jump right into college hockey and can immediately adjust and compete for a big role. Noah is capable of that because of his size, strength and speed.”

Boston College returns all of last season’s goaltenders, led by sophomore Thatcher Demko (VAN). The San Diego, CA native was brilliant in goal for the Eagles last season, posting a 16-5-3 record that included two shutouts, earning Demko a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

Boston University
NHL prospects: 7

The Terriers opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at UMass.

2013-14 proved to be a difficult campaign for Boston University, as they finished a disappointing ninth in Hockey East. But this season the team is shaping up to be vastly different.

A big reason for the improved outlook is the Terriers’ stellar freshman class, which is one of, if not the best incoming class in the NCAA this season.

The Terriers 10-member freshman class is led by phenom Jack Eichel. Along with Connor McDavid, Eichel is considered the top player eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, and it’s not hard to see why. The North Chelmsford, MA native possesses an exceedingly high hockey IQ which was especially evident during his spectacular performance with Team USA at the 2014 U20 World Junior Championship. Simply put, Eichel will make Boston University a better team this season.

One area where Eichel and the other freshmen will significantly help Boston University is in boosting the team’s offensive production. Last season, the Terriers offense finished 49th nationally, averaging 2.31 goals per game. The 81 total goals that Boston University posted were among the fewest in Hockey East. Only Merrimack and Massachusetts scored fewer goals.

Among the veterans joining Eichel up front this season is sophomore Robbie Baillargeon (OTT). The Enfield, CT native was the only freshman in Hockey East to lead his team in scoring last season. He finished with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) playing in all 35 games en route to earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Two areas where Baillargeon really excelled last season was in his strong play along the boards and on face-offs, winning nearly 50 percent of his draws. This season, Baillargeon could potentially reach the 30-point plateau.

One of the biggest areas of concern for the Terriers heading into the season is in goal. That’s because Boston University will be without the services of Sean Maguire (PIT), who will medically redshirt the entire season due to back problems. Maguire split time with fellow junior Matt O’Connor last season, posting a 3-12-0 record in 16 appearances.

O’Connor is coming off of a solid sophomore campaign where he appeared in 22 games and finished with a 7-9-4 record. With Maguire sidelined, the Toronto, ON native is expected to carry much of the load between the pipes. This summer, O’Connor made the NHL prospect camp rounds, attending those of the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

The defense is shaping up to be one of Boston University’s strengths this season, but it will also be very young. The good news for the Terriers is the return of junior captain Matt Grzelcyk (BOS). The Charlestown, MA native suffered a season-ending shoulder injury back in January and his absence had a tremendous impact on his team’s offensive attack, particularly on the power play. He finished his shortened sophomore campaign with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 19 games.

Of the Terriers’ 10 newcomers this season, four are defensemen, including John MacLeod (TBL). The Dracut, MA native is a 6’1”, 203-pound defensive defenseman is noted for his hard-nosed style of play.

University of Connecticut
NHL prospects: 2

The Huskies made their debut as a member of Hockey East when they opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at Penn State.

Connecticut comes into this season with a vastly different look. In addition to graduating four players, the Huskies also did some off-season housecleaning. As a result, UConn brings in a large, talented freshman class that will make the team competitive in their new conference home.

One of the issues facing the Huskies coming into the season is replacing the offense that left with graduates Brant Harris, Billy Latta and Jordan Sims. The trio accounted for 30 percent of UConn’s point production last season.

One veteran that the Huskies will be looking to for increased scoring is sophomore Brent Norris. The Ottawa, ON native led all of UConn’s freshmen with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 28 games last season. Although Norris is a center, he can also play wing quite effectively.

“We think Brent has a chance for a breakout year this season,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said of Norris. “He spent some time on wing but wound up centering our top line at the end of last year. So, Brent’s a guy that could potentially put up some numbers on the board for us this year.”

One of Connecticut’s strengths this season will be their blueline. Among those anchoring the Huskies defense is sophomore Ryan Segalla (PIT). The Rockland, MA native is coming off of an excellent freshman campaign where he posted 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 34 games. Segalla moves exceedingly well with the puck and his decision-making continually improved last season. As Cavanaugh explains, Segalla will see an expanded role this season.

“Ryan is going to be a player that we’re going to rely on this year,” said Cavanaugh. “We’re looking for him to possibly start in a lot of different roles for us. I think one area where Ryan really improved as the season went along last year was his decision-making and I think that’s going to help our team.”

Segalla is one of two Huskies defensemen that are NHL prospects. The other is newcomer David Drake (PHI). At 6’4” and 181 pounds, the Naperville, IL native adds size to an already huge UConn defensive corps. Drake is a defensive defenseman noted for playing a smart game.

“David was a player that we had committed kind of late last season,” Cavanaugh said of Drake. “After speaking with David, his family and the Flyers, we all felt that it would be best for him to come to UConn this season. He’s a tall, long defenseman that skates very well and has a good stick. I think David is going to be a player that, as he develops over time, will be very good for us.”

With last season’s starter Matt Grogan having graduated, UConn’s starting job in goal could be wide open this season. The Huskies’ lone returning netminder is sophomore Rob Nichols. The Dallas, TX native performed well behind Grogan, finishing his freshman campaign with an 8-2-2 record that included two shutouts in 10 appearances. Challenging Nichols this season are newcomer Steve Thulin and senior Tom Communale.

University of Maine
NHL prospects: 4

The Black Bears opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Alaska-Anchorage in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.

Maine is coming off a sixth-place finish in Hockey East in spite of a horrendous road record. The Black Bears were one of the nation’s worst road teams last season, posting just one win away from Alfond Arena. But improving their road record is just one of several issues facing Maine this season.

At the top of the list is their goaltending situation. The Black Bears graduated both of their goaltenders from last season in Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan. Ouellette finished his outstanding senior campaign with a 15-15-4 record that included four shutouts as the Black Bears’ starter. Sullivan finished with a 1-0-0 record in four appearances.

Redshirted junior Matt Morris will be battling newcomers Sean Romeo and Nik Nugnes for the starting job this season. Morris returns to the lineup after having missed the entire 2013-14 season recovering from hip surgery.

With the uncertainty in goal, Maine will be relying on their experienced defense to help stabilize things on the back end. Anchoring the Black Bears’ defense is junior Ben Hutton (VAN). The Prescott, ON native is coming off of a phenomenal sophomore campaign where he posted 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 35 games en route to being named to the All-America East Second Team. His 15 goals led all NCAA defensemen and set a new Maine single-season record for goals by a defenseman. Hutton has firmly established himself as one of the nation’s premier defensemen and, as good as he was last season, he could potentially be even better this season.

Despite losing three key players up front in graduates Mark Antoine and Jon Swavely, as well as Ryan Lomberg, the Black Bears forward lines are shaping up to be one of their strengths this season.

Leading Maine’s offensive attack is junior captain Devin Shore (DAL). The Ajax, ON native is one of just two Dallas Stars‘ prospects playing in the NCAA this season. For the second consecutive year, Shore led the Black Bears in points, capping his sensational sophomore campaign with 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists) in 35 games en route to joining Hutton on the All-America East Second Team. His 14 goals were more than double that of his freshman season two years ago. Shore is the motor that drives the Maine offense. As good as he has been on offense, Shore has been equally good on defense. He’s done a great job of developing his defensive side and has become a key cog on the Black Bears’ penalty-killing unit.

In addition to the returning veterans, Maine also welcomes nine newcomers this season. One to keep an eye on is forward Nolan Vesey (TOR). The North Reading, MA native is the younger brother of Harvard junior Jimmy Vesey (NSH). At 6’2” and 210 pounds, the younger Vesey will certainly add size up front for the Black Bears. The left winger is noted for his great hands and his play around the net.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF