Prospect Currents: Recruiting, Coronavirus and Conference Play Edition
Hey guys, hope everyone is having a good summer. Hockey is returning with a vengeance (fingers crossed) and there is plenty of news... this month I have focused more on if and how hockey will be played at the various levels.
There is still a lot of uncertainty… as we’ve seen, things can quickly go one way or the other. How the NHL and other pro sports fare in rebooting their seasons, as well as the success or failure of college football this fall, will probably be the best indicators. Schools having students on campus or not is also an obvious factor. Anyway, I’ll get to all of that. I’ve tried to gather as many facts as I can find and used bullet points to keep things simpler and organized.
We’re in an extended NCAA recruiting “dead period” but there are still some recruiting items of note — and that doesn’t even include the (relatively few) recent commitments, nor LIU skipper Brett Riley managing to put together a whole team in two months, neither of which are touched on here today.
NCAA dead period extended through August 31, 2020
Coaches and recruits can still be in contact virtually, but nowhere else
Coaches can’t go to showcases in person (can watch online)
For more on “Recruiting in a Dead Period”, College Hockey Inc’s Nate Ewell did a zoom call discussing the topic with RMU head coach Derek Schooley as well as coaches Ben Guite (Maine) and Leon Hayward (CC). You can watch by clicking here.
Of course, the big date — August 1 — is almost here. It will be a fascinating few weeks. For all who may not remember, the new recruiting rules set in place last year meant only high school juniors and older could be officially committed to a Division 1 school. August 1 is the date when said rising juniors (mostly ‘04s and late-birthdate ‘03s) can officially make their commitments.
There are, as always, some things complicating the matter. First of all being the coronavirus, which has put competitive hockey on the shelf since March.
The spring and summer are fertile recruiting periods, featuring USA Hockey Nationals, playoffs of all varieties, and the USA Hockey Development camp, not to mention countless showcases. Some of the latter have managed to push through, but coaches can’t even attend games (NCAA dead period) and the rest was cancelled.
So college coaches might be extra hesitant to pull the trigger on a player once the August 1 date arrives. Normally, coaches would have seen most of these players play a number of times through the aforementioned events leading up to August 1. Now the most recent time they’ve seen a certain player ‘live’ could be last fall or even earlier than that.
On the other hand, coaches have little incentive to be patient and plenty of reason to “commit” players, considering commitments without an NLI are totally malleable and can be deferred or broken at any time. This is evidenced by coaches committing ninth and eighth graders with abandon in the past, and by countless examples of coaches altering commitment timelines and so on.
Therefore I think we will see what we would have seen in the first place — a flurry of commitments in the next few weeks by rising juniors in the ‘04 and ‘03 birth years. This could be exacerbated by the fact that the supply of talent is artificially smaller on this August 1st — artificially because many of the high-end ‘04s were ‘grandfathered’ in with commitments prior to the rule change in the spring of 2019.
Due to that, only about half (or less) of the best ‘04s in the nation, as of today, don’t have commitments. For example, less than half of next year’s U17 ('04) NTDP are without a commitment. Major junior (specifically the OHL) has removed their share of top ‘04-born talent from the eligible pool as well.
So who are the top uncommitted prospects to watch out for this August? Leading the way, in my estimation, are forwards Maddox Fleming, Adam Fantilli and Cutter Gauthier. Fleming and Gauthier will be on the NTDP this fall, while Fantilli tendered with the Chicago Steel. Fantilli’s brother, Luca, committed to Michigan and that could certainly be considered a favorite should Adam opt for the college route. The two played together at Kimball Union last winter and are slated to be in Chicago together this year.
Fleming looks to be the safest bet to end up in D1: a Shattuck-St. Mary’s star who already looked like a proper five-star recruit as a sophomore (and a freshman, and an eighth-grader) — he has high-end offensive ability and the full “5-S” package of skating, smarts/sense, size (6’0, 186) and skill.
It’s unlikely Fleming will make a decision anytime soon, however. He’s so in-demand that there is absolutely no pressure to do so. Jason Feldman’s excellent feature in the Post-Bulletin goes in-depth on Fleming’s experience, which included a third of Division 1 hockey reaching out to him on January 1, the first day that initiating contact with sophomores was allowed.
As with any Minnesotan stand-out, there will always be easy bets for recruiting prognosticators such as the University of Minnesota or North Dakota, both of which have committed plenty of in-state stars from Shattuck-St. Mary’s over the years.
Feldman’s article points out that there are other potential influencing factors — Fleming’s father, Chad, went to Arizona State and Maddox doesn’t appear to be ruling anything out. There apparently won’t even be a short list until after the dead period ends. If Fleming were to choose ASU, there’s a chance he emerges as their biggest recruit ever.
Cutter Gauthier is the other player whose landing spot in D1 — if there is one — will be of great interest. He has more of an edge than Fleming and junior hockey will certainly make a push: OHL-Kitchener picked him in the fourth round out of Compuware this spring. I see Gauthier as one of the potential top pro prospects two years ahead of his draft (2022), and like Fleming, there is no need to rush on a commitment, so we may not know for a while. If he keeps improving, there are plenty of schools that will happily wait for his decision.
I’ll put out more coverage of the recruiting action as things develop but two more names to watch at forward are NTDP Charlie Stramel and USHL-Tri-City tender Gavin Brindley. I wrote about all of these players back in April, but Stramel is a big athletic force with great upside while Brindley is a smaller, very skilled, dynamic presence who has a very appealing upside as well.
Many of the top defensemen have already committed, but that position also often takes a bit longer to emerge, so there are certainly many new names that will pop up as well.
College Hockey News
St. Thomas (UST) was accepted (by unanimous vote) to the revived CCHA as the league’s eighth member, beginning with the 2021-22 season. That will also be the first season of play for this version of the CCHA, which disbanded in 2013 in the wake of the Big Ten’s arrival and the ensuing conference realignment.
St. Thomas were granted permission to move up to Division 1 this summer. There was some speculation that they would join the NCHC, as they will share a conference with a number of NCHC members when they begin Division 1 play in the Summit League, where St. Thomas will play nine different sports.
For those who don’t remember, St. Thomas was kicked out of their Division 3 conference home — the Minnesota-based MIAC — for being too dominant, in 2019.
So St. Thomas will become the sixth Division 1 men’s ice hockey team in Minnesota and the recruiting battles will be tilted against them like never before. In the MIAC, UST had that clear advantage — now they will be competing against dozens of established Division 1 programs, many of which are higher profile and have better facilities, at least for now. The CCHA does look like a good fit, though.
St. Thomas had double the enrollment of every team in the MIAC, and will still be one of the bigger schools (in terms of enrollment) when they join the CCHA.
A new facility to play in will almost certainly be in the offing as well. Their rink is relatively new but pales in comparison to most Division 1 facilities — again, what worked in Division 3 will not play as well now that they are in Division 1.
Ivy League: “It will not be possible for Ivy League teams to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition prior to the end of the fall semester.”
The Ivy League was the first collegiate body to make a clear decision regarding the fall semester. The decision about no sports in the fall semester has stopped any pretense of Ivy League schools competing in 2020.
The Big Ten followed one day later with a statement that — if they can play sports — competition would be within their conference this fall. With other conferences since following suit, this will likely pertain to hockey as well.
In the Big Ten’s case, with just seven teams, it will be interesting — the hockey teams already play every conference opponent four times. Do they keep the same schedule or now play each other five, even six times? Alternatively, they could start “late” but technically on-time with their conference schedule in early November.
Ivy League hockey, if it is played, will certainly start later than the already-late November start. That already has and is going to continue to have ramifications with regard to player’s decisions on where they play.
Well-regarded draft-eligible prospects such as would-be Harvard freshmen Matt Beniers and Jack Bar (sources indicate he may be heading to BCHL-Penticton) will likely end up opting for a different route instead. In Beniers’ case, whether that would be Hockey East, within another NCAA conference (Michigan?) or the USHL — where the Chicago Steel maintain his rights — still remains to be seen.
The Steel could be a major benefactor in all of this should the winds blow a certain way with regard to the Coronavirus situation and college sports. In addition to Beniers, they also have the rights to Michigan freshman Owen Powers who could potentially return to the USHL if college sports get the kibosh.
That’s two potential high first-round picks in 2021. But wait — there’s more: the Steel also picked up the rights to another Michigan freshman in forward Kent Johnson this month. That would be three potential 2021 lottery picks on one USHL team.
Of course, it’s totally possible that they end up with none of them. In fact, the Steel’s season might even get cancelled instead. The USHL will do whatever they can to move on with their season, but this week the Governor of Illinois banned all “youth and adult recreation” contact sports. It’s not explicitly clear whether the USHL’s Steel will be included in that new guidance but, logically, that would include them.
Other USHL teams would also likely benefit from the cancellation of college athletics. Muskegon, for example, picked Notre Dame freshman Landon Slaggert in the fifteenth round of their draft this spring. If the college season (which is already shorter than almost every other serious hockey competition) even gets slightly delayed, it’s totally plausible that he’s in Muskegon this season.
Harvard sophomore forward Jack Drury, a 2nd round pick in 2018 (Carolina), who had 39 points last season, signed this month in the Swedish Hockey League with Växjö.
Ivy League institutions have taken different approaches to the fall semester with regard to students being on campus. UPenn and Cornell will welcome all undergraduates, whereas Harvard has announced that only 40 percent of undergraduates will be allowed on campus this fall.
There were a number of coaching moves this summer but none as surprising as the recent addition of former NHL head coach Mike Babcock to the UVM coaching staff.
Babcock was fired last fall by the Maple Leafs, and in the wake of his firing a number of stories came out about his tenure in the NHL.
Shanahan and Babcock had worked together in Toronto for four years before he was fired after a slow start in the fall. Since his firing, the Maple Leafs star-studded team has had a season highlighted by losing to their AHL team’s Zamboni driver.
Despite the piling on that took place last fall, it’s just not clear (to me, at least) how much blame can be solely put on Babcock’s shoulders for the Maple Leafs’ collective underachieving.
Babcock holds the record as coach with the most wins in Detroit Red Wings history culminating in a Stanley Cup run (2008).
There is still a final assistant coaching job open in Burlington, as Mike Babcock is technically a volunteer advisor to the coaching staff. Former NHLer Mark Stuart will also be on staff, beginning his coaching career as a volunteer assistant.
Babcock’s tenure in the NHL can add plenty to the program on the ice, but what they need, badly, is a proven recruiter. I assume that new head coach Todd Woodcroft will be more hands-on with the recruiting.
It’s hard to know how much having Babcock will be able to help, if at all, in the recruiting aspect — especially in the wake of the bad press that came out last fall. Maybe that won’t be a factor.
That said it would be best if Woodcroft brings in someone willing to pound the pavement on the recruiting side to round out his staff, which also includes assistant coach Jeff Hill, heading into his sixth season.
That new hire may not come through for a while — UVM is in a hiring freeze and Woodcroft (who signed a five-year contract at 275K per year) took a 40% pay reduction until the university resumes normal operations. More cuts may come across the board, which could mean things move forward as-is — or even become leaner. For more on Vermont, I put down plenty of thoughts about the situation as I see it, back in February.
Other News and Links
Bob McKenzie’s final draft ranking came out on time last month: My write-up
The Daily Pennsylvanian asks: Why doesn't Penn have varsity ice hockey?
The CHL is getting a new live streaming service: Coming Soon Page
Global Premier Soccer (owned by Legacy Global Sports) enters chapter 7 bankruptcy
The July 6th DHS directive that would have required international students to take at least some in-person coursework in order to remain in the U.S has been rescinded in the wake of a combined suit brought by Harvard/MIT. However, new international students are not protected…
From Inside Higher Ed:
“As recently as this week, Universities such as Harvard and USC have been telling new international students not to come to campus -- a reversion to policy guidance issued in March that gave international students relief from normal regulatory requirements limiting them to one online class at a time -- did not provide relief to new international students, who were not covered by the March guidance.”
Other Other News
MAAC: Fall sports cancelled
Consensus five star basketball recruit Makur Maker chooses Howard University over Kentucky, UCLA and Memphis (though he could still sign in pro ball)