For years, the Hockey East conference has molded future NHL Hall of Famers (Brian Leech, Paul Kariya), Olympians (Mike Eruzione, Jack O’Callaghan) and future stars (James vanRiemsdyk, Colin Wilson). This season, Hockey East has 50 current NHL draftees and other youngsters hoping that a strong college campaign will earn them a shot at the NHL.
Here’s a look at the 10 teams in the conference and the future NHL hopefuls on their rosters.
Current NHL draftees: 10
The Boston College Eagles will begin the season on Oct. 18 at Vermont. Two years ago, the Eagles were coming off their third straight NCAA championship appearance and a national championship. After a rash of injuries and loss of quality players, BC did not make much noise in the Hockey East conference. This year will certainly be different for the team from Chestnut Hill.
Senior Ben Smith (CHI) will be looked upon to provide offense for the Eagles this season. Though he had a disappointing season last year, Smith has been tabbed as an assistant captain by head coach Jerry York due to his undeniable skill and determination. Aside from Smith and undrafted upperclassmen Joe Whitney and Brian Gibbons, the Eagles will be looking for a youth movement.
Freshman Chris Kreider (NYR) was picked 19th overall in this past year’s draft and will be asked to burden some of the scoring load. If there is any freshman in the Hockey East who can handle the pressure it’s Kreider and fellow newcomer Kenny Ryan (TOR). Both players are expected to eat minutes and provide more than the standard amount of scoring expected from freshmen.
On defense, the Eagles had five NHL draftees who will be looked upon to guide BC until starting goalie, junior John Muse, can return from off-season hip surgery. Senior Carl Sneep (PIT) will be leading the defense and is one of the best at his position in the conference. His size (6’3, 205) and puck-moving ability make him a threat all over the ice. Sophomore Tommy Cross (BOS) will also be looked upon to guide an inexperienced defense.
Other Eagle NHL draft picks:
Current NHL draftees: 14
The defending national champion Terriers will be starting the season Oct. 16 at UMass-Amherst. Though last year’s team lost a lot of talent in Colin Wilson (NSH), Brandon Yip (COL) and Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy (NYR), this year’s club is looking to repeat with a conference-leading 14 NHL draftees.
Junior Nick Bonino (ANA) will be leading the Terriers in what is likely his last season. Bonino has the size (6’1, 190), speed and ability to flourish in today’s NHL. With an incredible +29 rating, Bonino is no slouch in the defensive zone. Look for him to not only improve on his 50 points from last season, but to be signed by the Ducks to begin his pro career at the end of the Terriers’ season.
Another promising offensive prospect is sophomore Corey Trivino (NYI). Though he ranked third in freshman scoring for the Terriers behind Chris Connolly and Vinny Saponari (ATL), Trivino has tremendous upside. Similar in size to Bonino (6’1, 180), Trivino has tremendous vision and stickhandling ability that NHL clubs love to see in their prospects. With increased time on the power play, Trivino should surpass 25-30 points this season.
Defensively, any team would be considered worse off when they lose a Hobey Baker winner like Gilroy, but when you’re Boston University, the ability to replace talent isn’t too daunting of a task. Last season’s best defensive pairing in the conference, juniors Colby Cohen (COL) and Kevin Shattenkirk (COL), return to provide unprecedented offense and defense to the Terriers. Senior Eric Gryba (OTT) is a monster at 6’4, 219. Though he lacks offensive ability, he makes up for it in the defensive zone. A reliable puck mover and penalty killer, Gryba will be asked to step up and replace the loss of last year’s best defensive defenseman Brian Strait (PIT). Freshman Max Nicastro (DET) is an excellent skater who will undoubtedly make a strong impression on the Hockey East and Red Wing brass this year.
The Terriers will be backstopped this year by sophomore Kieran Millan (COL). A very positionally sound goaltender, Millan set a BU freshman goalie record with 29 wins. This season will be a true test for Millan because the loss of Strait and Gilroy leaves the Terriers more vulnerable on defense and they will need Millan to step up.
Other Terrier NHL draft picks:
Soph. David Warsofsky (STL)
Soph. Grant Rollheiser (TOR)
University of Maine
Current NHL draftees: 6
Last season, Maine was considered to be in a rebuild mode after losing its best players to graduation and the NHL. The Black Bears surprised everyone when they took BU to the brink of elimination in the conference playoffs last season. With six of its eight top scorers returning, Maine is a dark horse when they start the season Oct. 9 at Union.
Junior Robby Dee (EDM) will be looked to provide veteran leadership for a young Maine team. However, the team will be led in the scoring department by sophomore Gustav Nyquist (DET). Nyquist led the team last year with 32 points and will be relied on to provide most of the scoring for the Black Bears.
On defense, Maine will be asking sophomores Will O’Neill (ATL) and Ryan Hegarty (ANA) to anchor the blueline. O’Neill is the top returning scorer on defense and will need to improve on his 16 points for any team to take Maine defenders seriously in the offensive zone. Freshman Nick Pryor (ANA) will provide a fresh face and some speed for Maine.
Other Maine NHL draft picks:
Soph. Scott Darling (PHO)
University of Massachusetts – Amherst
Current NHL draftees: 3
The Minutemen will be starting this season at home against Rensselaer on Oct. 8. When they do so, UMass will be returning 21 players from last year’s team, second most in the conference.
The UMass offense will be lead this year by a very intriguing player, junior James Marcou. Though small by hockey standards (5’8, 165) Marcou plays with reckless abandon and has no problem taking on a player half a foot taller and 30 pounds heavier. Undrafted and no longer eligible for the entry draft, NHL teams will likely be knocking on his door with contract offers. Sophomore Daniel Hobbs (NYR) will also be looked upon to provide scoring.
Defensively, seniors Martin Nolet (LA) and Justin Braun (SJ) anchor a Minutemen core that needs to improve in its own zone in order to win games against top-ranked opponents this season. Undrafted goaltenders senior Dan Meyers and junior Paul Dainton will need Nolet and Braun to provide relief in the defensive zone in order to keep opposing offenses honest.
University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Current NHL draftees: 1
On Oct. 10, the UMass-Lowell River Hawks will begin their most anticipated season in history against St. Lawrence in Omaha, Nebraska. Lowell shocked the hockey world last year when they almost defeated BU in the Hockey East championship game.
Lowell returns all but three players this season and is expected to be a contender for the Hockey East championship and beyond. All top seven scorers return and provide an amount of experience that no other team has. Senior David Vallorani and junior Scott Campbell will be the top offensive threats for Lowell this season. Senior Chris Auger (CHI), the lone River Hawk NHL prospect, is looking back to bounce back from an injury-plagued season and will cause fits for every team this season.
Junior defenseman Maury Edwards finished second on the team in scoring with 29 points. Not only will he be relied on to score more, but as Edwards goes so do the River Hawks. The Mike Green of the Hockey East, Edwards hopes for another superb season or two in the hopes of landing on an NHL/AHL roster.
Current NHL draftees: 2
Making the playoffs is always the minimum goal for a team. For Merrimack, the playoffs have consistently eluded them even though eight out of 10 teams get a chance to be crowned Hockey East champion. The Warriors quest to escape the Hockey East basement begins Oct. 9 at North Dakota.
The Warriors lost last year’s leading scorer Rob Ricci, but return the other top 11 scorers in hopes of escaping obscurity. Junior Chris Barton and sophomore Jesse Todd will be asked to provide plenty of offense in order to steal enough games to finish at least eighth in the conference.
Defensively is where Merrimack hopes every team underestimates them. Freshman Kyle Bigos (EDM) is the Zdeno Chara of the Hockey East (6’5, 235). He has the size and strength to clear the net in front of sophomore netminder Joe Cannata (VAN). Bigos’ ability to clear any distraction in front of Cannata, could help Merrimack sneak into the Hockey East playoff picture.
University of New Hampshire
Current NHL: draftees: 5
The New Hampshire Wildcats will begin the season Oct. 10 at Rensselaer in hopes of surprising a few teams. After a disappointing loss to Boston University in the quarterfinals of the NCAA national tournament, UNH is hoping for a few players to step up and make up for lost talent.
Now that James vanRiemsdyk is in the NHL, the coaching staff will be looking for senior 30-point scorers Bobby Butler and Peter LeBlanc (CHI) to lead a team with only eight upperclassmen.
In the defensive zone, senior Kick Krates and sophomore Blake Kessel (NYI), younger brother of Toronto’s Phil Kessel, will be asked to lead a blue line that is short on experience. If they can lead a defense that has no upperclassman except Krates, senior goalie Brian Foster (FLA) will be able to steal some wins for the Wildcats.
Other UNH draft picks:
Current NHL draftees: 3
For the first time in more than a decade, Northeastern made an appearance in the NCAA national tournament. On Oct. 9 at Colorado College, NU will start the road towards another NCAA tournament berth. There is no team with more uncertainty in the Hockey East than the Huskies.
Top scorer Wade MacLeod returns to the Huskies, but they lost the next two top offensive threats in Ryan Ginand and Joe Vitale. Sophomores Steve Quailer (MON) and Alex Tuckerman will be heavily relied on to provide assistance for MacLeod.
The most intriguing question this season is what to make of the Daniels. Freshmen Justin and Drew are both San Jose prospects with Justin having the ability to make a huge impact in a conference where freshman rarely do. Drew Daniels has the ability to provide an offensive threat, but it is Justin who will be relied on by head coach Greg Cronin to carry the load of the graduated Vitale. If they turn out to be a version of the Sedin twins, the Huskies will cause a stir in the conference.
Last season the Huskies had Brad Thiessen to bail out their defense when they faltered, which earned him a spot in the finals of the Hobey Baker award voting. This year the defense will need to step their game up with senior David Strathman and junior Mike Binnington leading a lackluster Husky defense.
Current NHL draftees: 2
This year, the Providence Friars begin their season Oct. 10 versus Holy Cross and do not have a lot to look forward to.
Only five returning skaters recorded more than 10 points for the Friars last season, which is a serious cause for concern. Sophomore Matt Bergland returns as the top scorer along with senior John Cavanagh. Both players will have to display ability and talent that no one has seen out of the two in order for Providence to make the playoffs.
Not one player on Providence last year finished with a positive plus/minus rating. The only hopes on defense the Friars have are senior Mark Fayne (NJD) and freshman Alex Velischek (PIT). The tandem goaltending rotation of sophomores Justin Gates and Alex Beaudry will provide different looks, but neither is a top goaltender in the conference.
University of Vermont
Current NHL draftees: 4
Another dark-horse candidate in the Hockey East conference is the Vermont Catamounts. The first weekend of the season wont be easy as they start play Oct. 9 at the University of Denver.
While the Vermont Catamounts lost four of their top seven scorers, only one other player on last year’s roster won’t be returning. Senior Brian Roloff, juniors Justin Milo and Wahsontiio Stacey and freshman David Pacan (CHI) will be asked to pick up where Viktor Stalberg, Peter Lenes, Dean Strong and Carey Carlson left off.
Only one defenseman is gone from the 2008-09 roster as the Catamounts have one of the top defensive units in the conference, which is led by juniors Dan Lawson and Kevan Miller. Fellow junior Kyle Medvec (MIN) and sophomore Drew MacKenzie (BUF) are expected to provide at the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.
Stalberg’s younger brother Sebastian joins the Catamounts and is very reminiscent of Viktor and has the possibility to surpass him in skill. He has the hands that are needed to succeed at the college level, but needs to improve on his vision.
Aside from BU, the Catamounts are the most stable team in net. All three goalies on the roster return led by sophomore Rob Madore and his .912 save percentage. If Madore struggles in net, senior Mike Spillane will take his place between the pipes.