2013-14 Hockey East season preview, part 2

By DJ Powers
Mark Jankowski - Providence College

Photo: Providence College forward and Calgary Flames prospect Mark Jankowski (10) will be one of the main offensive catalysts for the Friars in the 2013-14 season (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

 

Hockey's Future has taken a look at five of the 11 teams in part one of our Hockey East season preview. In part two, we take a look at the remaining six teams that make up the Hockey East conference.

Merrimack College
NHL prospects: 1

The Warriors open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th at Denver.

For much of last season, Merrimack played exceedingly well, with the team in a good position to not only challenge for the Hockey East title but also make a serious bid for the NCAA Tournament. But in mid-February, things began to fall apart and the Warriors ended up falling to Boston University in the conference quarter-finals. This season, Merrimack aims to change that.

Having lost just four players to graduation while adding six new additions, the Warriors look poised to make another strong run for the Hockey East title. There are, however, a few issues that will need to be addressed coming into the season.

The most pressing is offense. Merrimack finished 44th nationally last season with an offense that averaged 2.39 goals per game. The Warriors equally struggled on the power-play, which finished 47th nationally clicking at just 14.4%. While Merrimack will have very good depth throughout their forward lines this season, they will need to find a way to get increased secondary scoring to be successful this season.

Leading the Warriors offense is senior Mike Collins. The Boston, MA native has become one of the best forwards to emerge from Hockey East. He led the Warriors with 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 38 games last season en route to earning selections to the All-America East Second Team and the All-Hockey East First Team. Collins is a 6’1”, 180-pound left wing who thinks the game exceedingly well and has the ability to control the tempo of the game. As good as Collins was last season, he could potentially be even better this season. He has become an early candidate for this season’s Hobey Baker Award and many NHL teams will be keeping a close watch on Collins as a potential free agent signee at season’s end. One NHL team that has already taken notice is the Minnesota Wild, whose prospect camp Collins attended this summer.

One returning veteran that Merrimack will be looking to for added scoring is junior Quinn Gould. The Fort McMurray, AB missed 11 games last season due to a shoulder injury. He finished the season with nine points (five goals, four assists) in 27 games. Gould is a 6’3”, 195-pound winger who uses his size and strength quite well in tight areas, particularly along the walls. This summer, Gould attended the Chicago Blackhawks' prospect camp.

Of the five newcomers joining the Warriors this season, three are forwards. The one many will be watching is Chris LeBlanc. The Winthrop, MA native was a sixth round (161st overall) selection of the Ottawa Senators in this past June’s NHL Draft, and he is the lone NHL prospect on Merrimack’s roster this season. LeBlanc is a 6’3”, 205-pound right wing noted for his heavy shot and great on-ice vision.

Defense is shaping up to be one of the Warriors’ strengths again this season, but it is also a position where they will be looking for stepped up offensive production. Last season, Merrimack’s defensive corps accounted for 28 percent of the team’s total offense. But the Warriors also lost one of their top rearguards in Kyle Bigos (SJS), who has graduated.

Anchoring Merrimack’s defense this season is senior captain Jordan Heywood. The Regina, SK native is coming off of a superb junior campaign where he led all Warriors rearguards with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 38 games and earned a spot on the All-Hockey East Second Team. Heywood is 6’0”, 195-pound puck-moving defenseman who plays both ends of the ice equally well. One of Heywood’s best assets is his skating; he possesses outstanding foot speed that allows him to not only transition quickly but skate with some of the faster opposing forwards, as well.

Another area that is shaping up to be one of Merrimack’s strengths this season is in goal. The Warriors return their tandem of senior Sam Marotta and junior Rasmus Tirronen. Marotta, who saw the bulk of playing time last season, posted a 12-11-4 record that included two shutouts in 27 appearances. Tirronen played in 12 games, posting a 3-6-2 record.

Marotta will likely be Merrimack’s starter again this season. The Bridgewater, MA native possesses size (6’4”, 200 lbs.) and great athleticism. Two notable areas that Marotta has continually improved since succeeding former standout Joe Cannata (VAN) last season has been his composure and willingness to aggressively challenge shooters. This summer, Marotta attended the Vancouver Canucks' prospect camp.

University of New Hampshire
NHL prospects: 2

The Wildcats open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th versus Clarkson at the Icebreaker Tournament in Minneapolis, MN.

Last season, New Hampshire came within one game of reaching the Frozen Four after a strong sixth place finish in Hockey East. With few offseason losses and a small incoming class, the Wildcats will be in very good position to not only to compete for the Hockey East crown this season, but also make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

One of New Hampshire’s strengths will be in goal. The Wildcats return their goaltending unit intact, led by junior Casey DeSmith. The Rochester, NH native was brilliant between the pipes for New Hampshire last season, posting a 19-10-7 record that included five shutouts in 38 appearances. He was also the backbone of the Wildcats excellent defense that allowed 90 total goals and finished ninth nationally. Part of what has made DeSmith such a valuable component on New Hampshire’s roster is his ability to consistently keep his team in games. He plays with a great deal of confidence and possesses great rebound control. While DeSmith is the Wildcats go-to guy this season, he will get some competition for playing time from junior alternate captain Jeff Wyer and sophomore Jamie Regan.

DeSmith will also have an excellent and experienced defensive corps in front of him that is shaping up to be even better this season. Although graduates Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky will be missed, the returning group will have a nice mix of size and speed that can help generate some offense.

Leading the Wildcats defense this season are senior captain Eric Knodel (TOR) and junior alternate captain Trevor van Riemsdyk.

The towering Knodel is coming off of a terrific junior campaign where he finished with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games last season. Where Knodel really made his mark was on the power-play. Of his 10 goals, five came with the man-advantage. Knodel’s vastly improved decisions with the puck have allowed him to blossom into one of New Hampshire’s top offensive contributors from the blueline.

Van Riemsdyk is coming off of a sensational sophomore season where he led all Wildcats defensemen with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 39 games. The Middletown, NJ native’s 33 points were also the second-most nationally among all defensemen. His stellar season earned him numerous honors including spots on the All-America East and All-Hockey East first teams. What makes Van Riemsdyk such a special player is his combination of tremendous hockey sense, vision, and superb playmaking ability. And none of this has been lost on NHL teams, either, as Van Riemsdyk is poised to be one of the top free agent rearguards available at season’s end.

Offensive depth has traditionally been one of New Hampshire’s strengths and that’s not likely to change this season, despite graduating four forwards.

Senior Kevin Goumas and junior Grayson Downing lead the Wildcats offensive machine. Goumas is coming off an excellent junior campaign where he led New Hampshire with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 38 games. What Goumas lacks in size (5’10”, 160 lbs.), he makes up for with his outstanding hands and feet. The Long Beach, NY native possesses good speed, transitions well and is very creative with the puck. This summer, Goumas attended the Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect camp.

Downing is coming off of an outstanding sophomore campaign, where he co-led New Hampshire with 15 goals and finished with 31 points in 38 games. One area where the Abbotsford, BC native was particularly dangerous last season was on special teams. Of his 15 goals, six came on special teams – three on the power-play and three shorthanded. Downing is a 6’0”, 185-pound playmaking center with great vision who also plays with a bit of an edge. This summer, he attended the Chicago Blackhawks' prospect camp.

In addition to the returning veterans, New Hampshire will also welcome four newcomers to the fold. One to keep an eye on is pint-sized center Tyler Kelleher. At 5’6” and 154 pounds, he will be one of the smallest players in the NCAA this season. The Longmeadow, MA native is noted for his blazing speed and great scoring prowess. A 1995-born player, Kelleher is eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Northeastern University
NHL prospects: 4

The Huskies open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th versus Alabama-Huntsville.

There wasn’t a lot that went right for Northeastern last season, and as a result the Huskies finished at the bottom of the Hockey East standings.

Few NCAA teams have experienced as much personnel turnover in recent years as Northeastern has and that didn’t change this past off-season. In addition to graduating six players, a number of players have abruptly departed the program, as well. The changes will not only give the Huskies a very different look, it will also present challenges that they will have to contend with heading this season.

The biggest challenge is in goal with starter Chris Rawlings having graduated. The North Delta, BC native saw the lion’s share of work between the Northeastern’s pipes the last four years. He finished his final season with an 8-14-1 record that included two shutouts in 26 appearances.

Returning veterans senior Bryan Mountain and junior Clay Witt, along with redshirted freshman Derick Roy, will be competing for the starting job this season. Mountain, who served as Rawlings’ backup last season, posted a 1-7-3 record that included one shutout in 12 appearances. Witt played in one game in relief and Roy did not play last season.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Huskies will be looking to their experienced but predominantly young blueline to not only help stabilize things on the back end, but to also improve on last season’s dismal defensive numbers. Northeastern finished 55th nationally with a defense that allowed an average of 3.47 goals per game last season. The 118 goals that the Huskies surrendered were the most of any Hockey East team.

Anchoring Northeastern’s blueline this season is junior captain Josh Manson (ANA). The Prince Albert, SK native was the Huskies best defenseman last season as he logged upwards of 25-30 minutes per game and played in all situations. Manson capped his excellent sophomore campaign with seven points (three goals, four assists) in 33 games. One notable area where Manson has made great strides in his development has been in his decisions with the puck. That has allowed him to be more involved offensively without coming at the expense of his outstanding defensive game.

Of Northeastern’s 12 newcomers this season, three are defensemen. One that many will be watching is Matt Benning (BOS). The St. Albert, AB native is the son of former NHL defenseman Brian Benning and nephew of current Boston Bruins Assistant General Manager, Jim Benning. The youngest Benning is noted for his physicality and strong two-way play.

Another area that the Huskies will need to address this season is generating more offensive production throughout their forward lines, and they will have to do so without three of last season’s top forwards. Vinny Saponari and Garrett Vermeersch have both graduated, while Ludwig Karlsson opted to forego the final two years of his eligibility to sign with the Ottawa Senators.

Northeastern’s offense finished 45th nationally last season, averaging 2.38 goals per game. The 81 total goals that they accumulated were among the fewest in Hockey East.

Leading the Huskies attack this season are sophomore Kevin Roy (ANA) and senior Cody Ferriero (SJS). The two alone combined for 38% of Northeastern’s total goals last season.

Roy was one of three Hockey East rookies to lead his team in scoring last season. The Lac-Beauport, QC native finished his sensational freshman campaign with 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 29 games last season en route to earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Roy also led the nation in points per game (1.17) among rookies, but he missed the final five games due to injury. As good as Roy was last season, he could potentially be even better this season with his tremendous ability to make things happen whenever he is on the ice.

Ferriero is coming off of an outstanding junior campaign where he finished third on Northeastern’s roster with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 34 games last season. The Essex, MA native also led the Huskies with 60 penalty minutes. The area where Ferriero really made his mark last season was on the power-play. Of his 12 goals, seven came with the man-advantage. One notable aspect of Ferriero’s development has been the fact that he’s become a lot stronger on the puck. Although he isn’t big, the strength that he has added to his 5’10” frame has made him more difficult to move off of the puck as well as allow him to better protect it.

University of Notre Dame
NHL prospects: 11

The Fighting Irish open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th versus Western Michigan.

Notre Dame is coming off of a stellar finish in the CCHA last season where they claimed the final CCHA Tournament championship. And as head coach Jeff Jackson explains, there’s plenty to get excited about in South Bend this season as the newest member of Hockey East.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of Hockey East,” enthused Jackson. “Our focus is to be a great member of Hockey East, which has been probably the most successful conference in the country over the last several years. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be an exciting challenge because of the quality of the league.”

Notre Dame lost just six players this offseason. With a veteran group returning and a small but outstanding group of freshmen coming in, the Fighting Irish will be in a good position to successfully compete for the Hockey East title this season.

The most notable loss for the Fighting Irish was that of top scorer Anders Lee, who opted to forego his senior season to sign with the New York Islanders. The Edina, MN native led Notre Dame in both points (38) and goals (20) last season en route to earning a spot on the All-CCHA First Team. While Lee’s loss is significant, the Fighting Irish have a stellar group of forwards that can help replenish the lost offensive production.

Heading the group for Notre Dame this season is senior T.J. Tynan (CBJ). The Orland Park, IL native is coming off of a superb junior campaign that saw him record 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 41 games last season. While Tynan’s numbers have dipped, his overall play hasn’t. What is notable here is what he did away from the score sheet last season. Tynan’s meticulous attention to detail and continually improving defensive game has made him a more rounded player. Jackson is quick to point out that those attributes have also made Tynan a more valuable player for the Fighting Irish.

“T.J. has become a much more complete player,” stated Jackson. “I think because of that he’s also become more valuable, as well. He still has the ability to make a great play with the puck and great instincts for the game offensively, but now T.J. is doing it in other areas as well. He’s constantly playing up against the other team’s top lines, whether it’s offensively or defensively. T.J. has the ability to lead by example because nobody works harder than he does. He’s always on go and I think that’s what makes T.J. such a special player.”

A returning veteran who is poised for a breakout year this season is sophomore Thomas DiPauli (WSH). The Woodridge, IL native is coming off of an outstanding rookie campaign where he finished with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 41 games. Di Pauli is a high-energy center who is fun to watch. He plays a high tempo, fiercely competitive game. While he likely won’t grow into a prolific scorer, Di Pauli has the ability to add plenty of secondary scoring that will be crucial to the Fighting Irish’s success moving forward.

Defense is shaping up to be Notre Dame’s greatest strength once again this season. The Fighting Irish blueline will have great depth and a nice mix of size, speed and toughness that can also contribute offensively.

Anchoring Notre Dame’s defense is senior Stephen Johns (CHI). The Wampum, PA native is coming off an excellent junior campaign where he posted 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 41 games last season. The most significant strides that Johns has made in his development have been in skating and footwork. His vastly improved mobility has added a new dimension to his game in that he's able to jump up into plays more often. Jackson notes that while Johns’ skating has improved, it’s an area that is also a continuing work in progress.

“I think Stephen’s skating has improved but it’s still an area that we want to focus on with his agility and quickness.”

Senior Steven Summerhays returns as the starter for the Fighting Irish this season. The Anchorage, AK native has become Notre Dame’s go-to guy between the pipes and also became a workhorse last season. Summerhays appeared in 36 games, posting a 21-12-2 record that included four shutouts.

Of the team’s five newcomers this season, many will be watching center Vince Hinostroza (CHI). The Bartlett, IL native is noted for his quickness and ability to step up in key situations.

Providence College
NHL prospects: 5

The Friars open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th versus Minnesota State-Mankato.

Since taking over the head coaching duties three years ago, Nate Leaman has rebuilt Providence College into a program that is quickly becoming one of the nation’s best. The Friars reached the Hockey East Tournament semi-finals for two consecutive years. And, with much of the team’s top players returning, they are in a great position to not only challenge for the Hockey East crown this season, but also to earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament.

One of the biggest reasons is returning sophomore Jon Gillies (CGY). The South Portland, ME native is coming off of a sensational freshman campaign where he was named both the Hockey East and National Rookie of the Year. He was also one of only two freshmen to be named an All-American, earning a spot on the All-America East Second Team. Gillies posted a 17-12-6 record that included five shutouts. His .908 save percentage and 2.08 goals-against average both finished in the top 15 nationally last season. Gillies was also the backbone of Providence College’s outstanding defense that allowed just 90 total goals. And as good as Gillies was last season, he has the potential to be not only better this season, but among the very best in the NCAA, as well. While Gillies will be the Friars go-to guy between the pipes again this season, he will get some competition for playing time from two newcomers in Nick Ellis and Tyler Kapp.

Despite graduating stalwarts Alex Velischek and Myles Harvey, Providence College’s blueline is shaping up to be an excellent one again this season.

Senior co-captain Steven Shamanski is among those leading the Friars defensive corps this season. The Carberry, MB native is coming off an outstanding junior campaign where he led Providence College in defensive scoring with 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 38 games. He also co-led the Friars with 61 penalty minutes. Shamanski is a mobile, two-way defenseman that has great puck-moving skills and plays with a bit of an edge.

Senior defenseman Mark “Roo” Adams is expected to return to Providence College’s lineup this season. The Boxford, MA native has battled through injuries the last two years, which have curtailed both his playing time and development. Last season, he was limited to just seven games. Adams is one of two Buffalo Sabres defensive prospects on the Friars roster this season.

The other is newcomer Anthony Florentino. The West Roxbury, MA native is a 6’1”, 210-pound offensive defenseman who is noted for ability to move the puck and deliver punishing hits.

Of the six players that Providence College graduated, none will be missed as much as Tim Schaller. The Merrimack, NH native played a vital role in the Friars success last season as one of the nation’s best defensive forwards. Schaller, who is now a part of the Buffalo Sabres organization, led Providence College with 15 assists and finished with 23 points in 38 games last season.

Among those leading the Friars offensive attack this season are junior Ross Mauermann and sophomore Mark Jankowski (CGY).

Mauermann is coming off of an outstanding sophomore campaign where he led Providence College in scoring for the second consecutive season. He posted 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 38 games last season. He also finished second on the team with a plus-13. The Janesville, WI native was particularly dangerous on the Friars special teams. Of his 12 goals, four came on special teams – three on the power-play and one shorthanded. Mauermann is a center who uses his excellent speed remarkably well in making things happen.

Jankowski, one of three Calgary Flames prospects on Providence College’s roster, is coming off of a superb freshman campaign where he co-led the Friars in rookie scoring with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 34 games. While the Dundas, ON native didn’t put up a lot of points last season, what he did do is show glimpses of his vast potential and what he can do with his superb skill package going forward. One area where this was particularly evident was in his continually improving play around the net. As Jankowski’s fills out his 6’3” frame, and with added experience, he could become a dominating force for the Friars sooner rather than later.
 
University of Vermont
NHL prospects: 3

The Catamounts open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th at North Dakota.

After starting the first half of last season with just four wins, Vermont became a better team in the second half, finishing tied for seventh in Hockey East. While it is something to build on coming into this season, there are some issues that will need to be addressed. The good news for the Catamounts is that they return many of last year’s top players this season.

The most pressing issues for Vermont are generating more offense throughout their lineup and improving their dismal power-play. The Catamounts offense finished 53rd nationally last season, averaging just 2.28 goals per game. The 82 total goals that the team racked up were among the fewest in Hockey East. Even worse was the team’s power-play; Vermont finished last in the NCAA with a power-play that clicked at just 11.1%.

Among those leading the Catamounts up front this season are junior Chris McCarthy and senior Connor Brickley (FLA).

McCarthy is coming off of an excellent sophomore campaign where he paced Vermont with 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 36 games. He was also the lone Catamount that posted 10 or more goals last season. The Collegeville, PA native is a 6’1”, 205-pound center who uses his speed exceedingly well in creating plays and driving to the net. McCarthy, who has been on the NHL radar for some time, had the chance to turn pro this off-season but opted to return to Burlington this season. And his return will be crucial to Vermont’s success this season.

After being hampered by injuries during his sophomore season two years ago, Brickley continued to be plagued by the injury bug in his junior year. The Everett, MA native was limited to 24 games and eight points (three goals, five assists) last season. Brickley has enormous potential that hasn’t been fully realized due to the myriad of injuries that he’s had to contend with. If he can stay healthy this season, Brickley can not only become a top-flight point producer but be a key contributor in other areas for the Catamounts, such as the power-play.

In addition to the returning veterans, Vermont will also be looking to their six new forwards for added offense. The one to keep an eye on is Brady Shaw. The Ottawa, ON native is the son of former NHL defenseman and current St. Louis Blues associate coach, Brad Shaw. The younger Shaw, a former Bentley recruit, is a 6’1”, 200-pound power forward who is noted for his prolific scoring ability. This summer, Shaw attended the Montreal Canadiens' prospect camp.

One area where the Catamounts should be much better this season is on the back end. Vermont returns their blueline nearly intact, along with last season's starting goaltender.

Sophomore workhorse Brody Hoffman is the lone returning netminder for the Catamounts this season. The Wilkie, SK native was stellar between the pipes last season as a freshman, starting all 36 games and posting an 11-19-6 record that included two shutouts. He was one of only two Hockey East netminders that started all of his team’s games last season. Hoffman is a tall, lanky (6’4”, 195 lbs.) goaltender that possesses superb athleticism and is an adept puck handler. But what made him standout last season was his composure under pressure, especially with traffic around him. And while he still needs to fine-tune his skills, Hoffman is one that’s well worth watching this season. This summer he attended the Calgary Flames' prospect camp.

Among those anchoring Vermont’s blueline this season are juniors Michael Paliotta (CHI) and Nick Luukko (PHI).

Paliotta was the Catamounts best defenseman last season, logging upwards of 25 minutes per game and playing in all situations. The Westport, CT native co-led Vermont in defensive scoring with 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 35 games. One notable area where Paliotta has made great strides is in his ability to play all three zones effectively. This was especially evident in his improved transition game and involvement in creating offensive opportunities.

Luukko is coming off of a very good sophomore campaign where he led the Catamounts in defensive goal-scoring with three and finished tied among all rearguards with 10 points in 36 games last season. One area where the West Chester, PA native has vastly improved has been in his smarter and quicker decisions with the puck.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF