The reigning NCAA champions will have to overcome a few major departures as part of their title defense, but a productive senior class and an influx of young talent should once again make the Friars a contender in Hockey East.
Gone are key players like senior winger Shane Luke, skilled two-way forwards in Ross Mauermann and Noel Acciari, as well as one of the top collegiate goalies in the country — Frozen Four MVP Jon Gillies.
The loss of cornerstone contributors like Gillies would likely cripple most programs, but Nate Leaman's bunch still wields more than enough talent to rack up wins this winter.
Leading scorer Nick Saracino returns for his senior campaign, and will be joined by fellow classmates Trevor Mingoia, Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev — all of whom scored over 20 points last season.
Providence's blue liners also return with an experienced core of players, highlighted by seniors Tom Parisi and John Gilmour, as well as Sabres draft pick Anthony Florentino.
While the Friars' biggest strength lies in their upperclassmen, PC's coaching staff has also done a great job incorporating a number of young players into the lineup, as forward Brian Pinho and defensemen Jake Walman should continue to mature and develop in their sophomore seasons.
A talented freshman class should also yield some added production, especially up front with Jets draft pick Erik Foley and on defense with NTDP import Steven Ruggiero and BCHL product Vincent Desharnais.
The biggest question for the Friars lies in who will be able to fill the void left in net by Gillies' exit. Junior Nick Ellis impressed in limited action last year (2.22 GAA, .910 save percentage), but should also be challenged by freshman Hayden Hawkey, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Canadiens. Hawkey was a dominant force for the Omaha Lancers in 2013-14, leading the USHL in saves percentage and GAA before suffering a season-ending injury.
Uncertainties in net might have spurred some reservations about the Friars' potential this season, but armed with one of the strongest senior classes in college hockey and depth across the board, Providence should once again be a major player come March.
By Jeff Cox
A lot of pundits are writing the Friars off to a post-championship hangover in large part due to the departure of all-world goaltender Jon Gillies. It's not difficult to figure out how important Gillies was to Providence's run last season.
However, just take one look at the defense Nate Leaman will be trotting out in front of either Nick Ellis or Hayden Hawkey this season and any and all doubts should be cast aside. Tom Parisi might be the best undrafted free agent prospect in college hockey this season.
St. Louis Blues prospect Jake Walman really got overshadowed last season. All the attention to freshmen blue liners went to Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski and Brandon Hickey, but Walman is an explosive play maker from the blue line.
Add Anthony Florentino, John Gilmour, Kyle McKenzie and two well-regarded rookies and you have the makings of a stifling defense. Ellis will be given the change to take the starting job and run with it. He was once a very highly regarded goaltending prospect out of Pomfret. Hawkey, the freshman and Canadiens prospect, is no slouch.
Gone are Noel Acciari, Ross Mauermann and Shane Luke from the offense, but Nick Saracino, Brian Pinho and Mark Jankowski are back. Jankowski, the former first round pick of the Flames, is primed for a breakout season. Erik Foley, Garrett Gamez and Bryan Lemos are three freshmen that should have an impact this season.