31 points from the thick of recruiting season
|Sep 16||Public post|
I spent Friday through Sunday taking in the extremely well-run showcase (by the NJ Avalanche) at the Ice House in Hackensack, NJ. Four games to a time slot, six time slots a day, with competitive games going at all times — the rinks were absolutely packed with prospects and Division 1 coaches looking for players. I took in as much as I could, but didn’t see anywhere near every team.
I focused on the new Mount U16 team and other top programs from out of the area while getting thoughts from college coaches and agents on a variety of things — the prospects on the ice, new recruiting rules and the outlook for some D1 programs this coming season. I’ll do a more full look at the prospects I saw soon but here are 31 take-aways from the weekend, starting with the recruitment status of Mount U16 stand-out forward Zachary Bolduc.
The star of the show this weekend in Hackensack was clearly Mount U16 forward Zachary Bolduc. The hockey staff at Mount spent all last season putting this team together and they’ve got a hell of a group, led up front by a super-talent in Bolduc this first year. A graceful, lightning-quick forward on the left wing who is both strong on his skates and remarkably polished offensively, he was a threat to score nearly every shift I saw him play. He’s currently repped by CAA.
Bolduc’s out of place in U16 hockey and will almost definitely be playing junior hockey in 2020, whether that’s the Quebec league or the USHL — more precisely, Rimouski and Sioux City currently hold his rights in each league.
Bolduc’s already visited Maine, Boston University and UMass, but it sounds like those schools are on the outside looking in with regard to his recruitment process at the moment.
I was a little surprised to hear that Maine and UMass don’t seem to be in the thick of this recruiting race. For one, both schools are somewhat close to his home in Quebec. Secondly, Bolduc’s linemate at Mount, Kenny Connors, is headed to UMass. He’s a strong talent in the middle while another super-talented teammate in ‘03 defenseman Guillaume Richard is a Maine commit. Obviously, BU are rarely out of the mix for a player of this talent level on the east coast, so we’ll see what happens. Providence also don’t seem to be in the mix at the moment, despite the fact that he is playing in their backyard.
The schools I’m hearing as front-runners for Bolduc’s commitment are Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, North Dakota, UNO and Boston College, in no particular order. It’s hard to confirm recruitment information in this sport, but he’ll be taking visits to most of those schools. He’s already visited Chestnut Hill.
If I had to pick a school out of that mix that strikes me as the best fit for Bolduc as a player, it would be between Penn State, Wisconsin and Boston College. He’s an up-tempo scorer with a pro ceiling that stares observers squarely in the face.
It is possible that all of this is a charade and Bolduc ends up in the Quebec league next season, but this is a lot of hoops to jump through just to get traded to an ideal ‘Q’ home — if that is the ultimate goal.
Switching to recruiting in general, Division 1 coaches generally seem to have a very positive opinion of the recruiting changes, citing the fact that they were uncomfortable competing for and extending scholarship offers to ‘elite’ fourteen and fifteen year-olds.
One clear winner from the recruiting changes in D1 hockey, according to all parties? Agents (advisors).
The fact that division one coaches can’t communicate with young athletes or their families puts an unprecedented amount of influence squarely in the hands of these power brokers, who know well how to work the realities of the recruiting scene as go-betweens. Coaches will still watch these players well before they can talk to them directly, and player representatives (agents) are often in the same rinks. At worst, ‘advisors’ are just a text or phone call away.
One thing to watch will be how quickly top prospects commit once they are technically allowed to do so. It will be fascinating to see if the new August 1 of junior year date becomes a critical period: we may see a swarm of commitments being realized in succession mid-summer. Especially once the currently ‘grandfathered’ early recruits are out of the mix and all players in a given age group are uncommitted on that date. That’s a few years away.
If that swarm of commitments happens, hockey would finally have a pseudo-’signing day’ — one that isn’t basically a formality as the NLI signing period is now. This new aforementioned August 1 signing day would see the commitments of many pre-eminent hockey talents going into their junior year.
The current ‘signing period’ — which still exists with the new rules — is effectively where already-committed prospects sign (or don’t sign) their names on Letters of Intent, making things official with regard to their scholarship offers.
One fun quirk: a number of schools who secured early commitments before the rules changed are now unable to communicate with said recruits for a significant period of time, so as to remain in compliance.
In now keeping with the letter of the new recruiting rules, both the early commits and their D1 suitors technically violate the spirit of them, but no beginning of a change in an established system comes smoothly. In fact it probably only proves how necessary this change was, as schools were committing players in eighth grade — in some cases playing Bantam Minor hockey!
Also, it is far from a guarantee that any of these now-grandfathered early recruits will actually end up where they have committed to, as has always been the case.
To name just a couple of those schools who got their early commits in ahead of the change: Boston University and Providence — both of whom have 2005-born recruits in Ryan Fine and Tanner Adams respectively. Ohio State picked up a late-04 (then-eighth-grader), last January, in Chris Able. For his part, I thought he looked great for the Chicago Mission U15 team this weekend at the Ice House.
While the seven Big Ten hockey schools didn’t pick up anyone out of that ‘05 age group, most have more than their fair share of grandfathered early recruits who, like Able, technically could not commit under the current rules.
One prospect who will be worth watching as the relevant dates approach: Shattuck-St. Mary’s ‘04 forward Maddox Fleming, who transferred in following an injury-shortened second season with Rochester Mayo’s (MN) varsity as a freshman — he scored 45 points in 16 games, earning rave reviews from observers.
Like the rest of the sophomore class, Fleming can ‘begin’ the recruiting process after January 1 of that year — so in a few months. He can then begin to receive and accept verbal offers the following August 1.
Here are some impressions about the upcoming NCAA season after talking with some rival coaches in Hackensack. Coaches don’t seem to share my line of thought that Boston College are one of the biggest wild-cards in Division 1 this season with a freshman class that could go boom or bust. One point I definitely agree on is that freshman goaltender Spencer Knight has the potential to bail the Eagles out of any early hiccups this season. Come January, they could really have it together. A lot is on the shoulders of that talented and capable freshman class.
Coaches were more lukewarm when it came to the other side of Comm Ave. One rival coach made a point that they could be a great Friday night team that struggles to repeat the effort, considering that if they have success, a lot depends on that freshman class. I don’t see why that argument doesn’t apply to Boston College, but the Terriers don’t have Knight in net.
They do address the situation in net, with 23-year-old grad transfer Sam Tucker out of Yale. The Terriers bring in a very talented group of young forwards, from 9th overall pick Trevor Zegras to fellow 2019 Detroit Red Wings draftees Robert Mastrosimone and Ethan Phillips, alongside Clark Cup champion Sam Stevens, who had previously been committed to Wisconsin. Jake Wise should be back off the IR and ready to do some damage in his second year.
One rival coach in Hockey East noted that UConn could make some noise this season — I was decidedly in the doubters column until he made the compelling argument that they have the best group of forwards in the conference. The Huskies have a good core up front with 2018 draftees Ruslan Iskhakov + Jáchym Kondelík alongside sophomore Kale Howarth (2017 5th rounder CBJ) and senior Alex Payusov (16 goals). That’s bolstered by a lot of new talent including Vladislav Firstov (2nd round) and Matej Blumel (4th round). The Huskies staff, heading into their seventh season, also bring in a 2019 4th round pick (FLA) on defense, Carter Berger, a late-99 who played for Victoria of the BCHL last year, and a 2020 draft prospect in Russian defenseman Yan Kuznetsov, who played 34 games for USHL-Sioux Falls.
One team everyone will be watching is UMass. It’s a big year for the Minutemen, who want to prove they were a lot more than the Cale Makar show after making it to the last game of the season against back-to-back NCAA champs Minnesota-Duluth. Luckily, they are: rival coaches think they have a chance to stay at the top of Hockey East even without the stand-out sophomore (now with the Colorado Avalanche) making highlight reel plays multiple times a night. There is a strong returning core in Amherst despite losing their two top scorers in Makar and Jacob Pritchard. Mitchell Chaffee (42 points) and John Leonard (18 goals, 42 points) return up front while a strong, offensively-capable d-corps highlighted by Marc Del Gaizo (29 points) and Ty Farmer (18 points) adds a 3rd-round pick in talented, mobile puck-mover Zac Jones. Another freshman to watch will be former long-time Michigan recruit Calen Kiefiuk, who had 87 points (33 goals) over his last two seasons in the USHL.
Merrimack should be a team to watch in the sense that they are full of new faces ready to turn the page. A brief look at their roster shows sixteen incoming freshmen — Scott Borek’s staff is wasting no time getting their guys in.
Speaking of wasting no time getting guys in, coaches seem to think the University of Minnesota will be better, not worse, for adding eleven freshmen this season. While it’s a very talented freshman class led in part by 1st rounder Ryan Johnson and one of the USHL’s top scorers in late-98 Ben Meyers, I think coaches may be underestimating the competitiveness of the Big Ten, even if the cupboard is far from bare in the Twin Cities.
The Gophers addressed needs all over, from goaltending to defense to scoring and depth overall, but they also lost an irreplaceable line in Rem Pitlick, Brent Gates Jr and Tyler Sheehy. I think they’re very well-positioned for the future but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team struggle early on, especially in Big Ten play.
Two Big Ten teams everyone can’t wait to see: Wisconsin and Penn State. Wisconsin because they legitimately are a wild-card: one of the most talented teams in Division 1 but also one that skews the youngest, likely relying heavily on three 2001-born forwards in Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway.
Penn State, meanwhile, are older and as deep as you can get up front. They return almost everything, including Aarne Talvitie, who will finally be back in the line-up after going on the IR for the second half. He was hurt while captaining the Finns to the gold medal at the World Junior last winter. Talvitie’s one of the more talented forwards in the Big Ten and may not even figure into Penn State’s top six! Alongside Notre Dame and Ohio State, those four schools are my preseason favorites to fight for the top spots in the Big Ten standings.
A couple names at forward for this NHL draft class out of prep hockey that I noticed in the handful of U18 games I caught this weekend: Phil Tresca (Eagles 18s/Rivers School), a Yale recruit who is very talented on the puck and was really impressive against the Jr. Bulldogs. Berkshire’s Aidan Thompson (Rats 18s) also had a loud weekend from a scoring perspective. He’s a good athlete at center who put up a point-per-game for the Bears last season. Thompson is a Denver recruit who played for the Colorado Thunderbirds AAA program before prep hockey.