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

By DJ Powers

Jimmy Vesey - Harvard University

Photo: Harvard University forward and Nashville Predators prospect Jimmy Vesey returns to the Crimson as the reigning ECAC Player of the Year (courtesy of Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

 

The Ivy League

This season, the Ivy League features a combined 20 NHL prospects representing four of the six member schools. Harvard leads all Ivy League teams with eight prospects, followed by Cornell with six. Dartmouth and Princeton are the only Ivy League members without an NHL prospect on their rosters.

Yale University
NHL prospects: 3

Yale opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 30th versus Princeton in the Capital City Classic in Trenton, NJ.

The Bulldogs returned to the NCAA Tournament last season after a one-year absence. The team returns nearly all of its top players, which should make them just as dangerous this season.

One of the best stories coming out of the ECAC last season was the sensational play of junior netminder Alex Lyon. The ECAC Goaltender of the Year posted a 17-10-5 record in 32 appearances. Lyon led the nation in shutouts (7), goals-against average (1.62) and save percentage (.939) en route to being named to the All-America East First Team. This summer, he attended the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect camp.

In addition to their goaltending, Yale’s strength will be their defensive corps. Anchoring the Bulldogs blueline is senior Rob O’Gara (BOS). The ECAC Defensive Defenseman of the Year led Yale in defensive scoring with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 33 games. His 15 assists and +15 rating led all Bulldogs. O’Gara capped his stellar junior campaign, joining Lyon on the All-America East First Team.

Up front, Yale returns an excellent group of forwards who will look to increase their collective point production. Among them is junior John Hayden (CHI). The Greenwich, CT native is coming off an outstanding sophomore campaign where he finished with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 29 games. Hayden began to establish himself as a clutch scorer last season, as his three game winners led Yale while his three power play tallies were the second most on the team.

Among the seven newcomers that the Bulldogs will look to help boost the team’s offensive numbers this season is Ted Hart. The Cumberland, ME native is the brother of former Harvard winger Brian Hart (TBL) and former Providence College defenseman Kevin Hart. Ted Hart is a 6’1”, 185-pound center noted for his quick hands and playmaking ability. He is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Brown University
NHL prospects: 3

 

The Bears opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 31st versus Holy Cross.

Brown is coming off an 11th place finish in the ECAC last season. While the Bears are poised to be better this season, they do have some issues to address, as well.

The most significant issue is finding more consistency defensively. Brown’s defense allowed an average of 3.61 goals per game last season, the most among all ECAC teams.

The junior goaltending tandem of Tim Ernst and Tyler Steel both return this season and will look to better their respective performances. Ernst posted a 6-8-3 record that included two shutouts in 20 games. Steel posted a 2-11-0 record in 16 appearances.

Although the Bears graduated top defenseman Joey deConcilys, they do return an outstanding albeit very young defensive group. Among those patrolling Brown’s blueline this season is 2016 draft-eligible freshman defenseman Brady Schoo. The Eden Prairie, MN native is noted for his strong puck-moving skills and skating.

The Bears strength this season will be up front. Despite graduating top scorer and All-Ivy League Second Team selection Matt Lorito, Brown’s forward lines are expected to be better this season, although they will also be looking for more scoring depth.

A line that the Bears will be relying on for stepped up offensive production is their sophomore all-prospects line of Max Willman (BUF), Sam Lafferty (PIT), and Tyler Bird (CBJ). The trio, who played most of last season together, combined for just 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 2014-15, but those numbers should increase this season.

One interesting note about Willman’s freshman campaign is the fact that he was pressed into duty as a defenseman in several games due to the rash of injuries that depleted Brown’s blueline. It is highly unlikely that Willman will be moved back to defense again this season, however.

Cornell University
NHL prospects: 6

 

The Big Red opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 30th at Niagara.

Cornell’s offensive struggles were a key contributor to their demise last season. The Big Red averaged just 1.84 goals per game, and their 57 total goals were the second fewest in the nation.

The task of increasing their point production this season will be a bit more challenging for Cornell due to the graduation of three of their top five scorers, including ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year Cole Bardreau (PHI).

One player that is poised for a more productive season is junior Matt Buckles (FLA). The Toronto, ON native is coming off an fine sophomore campaign where he posted 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 29 games. His eight goals finished second on the team. One area where Buckles excelled last season was on the power play, where half of his goals were scored.

Among the nine newcomers, Cornell will be looking to wingers Anthony Angello (PIT) and Beau Starrett (CHI) to provide some much-needed scoring depth. At 6’5”, both will certainly add size to an already massive Big Red squad. In addition, the two are noted for their superb hands and elite offensive abilities.

Cornell is traditionally an excellent defensive team, and this season is shaping up to be no different. But the Big Red will need to fill the role vacated by top defenseman Joakim Ryan (SJS). Among those that the Cornell will be asking to fill the hole made by Ryan’s departure is senior Reece Willcox (PHI). The Surrey, BC native is coming off an outstanding but injury-shortened junior campaign where he posted four points (one goal, three assists) in 21 games.

Cornell returns all of their goaltenders this season, including junior starter Mitch Gilliam. The Peterborough, ON native is coming off of a solid sophomore campaign where he posted a 9-9-5 record that included one shutout in 27 appearances. His .927 save percentage and 1.99 goals-against average both finished in the top 15 nationally.

Dartmouth College
NHL prospects: 0

 

The Big Green opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 31st versus Harvard.

Dartmouth tied for fourth in the ECAC last season. Finishing among the top four this season could prove to be a challenge, however, as the Big Green will have some big holes to fill.

The most significant need is to replace the point production that left with their graduated top three scorers Eric Neiley (BOS), Tyler Sikura, and Eric Robinson. The trio accounted for 31 percent of the team’s points last season.

Senior Brad Schierhorn returns as Dartmouth’s top scorer. He is coming off an excellent junior campaign where he posted 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 33 games. The Anchorage, AK native has developed into a clutch scorer for the Big Green. His four game-winning tallies finished second on the team. This summer, Schierhorn attended the Winnipeg Jets’ prospect camp.

One player that could provide some added scoring punch for Dartmouth this season is freshman Alex Jasiek. What the St. Louis, MO native lacks in size (5’8”, 170 lbs.), he makes up for with his creativity and scoring prowess. Jasiek is eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

In addition to their top three scorers, Dartmouth also graduated stalwart rearguards Rick Pinkston and Andy Simpson. Among those that Dartmouth will be looking to pick up the slack this season is senior Ryan Bullock. The Eden Prairie, MN native is coming off a strong junior campaign where he finished with nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 29 games. He also led the team with 38 penalty minutes.

The Big Green’s strength this season is in goal. Dartmouth returns all of their goaltenders, including senior starter James Kruger. The Minnetonka, MN native is coming off an strong junior campaign where he posted a 13-9-4 record that included three shutouts in 26 appearances. This summer, Kruger joined teammate Schierhorn at the Winnipeg Jets’ prospect camp.

Harvard University
NHL prospects: 8

 

The reigning ECAC Tournament champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 31st at Dartmouth.

Harvard features more prospects than any other team in the ECAC. The Crimson is poised to make another strong run to the NCAA Tournament, but they also have significant holes to fill.

Replacing graduate workhorse Steve Michalek (MIN) may be the most significant hole to fill this season. Vying for the starting job this season are sophomore Merrick Madsen (PHI) and freshman Michael Lackey. Madsen saw very limited time behind Michalek last season, appearing in one game and playing just 43:17 minutes. Lackey is among the top NCAA goaltenders eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

In addition to Michalek, the Crimson also graduated stalwart defensemen in Patrick McNally (SJS) and Max Everson (BOS). McNally missed about half of last season due to injury, but was still able to lead all Harvard defensemen with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 21 games. Everson was the Crimson’s top shutdown rearguard, finishing with six points (two goals, four assists) in 37 games.

Among those that will be relied on to help fill the holes left by the departed defensemen is towering sophomore Wiley Sherman (BOS). The 6’7” Greenwich, CT native played in all 37 games last season, posting three assists. Sherman spent some time as Everson’s defensive partner last season and could eventually fill Everson’s role.

The best news for Harvard heading into the season is the return of All-American senior co-captain Jimmy Vesey (NSH). The Ivy League and ECAC Player of the Year opted to return this season after a phenomenal junior campaign where he led the nation with 32 goals and finished third with 58 points playing in all 37games.

Vesey leads a stellar group up front that also features freshman Ryan Donato (BOS). The highly-touted Boston, MA native is the son of Crimson head coach Ted Donato. The younger Donato is noted for his superb hockey sense and strong two-way game.

Princeton University
NHL prospects: 0

 

The Tigers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 30th versus Yale in the Capital City Classic in Trenton, NJ.

Princeton finished in the ECAC basement for the second consecutive year last season. If the Tigers expect to move up the conference standings this season, they will need to improve in a number of different areas.

The most notable area in need of improvement is point production throughout their lineup. Last season, Princeton’s offense finished at the bottom nationally both in total goals (39) and goals per game (1.30). Furthermore, no player on the Tigers roster netted 10 or more goals nor posted 15 or more points.

But the good news for Princeton heading into the 2015-16 season is the fact that they return nearly all of their top scorers. Heading the group up front is senior Jonathan Liau. The Burbank, CA native is coming off a very good junior campaign where he led the Tigers with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 29 games.

One of the six newcomers that could give Princeton some desperately needed scoring this season is Ryan Kuffner. The Ottawa, ON native is a 6’1”, 185-pound winger noted for his scoring prowess and strong play around the net. Kuffner is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Although the Tigers’ defensive corps will be young again this season, it is shaping up to be better. Among those patrolling Princeton’s blueline is junior Tommy Davis. The Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ native returns after a solid sophomore campaign where he finished with five points (two goals, three assists) in 27 games.

Princeton’s strength this season is in goal. The Tigers return two of their three netminders, including junior starter Colton Phinney. The Chatham, NJ native actually played better than his 4-23-3 record would indicate, as he finished last season with a respectable .910 save percentage in 29 appearances. This summer, Phinney attended the New Jersey Devils’ prospect camp.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF

 

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