Prospect Currents: Recruiting News, New D1 Programs, Summer Hockey + More
Talking new recruits, Major Junior signings, the fate of UAH, World Junior rosters +++
It’s been a while since the last update, so a good amount of news has piled up.
Let’s start with recruiting. There have been a lot of commitments, especially to the new LIU program, but these are some of the higher priority recruiting items. I have a lot of other topics for this column as well.
Artem Shlaine committed to UConn for this coming season. Shlaine is a scorer with length coming out of Shattuck-St. Mary’s where he led the prep team offensively with 26 goals and 52 assists in 46 games. While he had been originally committed to BU for 2021, Shlaine’s camp decided they wanted to go to school without doing the obligatory 2020-21 year in the USHL while BU were not interested in changing that arrangement. If a five-star recruit is a player expected to be excellent, I’d categorize Shlaine as a four, maybe four and a half stars (good to very good player for most D1 teams), especially without doing the year in junior. He’s eligible for the NHL draft and will likely be a mid round draft pick this summer.
In Shlaine, UConn gets a good, if somewhat unprepared, offensive piece to a line-up that already has some really nice producers up front. There will always be growing pains in the early jump to a strong conference like Hockey East, but after a few months (or the first season) he should be up to speed. It’s a very timely signing as the Huskies lost a big piece of their offense recently: 2018 2nd-rounder (NYI) Ruslan Iskhakov, a 5’8 forward from Russia, who has signed in Finland’s top league with TPS after his sophomore year.
Another big scorer, Salisbury’s Lucas Mercuri, has been released from his NLI to Vermont and has garnered a lot of D1 offers from the Big Ten to Hockey East. He may do the reverse of what Shlaine has opted for, as he was originally expected to go to Vermont this season and now may take a year in the USHL so as to secure a commitment to a top program. There are schools like UConn who would take Mercuri for this fall, but the prep-to-D1 jump is steep and most schools rightly prefer players to cut their teeth in the USHL for at least a year. If I had to bet, Mercuri lands at one of UMass, Wisconsin or Penn State, all of which are said to be in the mix.
Things are always fluid in the recruiting world though and there is an incredible amount of uncertainty at this time in particular. Somewhere close to Mercuri’s home in Quebec, like Vermont was — such as Clarkson or Maine — could be appealing as well. Mercuri, a big power forward with a nose for the net who won a prep title this year, has a decent shot at being an NHL draft selection this summer. He posted 83 points (39 goals) through 58 games in his two seasons at Salisbury.
Vermont added an ‘03 scorer in forward Dovar Tinling (CCHL-Hawkesbury), who spent this season playing with his brother Azzaro (‘99), who is also committed to UVM. Tinling was the CCHL’s Rookie of the Year and won the Canada Winter Games last year with a great Quebec team. He was taken in the 2nd round of last year’s USHL futures draft by Des Moines and was still on their reserve list earlier this year when I last saw the list. With his brother Azzaro aging out of junior I would not be surprised to see Dovar come down to the USHL.
A few other ‘03 forwards found a D1 home as Youngstown Phantoms rookie Yusaku Ando committed to Minnesota State. Ando was one of the top scorers for the Phantoms (25 points in 40 games) as a late ‘03. I’m looking forward to see him continue to evolve as a player because what spectators got to see this season was really exciting. By the time he gets to Mankato in a couple years he could be a terrific college player.
Another ‘03 forward that found a college home is Dexter’s Matt Copponi, who committed to Merrimack. He had an excellent year, starting with a strong fall season with the River Rats and a prep season that extended to the last game of the year where his team fell to Salisbury. He’s got a bit of everything, decent size, a nice skill level (42 points in 30 games) and projects to be a good contributor for the Warriors. That’s a really nice get for Merrimack’s relatively new staff to lock up right out of their heavily-recruited backyard.
The brother of current North Dakota defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker, Seth, committed to Denver. An ‘01 born defenseman, Seth played for the same junior team as Jacob, AJHL-Okotoks, where he had 32 points in 54 games to go with 143 penalty minutes this season.
Also filed under ‘recruiting news’, players are now being recruited over Zoom meetings. This will be the first year where the rising high school juniors will become eligible to commit in August, and all of them will not have been seen by coaches for six months-plus. That’s a big wrinkle in what was already going to be a fascinating time period, so coaches are making do with what they can and getting in touch with players virtually. Many of the top players in this age group have already committed before the rules changed in 2019, but there are still a lot of great players in the ‘04 birth year (as well as late-’03s who were sophomores and therefore ineligible to commit) with no D1 commit. I’ll have more on all of that as we get closer to August.
Moving on to some major junior signings…
Connor Levis, a late 04-born forward who had been ‘committed’ to Michigan, signed in the Western league with Kamloops. He was their first round pick in 2019.
‘02 forward Ryan Beck dropped his commit to Denver and signed in the OHL with Saginaw. Beck was a noteworthy piece of a great Dubuque team this year and may get a late round look in this summer’s draft. Denver has excellent recruits on track to come in but it’s still a shame that they lose someone who could have been a super solid depth player for a full four years.
The QMJHL draft came and went this month, taking a few great players to their league with it. First overall pick Tristan Luneau quickly signed with Gatineau, leaving behind a commitment to Wisconsin. ‘03 defenseman Evan Nause re-entered the draft after looking off Val d’Or for the USHL (Sioux Falls) this past season, where he was named to the All-Rookie Team, and was picked by Quebec at fifth overall. He signed soon after. Nause was uncommitted and for my money, arguably the top uncommitted ‘03 in the country, though he may have never really been looking at college. It’s a big loss for Sioux Falls’ d-corps.
There were a few other draft picks in the QMJHL of note. Selects Academy’s 15 team saw two of their top scorers go high in the draft: Jordan Dumais went 18th overall and Jake Rozzi went in the third round. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both sign, especially as they are both from Quebec originally — they played together at Lac-St. Louis prior to this past season. Baie-Comeau picked up top scoring Selects 15’s defenseman Shaun McEwen from that team in the American draft.
Speaking of the American draft, here were the first five picks:
goaltender Charlie Zolin (Greenwich HS),
forward Henry Wilson (IHC 16),
defenseman Ryan Healey (Boston Advantage 16),
defenseman Shaun McEwen (Selects 15)
and defenseman Lukas Klemm (NJ Avs 16/Don Bosco).
Mount St. Charles also saw some players go high in the QMJHL draft. 16s stand-out Guillaume Richard went in the fourth round to Saint John, which is relatively low for how good Richard is. As an ‘03, the Maine committed defenseman had re-entered the draft after Victo picked him seventh overall last year. His fall to the fourth round is a decent positive indicator for Maine fans that are hoping they can hang on to a top recruit, though Saint John has a knack for getting good players to sign. They recently signed two then-Boston College-committed forward recruits in Peter Reynolds and Cameron MacDonald. That said, a recent report in le Journal de Quebec notes Richard is adamant that he will be continuing on his path to college hockey.
The last player I’ll mention from the QMJHL draft is also from Mount: defenseman Jake Furlong. An ‘04-born talent from Nova Scotia who wore the C for Mount’s 15 team, Furlong went in the 2nd round to his local Halifax Mooseheads. He’s an extremely appealing prospect with good size, mobility and upside at both ends of the ice. Youngstown picked him in the third round of the USHL Futures draft, but it seems very possible that he ends up going to the Quebec league.
For more reading, see Willy Palov’s article on how the Mooseheads expect four of their American picks (Jackson Dorrington, Brady Schultz, Henry Wilson and Penn State commit Mike Stenberg) to be at their training camp.
World Junior Summer Showcase
I’ll put out something else about the World Junior team, especially as we get closer than six months away from the tournament itself, but it’s always fun to see who USA Hockey picks for the extended summer showcase roster(s). All the big names are back and there are some very interesting new adds like Sam Stange (Wisconsin) and Cross Hanas (WHL), not to mention the players from this year’s U18 program. Draft-eligible NTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson (North Dakota) has gotten a lot of attention this year — but the player I’m most interested to see at this summer stage is probably BU defenseman Dom Fensore. He was so eye-catching for the Terriers this year and has a shot to be an X-factor for Team USA at this tournament. There are a lot of good defensemen in the mix for this year’s team, though.
What looks like a solid 2021 draft class for the USA didn’t get any love, which is what it is. A lot of talent in the older 2001-2002 birth-years are boxing the ‘03s out, but things might change when December rolls around for players like Chaz Lucius or Luke Hughes from the program. Whatever the final roster ends up looking like, I’m hopeful this year will be the redemption arc for the vaunted 2001 birth-year that has come up relatively short when it comes to international results.
St. Thomas’ (MN) proposal to move to Division 1 is being considered by the NCAA this week. The Tommies, who were unceremoniously booted out of the MIAC for being too good, are hoping to find out if their program can make the move up to D1 as soon as this week. This comes after they were originally expected to find out in April — that was delayed due to the pandemic.
They already have a Division 1 conference pending the move: the Summit League. That’s the home of three current NCHC programs: Denver, North Dakota and Omaha. That would make the eight-team NCHC seem like a natural fit, though if that would actually happen remains to be seen. The Big Ten has an awkward seven-team set-up that could potentially be a fit, though that seems very unlikely. Elsewhere, seven current WCHA teams are slated to leave and form a new CCHA: Bemidji State, Minnesota State Mankato, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan. I’m not sure how well St. Thomas fits into that scheme either. So it remains to be seen where St. Thomas lands in D1 hockey, if they do figure into D1 athletics at all.
The University of Alabama-Huntsville heard the death knell and managed to live for another day after raising well over half a million dollars through GoFundMe. I have to say what most people are thinking: when fans are keeping a hockey program alive through GoFundMe, things are in a pretty dangerous territory. That shows no sign of stability to potential recruits, potential coaches or anyone else. Nor does losing head coach Mike Corbett — who CHN reported was encouraged to resign soon after the fundraising had completed. I obviously think it would be a shame for UAH hockey to go extinct, but there has to be a better plan for the program to sustain itself at a decently competitive level.
Apparently there will now be an advisory board put together to achieve exactly that, but I have my doubts. If it doesn’t come together, there is really no point to have a program just so that it can be an also-ran that racks up air miles. D1 hockey is too expensive of a sport for a university to only be halfway — in UAH’s case, perhaps barely or not at all — committed to the effort. Yes, Eric Lang has done a great job at an AIC program that has perhaps the smallest budget in all of college hockey, but the Yellowjackets don’t have to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles for many of their games. UAH is also not Arizona State, who saw generous donors step up to the plate at the same level that Penn State did. The only way I see for UAH to operate in D1 hockey long-term is for them to suddenly find a ton of money. Otherwise, the team will basically be on life-support to avoid being cut rather than moving forward. Why delay the inevitable in that case?
Absent a Mr. Moneybags-type appearing out of the blue — which the current pandemic and potential economic crisis make even less likely — UAH ought to consider some kind of “out there” ways to survive. That is if playing at the highest level of college hockey is the long-term plan. Is it possible to move back to what a program like ASU did when they first started, with a kind of hybrid schedule where they play local club teams and a few D1 teams? It might sound ridiculous, but in the long-run I suspect financial stability comes from the hope that they can exist long enough for some other programs to appear in the southeast, where they can form a pseudo-SEC that would be a bus league and over time, develop together. There is already an SECHC in the ACHA’s Division 3 — which UAH compete in (they went 1-19-4 this year) — with a number of schools that could be appealing Division 1 competitors down the line. Playing them would also give UAH more of a chance to win games at home, which might be a positive for ticket sales, though those games wouldn’t be that competitive. On a similar note, High Point and Georgia are reportedly looking at building new hockey facilities, with the former specifically hoping to build a Division 1 ice hockey facility. While Annapolis isn’t quite in the south, Navy have been and continue to be cited as the potential newest Division 1 program.
The whole idea of playing a hybrid schedule for years probably would not even be allowed by the NCAA and I get that it sounds pretty goofy — it is — but you never know what could happen. I’m just trying to think of a way for the program to be sustainable, cheaper and win some games in the process. If someone told you in June of 2010 that by 2020, Penn State would start a program and become a top team in the new Big Ten conference, Providence would win a National Championship, Arizona State would have a team and be nationally-relevant, or that AIC beat a #1-seed in the tournament, most would have found all that to be very unlikely. But we never know what the future has in store. All I know is that whatever is happening at UAH needs to improve fast or it is going to be more of the same — including more GoFundMe’s and little to no chance of improving in a real way.
Other news in Division 1…
Washington Capitals assistant coach Reid Cashman was named head coach at Dartmouth, though he will remain with the Caps through the playoffs this summer. Prior to joining the Capitals, he had been an assistant with AHL-Hershey and an assistant with Quinnipiac, reaching the Frozen Four twice (2013/2016).
LIU announced their new head coach, Brett Riley, who came on the podcast last week for a short interview. I got to know Brett, who most recently coached at Colgate, when he was at Albany Academy and involved in summer hockey with his Boston Generals program. As I said in the podcast, I think he will do a great job — but like UAH, I hope the university will provide him and the program with the resources he needs to sustain forward movement for years to come. D1 hockey on Long Island, just outside of New York City, has so much potential.
There’s already a lot that I’ve packed into this column so I’ll do a separate article on the hot recruiting start the Sharks have made this year — but suffice it to say they’ve wasted no time in getting players or scheduling strong opponents in Division 1 for their first year. Unlike other recent new programs like Penn State and Arizona State, LIU are forgoing the initial hybrid year of club and D1 hockey, though the final schedule still remains to be seen.
For more on LIU, check out this great three part series by Dan Rubin:
It’s impossible to talk summer hockey without mentioning the elephant-sized coronavirus in the room. There is some hope for a few summer camps and showcases to take place. Then again, the coronavirus continues to spike in the world and the country as regions begin to open up, however slowly. It is possible this pseudo-quarantine we’re all living with becomes a reality for a long time. There are school systems already expecting to be doing classes online for the 2020-21 school year. Sports very well may happen though: second wave, third wave or no more waves. Ohio State made their players sign waivers acknowledging the risk of contracting COVID-19, and it seems likely that this will be required wherever organized sports are being played.
Anyway there hasn’t been too much announced on the summer hockey front. Rather than mass cancellation announcements, it’s a lot more like radio silence. The USA Hockey events have all been cancelled. USHL camps are likely to take place, but in August, and at a smaller scale than normal. The USHL 2005 Combine will take place in Green Bay, Wisconsin from July 23-26. The Western NY College Showcase that I wrote about last year has been delayed to August 4-7 — see here. If any of my readers have information on other camps taking place, please contact me via email or social media.
One big event that was cancelled is the World Selects Invite. If there’s an event that would get hit hard by a global pandemic, it would be WSI — a youth hockey tournament that brings in top players from all over the world. In fact, Legacy Global Sports, who run WSI (and operate South Kent’s Selects Academy), have found themselves in bankruptcy court. Go to BusinessBankruptcies.com to see more information on that.
This doesn’t surprise me. While I don’t think this happens in hockey (at all), I mentioned back in January that agents and teams are watching and keeping tabs on players as young as 12 years old — click here and go to the 27 minute mark for that. Interacting with up-and-coming talent, however young, is business as usual in high-level sports and there is always going to be potential for exploitative behavior there. This article is a strong example of how exploitative it can get at the worst end of it.