The 2016-17 Hockey East season is shaping up to be one that will feature a myriad of talented freshman across the board. While there is no Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin in this year's recruiting classes, there are several high profile players, including Clayton Keller, who went seventh overall in the 2016 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes.
As always, recruiting classes can be fickle. Take last summer, for example, when Max Letunov de-committed from Boston University, only to land at UConn, because of an admissions issue on Commonwealth Avenue. Then, with high profile recruits, there is always the potential for heading to major juniors.
Boston University's class, the headliner in Hockey East, is star-studded. Three future Terriers were selected in the first round while another was picked in the second. Add to that a top goalie prospect for the 2017 NHL Draft, and it's hard to not recognize the superiority of the class David Quinn and his staff are bringing into BU.
Boston College, Providence, Northeastern and Notre Dame also have classes with promise. Ranking recruiting classes is never easy because not every player has been viewed, but these rankings factor in this observer's viewings of most of the U.S. talent coming in and a few of the Canadian players who have played prep hockey or in the USHL along with insight from scouts and coaches who've seen the others play.
Hockey East Recruiting Rankings
1. Boston University
When a team has three commits drafted in the first round, and two others in the second and fourth rounds, there's little doubt its coaching staff is doing a terrific job on the recruiting trail. No staff in the country is currently even in the same stratosphere as the Terriers when it comes to finding and securing top talent.
Keller and U.S. NTDP linemate Kieffer Bellows, a first round pick of the New York Islanders, are certainly going to be fun to watch. The duo tortured their future teammates in an exhibition victory last October. Keller has terrific hockey IQ and vision, can skate extremely well and find open teammates. His hands are off the charts. Bellows has a pro shot and will be a lethal threat in the slot.
Fellow NTDP teammate Chad Krys is yet another mobile defenseman to add to David Quinn's blue line. Krys isn't even the best defenseman the Terriers are bringing in. Dante Fabro out of Penticton in the BCHL is a first round pick of the Nashville Predators. Two separate NHL scouts remarked he would have been the best defenseman on BU's roster last season
Another NTDP alum, Jake Oettinger, is projected to take over as the Terriers' number one goaltender. Two prep standouts, Avon Old Farms' Patrick Harper and Westminster's Johnny McDermott, also are newcomers to the Scarlet and White. Harper is a diminutive forward with elite hands and acceleration. He compares to former Hockey East forward Kevin Roy.
BU added two older recruits, Bloomington Thunder forward Patrick Curry and Gabriel Chabot out of Rochester in the USPHL, to round out the class.
This class does a good job building on the success of last season, and improving the Huskies' attack in some key areas. Most notably, Jim Madigan and his staff should have a more mobile defense on paper and are also bringing in some offensive firepower.
In addition to the eight freshmen, NU is also adding transfer Garrett Cecere and Liam Pecararo to the mix. The two should bring experience and skill to their respective positions.
Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Ryan Shea, New Jersey Devils prospect Jeremy Davies and Cecere can all skate and move the puck in transition from the blue line. It could be argued that all three are better skaters and puck-movers than any defenseman Northeastern had in 2015-16. Nick Fiorentino out of the BCHL brings more of a physical presence, but can also move around the sheet.
Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Matt Filipe headlines the group of newcomers up front. The former Malden Catholic star is a son of NU Hall of Famer Paul Filipe, who prowled the Huskies' blue line from 1978-1982. He's a big-bodied winger who can drive the net and make an impact below the dots. Filipe, who played in Cedar Rapids this past season, has a powerful stride and can be heavy on pucks, as Madigan emphasizes often.
A pair of Lincoln Stars forwards also arrive. Grant Jozefek and Biagio Lerario are proven point producers from the USHL. Pecararo, the former Maine Black Bear, spent last season with Waterloo in the USHL. He's a crafty forward with speed and can be slippery for opposing defenders.
Rounding out the newcomers are goaltender Curtis Frye and forward John Picking.
Replacing a nine-member senior class who helped the Friars to their first national championship in school history is no easy task. Nate Leaman and his staff are doing remarkably well on the recruiting trail, and making inroads in the Boston area for future classes.
This class is good, but isn't as loaded on paper as the 2017 and 2018 classes appear. Headlining the group of newcomers to Schneider Arena is Finnish forward and Pittsburgh Penguins second round pick Kasper Bjorkqvist. He's an elite playmaker who has proven himself at the international level. His vision and skating will set him apart.
Brandon Duhaime, who helped Tri City win the USHL Clark Cup, is a Minnesota Wild draftee. He's a player with skill whose competitive edge will be well liked by Friars fans. He's the type of player who steps up and rises to the occasion.
A potential game changer in this class is '95 Scott Conway, who played with Penticton in the BCHL last season after leaving Penn State. After averaging just under a point per game for the Nittany Lions, he put up more than two points per game with the Vees.
Two former prep stars, Vimal Sukumaran and Chase Zieky, will don a Friars jersey after spending a year in the BCHL. Both are forwards with skill, but are players that fit the PC system. They'll do the little things and muck and grind in the dirty areas to get pucks to open teammates and to get scoring chances of their own. A local product, Shane Kavanaugh, who spent the last two years with Dubuque in the USHL, could have an immediate impact.
The Friars replaced their two graduate blue liners with similar players in Jacob Bryson and Spenser Young. Bryson, an Ontario native who played for Omaha in the USHL, is undersized, but is an elite puck-moving defenseman. Young has more size and is also mobile. Both played prep hockey in New England before heading to the USHL.
While the Friars already have their heir apparent to Nick Ellis on campus in Hayden Hawkey, PC added goaltender Kristopher Carlson from the NAHL's Austin Bruins to push for playing time between the pipes.
4. Boston College
No program in college hockey had to replace more talent than Jerry York's Eagles did following the mass exodus from Chestnut Hill. This class is good, but it's no where near as good as some of the past hauls that have come to the Heights.
Rating this class fourth was a tough decision, and it's not because there is a lack of talent coming to Conte Forum. It's just that there were a few last minute fillers to round out the class, and a lot of the true freshmen in this class might take longer to make an impact.
Let's start off with BC's most glaring hole. The Eagles will replace Thatcher Demko with two freshman goaltenders who both come in highly regarded. Joe Woll is a NTDP alum who went in the third round to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's a prototypical modern era goaltender. He combines size, athleticism and covers a lot of net in the butterfly.
Minnesota de-commit Ryan Edquist is also coming to the Heights this fall. The USHL All-Rookie team goaltender is a former Shattuck St. Mary's product who starred for the Madison Capitols.
While freshman goaltenders have proven they can make an impact right away, both Woll and Edquist are '98s, meaning they are true freshmen. Woll should have the advantage, having played a college schedule already with the NTDP.
Defensively, BC is bringing in four blue liners to replace Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini. Luke McInnis and Connor Moore, both out of Youngstown in the USHL, and Finnish import Jesper Matilla, are all offensive-minded defensemen. The three, along with Michael Campoli from the NTDP, will be strong skaters who should be able to skate the puck out of trouble and help with puck possession. However, the big question is how well the four can adjust to playing in their own zone against Hockey East competition?
On the offensive side of things, it's hard to believe any of the newcomers can come close to replacing any of the departed. David Cotton is the most well-known locally. The former Cushing star is a sixth round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, but his numbers were only so-so in the USHL with Waterloo.
Julius Mattila is the twin brother of Jesper, and is expected to contribute immediately. He's known as more of a playmaker. He will be watched closely throughout the season, and could be selected in the 2017 NHL Draft in his second year of eligibility.
Graham McPhee and Zach Walker are both great skaters out of the NTDP, but are more bottom six type forwards. Ron Greco and Michael Booth, both out of the USPHL, and Michael Merulla from the NAHL, are older freshman who the staff hopes can be late bloomers.
5. Notre Dame
Jeff Jackson's incoming class is highlighted by 2016 second rounders Cam Morrison (Colorado Avalanche) and Andrew Peeke (Columbus Blue Jackets). Morrison, a left wing, is joined up front by Cal Burke and Michael O'Leary. Peeke and Tory Dello are the two newcomers on the blue line.
All six of this year's Irish recruits played in the USHL last season. The Notre Dame staff did a nice job filling voids and bringing in players with leadership qualities. Two, Burke and Dello, were team captains in the USHL and Peeke was the USHL Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Dello and Peeke bought bring mobility from the point. Peeke is a good skater who prides himself in being a two-way defender. Dello captained by the Clark Cup Championship-winning Tri-City Storm.
Morrison is a big time power forward who can put the puck in the net and create offense. Burke is more of a gritty, crafty forward whose value is in his creativity and finesse. O'Leary struggled some in his first USHL season, but the former Cornell recruit was once a highly sought after prospect in the QMJHL Draft. He's a big player who could really grow into his own over the course of four seasons in South Bend.
Cale Morris was brought in to back up current starter Cal Peterson. The Waterloo Black Hawks product has spent three seasons in the USHL and will be more than an adequate second string goaltender in Hockey East.
The Black Bears lack the big name of the teams ranked above them in these rankings, but Red Gendron's staff, led by Ben Guite, has done a nice job in addressing some needs and improving the overall talent on the roster. Three NHL Draft picks from 2015 -- forwards Chase Pearson and Patrick Shea and defenseman Patrick Holway -- arrive in Orono.
Four recruits hail from the USHL. In addition to Pearson and Holway, Maine adds Mitch Fossier and Ryan Smith. Fossier was one of the first recruits for this new regime. A TPH Thunder alum, he had 11 goals and 29 assists in 60 games for the Sioux City Musketeers. Pearson, a fifth round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, is a 200-foot player who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's also more of a pass-first player, notching 38 assists in 55 games for Youngstown.
Two forwards out of prep, Shea and Jake Pappalardo, are players the staff is hoping can be finishes. Pappalardo is sometimes criticized for his awkward stride, but he's a strong, rugged center that competes and wins battles. He has a heavy shot and isn't afraid to go into the dirty areas to gain puck possession.
Maine's two new recruits on the blue line continue the emphasis Gendron and his staff have put on size on the back end. Holway, another Red Wings prospect, is an athletic defender who split time with Dubuque and Sioux City in the USHL. The late add of Oliver Herner, from the Hungarian national team, is the wild card as he is a complete unknown.
Maine is certainly upgrading its forwards, but the defense and goaltending still remains a question mark. In addition to the offensive prowess, this class has a nice blend of kids who will compete hard and go to battle every night.
7. UMass Lowell
The River Hawks' coaching staff is often criticized, even by their own fanbase due to the lack of early commitments, but this class is quite good on paper. Norm Bazin has his unique philosophy, and it has worked through five seasons in Lowell.
The headliners to this class are two goaltenders, NHL Draft pick Tyler Wall from Leamington in the GOJHL and Garrett Metcalf from the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks. Wall is a young recruit for Lowell standards, coming in as a true freshman after being selected in June's draft by the New York Rangers. He's a big backstop who was dominant in a lesser junior league, but has a ton of upside, according to scouts who've seen him play.
Swedish Defenseman Mattias Göransson comes to UMass Lowell by way of the USHL's Tri-City Storm. He has similar size to former River Hawk Christian Folin, and is drawing comparisons. He had seven goals and 34 assists in the USHL last season, proving he can have an impact in all three zones.
Tampa Bay draft pick Ryan Lohin is the key addition up front. He was nearly a point per game player in the USHL with Waterloo and Madison. He's a pass-first player who could excel on a line with C.J. Smith.
Guillame Leclerc, Kenneth Hausinger and James Winkler are three more forwards out of the USHL who could contribute right away. AJHL product Colin O'Neill could be a diamond in the rough.
The crown jewel of the Huskies' recruiting class is goaltender and New York Rangers prospect Adam Huska. The Slovakian native was the 2015-16 USHL Goaltender of the Year with the Green Bay Gamblers. With good size, he had the best save percentage and goals against average in the league. He also has international experience with the Slovakian World Junior team.
Forwards Alexandre Payusov and Justin Howell come in from the USHL, and will be counted upon to help bolster an offense that struggled outside of Max Letunov and Tage Thompson.
Bryan Nelson, a former Harvard recruit, brings good size to the blue line at 6-foot-4. He's physical and has leadership quality. Another defenseman, Wyatt Newpower, joins the Huskies straight from White Bear Lake (MN) High School.
Forwards Ben Freeman from the Connecticut Jr. Rangers (USPHL) and Brian Morgan, a Maine graduate transfer, also will vie for ice time.
Once again, the Warriors did a nice job of finding some diamonds in the rough that might have been overlooked in the recruiting process by bigger name schools.
Sami Tavernier and Logan Coomes are two forwards out of the NAHL who showed promise. Tavernier, who is being considered for the Finnish World Junior team, finished the season in the USHL, but put up good numbers with Topeka. He's a player with good vision who can create offense from anywhere. Coomes doesn't have quite the same ceiling, but is a similar player who put up big numbers for Fairbanks.
Some of the Merrimack class is still up in the air, but forwards Jackson Bales, Tyler Irvine, Cole McBride, Laine McKay, Patrick Kramer and Tyler Drevitch are scheduled to arrive in the fall or next fall. Expect two of those guys to be pushed back to 2017.
Jonathan Kovacevic is a mobile defender with good size that should help continue Merrimack's trend of recruiting blue liners who can help in transition and break the puck up ice better. The CCHL product was impressive at the Chowder Cup Pre-Draft in May. Ryan Cook is a late add on the blue line. He'll be a nice depth guy who can add a physical presence.
This was a class largely pulled together at the very last possible time by new head coach Greg Carvel and his staff. While recruiting is certainly looking up in Amherst, this class is good, but not great. The Minutemen did add a few St. Lawrence defections late in the process that could contribute right away.
The Minutemen class is the only one in Hockey East that this observer hasn't seen a single player live. UMass is bringing in six forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender.
Ryan Wischow, originally committed to St. Lawrence, had a .917 save percentage with the Fargo Force in the USHL. He will compete for playing time right away with the two goalies already on the roster.
Defensemen Shane Bear and Jake McLaughlin will join the UMass blue line. Bear is an offensive defenseman, and the youngest recruit for Greg Carvel's team. He posted nearly a point per game in the AJHL. McLaughlin is a Chicago Mission product who is more of a stay-at-home defender. He comes to Amherst from the Fargo Force as well.
Up front, all of the newcomers are '95s or '96s. Jack Suter, Niko Hildebrand and Luke McElhenie come in from the USHL while Jonathan Lazarus and Griff Jeszka hail from the NAHL. Brett Boeing, a Michigan Tech transfer and former Dubuque Fighting Saint, will be eligible in January.
Kevin Sneddon's nine member class has a couple of high end recruits, but isn't as strong top to bottom as the teams ahead in the rankings.
The biggest gem in the class is Cedar Rapids forward Ross Colton, who was named MVP of the USHL NHL Top Prospects Game in Omaha back in January. He parlayed his strong play in his final USHL season into being selected by Tampa Bay in June's NHL Draft.
2015 Carolina Hurricanes pick Jake Massie is the top defenseman in this year's class. He's a big, mobile blue liner out of the USHL who hails from Quebec. He struggled making the transition from prep to juniors, but got better down the stretch.
UVM is bringing in another smaller goaltender in Stefanos Lekkas from Sioux Falls in the USHL. The Elburn, Ill. native posted a .924 save percentage this past season for the Stampede, and should challenge Mike Santaguida for playing time, or at the very least, be reliable heading into the future.
Also in the class are three forwards, Matt Alvaro, Cameron Klein and Derek Lodermeier, and three defensemen, Max Daigle, Corey Moriarty and Matt O'Donnell.
12. New Hampshire
The biggest concern in the Wildcats' recruiting class is that the biggest area of need wasn't addressed. Defense and puck possession were huge issues a year ago and neither was addressed to a point where UNH fans can be comfortable heading into the season.
Glenn Stewart and Mike Souza are good recruiters who've identified some top talent, but the higher end players just aren't choosing UNH like they once did.
Forward Liam Blackburn, out of the BCHL, is the prized recruit of the class. The West Kelowna Warriors product is a dynamic playmaker who can create offense immediately. He could be a lethal threat with Tyler Kelleher. Des Moines Buccaneers alum Patrick Grasso is an undersized right wing who had 43 assists in 60 USHL games.
The youngest of the van Riemsdyk clan finally arrives in Durham this fall. Brendan, a '96 from the Islanders Hockey Club in the USPHL, has a heavy shot and can also dish out the puck by drawing defenders with his size and leverage.
A loss for this class was when forward Charlie Kelleher opted for the USHL's Tri City Storm instead of possibly coming to UNH this fall.
Defenseman Anthony Wyse, a former Dartmouth commit, comes to UNH via the Lincoln Stars in the USHL. He's a big blue liner who's battled injuries, but has the capability to have an impact if he can use his size to his advantage. Nick Nonis, the son of NHL executive Dave Nonis, also is a newcomer to the blue line, hailing from the BCHL.