2015-16 Hockey East Preview: Providence attempts championship repeat in tough conference

By DJ Powers

Evan Campbell - University of Massachusetts-Lowell

Photo: University of Massachusetts Lowell forward and Edmonton Oilers prospect Evan Campbell will lead the offense for the River Hawks in 2015-16 (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)


University of Connecticut
NHL prospects: 4


The Huskies opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Alabama-Huntsville.

Connecticut tied for ninth in their inaugural season in Hockey East. Now entering their second year, the Huskies are shaping up to be even better.

For Connecticut, it all begins with goaltending. Junior starter Rob Nichols returns after an solid sophomore campaign where he posted a 9-19-7 record that included four shutouts playing in 35 of the team’s 36 games. Last season, Nichols was also one of Hockey East’s workhorses, playing a total of 2067:16 minutes.

One of the Huskies strengths this season is their excellent defensive corps. Among those patrolling Connecticut’s blueline this season is junior Ryan Segalla (PIT). The Rockland, MA native is coming off a rather interesting sophomore campaign where he saw time at both forward and on defense. Segalla played in 31 games last season, posting five points (two goals, three assists).

Up front, the Huskies return nearly all of their top scorers including senior alternate captain Shawn Pauly. The Bellingham, WA native is coming off a very good junior campaign where he led the Huskies with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 36 games. Pauly was also outstanding on the power play where five of his 20 points were scored.

A key to the Huskies success this season will be in generating more scoring. One player that will help supply that is highly touted freshman Maxim Letunov (ARI). The Moscow, Russia native is among Connecticut’s seven newcomers that make up one of the NCAA’s youngest incoming classes this season. Letunov is a former Boston University recruit that had his NHL rights traded to the Arizona Coyotes from the St. Louis Blues this past spring. Letunov is a tall, lanky (6’4”, 170 lbs.) center noted for his explosive speed and terrific hands.

University of Maine
NHL prospects: 2

The Black Bears opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Michigan State in the Icebreaker Tournament in Portland, ME.

Maine finished tied for ninth in Hockey East last season and this season could potentially be another long year in Orono.

The Black Bears didn’t graduate many players, however they did lose their top two players in forward Devin Shore (DAL) and defenseman Ben Hutton (VAN), who opted to forego their senior years to sign with the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks respectively. Shore finished his terrific junior campaign leading Maine with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) playing in all 39 games. Hutton finishes his equally impressive junior campaign leading all Black Bears defensemen with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 39 games.

Among the returning veterans that Maine will be looking to fill Shore’s role are junior Blaine Byron (PIT) and sophomore Nolan Vesey (TOR), who are the Black Bears lone drafted players this season. Byron is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign where he finished with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 39 games. Vesey became an immediate impact player for Maine last season, finishing with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 36 games.

One player that could help fill the role that Hutton leaves is sophomore Dan Renouf. The Pickering, ON native returns as the Black Bears’ top scoring defenseman after an outstanding freshman campaign where he racked up 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 39 games. This summer he attended the Buffalo Sabres’ prospect camp.

The goaltending tandem of sophomore Sean Romeo and junior Matt Morris return this season. The duo played admirably while splitting time in goal last season. Romeo appeared in 23 games, posting a 7-13-1 record, while Morris posted a 7-9-2 record that included two shutouts in 20 games.

Joining the Black Bears this season are nine newcomers. One player to keep an eye on is towering stay-at-home defenseman Stephen Cochrane. At 6’6” and 225 pounds, the Hingham, MA native is not only the biggest player on Maine’s roster but also one of the biggest in all of Hockey East. A 1996-born player, Cochrane is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

University of Massachusetts
NHL prospects: 3

The Minutemen opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Colorado College.

Massachusetts finished in the Hockey East basement last season. While the Minutemen will look to a better their finish this season, they will also have to contend with a number of issues.

One of the biggest issues is improving their overall defensive numbers. The Minutemen ranked 58th nationally last season with a defense that allowed an average of 4.22 goals per game.

The Minutemen will be looking for more consistency from returning sophomore netminder Henry Dill. The Columbus, OH native played quite well as a freshman, finishing with a 7-10-1 record in 25 appearances. While Dill is likely to start this season, he will also get competition from junior Alex Wakaluk and freshman Nic Renyard.

Massachusetts’ defensive corps is shaping up to be quite good this season, although they will be without top defenseman Brandon Montour, who opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. The Ohsweken, ON native was sensational in his short stint with Massachusetts, leading the team in defensive scoring with 20 points (three goals, 17 assists) in 21 games. Montour capped the year with a selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

Among those patrolling the Minutemen’s blueline this season are the team’s three NHL prospects, stalwart senior Ben Gallacher (FLA), and talented newcomers William Lagesson (EDM) and Ivan Chukarov (BUF). Gallacher returns as the Minutemen’s top scoring defenseman after posting 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 32 games during his rock solid junior campaign.

Lagesson and Chukarov are among the Minutemen’s nine-member incoming class this season. Both are similar in size, with both players standing 6’3” tall and and weighing in near the 200-pound mark. Lagesson is a defensive defenseman that brings some physicality to his game, while Chukarov is a puck-moving defenseman noted for his heavy shot.

Up front, Massachusetts returns nearly all of their top point producers including sophomore Dennis Kravchenko. The Laguna Niguel, CA native is coming off a stellar freshman campaign where he led the Minutemen with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 36 games last season.

University of Massachusetts-Lowell
NHL prospects: 1

The River Hawks opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th versus RPI.

Massachusetts-Lowell is coming off an excellent season that culminated with an appearance in the Hockey East Tournament championship game.

The River Hawks have proven that you don’t have to have an NHL prospect-laden roster to be successful.

The lone NHL-drafted player for UMass-Lowell this season is junior Evan Campbell (EDM). The Port Coquitlam, BC native enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign where he finished with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 34 games. His 27 points are more than double the total from his freshman season two years ago. One area where Campbell really shone was on special teams, where five of his 12 goals came on special teams – three on the power play and two shorthanded.

Although the River Hawks didn’t lose many key players in the offseason, they did graduate stalwart defensemen Zach Kamrass and Jake Suter. Kamrass finished with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) while Suter finished with 12 points (one goal, 11 assists). Both played in 38 games last season.

While the losses of Kamrass and Suter are significant, the River Hawks will sport what is shaping up to be an excellent defensive corps again this season. Among those patrolling the River Hawks blueline is junior Dylan Zink. The Madison, WI native is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign where he led all Massachusetts-Lowell defensemen with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 37 games. Zink also led the team with a plus-21.

Senior starter Kevin Boyle is the River Hawks’ lone returning netminder this season. The Manalapan, NJ native is coming off an outstanding junior campaign where he posted an 18-9-6 record that included three shutouts in 34 appearances.

In addition to the returning veterans, the River Hawks welcome eight newcomers to the team in 2015-16. One player well worth a look is defenseman Niklas Folin. The Gothenburg, Sweden native is the younger sibling of former River Hawks standout and current Minnesota Wild defenseman Christian Folin. The younger Folin is noted for his great mobility and puck-moving skills.

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