Monday, August 23, 2010

Without a Pirri

Breaking news from TSN's Bob McKenzie (apparently, via Ken Schott, who isn't "The King" for nothing), one of the most reliable NHL sources on the planet, not to mention one of the more knowledgeable pro pundits when it comes to the ECAC considering that his son Mike just graduated from St. Lawrence, has reported via Twitter that RPI forward will forgo his final three years of NCAA eligibility and sign a professional contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

D'Amigo's departure was a punch in the gut. This is a follow-up kick in the crotch.

One of the things that the Engineers weren't expecting to have question marks on in the upcoming season was offense - because there was so much of it returning. Losing one of Pirri and D'Amigo was expected to be a major blow, but nothing RPI wouldn't probably recover from. Losing both is going to be very difficult to overcome. For one thing, having fewer major threats on the ice is going to put a lot more defensive pressure on Chase Polacek next season - his Hobey Baker finalist season was due not only to his talent and ability, but when the other team has to tangle with two other guys who can burn you, you are going to find yourself just a little bit more ice to operate with. That means other forwards are going to need to step up to be the type of threats that Pirri and D'Amigo were.

Pirri's signing is a little more head-scratching than D'Amigo's, but it could at least in part be explained by D'Amigo's departure. The conventional wisdom on D'Amigo is that he has at worst an outside chance at making the Maple Leafs out of camp and should at the very least end up in the AHL barring a complete disaster. Pirri is different - if he earns a spot on the Blackhawks' roster out of camp it would be a complete surprise. The one saving grace is that Pirri's signing is probably at least partially due to Chicago's serious need for bodies in their system - that might see him sent to the AHL rather than sent to major junior, where the Saginaw Spirit owns his rights, which would be a bad end result all around, as he could have ultimately have stayed with RPI if that happens. But D'Amigo's leaving may well have left Pirri with the idea that with the offer on the table likely trumped the prospects of the upcoming season at RPI.

As we mentioned earlier this month, Chicago's entire system has been decimated by their need to squeeze under the NHL's salary cap after playing hard and fast with salaries on their way to a Stanley Cup - for you baseball fans out there, recall what the Florida Marlins did after both of their World Series victories... the exact same thing is happening in Chicago, only the Marlins were basically trying to fit under a self-imposed cap. That means the Blackhawks need cheap young talent to restock their system - Pirri happens to fit that mold. That may work to Pirri's advantage in being able to catch on in the AHL, but whether he is necessarily "pro ready" is a matter for some debate. Most observers expected that he would probably need another season or two in Troy before he was ready to sign a pro deal and run with the big dogs in the AHL.

Pirri is a tremendous hockey talent. Hockey Canada, quite frankly, was foolish to leave him out of their World Junior camp this summer (which disqualifies him from the team in December due to their rules) in what was really a provincial snub as you have to just about be Jonathan Toews to even earn a camp invite if you're a Canadian playing college hockey. But there is definitely some question as to whether he will get run over playing in the AHL at this point in his career. I hope he's ready to go, or this exciting development could ultimately be a net negative for what absolutely has the potential to be a long and fruitful NHL career.

As for RPI... this development deserves a look at the offensive corps that will be taking the ice in October.

Departing: Paul Kerins, Garett Vassel, Christian Morissette, Jerry D'Amigo, Brandon Pirri, Jordan Watts, Kevin Beauregard (moving to defense).

Returning: Bryan Brutlag, Scott Halpern, Joel Malchuk, Tyler Helfrich, Justin Smith, Alex Angers-Goulet, Patrick Cullen, Chase Polacek, C.J. Lee, Josh Rabbani, Marty O'Grady.

Incoming: Brock Higgs, Matt Tinordi, Greg Burgdoerfer, Johnny Rogic.

That means there'll still be three healthy scratches at forward on any given night (assuming there aren't any injuries, of course). Go ahead, pick three guys on that list that don't have the talent to vie for lots of ice time. You really can't. At any rate, of the seven departing forwards, only four saw serious ice time last year, and they are all being replaced. Seth Appert was thinking ahead when he recruited more forwards than it looked like we needed.

Higgs and Rogic may not be D'Amigo and Pirri, but they are coming into Troy with a decent amount of buzz... and aren't flight risks. Tinordi isn't a slouch either.

After D'Amigo's departure, there were murmurs that perhaps Appert would try to get Jacob Laliberté on campus as a replacement. That didn't happen then. There will surely be some more murmurs now that another top name has left, but don't count on it - classes start in a week. I doubt "he's got a great finishing touch" is going to fly with admissions to sneak him into the Class of 2014.

This turn of events absolutely puts RPI near, or even at the top of the list of college teams devastated by the slow bleed of young talent to the professional ranks this summer. Programs like Boston University, Wisconsin, Denver, and Notre Dame lost a larger number of top talents that would have had eligibility, but all four of those teams have a whole host of top-notch talent to fall back on even if all four are probably heading for rough seasons. Things just got a whole lot harder for the Engineers.

But look on the bright side - the Chicago Blackhawks, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, seem to be satisfied with how quickly Pirri developed during his time in Troy, or at the very least, they aren't hurling invectives at Seth Appert the way the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild did to Minnesota's Don Lucia when they pulled and dealt Kyle Okposo and Nick Leddy respectively. Going forward, that can only be a feather in Seth Appert's cap. Is there cause to worry that he might be the next talent to skip town? Maybe that ought to be a more overriding concern - but while he's still here, the laudatory comments coming down on him from the pro ranks can only help him in his efforts to draw in the best talents on the continent.

To quote Geoff Tate: "Wide awake, you face the day, your dream is over... or has it just begun?"

(Hat-tip to Tyler Hinman for the title.)

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