2012-13 ECAC season preview, part 1

By DJ Powers

Daniel Carr - Union College

Photo: Union College forward Daniel Carr (L) will be looked to for offense as he and his teammates attempt to make a second consecutive appearance at the NCAA's Frozen Four (courtesy of Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)

It’s shaping up to be another competitive season in the ECAC as many of the conference’s top players have departed and numerous talented newcomers make their collegiate debuts.

In Part One, Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at the six non-Ivy League members of the ECAC. Featured among them this season are ten NHL prospects. Quinnipiac leads the group with three, followed by Clarkson, Colgate and Union College with two apiece. St. Lawrence is the only conference member (Ivy League or otherwise) that does not have an NHL prospect on their roster this season.

Union College
Number of NHL prospects: 2

Union College was the best story coming out of the ECAC last season that was capped with their first ever appearance in the NCAA's Frozen Four. And as good as Union College was last season, they could potentially be even better this season.

The Dutchmen returns last season’s squad nearly intact. But three of the four players that they lost were key components to their successful run last season.

Up front, Union College will need to fill the big holes left by Jeremy Welsh and Kelly Zajac. Welsh opted to forgo the final year of his eligibility to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes. Zajac has graduated and signed with the AHL’s Albany River Rats. The duo accounted for 23 percent of the team’s point totals last season.

Despite losing Welsh and Zajac, the Dutchmen will again feature an excellent group of forwards, led by junior Daniel Carr. The Sherwood Park, AB native returns this season as the team’s top scorer. He finished with 40 points (20 goals and 20 assists) playing in all 41 games last season. Carr has made some great strides in development in making smarter decisions and adding some grit to his game. This summer, Carr attended the Boston Bruins' and Chicago Blackhawks' prospect camps.

“I think Danny will take another step this season,” head coach Rick Bennett said of Carr. “He has worked hard over the summer to improve some of the deficiencies that he felt he needed to work on. Danny has tremendous hockey sense and really fights to get into open spaces. He also does a phenomenal job of working hard to create scoring opportunities too.”

The other key loss for Union College was top defensive defenseman Nolan Julseth-White, who has graduated. With the defense returning nearly intact, it will also be the team’s strength once again. Among those anchoring the Dutchmen’s blueline this season is sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI). The Margate, FL native finished his stellar freshman year with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) playing in all 41 games and earned a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. As Bennett notes, one of the big challenges for Gostisbehere this season will be to build on what he accomplished last season.

“I think the thing for Shayne this season is to not just live on what he did last season or what he did at the World Junior tryouts this summer. Shayne had a good summer at Paul Vincent’s Skating and Skills camp in Massachusetts for the second year in a row and I think that proves that he wants to be a better player and a pro player. Shayne has come back bigger, stronger and has added some weight. So it’s great to see that work ethic and I think he’ll just better.”

Union College’s stingy blueline isn’t the only part of their back end that opponents will have to contend with this season. They will also have to find a way to beat junior Troy Grosenick. The Brookfield, WI native was one of the most consistent netminders last season and his numbers were truly astounding. He posted a 22-6-3 record that included five shutouts. Grosenick’s 1.65 goals against average and .758 winning percentage finished second nationally, while his .936 save percentage finished third. His sensational sophomore campaign earned him numerous honors including a selection to the All-America East First Team and being named a Hobey Baker Top Ten finalist. It has also garnered Grosenick lots of NHL attention and he is certain to be among the most prized free agents available next spring.

“The thing for Troy this year is whether he can match or better what he did last season,” Bennett said of Grosenick. “I think that’s what’s going to help our team. Troy is a first class person and you could see that on the ice.  With goalies, there’s always that concern that he might try to put a little more pressure on himself, but I don’t think Troy really looks at it that way. He’s a pretty mentally tough guy and I think that really helps us”.

In addition to returning a very deep group of veterans, Union College also welcomes six talented newcomers. Among them is defenseman Timothy Boyle (OTT). The Hingham, MA native is the younger sibling of current New York Ranger and former Boston College standout, Brian Boyle. The younger Boyle has size (6’2”, 185 lbs.) and is noted for his excellent skating and puck-moving ability.

“One thing about Tim that we were pleasantly surprised with is his work on the offensive blueline,” Bennett said of Boyle. “He will need to learn to play within our system and just get used to the speed of the (college) game. I don’t think Tim has to worry about the size (of opposing players), but he’ll have to adjust to the speed of the game throughout his freshman year.”

Clarkson University
Number of NHL prospects: 2

Last season, injuries took a devastating toll on Clarkson. The Golden Knights had just four players that played in all 39 games and still managed to finish with a respectable 16-17-6 record. Coming into this season, however, the Golden Knights will have several issues that will need to be addressed in order for the team to make a successful run in the ECAC.

The most notable is their goaltending. Paul Karpowich (STL), who was Clarkson’s pillar of strength for the last four seasons, has graduated. The Thunder Bay, ON native finished his final season with a 16-15-6 record that included five shutouts and earned a spot on the All-ECAC Third Team. The 2290:19 minutes that he played were the most of any ECAC netminder. Karpowich went on to sign with the St. Louis Blues and leaves Clarkson as one of the top goaltenders in the program’s history.

Karpowich’s likely successor this season is senior Cody Rosen (NYI). The Kingston, ON native saw limited playing time in his three previous seasons. Last season, he played just 27:30 minutes in his lone appearance versus Maine back on Dec. 29. Rosen will also get some competition this season from newcomers Andrew Hunt and Greg Lewis.

Another area that the Golden Knights will need to address is replacing the point production that left with five of their top scorers who have all graduated – Nick Tremblay, Louke Oakley, Corey Tamblyn, Jake Morley and Julien Cayer. The quintet accounted for 38 percent of Clarkson’s point totals from last season.

Ben Sexton (BOS) and Allen McPherson return as the Golden Knights’ top scorers. Sexton, who will serve as team captain this season, finished third on the team with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 27 games. Sexton’s success this season will be predicated on whether he can stay healthy. The Kanata, ON native has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career. He has become an invaluable cog for Clarkson and if he can stay healthy, it will go along way to making the Golden Knights successful this season.

Sophomore Allen McPherson returns as the Golden Knights’ top goal-scorer from last season. The Kinburn, ON native posted 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 39 games. He is also the lone returning player on the Clarkson roster that posted 10 or more goals last season. McPherson is a player that is well worth watching. He is a small (5’10, 174 lbs.) winger that possesses a good burst of speed and plays with a great deal energy.

In addition to the returning veteran forwards, the Golden Knights will also feature six newcomers. Among them is Todd Christian. The Norwalk, CT native is noted for his scoring prowess and shot. And at 6’2”, 191 pounds, Christian will bring some much-needed size to Clarkson’s forward lines, as well.

Coming into this season, the strength of the Golden Knights will be their blueline. While Clarkson will return their defensive corps intact, they will also be without the services of sophomore Kevin Tansey for the fall semester. The Hammond, ON native is recovering from injuries that he sustained after being assaulted back in July. Tansey was arguably the Golden Knights’ best defenseman last season, finishing with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 39 games. He is a blossoming two-way defenseman that possesses size (6’3”, 207 lbs.) and a great stick. His defensive game is sound and he continually made improvements in areas such as gap control over the course of his freshman campaign. NHL scouts have also closely watched Tansey. Although he was passed over this past June, Tansey will be eligible again for the 2013 NHL Draft. And if he can pick up his development from where it left off last season, Tansey will make it difficult for NHL teams to pass on him again.

Colgate University
Number of NHL prospects: 2

Last season, Colgate featured two of the nation’s most prolific players in Austin Smith (DAL) and Chris Wagner (ANA). Smith, who graduated and signed with the Dallas Stars, led the nation with 36 goals and finished third overall with 57 points in 39 games en route to earning the ECAC Player of the Year honor, a spot on the All-America East First Team and being named a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist. Wagner, who opted to forgo his eligibility to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, led the Raiders with 34 assists and finished with 51 points in 38 games earning him a spot on the All-ECAC Second Team. Smith and Wagner, along with graduate Austin Mayer, who finished tied for third on the team with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 39 games, accounted for 41 percent of Colgate’s offense last season that will need to be replaced this season.

Two players that the Raiders will be looking to this year are seniors Robbie Bourdon and Kurtis Bartliff. Bourdon, a sniper with a real nose for the net, returns as Colgate’s top goal scorer after posting 12 goals and 21 assists in 39 games as a junior. Bartliff is coming off of an injury-shortened season that limited him to 11 points (four goals, seven assists) and 26 games in 2011-12. Bartliff is steadily becoming one of the ECAC’s best defensive forwards. The Clinton, ON native is also one of the Raiders’ best penalty killers as well. This summer, Bartliff attended the Vancouver Canucks prospect camp.

Despite graduating Corbin McPherson and Kevin McNamara, Colgate’s defensive corps looks to be their strength heading into this season. Seniors Thomas Larkin (CBJ) and Jeremy Price (VAN) anchor the blueline this season. The towering Larkin finished his junior campaign with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 37 games en route to earning a spot on the All-ECAC Third Team. Last season, Larkin made marked improvements in both his offensive game and decision-making.

Price has blossomed into one of the best defensemen coming out of the ECAC. He led the Raiders in defenseman scoring with 23 points (two goals, 21 assists) in 36 games. Two notable strides in Price’s development has been his continually improving defensive zone play and utilizing his 6’1”, 190-pound frame more effectively. And these improvements have contributed to making him a more complete defenseman. Furthermore, none of it has come at the expense of his superb offensive side.

Another area that could be a strength of Colgate’s this season is goaltending. While the Raiders graduated last season’s backup Alex Evin, they do return starting junior Eric Mihalik and sophomore third-stringer Steve Estep. Mihalik posted a 14-12-2 record that included two shutouts in 28 appearances. Mihalik, who attended the Chicago Blackhawks' prospect camp over the summer, made some marked improvements in rebound control and utilizing his 6’1”, 185-pound frame more effectively in his movements. Estep played just 10:58 minutes in one outing last season. Competing with Mihalik and Estep for ice time this season will be newcomer Spencer Finney.

In addition to Finney, Colgate will feature seven other freshmen this season. One player to keep an eye on is Kyle Baun. The Toronto, ON native is the grandson of Toronto Maples Leafs legend Bobby Baun. The younger Baun has good size (6’2”, 204 lbs.) and is noted for his skating, shot and gritty play.

Quinnipiac University
Number of NHL prospects: 3

Quinnipiac is coming off of their best ECAC finish since 2007-08. As good as they were last season, the Bobcats are poised to be even better this season, despite losing seven players.

The most notable of Quinnipiac’s losses was up front. The Bobcats lost Scott Zurevinski, Yuri Bouharevich and Spencer Heichman all to graduation. The trio provided the team with some great depth that will need to be replaced this season.

Quinnipiac features one of the nation’s most dynamic top lines in returning juniors Connor Jones and Kellen Jones (EDM), and sophomore Matthew Peca (TBL). The trio accounted for 36 percent of the team’s total points last season. Connor Jones led the team with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 37 games. Kellen Jones finished third on the team with 36 points and second on the team with 14 goals in 36 games. Peca, an ECAC All-Rookie Team selection, led the team with 31 assists and finished second with 39 points in 39 games. Peca’s 39 points were also the third most among all NCAA rookies. The line is expected to be together again to begin this season.

“I’ve been very happy with the twins’ development,” head coach Rand Pecknold said of the Joneses. “They’ve matured in each of the two previous seasons that they been with us. Connor and Kellen both come back bigger and stronger. They both compete hard and are good for our team as far as elevating the compete level. I think the thing that will continue to mature with them is their decision-making. They’re certainly two of our better players and hopefully they’ll be able to handle more ice time than they carried last year.”

“Matt is a great two-way player,” said Pecknold. “He’s dynamic and can play both ends of the ice. We’re fortunate to have him on our roster here at Quinnipiac. We knew about Matt’s skill level and knew that he would be able to put up points right from the start. But I think the thing that pleasantly surprised us the most about Matt was how good he was defensively. He figured it out very quickly and bought into being a good defensive player. He’s definitely a special player and someone that the Tampa Bay Lightning will be very happy with down the road.”

Last season, Quinnipiac possessed a very balanced team. Both their team offense and defense ranked in the top 20 nationally. Even more impressive was the Bobcats special teams. Quinnipiac was one of only three ECAC teams that ranked in the top 20 last season on both the power-play (19th) and on the penalty kill (2nd), joining Union College and Yale.

One reason behind those numbers can be attributed to the Bobcats’ defensive corps, which returns nearly intact this season. Quinnipiac’s blueline accounted for 27 percent of the team’s points last season. Seniors Loren Barron and Zack Currie return as the Bobcats’ top defensemen.

In goal, Quinnipiac graduated Dan Clarke and Jake Whiting, but return last season’s starter in junior Eric Hartzell. The White Bear Lake, MN native posted a 12-11-6 record that included one shutout. The towering netminder really made some good strides in his development last season, mostly notably in his improved puck handling and in economizing his movements. This summer, Hartzell attended the Philadelphia Flyers' prospect camp.

Nine newcomers join the Bobcats this season. Among them is junior power forward and Bowling Green transfer Jordan Samuels-Thomas (WPG). Although the Windsor, CT native practiced with the team last season, he will make his Quinnipiac playing debut this season.

“We’ve followed Jordan’s career since he played juniors here in Connecticut. Jordan is great offensively and he’s working hard to round out the rest of his game. He’s big (6’2”, 190 lbs.) and just has a knack for scoring goals. I think he’ll be a real impact player for us. We’re actually going to start the year with him and Jeremy (Langlois) playing together and see where it goes.”

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
Number of NHL prospects: 2

After reaching the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, RPI found it difficult to duplicate the feat last season. This season, the Engineers hope to change that.

The most pressing issue coming into the 2012-13 campaign for RPI is improving their offensive numbers. The Engineers averaged just 2.00 goals per game last season and the 78 total goals that the team scored were the fewest in the ECAC. Furthermore, RPI didn’t have a single player on their roster last season that reached the 10-goal plateau. The Engineers’ roster this season doesn’t have an elite go-to guy, so the team’s offense will need to come by committee.

Among the players that RPI will be looking to for increased point production this season are returning sophomore Ryan Haggerty and senior C.J. Lee.

Haggerty, who attended the New York Rangers prospect camp this summer, could potentially have a breakout season this year. He finished his freshman season leading the Engineers in rookie scoring with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 35 games. The winger from Stamford, CT possesses a good stick and is dangerous around the net. Last season, Hegarty also excelled on RPI’s power-play, where five of his seven goals were scored.

Lee returns after finishing third on the team with 18 points (eight goals, ten assists) playing in all 39 games. The Staten Island, NY native may be one of the most underrated players playing in the ECAC. Lee plays both ends of the ice quite well and his hard work enables him to be very effective in areas such as creating plays or causing turnovers. And as head coach Seth Appert explains, Lee is the embodiment of RPI hockey.

“C.J. embodies everything that we want to be as a program. We want to be a hard, fast, physical and disciplined hockey team that is first class in everything we do and I think C.J. is all of those things and then some. He’s just a winner as a student-athlete. C.J. cares deeply about the program and his teammates. He’s just a special young man. I know that every one of our guys tries to emulate the way C.J. works.”

One position that will be interesting to watch this season is in goal. RPI returns their top two netminders in senior Bryce Merriam and sophomore Scott Diebold, but also adds talented newcomer Jason Kasdorf (WPG). The Winnipeg, MB native is the lone NHL prospect on the team’s roster this season. Kasdorf adds size (6’4”, 195 lbs.) to an already big goaltending unit. He is noted for his athleticism and great lateral movement.

“Jason is a real talented freshman that needs to learn how hard he needs to compete and train to be successful”, noted Appert. “He’ll have two great role models in Bryce and Scott to learn from this season. I think if Jason can learn to do those things, then he will become an elite goalie. He’s a quality kid that has a real good head on his shoulders. He’s got real good athleticism and he’s quick through the crease. His lateral movement is real strong for a young guy too. So the sky’s the limit for Jason.”

Among the eight players that RPI lost this off-season, two were defensemen. Top defenseman Mike Bergin has graduated and Patrick Koudys (WSH) has left the program. Despite losing Bergin and Koudys, the Engineers’ blueline looks to be quite good. Senior Nick Bailen anchors a solid and bigger defensive corps this season. Bailen led RPI in defensemen scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 39 games last season. Bailen is an offensive-minded defenseman that skates and moves the puck really well.

Along with Kasdorf, RPI brings in eight other newcomers. Among those to watch this season is forward Mike Zalewski. The New Hartford, NY native is the younger sibling of current New Jersey Devils center and former Clarkson standout Steve Zalewski. The younger Zalewski is a 6’2”, 195-pound power forward that is noted for his ability to put up big points.

“Mike is a part of our group of freshmen that has the potential to be a real driving force for us this year, and I think he has the chance to be a high impact player for us,” Appert said of Zalewski.

St. Lawrence University
Number of NHL prospects: 0

St. Lawrence got off to a slow start last season before finishing the regular season with a 6-2-0 record. This season, the Saints will be looking to advance further into the ECAC Tournament in hopes of getting into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The team returns nearly all of their top players, including their top four scorers from last season.

St. Lawrence’s strength this season looks to be their offense. But they will need to generate more secondary scoring if they are to make a run at the ECAC crown. The Saints averaged 2.44 goals per game, but much of that was generated from their returning top four scorers in junior Greg Carey, freshman Chris Martin and seniors Kyle Flanagan and defenseman George Hughes.

One area where St. Lawrence was very good last season was on the power-play. The Saints clicked at 19.2 percent, which ranked 24th nationally. They also allowed just one shorthanded goal, which was tied for the fewest in the nation. Interestingly, St. Lawrence also scored only one shorthanded goal as well.

The Saints’ top line of Carey-Flanagan-Martin was one of the ECAC’s most exciting lines last season. The trio accounted for 41 percent of the team’s total point production in 2011-12. Of the three players, the one to watch is Martin. The Ottawa, ON native enjoyed an excellent freshman campaign, posting 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) playing in all 36 games last season. He also earned a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. At 6’1”, 198 pounds, Martin is the biggest player on St. Lawrence’s top line. He is a very good skater that plays really well along the boards and in the corners. This summer, Martin attended the Chicago Blackhawks' prospect camp.

Inconsistent goaltending was a problem for the Saints throughout last season. While St. Lawrence graduated Robbie Moss, they do have starter Matt Weninger returning. The junior from Lethbridge, AB posted a 13-16-3 record that included two shutouts in 32 appearances. Although Weninger played well throughout last season, he was never able to achieve the same level of consistency that other ECAC goaltenders were able to do. But this season could be different. One notable area where Weninger improved over the course of last season was in his ability to read and react to plays.

Weninger will also need more support from the defensive corps. Last season, the Saints allowed an average of 3.33 goals per game. The 120 total goals that the team allowed were the most of any ECAC team. This season, those numbers should improve with the blueline returning nearly intact. The only defenseman from last season’s squad not returning is Peter Child, who has graduated.

Senior George Hughes leads the Saints’ defense. He led St. Lawrence in defensive scoring last season with 24 points (four goals, 20 assists) in 31 games. While Hughes’ offensive abilities are well known, he has made great strides on the defensive side, as well. His noticeably stronger 6’2” frame has allowed him to shutdown opposing players more effectively, as well as added some power to his strides. Hughes has already gained some NHL interest and, if he can continue to round out his game, that interest will certainly intensify by season’s end.

In addition to their returning players, the Saints also add five newcomers to the mix. Among them is towering defenseman Ross McMullan. At 6’4”, 205 pounds, he will be among the biggest players on the roster this season. The Las Vegas, NV native is noted for his shot and mobility.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF