Monday, May 24, 2010

The 2010-11 Engineers at a Glance

RPI has released the official information sheet on the incoming Class of 2014 - as we mentioned, two of which are actually members of the Class of 2013. Now we can officially take a look at next season's roster as compared with last season and get a good idea of what to expect.

Forwards
Gone: Paul Kerins, Christian Morissette and Garett Vassel.

Back: Alex Angers-Goulet, Bryan Brutlag, Patrick Cullen, Jerry D'Amigo, Scott Halpern, Tyler Helfrich, C.J. Lee, Joel Malchuk, Marty O'Grady, Brandon Pirri, Chase Polacek, Josh Rabbani, Justin Smith and Jordan Watts.

Recruits: Greg Burgdoerfer, Brock Higgs, Johnny Rogic and Matt Tinordi.

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Even without Jacob Laliberté, there are already plenty of replacements for the forwards the Engineers are losing in this class, with Higgs or Rogic as a possible replacement for Kerins (although that could also fall to Scott Halpern, Tyler Helfrich, or Patrick Cullen) and with Burgdoerfer and/or Tinordi to fill Vassel's role, though both men may be more offensively oriented than Vassel was (and Justin Smith and Josh Rabbani have the bonafides to play Vassel's checking line role as well from time to time). Meanwhile, Morrissette left the team midseason without a single game in the Engineer lineup - replacing him is not an issue.

With 18 forwards on the roster and only 12 forward slots open per game, the competition is going to be fierce for playing time. That can even be cut down to 15 forwards competing for 9 slots, since it's hard to imagine the trio of D'Amigo, Pirri, and Polacek missing any game for which they're healthy. Given their success from last season, it's equally hard to see Brutlag or O'Grady missing any significant time. Joel Malchuk was a rock on the fourth line all year, whether that was a checking line or a pseudo-scoring line. So what does that leave us with? 6 positions on forward lines to be competed for by 12 players. The math says that's a lot of guys wearing suits in the stands - and looking at the names involved, that adds up to solid talent that won't be playing every night.

That's certainly not a bad problem to have. Not only does that provide rich depth in case of injuries or slumps, it also provides flexibility for dealing with different teams with different combinations of athletes. If you want speed, you can put together lines with the ability to blow the other team away with guys like Lee, Rogic, and Watts. If you want physicality, you've got more than enough to put together a fearsome checking line that might even be able to help offensively with Burgdoerfer, Rabbani, Smith, or Tinordi. Need guys to put the puck on net? Aside from the big three of D'Amigo, Pirri, and Polacek, you've got your reserve of Angers-Goulet, Cullen, Halpern, Helfrich, and Higgs. Mix and match as required.

Does the loss of a talented recruit like Laliberté sting? A little bit. But in this upcoming season, he would have been just another weapon in an already potentially fearsome arsenal. Time will tell if he can grow into a potential replacement for Polacek in 2011.

Defensemen
Gone: Erik Burgdoerfer, Christian Jensen, Peter Merth and Mark Zarbo.

Back: Mike Bergin, Kevin Beauregard, Jeff Foss and John Kennedy.

Recruits: Nick Bailen, Bo Dolan, Patrick Koudys, and Guy Leboeuf.

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The defensive situation is a little more complicated, but there's definitely now a bigger safety net than we had last season. With only three regulars returning in Bergin, Foss, and Kennedy, that leaves three positions to be filled every night by four incoming student-athletes.

Peter Merth's role as one of the defensive rocks will almost assuredly be taken by Nick Bailen, who comes in with a year of NCAA experience under his belt and is likely the most talented single player coming onto the team next season. As long as he integrates into the team quickly, he'll definitely provide some much needed stability in what is otherwise going to be a half inexperienced/half experienced defensive corps.

Erik Burgdoerfer brought a very well noted physical aspect to his game, and of the remaining three players, there's none that fits that bill better than Bo Dolan. Appert described him as "a mobile, puck-moving defenseman who adds to our attacking style of play. More importantly, he is a fierce competitor." That last clause, along with those bruising battles we showed you a couple of weeks ago, lends one to believe that Dolan is the kind of player that isn't going to be taking much guff from the forwards of the ECAC. Expect to see him as a regular in the lineup.

The final spot, replacing Christian Jensen, will likely be something of a rotation between two 6'4" freshmen in Koudys and Leboeuf. Koudys is young, but has his size and a lot of upside to grow into a top defender. Leboeuf is older, but without the upside or room to grow. He may well see a career at RPI similar to that of Jensen - on again, off again when it comes to playing time, but a solid 5th or 6th defenseman when he's called on.

That leaves Mark Zarbo to be replaced. He only played in one game last season, but for stretches of the year he was the only depth available on the blue line. Essentially, Beauregard's move from forward to defenseman allows him to take Zarbo's role of emergency backup, but don't forget that in a pinch, Bryan Brutlag can play back as well.

As far as the power play is concerned, last season saw Bergin and Brutlag largely running the show. From all reports, Bailen is well versed in quarterbacking a man advantage as well. So there's depth in that position, too.

The low number of returning regulars leads the defense to be the number one question mark heading into next season, but the potential certainly is there for excellence, especially if Bailen and Dolan play as advertised.

This position will continue to be in flux in 2011 after Kennedy and Foss graduate - but as we've pointed out, their replacements (Curadi and Quinn) will have a bit of a leg up when they get to Troy.

Goalies
Gone: None.

Back: Joey Harkenrider, Bryce Merriam and Allen York.

Recruits: None.

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Pretty clear cut here - Allen York will come into next season with a reputation as one of the elite goaltenders in the ECAC, given that he was named second team All-ECAC, and the first team goaltender, Cornell's Ben Scrivens, has graduated. He took the driver's seat in net during the playoffs his freshman season and has not relinquished control. Bryce Merriam will be his capable backup - we saw flashes of brilliance from him last season which display his capacity to be the top goaltender if he needs to be (like the BU game), but we also saw some stinkers while York was hurt (like Freakout). Hopefully, a year under his belt will help Merriam improve next season. As for Harkenrider, he's what RPI fans have come to expect from the practice goalie - a big heart and a lot of fans, but not much game time and for a reason.

Outlook
That's not a light at the end of the tunnel anymore. That's just plain light. As long as the defense doesn't have too big of a learning curve, all of the assets are now in place for the Engineers to return after a long absence as one of the elite teams in the ECAC. Last season's heightened expectations largely came to fruition - when you're disappointed after not earning the first-round bye, you're certainly on the rise. Now, with a returning Hobey Baker candidate, a pair of super sophs up front with a solid year of college hockey added to their resumes, one of the best goaltenders in the league, and an incoming class that looks ready to bring depth, flexibility, and balance to the team, expectations have not been this high in a decade.

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