2015-16 ECAC Preview: Quinnipiac, Yale return strong squads to contend once again

By DJ Powers
Connor Clifton - Quinnipiac University

Photo: Quinnipiac University defenseman and Arizona Coyotes prospect Connor Clifton will play an important role for a Bobcats’ team seeking a second straight regular season ECAC title, and more (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

 

The preview of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) for 2015-16 is split into two sections, the first section looking at the conference teams that are not a part of the Ivy League, and the second section covering those schools that are Ivy League.

Quinnipiac won the regular season title in 2014-15, but Harvard came away with the ECAC crown after winning the conference tournament. No ECAC schools made it past the NCAA Tournament, however.

This season, 12 prospects are featured amongst the six non-Ivy League member schools in the ECAC. All teams except St. Lawrence feature at least one prospect on their respective rosters. Clarkson leads the group with four NHL-drafted players.

Quinnipiac University
NHL prospects: 2

The defending ECAC regular season champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Holy Cross.

The Bobcats are coming off another successful season that culminated with their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. With much of last year’s squad returning this season, Quinnipiac is poised to make another strong run for both the ECAC and National Championship crowns.

While the Bobcats have few holes to fill this season, the most difficult departure was that of graduate Matthew Peca (TBL). The Petawawa, ON native was Quinnipiac’s offensive catalyst last season. Peca, an All-ECAC First Team selection, led the Bobcats with 29 assists and finished second with 36 points playing in all 39 games.

One player that could potentially pick up part of the slack is dynamic junior assistant captain Sam Anas. The Potomac, MD native led Quinnipiac with 23 goals and 39 points last season en route to earning a spot on the All-ECAC Second Team. One notable area where Anas has developed quite well is in his decision-making, which has enhanced his well-documented scoring prowess.

Despite the departure of graduates Danny Federico and Justin Agosta, the Bobcats defensive corps looks to be an excellent one again this season. Among those patrolling the blueline are juniors Devon Toews (NYI) and Connor Clifton (ARI).

Toews is coming off an outstanding sophomore campaign despite missing eight games due to injury. The Abbottsford, BC native finished second on the team in defensive scoring with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) playing in 31 games. Toews’ noticeably stronger frame significantly helped his development last season, particularly in one-on-one defensive situations.

Clifton continues to be a rugged force on Quinnipiac’s blueline. Although he brings a good deal of physicality, last season he learned to temper that with more discipline. That has resulted in marked improvement in his overall defensive zone play. Clifton played in 38 games last season posting five assists.

The Bobcats’ strength last season was their goaltending. Quinnipiac returns all of their netminders, including starting senior Michael Garteig. The Prince George, BC native has developed into one of the nation’s most consistent goaltenders, which isn’t likely to change this season. Garteig appeared in 36 games, posting a 22-10-3 record that included five shutouts. His consistency and top-notch play certainly hasn’t been lost on NHL teams either; among the teams taking notice are the Boston Bruins, whose prospect camp Garteig attended over the summer.

In addition to the returning veterans, Quinnipiac also welcomes six newcomers. One player to watch is forward Thomas Aldworth. The right-winger from Keller, TX is noted for his game-breaking speed and shot.

Clarkson University
NHL prospects: 4

 

The Golden Knights opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus RIT.

Clarkson finished eighth in the ECAC last season with a predominantly young group. This season, the Golden Knights should be a much better team, returning most of last season’s squad intact.

The biggest area that proved to be Clarkson’s downfall last season was the lack of offensive production throughout their lineup. The Golden Knights finished 46th nationally with an offense that averaged 2.19 goals per game.

Among those leading Clarkson’s offensive attack up front is junior Troy Josephs (PIT). The Whitby, ON native posted 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 36 games and led the team with a +7. Josephs has blossomed into one of the ECAC’s best defensive forwards, one who truly excelled on the penalty kill last season.

One of the Golden Knights strengths this season is their excellent veteran defensive corps. Among those patrolling the blueline this season are junior James de Haas (DET) and sophomore Kelly Summers (OTT).

De Haas led all Clarkson defensemen with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 36 games. He along with senior Kevin Tansey comprised one of the ECAC’s best and toughest defensive pairings last season. One notable area where de Haas progressed quite nicely last season was in striking a balance between his rugged defensive play and being a key offensive contributor.

Summers returns after an outstanding freshman campaign that culminated with his being named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team. The Golden Lake, ON native posted 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 33 appearances. Where Summers really made his mark was on the power play, where five of his six goals were scored.

The Golden Knights return all of their goaltenders, including the tandem of junior Steve Perry and senior Greg Lewis. Perry, who started last season before being hampered by injuries later in the year, posted an 8-8-2 record that included two shutouts in 20 appearances. Lewis appeared in 15 games, posting a 4-7-1 record that also included two shutouts.

Clarkson welcomes four newcomers this season. One to keep an eye on is Juho Jokiharju. The Tampere, Finland native is a 5’11, 180-pound forward who is noted for his vision and scoring prowess.

Colgate University
NHL prospects: 1

 

The Raiders opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 3rd at Mercyhurst.

Colgate came within one game of making their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance last season, falling to Harvard in the ECAC Tournament championship game. This season, the Raiders will have an excellent veteran group returning who are poised to contend for the conference title.

Although Colgate lost offensive catalyst Kyle Baun (CHI), the team does return nearly all of their top scorers from last season. More good news for the Raiders is that senior captain Mike Borkowski is healthy again. The power forward from Kanata, ON was limited to just 21 games last season due to a knee injury and could potentially fill the role left by Baun’s departure.

Junior Tim Harrison (CGY), the team’s lone NHL prospect, enjoyed a breakout year of sorts last season with 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 37 games. One reason for the improved offensive numbers is the fact that he nearly doubled his shot total (44) from his freshman season, but Harrison has also provided some crucial secondary scoring for Colgate.

Defense was one of the Raiders strengths last season, and that isn’t likely to change this season. Colgate ranked sixth nationally in 2014-15 with a defense that allowed an average of 2.16 goals per game.

Among the anchors on the Raiders’ blueline this season is junior Jake Kulevich. The Marblehead, MA native co-led Colgate defensemen with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 38 games last season. Kulevich is a player that has also garnered considerable NHL attention as he attended the prospect camps of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins this summer.

The Raiders return their goaltending intact this season with junior Charlie Finn leading the way. The North Vancouver, BC native posted a 21-10-4 record last season. His six shutouts tied for second nationally, while his 21 wins tied him for eighth overall in that category.

In addition to the returning veterans, Colgate welcomes five newcomers. One to keep an eye on is Hunter Racine. The Ottawa, ON native is a 5’10, 192-pound forward noted for his scoring prowess and vision. Racine is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
NHL prospects: 3

 

The Engineers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at UMass-Lowell.

RPI was plagued with injuries last season, which resulted in their struggle to a ninth place finish in the ECAC. Now healthy, the Engineers look to make a strong push up the conference standings this season.

An area where injuries took a toll on RPI in 2014-15 was in offensive production. The team finished 53rd nationally last season, averaging just 1.88 goals per game. Among the injured looking to become a significant offensive contributor this season is sophomore Lou Nanne (MIN). The Edina, MN native missed time due to a shoulder injury. He finished his freshman campaign with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 31 games.

Injuries also decimated the Engineers’ defense last season. Sophomore Mike Prapavessis (DAL) was just one of only three players, and the only defenseman on the RPI roster, to play in all 41 games last season. The Oakville, ON native was among the team’s leaders in ice time, averaging well over 20 minutes per game. What Prapavessis lacked in points (8) last season, he made up for with some very steady play at both ends of the ice that continually improved as the year progressed, a trend that should continue into this season.

The key to the Engineers success this season will be the play of redshirted senior goaltender Jason Kasdorf (BUF). The Winnipeg, MB native appeared in 33 games last season, posting an 11-19-2 record that included one shutout. He also posted a very respectable .902 save percentage. Highly touted incoming freshman Alec Dillon (LAK) was expected to push Kasdorf for ice time this season, but he opted to join the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL instead.

Kasdorf’s competition could come from another newcomer in Cam Hackett. The Sault Ste. Marie, ON native was brought in after the loss of Dillon. Hackett, who originally committed to Cornell, is a 2016 NHL Draft-eligible who projects to have a strong upside with a high level of competitiveness.

St. Lawrence University
NHL prospects: 0

 

The Saints opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Niagara.

St. Lawrence comes into this season after a strong second-place finish in the ECAC in 2014-15, and they have the potential to improve on that success this season. Despite St. Lawrence’s lack of drafted players, they are very much on the NHL radar these days.

The biggest reason for the Saints success last season was the sensational play of sophomore goaltender Kyle Hayton. The Denver, CO native was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year after posting a 20-13-3 record that included five shutouts. His 1.95 goals-against average and .937 save percentage both finished in the top five nationally. Hayton’s performance also caught the eye of the Chicago Blackhawks, whose prospect camp he attended this summer.

One notable area where St. Lawrence saw marked improvement last season was in the defensive ranks. Juniors Eric Sweetman and Gavin Bayreuther gave the Saints one of the ECAC’s best defensive pairings last season. Sweetman, an All-ECAC Second Team selection, led St. Lawrence with a +21 rating. Bayreuther, who attended the prospect camps of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs, led the team with 86 shots on goal.

Although the Saints had just two players with 10 or more goals last season, they did have some balanced scoring throughout their lineup. Junior Brian Ward leads the group up front. The Haverhill, MA native led St. Lawrence with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 37 games last season. He was especially dangerous on the Saints’ power play, where four of his nine goals were scored. This summer, Ward attended the Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect camp.

St. Lawrence has five newcomers joining the team this season. Winger Michael Ederer is one to watch. The Lancaster, NY native is 2016 NHL Draft-eligible and is noted for his explosiveness and shot.

Union College
NHL prospects: 2

 

The Dutchmen opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Sacred Heart.

After winning the National Championship two seasons ago, Union College saw their 2014-15 campaign come to an unceremonious end in the ECAC Tournament quarterfinals. While the Dutchmen will be among the top contenders for this season’s ECAC crown, they will also have some holes to fill.

The most notable hole is in goal. With Colin Stevens having graduated, Union College will have a new starter this season. Junior Alex Sakellaropoulos is the lone returning netminder, but highly-touted newcomer Jake Kupsky could be the one to win the job. The towering native of Waukeshaw, WI was a 2015 NHL Draft selection of the San Jose Sharks. In addition to his 6’4” and 200-pound frame, Kupsky is also noted for his superb athleticism and ability to elevate his game at crucial times.

With the uncertainty in goal to start the season, the Dutchmen will be relying heavily on their outstanding veteran defensive corps. Junior Jeff Taylor (PIT) is among the anchors on the team’s blueline. As a sophomore last season, Taylor successfully built on his strong freshman campaign of two years ago, nearly doubling his point total. The Clifton Park, NY native led all Union College defensemen with 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) in 34 games. What was most impressive about Taylor last season is the fact that he was able to balance his offensive output with an equally strong defensive performance.

Junior Mike Vecchione leads the Dutchmen’s excellent offensive attack. The Saugus, MA native returns after a terrific sophomore campaign where he led Union College with 31 assists and co-led with 50 points playing in all 39 games. Vecchione was one of the nation’s most consistent players last season. His stellar two-way play and ability to win draws were among the attributes that drew the attention of NHL teams. This season, Vecchione could potentially be among the most sought-after free agents.

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