Thursday, January 13, 2011

Looking Ahead - The Pipeline

Recruiting. It's the lifeblood of every college program. Unlike the professional ranks, where a team can sign players to long-term contracts an where players can bounce from team to team, the process of a team building its roster never ends, and the decision that a player makes in choosing a school is crucial - you're only going to get one good shot at it, or else your career might be interrupted and/or damaged if you choose the wrong school for you and end up needing to transfer or go pro before you're ready.

One thing Seth Appert has absolutely excelled at throughout his coaching career, be it as an assistant at Denver or as the head coach at RPI, is recruiting. He is widely credited as having been one of the key influences that brought guys like Hobey Baker winner Matt Carle and top goaltender Peter Mannino to Denver - both men were key elements of the Pioneers' national championship years. That hasn't changed since his arrival in Troy. Chase Polacek. Allen York. Jerry D'Amigo. Brandon Pirri. Brock Higgs. Even the ones that got away, like Nick Quinn (who bolted his commitment for the OHL this past summer) and several of the big names we've seen land at traditional powerhouses for whom RPI was a finalist.

The ones he's landed? Just as good. Some of them are even better.

Thanks to Reilly Hamilton and RPI TV for their snazzy graphics. We've included a projection as to who on the RPI roster (and no longer on the RPI roster, for that matter) these incoming recruits are expected to replace positionally, but that doesn't mean they're going to be mirror images of them. Some may take a season or two to get to that potential. Some may already be better than the guy they're replacing.

And understand also that recruiting never ends. This is not the final list for 2011, not by a longshot. We did this look at about this time last year, and the freshman class added Guy Leboeuf, Johnny Rogic, and Bo Dolan between then and May. Specifically, we're probably going to be in search of at least one more defenseman and one more forward, and we'll likely see a goaltender for 2012 and/or 2013 in the coming months.

Listed next to the player names are their current number, their position, and their birth year. They are listed in the order of their commitment, and also by their anticipated arrival year, with those expected or possibly arriving after this coming August at the very bottom.

Team: Cornwall Colts (CJHL)
Projected to replace: Chase Polacek

How long have RPI fans been waiting for Laliberté? Let's put it this way. Three months after Laliberté committed in February 2008, Engineers fans learned that Josh Rabbani had committed to RPI. When Laliberté arrives in Troy as a freshman next season, Rabbani will be starting his senior season.

Originally expected to arrive in 2009, he was initially pushed back to 2010 - potentially because of scholarship concerns with both Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo committing to RPI for 2009 during the summer of 2008, though for much of the 2008-09 season, it was expected that he would be coming in as part of a triple threat. It was even more unexpected (and painful) when word came out near the end of last season that Laliberté would be pushed back again, and some began to believe he was never coming at all.

Those fears have mostly been dashed by Laliberté's reiteration of his commitment to come to RPI in the fall of 2011. Rumor had it that the second deferral was Appert's choice, related to Laliberté's maturity level and work ethic. Laliberté himself admitted in the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder that he needed work on those things, and he appears to have put significant time and effort into improving both. That's great news for RPI, as he will likely arrive on campus in August a step ahead of other freshmen on the team, in the league, and around the nation.

Laliberté has been playing on a line with twins Tylor and Tyson Spink, whose services RPI was reportedly in the running for, though they both recently committed to Colgate for 2012. That line has been among the most dynamic in the CHL, and Laliberté himself is running away with the league's "three stars" award, racking up multiple points night in and night out. Like Polacek, Laliberté's size keeps him from being considered an NHL prospect, so we can expect to get four good years out of him as he works toward his degree and giving himself a shot at a higher level.


Team: Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Projected to replace: John Kennedy

RPI fans on the Internet already have the nickname picked out for Curadi: the Big Red One. It's got a double meaning - his parents both served in the Army and Luke himself was born at the United States Military Academy in West Point ("The Big Red One" is the nickname of the Army's 1st Infantry Division), and the red-haired Curadi is... well, BIG. His frame has variably been given between 6'4" and 6'6", and he's been touted as tipping the scales between 245 and 260 - he'll easily be the biggest Engineer to roam Houston Field House since Pete Gardiner over a decade ago, and perhaps the biggest ever.

With the Engineer blueline already boasting a couple of redwoods with freshmen Pat Koudys and Guy Leboeuf (plus Mike Bergin, who's not exactly short himself), Curadi will come in and add even more size and strength next season. As his stat-line would indicate, he's not going to be even close to the Nick Bailen mold of defenseman, but that isn't too surprising given that Bailen could probably use Curadi for shade in the summertime.

The one thing that is definitely apparent from the stat-line is that Curadi isn't afraid to be physical. Last year, we posted a video of Curadi fighting in the Atlantic JHL All-Star game as an indicator of his toughness, and he has continued that over the last two seasons in Penticton of the BCHL, and now with Dubuque, where he is coached by former RPI assistant Jim Montgomery (and where he was supposed to be playing with the aforementioned Quinn). Needless to say, Curadi will make opposing teams think twice about messing with guys like Cullen, O'Grady, Lee, Higgs, or Laliberté, and presents a serious roadblock to any forward, speed or no speed, who wants to draw in toward the RPI net.

Curadi initially committed to UMass - where he would be a sophomore right now if he had gone through with it - but instead the B.R.O. has spent the last two seasons growing as a player in two of the toughest and most competitive junior leagues in North America. He committed to RPI in December 2009, and according to the Milford-Orange Bulletin, signed a National Letter of Intent in May, which is something athletes at RPI rarely do. It's at the very least a symbol of his commitment to the program and the school.


Team: Stouffville Spirit (OJHL)
Projected to replace: Brandon Pirri

Next to Laliberté, the most exciting and dynamic incoming forward has got to be center Matt Neal. The fact that the two are coming to RPI at the same time is cause for even more excitement.

Like Laliberté, the numbers speak for themselves. They're not nearly as outrageous as Laliberté's, but they're still impressive nonetheless. Neal chose RPI over Cornell and Union back in September, in part, because he likes the fact that RPI doesn't play a trap-style game, instead preferring the Engineers' up-tempo style (incidentally, he seems to be planning to study management and economics at the Institute).

Neal is in his third season with Stouffville, and his numbers have gradually increased along the lines of what one should expect from a developing player who will have an outstanding collegiate career. He was one of the final cuts from the 2010 World Junior A Challenge squad for Team Canada East, a team which has included Brandon Pirri, Marty O'Grady, and Jacob Laliberté in recent years. That's the level of guy RPI is getting with Neal.




Team: US National Team Development Program (USHL)
Projected to replace: Scott Halpern

When he committed to RPI in September, Haggerty became the second player to commit from the US National Team Development Program team following Jerry D'Amigo.

It is worth recognizing that not every player who comes through USA Hockey's developmental program is destined for instant stardom in the same vein that D'Amigo shot to when he arrived at the Institute. The fact that Haggerty plays for the USNTDP should not alone be cause for celebration. There are several examples of former USNTDP guys who go on to be relative busts, or merely become solid contributors.

At the same time, don't be disheartened by only nine points in 27 games. Haggerty is playing on a team full of talent in a very difficult junior league (not to mention against D-I and D-III college teams). Even in the USHL, only a handful of players on each team will take the next step and play Division I college hockey. That's not the case on the USNTDP. Every single member of that team eventually goes on to play in either the NCAA or go to Canada for major junior. There are nine forwards (and 15 total players) on the squad who are ranked in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's draft ranking and have committed NCAA teams. Let there be no doubt that Haggerty is still an elite prospect - you have to be in order to even earn an invite to try out for the USNTDP, let alone make the team.

Haggerty has, according to what we can see, been getting mostly fourth line time on this squad. Usually, that line isn't tasked with scoring an awful lot of goals.

Like Curadi, Haggerty has signed a National Letter of Intent. His father played hockey at Providence and told the Stamford Times that Ryan should get the opportunity to play right away, possibly on one of the top two lines. Given the amount of scoring talent that the Engineers are losing this offseason, that may well be a possibility, and if Haggerty can live up to the ability that landed him on the USNDTP in the first place, he'll be a solid asset for the RPI attack.


Team: Oakville Blades (OJHL)
Projected to replace: Bryan Brutlag

Any time you have a guy scoring more than a point per game in juniors, you're talking about a guy who has the ability to be a significant contributor offensively in college, even if it's just as a role-player. When you can do it for multiple seasons in succession, you've probably got the ability to be even more.

Presently among the "three star" leaders in the OJHL, McGowan will likely be the oldest incoming freshman given the fact the he turns 21 in May (which also means he couldn't possibly come in any later than next season). He's in his fourth year in the league, and he's on track for his third season scoring over a point per game, just missing out on that figure in 2008-09 when he netted "only" 46 points in 49 games.

As a replacement for Bryan Brutlag the forward, he seems to be a pretty solid guy with the experience to be able to step in right away and make contributions in a similar vein as Brock Higgs this year. The one knock may be that he could already be approaching his upside, which is always a concern with guys who commit just before their final year of eligibility. But that doesn't always come true - Guy Leboeuf has already elevated his game pretty well coming out of a similar situation.


Team: Wellington Dukes (OJHL)
Projected to replace: Jeff Foss

Leonard was ranked 200th among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's ranking system when it was released this week. Given that there are 210 draft positions, that means Leonard may get a late-round look in this year's NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota (bear in mind that goaltenders and international prospects aren't on the same list).

He describes himself as a "defensive defenseman," but he does have a good solid number of assists - one every other game - which indicates that he might well be a decent puck distributor as well, something we've seen the Engineers do more and more from the back of the zone in the last couple of years, especially with the addition of Nick Bailen, but Jeff Foss and Mike Bergin have done their fair share of it as well.

And then, of course, there's Leonard's size, something you can't teach. Appert is intent in growing a forest in front of the net and Leonard's 6'3" frame will fit very well back there. He is expected to be arriving next season and is planning to enroll as a business and management major.


Team: St. Thomas Academy (MSHSL)
Projected to replace: Jerry D'Amigo

If the name sounds familiar, there's a very simple reason for it - Zach is the younger brother of Jordan Schroeder, a two-year standout at the University of Minnesota, a veteran of three World Junior Championship teams, and a top prospect of the Vancouver Canucks currently playing for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.

It's not unusual to see a whole slew of talented players come out of a single family; just look at the NHL's Staals, Harvard's Biegas, or the Zajacs who have starred at North Dakota and Union (oh, and there's another one still out there and uncommitted). The truth is, even if Zach was only half as talented as his older brother, the Engineers are getting an impact player - and just as important, perhaps an impact player who may stick around to finish his degree.

Schroeder (pronounced SHRAY-dur) may be similar to Bryan Brutlag in his decision to come to RPI directly out of high school in Minnesota. Quite frequently, the WCHA teams that the best players in Minnesota are more frequently attracted to will want those players to spend at least a year in the USHL or the BCHL before coming to school. It was reported that one of the things that attracted Brutlag to RPI over suitors which included Minnesota and St. Cloud State was the fact that RPI offered to take him right away and offered immediate playing time as well. That could well be the case with Schroeder as well, who last year had observers saying that he "look[ed] like a future Gopher."

That may translate to a less-productive freshman season than may otherwise have been the case, since a year or two of development in a top level junior league usually assists incoming freshman in being immediate stars, but that's the deal that Appert and other ECAC coaches frequently need to make with top players in the North Star State to secure their commitment. But make no mistake - Schroeder is one of the best players on a St. Thomas Academy team that is practically always one of the top Class A (small and private school) teams in the state.


Team: Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Projected to replace: Bryan Brutlag or Mike Bergin

Bradley has a lot of raw talent, and it was recognized by the NHL CSB, who pegged him 152nd among North American skaters. Like Leonard, that means Bradley has a shot at a late-round look.

The numbers don't lie - Bradley isn't going to pop up on the score sheet an awful lot. He represented the United States in the Ivan Hlinka tournament this past summer in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and was apparently considered for the USNDTP. He has been described as a "big, puck-moving defenseman," which is exactly what Seth Appert has been looking for on the blue line lately. He's not as big as Curadi, Leonard, Koudys, and Leboeuf, but he's big enough to be another difficult obstacle for forwards in the ECAC to navigate. At the very least, he's roughly the same size as Jeff Foss with some room to grow.

Bradley's tentatively scheduled to come to Troy in 2011, but that may end up actually being 2012, especially given that Curadi and Leonard are coming next year with only Kennedy and Foss graduating from the defensive corps. It depends on whether another defenseman is recruited for 2011, or whether Appert decides carrying seven defensemen on the roster is OK.


Team: Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Projected to replace: Joel Malchuk or Alex Angers-Goulet

Miller is a bit of an unknown quantity at this point. When he committed to RPI in November, he was the Lancers' leading goal scorer after 12 games, an impressive feat considering that one of his teammates is Seth Ambroz, one of the most highly touted incoming recruits in the country for next season (he's going to Minnesota). The problem? At the time, he was leading the Lancers with four goals. He also had two assists.

Since committing, Miller has yet to register a point in 15 games - the only addition to his stat-line since then are his 7 penalty minutes, accrued all at the same time as he was called for tripping and then engaged in a fight.

So in other words, since we've been watching - as best as one can from Troy, anyway - it's tough to say what's going on with Miller. That's not to say he doesn't have some solid bonafides. We don't know his full story, but we do know he was playing well in midgets in Kansas City last year before moving on to the Wenatchee Wild of the NAHL late in the season, where he played in 4 games. He was then taken 29th overall in the 2nd round of the USHL Draft by Omaha, an indication of the expectations the team had for him, considering that there are 21 rounds to the USHL Draft.

Chris Heisenberg says Miller's an unknown arrival year, either next year or in 2012. We suspect he's more likely a 2012, unless it turns out that he's going to be a walk-on in the Kevin Beauregard mold, which is not outside the realm of possibility. We just don't know right now.


Team: Vernon Vipers (BCHL)
Projected to replace: Patrick Cullen

Here's yet another name that should sound familiar, perhaps even moreso to RPI fans than Schroeder. Mike's older brother, Steve, played four years at Clarkson before moving on to play for the San Jose Sharks. Sharper college hockey aficionados will remember another older brother, Rich, who helped lead Oswego State to a Division III national championship a few years back.

Like his brothers, Mike has chosen to stay close to home, which was a big part of his decision to come to RPI. Like Mark Zarbo and his younger brothers Matt and Joe (the former a Clarkson freshman, the latter a Clarkson commit), we're sure Mike Zalewski will have plenty of good-natured sibling ribbing as part of the rivalry.

Zalewski is the first (and actually, still the only) confirmed recruit for the Class of 2016, which arrives in Troy in August 2012. Like any American playing in the BCHL, he's a talent that's worth waiting for. He was good enough to get drafted by the USHL (by Youngstown, Bradley's team) even after he had made it evident that he was planning to play in the BCHL this season. That's how much he was sought after scoring in bunches for his high school team in New Hartford two years ago, and then again for the Syracuse Stars of the EJHL last season. According to hockey scout Dan Sallows, Mike and his older brother Steve "mirror each other with their offensive ability, good work ethic, and strong two-way play." Definitely good news.



Team: The Gunnery (Prep-CT)
Projected to replace: C.J. Lee or Marty O'Grady

There is some degree of ambiguity as to whether Wood - for whom word of his commitment came down just this past Monday - will be arriving in Troy with Zalewski in 2012 or whether he will be the Engineers' first recruit for 2013. Given that he is a junior at The Gunnery, it certainly will not be next season even though he turns 18 this year.

Given that we just learned of Wood's commitment, we don't know that much about him other than his numbers and his size (which isn't much, but he could still grow). If you want a chance to see him in action, roll on down to Albany Academy on February 19th to watch the Gunners take Eric Cavosie's Cadets - that is, of course, if you're not up in the North Country watching RPI play Clarkson.

If Wood does arrive in 2012, he will be the first Engineer to come directly out of a New England prep school since Andrei Uryadov, who played for South Kent.

We'll say this much about Wood, especially if he's being penciled in for 2013. Landing players this far out is what programs do nowadays when they are putting themselves in a position to eschew the rebuilding process that tends to crop up every now and then, and start reloading instead.

2 comments:

  1. This quote is way off base..."Even in the USHL, only a handful of players on each team will take the next step and play Division I college hockey."

    Virtually every player that sets foot on the ice in the USHL will have a Division I college hockey opportunity. More than 200 players (and increasing every day) are already committed this season alone.

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  2. Of course, that number does include the USNTDP. Per team, you're talking maybe around 50%. Impressive compared to other junior leagues, of course, but hardly "virtually every player."

    Let's not kid ourselves that every player in the league is destined for the next level. That's the basis of the quote.

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