2012-13 Hockey East season preview

By DJ Powers

Johnny Gaudreau - Boston College

Photo: Boston College followers hope that Calgary Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau celebrates goals often this season as that school gears up for another run at a national championship (courtesy of Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

2012-13 is shaping up to be another exciting season in Hockey East. With the massive changes to the college hockey landscape on the horizon, the current, ten-member Hockey East conference will see an expansion in the next two years. Notre Dame joins the conference next season, while the University of Connecticut's men’s team will become Hockey East members beginning in the 2014-15 season (the UConn women’s team is already a member of Hockey East).

This season, Hockey East features 38 NHL prospects representing nine of the ten schools. UMass is the lone conference member without an NHL-drafted player on their roster. Boston University leads all Hockey East schools with nine prospects, followed by Boston College with seven.

Boston College
NHL prospects: 7

The reigning National Champions will look to successfully defend their crown when they open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 13 at Northeastern.

As the old saying goes, it’s not how you start that matters, it’s how you finish. And no team finished better or was hotter down the stretch last season than Boston College. The Eagles amassed an incredible string of 19 consecutive victories that culminated with the program’s fifth NCAA title.

In the off-season, Boston College lost several key players from last season’s squad that have left significant holes that will need to be filled this year.

Two of the most notable losses were on the Eagles’ blueline. Tommy Cross has graduated and signed with the Boston Bruins. Brian Dumoulin opted to forgo the final year of his eligibility to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In addition, top-six defenseman Edwin Shea has also graduated.

Dumoulin was one of the nation’s best all-around defensemen last season. The Biddeford, ME native led the team in defensive scoring with 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 44 games. He also led Boston College with a plus-27. Dumoulin’s excellent junior campaign earned him numerous honors including a selection to the All-America East First Team and being named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

While the Eagles’ defensive corps will be younger this season, they will also be very good. Senior Patrick Wey (WSH) leads the group this season. The Pittsburgh, PA native is coming off of an injury-shortened season that limited him to seven points (two goals, five assists) and 32 games. However, he did make some significant strides in his development last season. One notable area was in his improved offensive play, showing more of a willingness to jump into plays and create scoring opportunities.

“I don’t know if Pat will ever be a top-scoring defenseman, but we’ll be counting on him to add some offense for us this year,” said associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “He started to do more of that last year because Pat knew that it was something he needed to improve. But what’s going to be most important for us as far as Pat is concerned is we need him be a real solid, physical defender and if he can generate some offense for us, that’ll be a real bonus.”

Boston College also adds three talented newcomers to their defensive corps that includes 2012 first round draft pick Michael Matheson (FLA). The Pointe-Claire, QC native has size (6’2”, 189 lbs.) and is noted for his exceptional skating.

“Mike is certainly a talented player,” said Cavanaugh. “He’s strong and skates really well. Mike’s got great mobility and offensive skills too. We’re hoping that Mike can eventually develop into and fill at least part of the role that Brian did for us. I think if he did that, we’d be in great shape with Mike.”

In addition to what was lost on their blueline, the Eagles also suffered some key losses upfront. Among them was top scorer Chris Kreider, who opted to forgo his final season to sign with the New York Rangers. The Boxford, MA native led Boston College with 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) playing in all 44 games last season.

Leading Boston College’s offensive attack this season are a pair of Calgary Flames prospects in sophomore sensation Johnny Gaudreau and senior center Bill Arnold. Gaudreau was one of college hockey’s most dynamic and prolific players last season. The Carneys Point, NJ native led the nation in rookie scoring with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) playing in all 44 games.

Arnold finished his sophomore campaign with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 42 games. The Needham, MA native’s outstanding performance with Team USA at the 2012 World Junior Championship carried over to the second half of the season with Boston College. And where this was particularly evident was in his strong play away from the puck and in his ability to wear down opposing players.

“I think Billy is a complete player,” noted Cavanaugh. “He can play in any role that you put him in and play them all extremely effectively. I think that’s Billy’s greatest strength. It’s something that we don’t take for granted here. This year, we expect Billy to step up and show some of the leadership qualities that he has too.”

With Parker Milner returning this season, one of Boston College’s strengths will be in goal. It took a little while for the senior from Pittsburgh, PA to find his groove last season, but when he did, he became nearly unbeatable. Milner led the nation with 29 wins and an astounding .853 winning percentage in 34 games. Not surprisingly, Milner was heavily pursued by numerous NHL teams last spring and is almost certain to be one of the most coveted free agents available again next spring. Among the teams showing interest were the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings, whose prospect camps he attended this summer.

Boston University
NHL prospects: 9

The Terriers will open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 13 hosting Providence.

The 2011-12 season and the off-season that followed were tumultuous times for Boston University. In addition to the many departures, the Terriers were also hit with a damning report of the program. But, with a new season right around the corner, Boston University will be focusing on the task at hand of competing for the Hockey East and NCAA titles.

The Terriers suffered key losses at all three positions, but the one of most concern is in goal. For the first time since the 2008-09 season, Boston University will feature three goaltenders with no collegiate experience. That’s because the team’s two netminders from last season, Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser, have both graduated. Millan, who signed with the Colorado Avalanche last spring, finished his strong senior campaign with a 20-14-1 record that included three shutouts. Rollheiser finished with a 6-4-1 record that included one shutout last season.

Of the three netminders on Boston University’s roster this season, the starting job could potentially fall to highly touted newcomer Sean Maguire. The 2012 draft selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins (113th overall, fourth round) possesses size (6’2”, 202 lbs.) and is noted for his athleticism and ability to step up in big games.

With the inexperience in goal, the Terriers will be relying heavily on their returning defensive corps that won’t have Adam Clendening on it. Clendening, who opted to forgo the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks, was a key component on Boston University’s excellent power play unit last season. The Wheatfield, NY native led the Terriers in defensive scoring with 33 points (four goals, 29 assists) in 38 games. His 29 assists ranked third in the nation among all defensemen.

While the departure of Clendening is significant, the Terriers should be able to replace his point production this season with the solid veterans and newcomers that they will have. Junior Garrett Noonan (NSH) anchors the Boston University blueline. The Norfolk, MA native posted 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games last season. He also led the team with a plus-19. Noonan will likely be Clendening’s successor as the quarterback on the Terriers’ power play this season. While Noonan’s offensive prowess was quite noticeable last season, what may not have been as much so was his much-improved defensive side. Noonan has added some grit to his game and effectively used his strengthened 6’1”, 205-pound frame in shutting down opposing forwards.

One freshman defenseman to keep an eye on this season is Matt Grzelcyk (BOS). The Charlestown, MA native was a third round (85th overall) selection of the Boston Bruins in this past June’s NHL Draft. Grzelcyk is a 5’9”, 171-pound puck moving defenseman that is noted for his speed, mobility and hockey sense.

Last season, the Terriers were among the nation’s most dominant offensive teams. Boston University averaged 3.56 goals per game, which ranked fourth. But with the numerous off-season departures as well as the losses of Charlie Coyle (MIN) and Corey Trivino (NYI) at mid-season last year, duplicating their strong offensive numbers this season might be a bit of a challenge.

While the Terriers were able to successfully move on without Coyle and Trivino, they now have to fill the holes left by five other departures, as well. The most notable hole is the one left by top scorer Alex Chiasson, who opted to forgo his final year to sign with the Dallas Stars. The St. Augustin, QC native led the Terriers with 31 assists and 46 points in 38 games last season.

Leading Boston University’s offensive charge this season is junior Matt Nieto (SJS) and senior Wade Megan (FLA). Nieto returns as the team’s top scorer after finishing last season with 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) in 37 games. His 42 points were nearly double what he posted as a freshman two years ago. Nieto made great strides in developing the defensive side of his game last season and that has made him a more complete player. This is particularly evident in his transition game. The grittiness that Nieto has also added to his game has made him more difficult to play against.

Megan, who will serve as team captain this season, returns as Boston University’s top goal-scorer from last season. In addition to leading the team in overall goals (20), Megan also led the Terriers with nine power play tallies. He finished his junior season with 29 points and was one of only five players to play in all 39 games. After the departures of Coyle and Trivino in January, Megan stepped up his game to help pick up the slack and became one of the Terriers’ best offensive players in the second half. Where Megan has been particularly dangerous is in the dirty areas.

In addition to the returning veterans upfront, Boston University will also welcome five talented new forwards, including Sam Kurker. The Reading, MA native is a sturdy 6’3”, 210-pound winger who is noted for his combination of grit, skill and skating ability. He was a second round (56th overall) selection of the St. Louis Blues in this past June’s NHL Draft.

University of Maine
NHL prospects: 4

The Black Bears will open their 2012 -13 season on Oct. 6 hosting Quinnipiac.

The most pressing issue for Maine heading into this season is replacing the scoring that left with departed players Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn, Matt Mangene and Will O’Neill. The quartet accounted for a whopping 48 percent of Maine’s total points. Abbott, Flynn and O’Neill have all graduated and signed with Toronto, Buffalo and Winnipeg, respectively. Mangene opted to forgo his final year of eligibility to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Abbott and Flynn, along with returning senior Joey Diamond, comprised one of the nation’s most prolific lines last season, racking up a combined 167 points and accounting for nearly half of Maine’s power play goals.

Among the four aforementioned departed players, the loss of Abbott is the most notable. The Hamilton, ON native’s 62 points and 41 assists led the nation last season. Abbott’s sensational senior campaign earned him numerous honors, including being named the Hockey East Player of the Year, a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist and being selected to the All-America East First Team.

Diamond returns after leading Maine last season in goal scoring with 25 and finishing with 47 points in 37 games. The Long Island, NY native also led the Black Bears with 117 penalty minutes. Diamond has established himself as the nation’s ultimate pest. His ultra aggressive style has wreaked havoc on opposing teams since his arrival in Orono four years ago. That, combined with great offense-generating ability, has also made Diamond one of the most difficult players to play against. As associate head coach Dan Kerluke explains, the key for Diamond this season is to play with more discipline while maintaining his intensely competitive nature.

“Joey is obviously going to be producing the most and will be our go-to guy in all situations this year. He’s always been an offensive threat that’s highly skilled but he’s tough as nails too. It’s amazing how he can chew you apart in battling for the puck given his size (5’8”, 170 lbs.). But that’s just his competitive spirit. Being one of our tri-captains this year is going to be a great opportunity for Joey to mature as both a person and a player. I think it’s going to help him understand the importance of not only generating offense for us, but also in playing with more discipline too.”

In addition to Diamond and the other returning veterans upfront, the Black Bears will also be looking to their four new forwards to help fill the massive holes left by their departed players. The one to watch is Devin Shore (DAL). The Ajax, ON native was one of two Maine freshmen that were taken in this past June’s NHL Draft. He has size (6’1”, 190 lbs.) and is noted for his hockey sense, playmaking ability and compete level.

“Devin’s an elite player that has size and great hockey sense,” Kerluke said of Shore. “He has such good poise with the puck. He’s smart, can make plays and supports the puck well. Right now, we’re working on his skating to improve that area. It’s definitely going to be a transition for him being a freshman, but I think Devin will be able do that quickly.”

Another area where Maine suffered key losses was on the blueline. In addition to O’Neill, the Black Bears also graduated Ryan Hegarty. The Arlington, MA native collected 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 40 games and led all Black Bears defensemen with a plus-7.

While the losses of O’Neill and Hegarty are significant, Maine defensive corps heading into this season looks very good, albeit younger, too. Among the veterans anchoring the defense is senior Nick Pryor (ANA). The St. Paul, MN posted 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 36 games last season. Pryor is versatile in that he can play both at forward and on defense equally well. Given his history of injuries, Pryor’s success this season will be predicated on whether he can stay healthy.

“We’re expecting to play Nick exclusively on defense this year because we need his skill, hockey sense and ability to breakout the puck from the blueline,” said Kerluke. “He has really elite poise when he has the puck and we need that, especially since we lost Will. Nick has worked on and improved his defensive awareness and his confidence has grown too. So he’s become a more rounded player for us. We’re hoping that Nick stays healthy because he will be a real important part of our offensive game and we’re excited about what he'll do for us this year.”

Another defenseman to keep an eye on this season is newcomer Ben Hutton (VAN). The Prescott, ON native is a 6’3”, 195-pound converted defenseman with excellent offensive skills that could potentially see him running Maine’s power play in the future.

“We think Ben is going to be a heck of a defenseman on the back end,” Kerluke said of Hutton. “He’ll definitely bring some poise and skill to our team. I think he’s another one of our freshmen that will be able to make the transition quickly and be an impact player for us.”

Goaltending will be the Black Bears’ strength this season as they return their top two goaltenders in juniors Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette (CBJ). Sullivan posted a 22-11-3 record that included two shutouts in 36 games. Ouellette appeared in nine games and posted a 1-3-0 record. Rookie Matt Morris will also be in the mix to gain playing time as well.

University of Massachusetts
NHL prospects: 0

The Minutemen open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 12 hosting UConn.

This season marks a new era in UMass hockey. After 12 years at the helm, Don Cahoon has stepped down and has been replaced by former Vermont assistant coach John Micheletto. Micheletto inherits a Minutemen team that is more experienced and looks to be very good heading into the new season, but will also have a few big holes to fill.

UMass graduated just four players this off-season and two of them were forwards T.J. Syner and Danny Hobbs. Syner led the Minutemen with 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) playing in all 36 games last season. Hobbs finished fifth on the team with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 32 games.

With the loss of Syner and Hobbs, UMass will be looking to both their returning veterans and three incoming freshman forwards to replace the production of the two graduated players.

Leading the Minutemen’s offensive charge this season are junior Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira. Sheary returns as UMass’ top scorer after posting 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 36 games last season. The winger from Melrose, MA is a fun player to watch. He is an excellent skater that can get up to speed very quickly. Sheary uses his speed and quickness very effectively in creating scoring opportunities.

Pereira returns as the team’s top goal-scorer after leading the Minutemen with 17 goals and finishing third on the team with 34 points in 35 games. Where Pereira proved to be particularly dangerous was on the UMass power play. Of the 17 goals that he tallied last season, seven came on the man advantage. The West Haven, CT native might be the most complete player on the UMass roster this season. He has established a nice balance between his great offensive ability and a strong defensive game.

Of the three newcomers, K.J. Tiefenwerth will be the one to watch. The Bellmore, NY native, who originally committed to Boston College, is noted for his hockey sense and playmaking ability. Tiefenwerth was one of four current UMass players that attended the New York Islanders camp this summer.

Two areas that the Minutemen will look to address this season is their defensive play and anemic penalty killing. Both areas contributed greatly to their eighth-place finish in Hockey East last season. The Minutemen allowed an average of 3.28 goals per game, which ranked 49th in the nation. Even worse was their penalty killing that clicked at just 76.1 percent. The good news is that UMass returns their back end virtually intact, so those areas should see some marked improvement this season.

Aside from graduating Michael Marcou, the Minutemen return all of their defensemen from last season. However, Marcou was also UMass’ best all-around defenseman last season. The Kings Park, NY native finished his senior year with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 34 games. While the Minutemen have a number of outstanding defensemen returning, one of them will need to fill the role that Marcou had filled.

One player that could do so is junior Joel Hanley. The Keswick, ON native led the Minutemen in defensive scoring last season with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) playing in all 36 games. Hanley is an outstanding puck-moving defenseman with speed and good offensive instincts.

Another player to watch this season is towering sophomore Oleg Yevenko. He finished his rookie campaign last season with three points (one goal, two assists) in 33 games. At 6’7”, 225-pounds, he’s hard to miss. The Minsk, Belarus native has gotten quite a bit of NHL notice since his arrival in Amherst. Yevenko is a shutdown defenseman that thrives in the physical game. While he is still a work in progress, Yevenko has made a few strides in his development as a freshman, most notably in using his gigantic frame more effectively in playing his position. If Yevenko can continue his developmental progress with the potential that he has, he could wind up among the nation’s top free agents sooner rather than later.

This season, the Minutemen return all three of their goaltenders. Sophomores Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz split much of the season, while returning junior Jeff Teglia saw limited playing time. Of the three, Boyle is likely to start the season. The Manalan, NJ native was solid as a freshman, but UMass hopes to see him step it up as a sophomore. Boyle posted a record an 8-7-4 record in 21 games last season.

University of Massachusetts-Lowell
NHL prospects: 3

The River Hawks they open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 12 hosting Vermont.

UMass-Lowell was one of the best stories coming out of college hockey last season. And no team enjoyed a greater renaissance than the River Hawks. Under first-year head coach Norm Bazin, UMass-Lowell went from being a 5-25-4 team two seasons ago to a 24-13-1 team this past season that culminated with their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996. Their unprecedented turnaround was the third greatest in NCAA history.

But the River Hawks aren’t content with resting on their laurels. As Bazin explains, there is still plenty of work to do this season.

“We want to continue to build our defensive game and improve in all three positions.”

While most of the team’s top players from last season return, UMass-Lowell will have some holes to fill. The most notable are the ones that forwards David Vallorani and Matt Ferriera have left. Vallorani and Ferriera, who have graduated, combined to score 61 points for the River Hawks in 38 and 37 games respectively last season.

While UMass-Lowell did lose Vallorani and Ferriera, the team does return last season’s top three scorers, including sophomore Scott Wilson (PIT) and senior Riley Wetmore.

Wilson exceeded many outside expectations after a phenomenal freshman campaign that saw him rack up 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 37 games and capturing the Hockey East Rookie of the Year honor. Wilson’s 38 points were also tied for fourth in the nation among rookies. Two attributes that set Wilson apart from many freshmen last season are his creativity with the puck and ability to slow the game down. Bazin notes that the biggest challenges facing Wilson this season are continuing to build on his rookie numbers and rounding out his game.

“I think the challenge is getting the same level of (offensive) production out of Scott this year that we got last year. We need him to take that next step in his development. We’re looking for Scott to improve his defensive game and he’ll be a part of not only our power play but our penalty-killing unit, as well. And I really think Scott will be able to do that.”

Wetmore, who will serve as team captain this season, returns after leading UMass-Lowell with 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 38 games last season. While Wilson is likely to gain most of the attention among the team’s forwards, Wetmore is certainly well worth a look, too. The Swanton, VT center is a gifted playmaker, but it is his work ethic that is notable here. Many of Wetmore’s goals have come as a result of hard work and his compete level.

“We liked what Riley did last season,” Bazin said of Wetmore. “He’s a wonderful leader, he can play both sides of the puck, and we’re excited about what Riley can do this season.”

Goaltending will be a strength of the River Hawks this season and it’s a position to keep an eye on. Junior Doug Carr returns after a stellar sophomore season in which he posted a 22-10-1 record that included four shutouts. He possesses some good athleticism and rebound control.

Carr will get some serious competition for ice time this season from talented newcomer Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). The 6’4”, 200-pound native of Commerce, MI was one of two goalies taken in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, going in the fifth round (130th overall.)  Bazin notes that while Hellebuyck is a project, he also has immense potential.

“Connor is going to add depth and he’ll be in a real battle for (playing) minutes with Doug. The thing that we like about Connor is that he seems to find ways to stop the puck. He’s raw, but as he grows into his body and the position, Connor will become an excellent goalie for us. And we’re excited about his upside.”

In addition to their goaltending, the River Hawks will also have solid depth on defense with nearly the entire defensive corps returning intact as well the debut of four new defenders. Among those to watch is red-shirted freshman Dmitry Sinitsyn (DAL). The Moscow, Russia native came to UMass-Lowell back in January, but did not play last season. Sinitsyn will add some size (6’2”, 200 lbs.) as well as some offensive skill to the team’s blueline.

“It’s going to be a learning process for Dmitry,” Bazin said of Sinitsyn. “He’s learning to adjust to the college game and just the culture here. Dmitry has a good skill set and he will get a chance to play in different situations for us this year.”

Merrimack College
NHL prospects: 1

The Warriors open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 6 at Union College.

Merrimack struggled last season to recapture the magic of the 2010-11 campaign. And coming into this season, that struggle may continue. The Warriors have some significant holes to fill and how successful they are at doing so will determine how far they will go next spring.

The most glaring concern is in goal. After four successful years at Merrimack, Joe Cannata has graduated and moved on, signing with the Vancouver Canucks. The Wakefield, MA native posted a 17-12-7 record that included two shutouts in 36 appearances en route to earning a selection to the All-America East Second Team. He was also the backbone of the Warriors’ superb defense that ranked ninth in the nation last season, allowing an average of 2.24 goals per game. Cannata leaves Merrimack as one of the program’s greatest players of all time. He set numerous records that include the lowest goals against average (2.47) and save percentage (.915) over a career (2.47), and most career wins (59).

The daunting task of filling Cannata’s shoes this season will fall to returning senior Nick Drew, junior Sam Marotta and sophomore Rasmus Tirronen. Of the three, Marotta could be the Warriors’ potential starter this season. He is the only one of the returning netminders that saw playing time last season, albeit very little. The Bridgewater, MA native saw just 64:54 minutes of ice time over two games, posting one win.

The other primary concern facing Merrimack this season is their offense. The Warriors averaged 2.76 goals per game last season, which ranked 35th nationally. Furthermore, the team graduated four of their top scorers from last season in forwards Ryan Flanigan, Jesse Todd and Jeff Velleca, and defenseman Karl Stollery. The quartet accounted for 34 percent of Merrimack’s point production last season that will need to be replaced this season.

Junior Mike Collins returns as the team’s top scorer after posting 25 points (ten goals, 15 assists) in 35 games. The Boston, MA native has developed a knack for scoring timely goals. His seven power play tallies led the Warriors, while his three game-winners co-led the team. Collins’ numbers took a bit of a dip last season. And with the losses of graduates Flanigan, Todd, and Velleca upfront, Merrimack will need much more production out of Collins and the team’s other forwards to make a successful run at the Hockey East title this season.

Among the Warriors’ six rookie forwards, the one to watch is Ben Bahe. The Stillwater, MN native is the youngest player on the Merrimack roster. Bahe was a standout at Hill-Murray HS where he was a finalist for the Mr. Hockey Award. Although he isn’t big (5’10”, 180 lbs.), Bahe has some big-time potential. He possesses some good wheels and is really creative with the puck. He can also rack up the points. Bahe, who is a 1993-born player, will also enter his final year of NHL Draft eligibility.

With the loss of Cannata, Merrimack will be looking to their great returning defensive corps to steady things on the back end. However, the Warriors will need one of them to step up to fill the hole left by Stollery's departure. The Camrose, AB native was one of Merrimack’s best defensemen last season who also quarterbacked the team’s power play. Stollery led all Warriors defensemen with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) playing in all 37 games.

Junior Jordan Heywood could potentially be the player that fills Stollery’s role this season. The Regina, SK native returns as Merrimack’s top scoring defenseman after posting 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 37 games last season. Heywood is an outstanding puck moving defenseman that possesses good on-ice vision and hands. Since arriving at Merrimack, Heywood has never missed a game.

Another defenseman that the Warriors will need to step up this season is imposing senior Kyle Bigos (EDM). The 6’5”, 240-pound native of Upland, CA posted 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 34 games last season. He also led the nation with 125 penalty minutes. While Bigos’ intimidating style of play continues to be his trademark, he has made great strides in others areas, particularly in his much-improved offensive game and decision-making. What is notable here is that Bigos’ evolving offensive side hasn’t come at the expense of his toughness nor his solid defensive play.

University of New Hampshire
NHL prospects: 2

The Wildcats open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 12 hosting St. Cloud State.

Last season marked the first time in 15 years that New Hampshire failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament, snapping one of the longest strings of consecutive tournament appearances. This season, the team will look to remedy that.

The Wildcats return much of last season’s squad, but there are holes that will need to be filled this season. Of the six players that New Hampshire graduated, three were forwards, including top goal-scorer Stevie Moses. The Leominster, MA native co-led New Hampshire with 35 points (22 goals, 13 assists) in playing in all 37 games last season. Moses also led the team with seven power play markers and was one of just two players to post ten or more goals last season.

The other was returning sophomore Grayson Downing. The Abbotsford, BC native posted 23 points (ten goals, 13 assists) in 34 games last season. Downing is a player that is well worth a look. He possesses good speed, finishing ability and is very good around the net.

Among the other New Hampshire forwards that will need to step things up this season is senior Greg Burke (WSH). The Lee, NH native has had to deal with numerous injuries throughout his collegiate career thus far and last season was no different. Despite a nagging finger injury, he was able to play in 34 games last season, finishing with 11 points (six points, five assists). Burke’s success this season will be predicated by whether he can stay healthy. He was performing quite well at the Washington Capitals' prospect camp this summer, when it was cut short due to a leg injury. Burke has immense potential that hasn’t been fully realized yet. He is an excellent playmaker that can create scoring opportunities from just about anywhere. He also utilizes his speed quite effectively in New Hampshire’s outstanding transition game. If Burke can stay injury-free this season, he could end up being one of the top players coming out of Hockey East by season’s end.

The Wildcats’ strength heading into this season will be their defense. The team’s lone off-season loss was Damon Kipp, who has graduated. Other than losing Kipp, New Hampshire returns their defensive corps intact, and it looks to be even better this season. Two veterans to watch are junior Eric Knodel (TOR) and rising sophomore Trevor van Riemsdyk.

After not seeing playing time as a freshman two seasons ago, Knodel finally made his collegiate debut last season and played remarkably well. The towering West Chester, PA native posted 12 points (three goals, nine assists) playing in 37 games. At 6’6”, 225-pounds, it’s hard to miss Knodel. He skates well for a man of his size, has good puck moving ability and plays his position simply yet effectively. Although he is still a work in progress, Knodel has made some strides in his development that should continue this season.

Van Riemsdyk came to Durham as a highly touted rookie last season and didn’t disappoint. The Middletown, NJ native led all New Hampshire defensemen with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) playing in all 37 games. He also earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Van Riemsdyk is a blossoming, two-way defenseman that is very good at both ends of the ice. But what really stands out about him is his excellent vision and hockey sense. He utilizes his speed quite effectively in the Wildcats’ transition game, as well. None of this has been lost on NHL teams. Among the teams already giving van Riemsdyk a look are the Philadelphia Flyers and the Ottawa Senators, whose prospect camps he attended this summer.

Van Riemsdyk wasn’t the only Wildcats returning sophomore that enjoyed a stellar freshman year last season, as goaltender Casey DeSmith was another frosh standout. The Rochester, NH native took over the starting job around mid-season and never looked back. He posted a 9-10-1 record that included one shutout. He joined teammate van Riemsdyk on the Hockey East All-Rookie team. This season, DeSmith will be looking to build on his successful freshman campaign, but he will get some competition from junior Jeff Wyer and newcomer Jamie Regan for ice time.

Regan is one of eight freshmen on New Hampshire’s roster this season. But the player to watch is Brett Pesce. A late 1994-born defenseman, Pesce will be one of, if not the youngest player in college hockey this season. He will also be eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft. The Tarrytown, NJ native has a tall, lanky frame (6’3”, 175 lbs.) and is noted for his superb skating and puck-moving ability.

Northeastern University
NHL prospects: 4

The Huskies will open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 10 hosting Merrimack.

It was an interesting off-season for Northeastern as the team experienced a number of key departures. The most notable took place on the Huskies blueline with the loss of three regulars from last season in Anthony Bitetto (NSH), Drew Daniels (SJS) and Luke Eibler. Bitetto opted to forgo the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the Nashville Predators. Eibler has transferred to Northern Michigan, and Daniels has left the program.

While those losses are significant, the Huskies blueline is shaping up to be quite good this season. It will also be big, as well, with six of the team’s defensemen being 6’2” or taller.

One returning veteran to watch this season is sophomore Josh Manson (ANA). The Prince Albert, SK native posted four assists in 33 games last season. Manson is a shutdown defenseman that brings a lot of physicality to his game. As head coach Jim Madigan explains, Manson will play a bigger role for Northeastern this season.

“Josh has made tremendous strides since making the jump to this level last year”, said Madigan. “He’s improved his agility, quickness and ability to move the puck. I think he really improved his on-ice awareness a lot by the end of last year. Josh comes in with more poise, confidence and patience that he’ll be able to build on this year. Physically, he’s a real specimen. Josh worked on his body over the summer and has come back in tremendous shape. He’s going to be one of our go-to guys and log a lot of minutes this season. So we’re excited about Josh’s progress moving forward this year.”

With a revamped blueline coming into the season, the Huskies will be relying on their goaltending to help stabilize things on the back end. Northeastern returns both of their goaltenders from last season including towering senior Chris Rawlings. The North Delta, BC posted a 12-14-5 record that included one shutout in 31 appearances. He first caught the attention of NHL teams after his stellar freshman season four years ago. This summer, Rawlings attended the prospect camps of the New Jersey Devils and the Phoenix Coyotes. If Rawlings is able to play up to his potential and find his groove again this season, he’ll again be one of the most sough-after collegiate free agents available at season’s end.

“Chris wants this to be his best year and I fully expect Chris to have the best season of his (collegiate) career”, stated Madigan. “His mental preparation has been great and he’s doing all the right things. I think Chris put too much pressure on himself and tried to do more than he was capable of in the second half of last season. But we’ve addressed that with him and I think Chris will be focused on just doing what he’s capable of this season.”

In addition to the key losses on defense, Northeastern also lost several key forwards. The two most notable were Mike McLaughlin and Steve Quailer. McLaughlin has graduated, while Quailer opted to forgo his final year to sign with the Montreal Canadiens. With the group of forwards that the Huskies will have returning and coming in this season, they should be able to fill the holes left by McLaughlin and Quailer.

Northeastern was one of two Hockey East teams whose top scorer last season was a freshman. Returning sophomore Ludwig Karlsson not only led the Huskies in scoring but was also one of the conference’s most exciting newcomers. The Stockholm, Sweden native posted 26 points (ten goals, 16 assists) in 32 games and earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Part of what made Karlsson so successful last season is his great ability to read and follow plays. As he continues to refine and develop his overall game, it will make Karlsson not only a better player but a more difficult one to contend with.

“Ludwig is obviously a highly skilled players with good offensive instincts”, said Madigan of Karlsson. “Where I think he really made tremendous strides last season was in his defensive play and being a reliable guy in his own zone. Ludwig just needed to get bigger and stronger. This summer, he just worked his tail off because he knew that one of the areas where he needed to improve was in his strength and conditioning. What we’re seeing with Ludwig now is a much stronger player that’s going to be able to fight through checks and not be pushed off of the puck so easily. Ludwig wants to get to the next (pro) level and he knows that he still has more work to do to achieve that goal and that’s what he’s focused on this year.”

While Karlsson was the must-see Northeastern rookie last season, highly touted Kevin Roy (ANA) is the one this season. The Lac-Beauport, QC native, who originally committed to Brown, is noted for his superb puck skills. As Madigan explains, there is much to be excited about with Roy in the lineup this season.

“Kevin is a deceptive, highly-skilled forward that has good on-ice presence. He can create his own opportunities as well as find the open man. Kevin has tremendous poise and patience, and he knows how to score goals. So he’s going to be dangerous whenever he’s got the puck. He’s also got good quickness and is really good in tight areas, too. So we’re excited about what Kevin can do for us here at Northeastern this year.”

Providence College
NHL prospects: 4

The Friars will open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 12 hosting Sacred Heart.

In his first year as head coach, Nate Leaman has got Providence College heading back in the right direction. Last season, the Friars nearly doubled their wins from two seasons ago. And while there is still much work to do, the future looks very bright for Providence College.

Heading into this season, the Friars will be a considerably younger team due to the numerous off-season departures. Two of the team’s most significant losses were in goal. Providence College graduated their netminders Alex Beaudry and Justin Gates. The lone returning netminder, senior Russ Stein, did not play last season.

The man likely to be tapped to backstop Providence College this season is highly regarded freshman Jon Gillies (CGY). The South Portland, ME native was one of two new Friars that were selected by the Calgary Flames in the 2012 NHL Draft. At 6’5”, 225-pounds, Gillies will be among the biggest goaltenders in the NCAA this season. In addition to his enormous frame, Gillies is also noted for his great athleticism. As Leaman explains, the biggest challenge facing Gillies this season will be adjusting to the level of the collegiate game.

“Although he’s coming in as a freshman, Jon has had a lot of success in juniors”, said Leaman. “But there’s still that transition to this level for him. He’s very athletic for a guy his size. I think with most goalies that first come in, it’s about learning to trust their athleticism and learning to come out and challenge other players. With Jon’s size and athleticism, he’ll be able to do that. He has good hands and has done a good job of controlling his rebounds also. So those are all assets for us. We’re looking at Jon and Russ to push one another to give us solid goaltending this year. If we can get solid, consistent goaltending from those two guys, then we’ll be successful.”

With the inexperience in goal to start the season, Providence College will be relying on their defensive corps to stabilize the back end. With the exception of departed players Danny New and Barrett Kaib, the Friars return all of their regulars from last season.

Among them is senior Alex Velischek (PIT). The Kinnelon, NJ native posted seven assists in 32 games last season. His plus-3 finished tied for second on the team. Over the course of his collegiate career thus far, Velischek has done a very good job of adapting to a more defensive-minded style without it coming at the expense of his offensive ability. Leaman notes that Velischek’s success this season will be based largely on his confidence level.

“Alex played almost every game for us last season. We had him playing forward in some games because he’s so versatile. He went to Pittsburgh’s (prospects) camp and comes back this year with a lot of confidence. Alex is a guy that needs to play with confidence because his game is that much better. When he’s playing with that confidence, he seems to be a lot more poised and at ease. So that’s what we’re looking for with Alex this year.”

The Friars’ greatest strength heading into the season is their forward lines. Despite the loss of graduates Matt Berglund, Andy Balysky and Robert Maloney, Providence College will have a nice mix of veteran experience and talented newcomers that could collectively put up big numbers this season.

Leading the Friars offense is senior Tim Schaller. The Merrimack, NH native was the glue that held the team together last season, and that’s not likely to change this season. Despite an injury-shortened junior season, he led Providence College with 14 goals and finished with 21 points in 26 games. Schaller is a player that is well worth watching. In addition to his sturdy 6’2”, 210-pound frame, Schaller is smart and possesses good offensive instincts.

“When Tim went down with the injury last year, it really showed our lack of depth,” said Leaman. “There are so many things that he brings to the table as far as being a complete player. Tim was our best face-off and power play player, and he’s a horse. He’s strong, he can play physical and you know that he’s going to bring it in every game. He’s a real asset for us to have and he’s doing a real good job of being a leader for us both on and off the ice as well.”

The newest Friar that all eyes will be on this season is Mark Jankowski (CGY). When the Calgary Flames selected the Dundas, ON native in the first round (21st overall) in this past June’s NHL Draft, it came as a surprise to many draft followers. But as Leaman explains, Jankowski has taken it all in stride.

“Mark turned 18 the second week that he was on campus and he’s really mature for his age. That’s been something that’s really impressed us about Mark. Even his maturity through the Draft was impressive. He went from not even being on Central Scouting’s radar screen all the way to the first round in six months and I can honestly say that it hasn’t affected Mark at all. Right now he’s just looking to get better every day and help our team win. I think Mark is going to bring some offensive punch to our team and be an impact player for us this year. He really worked his tail off this summer and has added a lot of weight. He’s got very good vision and he can make plays. But Mark also has a very good work ethic too, which has not only impressed our staff but his teammates as well.”

University of Vermont
NHL prospects: 4

The Catamounts will open their 2012-13 season on Oct. 12 at UMass-Lowell.

Injuries took a devastating toll on Vermont last season with only three players suiting up for all 34 games. But staying healthy won’t be the Catamounts’ only concern heading into this season. They will also have a number of significant holes to fill, as well.

One of the biggest issues is their offense. Vermont averaged just 2.15 goals per game last season and the 73 total goals that the team amassed were the fewest in Hockey East. Among the players that the Catamounts lost in the off-season was top scorer Sebastian Stalberg, who opted to forgo his final year to sign with the San Jose Sharks. The Gothenburg, Sweden native posted 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 34 games and was one of only two players on the Vermont’s roster that racked up ten or more goals.

But Stalberg may not be the Catamounts’ biggest loss. Vermont also lost top incoming recruit Zemgus Girgensons, who opted to forgo his collegiate career by signing with the Buffalo Sabres shortly after they selected him in the first round (14th overall) in this past June's NHL Draft.

The good news for the Catamounts heading into this season, though, is the return of red-shirted junior Chris McCarthy. The Collegeville, PA native missed all but five games last season due to a shoulder injury, collecting just one goal and four assists. McCarthy will provide Vermont with some much needed scoring this season if he can stay healthy.

Another junior that the Catamounts will be looking to for added point production this season is Connor Brickley (FLA). Like McCarthy, Brickley also had an injury-shortened 2011-12 season that limited him to just 23 games and 12 points (nine goals, three assists). Part of what makes him such a terrific player is that he uses his strengthened 6’1”, 195-pound frame quite advantageously, whether in protecting the puck or on the forecheck. If Brickley can stay injury-free for the duration of the season, he could potentially have the best year of his collegiate career thus far.

Goaltending will be another concern for Vermont heading into the new season due to their top two netminders departing the program. Starter Rob Madore has graduated, while backup Alex Vazzano has transferred to Sacred Heart. The lone returning Catamounts goaltender is senior John Vazzano, who saw just 94:45 minutes of ice time in two outings last season. Challenging Vazzano will be a pair of newcomers in Billy Faust and the towering Brody Hoffman.

With the inexperience in goal heading into the season, Vermont will be relying heavily on their defensive corps to help stabilize things on the back end. The Catamounts graduated only two defensemen, including top defender Drew MacKenzie. The New Canaan, CT native led the team in defensive scoring with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 32 games and was the pillar of strength on the Catamounts blueline last season.

But even without MacKenzie, Vermont’s defensive corps should be much better this season. Sophomores Michael Paliotta (CHI) and Nick Luukko (PHI) will be among those patrolling Vermont’s blueline this season.

Paliotta had a strong freshman campaign, finishing with ten points (four goals, six assists) in 30 games. One area he really excelled in was on the power-play, where half of his goals were scored. Paliotta greatly benefited from his increased ice time last season due to the team’s rash of injuries. It allowed him to make the adjustment to the collegiate game more quickly and accelerated his overall development. And that could pay big dividends for the Catamounts this season.

Luukko returns to the lineup this season after an abdominal injury limited him to just 17 games and three assists in 2011-12. The West Chester, PA native began to show glimpses of what he is capable of last season. Luukko has size (6’3”, 196 lbs.) and takes good care of his own end. Although he is primarily a defensive defenseman, Luukko will jump into plays and create offense when the opportunity presents itself.

In addition to their returning veterans, Vermont will feature seven new skaters this season. One player to keep an eye on is diminutive center Robert Polesello. The Bolton, ON native, who had originally committed to Boston University, could potentially be an impact player for the Catamounts. He is noted for his quickness and outstanding puck skills.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF