Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pipeline 2012: The New Breed

In a season as difficult as this one has been, there can be some respite in looking into the future. Fortunately, in the last two seasons, we've set aside time in January to discuss the state of recruiting.

Thanks to Reilly Hamilton and RPI TV for their outstanding graphics for a third year running. 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.

Recruiting never ends. This is unlikely to be the final list for 2012. Specifically, we're possibly going to be looking for one more forward, at least if we are looking to break even on the number of forwards lost and gained given that five forwards are graduating and three are currently known to be coming in next season. Defensively there exists the possibility of one more (especially if Mike Bergin chooses not to use his redshirt season), but there's no certainty.

As of now, there are five recruits who are currently expected on campus in August 2012, and a sixth who could arrive then as well. There are between two and four recruits expected in August 2013, and either one or two expected in August 2014.

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

Given that the Engineers have no defensemen on the team this year who will have exhausted their eligibility following the season (due to Bergin's injury as a freshman), Bradley will either replace Bergin if he decides not to stay for his redshirt year as Malchuk did, or he'll add depth to the defensive corps that has been missing essentially ever since Bryan Brutlag was moved to forward. Once Jacob Laliberte enrolled at RPI, Bradley became the recruit with the longest tenured commitment, making his decision in September 2010.

A lot of what we said last year still holds true: 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 Luke Curadi, Curtis Leonard, Pat Koudys or Guy Leboeuf, but he's big enough to be another difficult obstacle for forwards in the ECAC to navigate. He's bigger than Bergin or Brutlag anyway, so regardless he makes a fifth big-un on the blue line.

He doesn't appear on the score sheet with any great frequency (though he's been picking up some points as of late - had a hat trick last week, actually), but from all reports, he's a solid defensive defenseman, much like Curtis Leonard. Bradley wasn't drafted last year despite being ranked by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, but he could well step in and make contributions to this team right away.

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

Zalewski hasn't received the hype that Jacob Laliberte got ahead of his arrival in Troy - in part thanks to the lack of drama regarding his status - but he may well be able to have an impact approaching that of Brandon Pirri or Jerry D'Amigo. While Laliberte ran up gaudy numbers in the weaker Ontario league, Zalewski is connecting for over a point per game in British Columbia, which, along with the USHL, is one of the top level junior circuits out there.

As we mentioned last year: 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 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 three years ago, and then again for the Syracuse Stars of the EJHL two years ago. He's already blown through last year's goal and assist totals, which shows great growth. According to hockey scout Dan Sallows during last season, Mike and his older brother Steve "mirror each other with their offensive ability, good work ethic, and strong two-way play."

Expect Zalewski to make some good strides next year and bolster RPI's offense relatively quickly.

Team: Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Projected to replace: Alex Angers-Goulet or Justin Smith

Last year we deemed Miller an unknown quantity because of a quirky statistic - he led Omaha in goals when he committed to RPI in November 2010, then failed to register a point in 15 straight games. In fact, he finished with just five goals and five assists on the season in 59 games played - which gave him one goal and three assists in the last 47 games of the season.

This year, it seems like more of the same, without much explanation. As one of the team's two captains, Miller has appeared in all of the first-place Lancers' games. He takes a healthy number of shots, averaging 2.3 per game. His penalty minutes are not in line with what you would expect from a forward who would project as a bruiser or enforcer. Before he arrived in Omaha, he'd previously been lighting it up offensively with a midget team in Kansas City and was a 2nd round USHL draft pick in 2010.

Without having seen him play, it's hard to know based on all of that exactly what to expect from Miller at RPI. Is he a defensive-minded forward? Is he a big penalty killer? Or, since he's wearing the C this year for Omaha,  perhaps he may fit in well as a positive role model in the locker room in same mold as Justin Smith, who doesn't see an awful lot of ice time. In pretty much all respects, we're going to have to wait until he arrives on campus to see what he's got in him, though Seth Appert did mention recently at an alumni event that he likes Miller's work ethic, comparing him to Bryan Brutlag in that regard.

Team: Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
Projected to replace: Jeremy Coupal

We talked a little bit about Kasdorf last year when he appeared to be the heir apparent to Allen York upon his commitment just about a week after last year's pipeline piece. For a time, it appeared that Kasdorf's arrival was going to be accelerated, but Scott Diebold's commitment in April 2011 allowed his timetable to remain intact. With York's early departure, he will physically replace Jeremy Coupal on the roster, but in doing so will give RPI three serviceable Division I-level goaltenders for the first time since 2003-04, when Nathan Marsters, Kevin Kurk, and Andrew Martin were all on the roster together (though Marsters ultimately saw almost 90% of the playing time).

Kasdorf was drafted by his hometown Winnipeg Jets in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Draft, just 10 draft spots below Patrick Koudys. This year, he moved from the Portage Terriers in the relatively weak Manitoba junior league to the rigors of the USHL. While he wasn't expected to put up the same kind of outstanding numbers that he did in the MJHL, his numbers thus far in Des Moines are a bit underwhelming, especially when you consider that both of RPI's current goaltenders are putting up better numbers in a more difficult league during the very definition of a difficult season. His win-loss record would seem to indicate that he has been getting some good offensive support.

It remains to be seen exactly what the goaltending equation will be next season, especially since we've seen a lot of fluctuation this season even with just two options. At the very least, Kasdorf, who shares a birth year with Diebold, will have a freshman season that will allow him to acclimate gradually to Division I, something which paid off in spades for the man it is hoped he can emulate, York. Much is expected of him, but we won't know how things will play out until he arrives, especially since he'll have a senior and a sophomore to share ice time with.

Team: Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)
Projected to replace: Joel Malchuk

Bourbonnais comes from a family with college hockey experience, as both his father and his uncle played for RIT. WaP spotted Bourbonnais on a visit to RPI last season, and it was rumored that a scholarship offer was made at that time. When the summer passed with no commitment, conventional wisdom said that he'd taken a pass, but that turned right around in mid-September when his commitment to RPI was announced for 2012.

After playing a key role in 2009 on the Greece Athena/Odyssey undefeated state championship team, Bourbonnais moved on to Berkshire Prep (despite being drafted by Niagara of the OHL), playing two seasons for the Bears just over the border in Berkshire County, Mass. Shortly before committing to RPI after graduating from Berkshire, he moved on to the USHL, where his skills as a playmaker are being put to very good use. He picked up six points in the RoughRiders' first four games, but his production has not kept up on that level.

Some reports have Bourbonnais at an even six feet, which makes him just about the perfect size for a Seth Appert forward. His scouting report describes him as "an exceptional skater with soft hands," and "a playmaker." As one of the top rated forwards in the 1993 birth year from New York, Bourbonnais is an excellent "get" for RPI. Expect him to be an early contributor, especially if he finds his scoring touch more frequently in Cedar Rapids before the end of the year.

Team: Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Projected to replace: Josh Rabbani or C.J. Lee

The most recently known recruit hit the news just in the last week, and he may be a very solid gain for the Engineers. Bubela has most recently played for the Slovak U-20 team, where he just finished a solid World Junior Championship tournament in Alberta with two goals and three assists to help Slovakia reach the quarterfinals, including a goal against the defending champion Russians in the preliminary round.

Shortly after the tournament concluded, Bubela committed to RPI and was signed to Dubuque, which is where Luke Curadi plied his trade last year under former Engineer assistant coach Jim Montgomery, who's obviously still willing to lend a hand to help out the Tute, but who had to use a coveted foreign player spot to take Bubela. The defending champion Fighting Saints are having another decent year this season, and it will be interesting to see how well Bubela fits into the USHL. His position as one of the best young players in Slovakia - one of the upper-tier hockey playing nations in the world - certainly makes him an attractive pickup for the Engineers.

We won't have to worry about missing Bubela for the WJC the way we lost Jerry D'Amigo's services during that tournament (and would have a second time if he'd stuck around) since he aged out of the tournament following this year's installation. The bigger question is whether Bubela will be in Troy come August, or whether he'll do another spin in the USHL next year. It is expected that Appert will try to get him in for next season, but it depends on whether Bubela has enough classes to pass through the NCAA clearinghouse in time.

Bubela will be the second Slovak to don the Cherry and White, following Alexander Valentin '06, and only the sixth player from outside of the United States and Canada to do so - Rafael Maximo de Arozarena of the Class of 1917 (Mexico), Mikael Hammarstrom '04 (Sweden), Mathias Lange '09 (Austria), and Andrei Uryadov '09 (Russia).

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

A senior this season at The Gunnery, Wood was the first known recruit for the Class of 2017 when he committed to the Engineers in early January 2011. He's currently scoring at about the same clip that he was last season, although he was scoring more goals last year. Wood isn't going to be the biggest guy on the ice by any stretch of the imagination, but he will likely spend next season in the BCHL (or the USHL) preparing to take the step into Division I.

By the metric of "the earlier the better," Wood's relatively early commitment - those who were freshmen when he gave his verbal will be seniors when he arrives - could by itself underscore the potential that he represents, but these days even in the ECAC it's not uncommon to nail down even role players this far out. That said, if Wood is destined to be a role player, he's probably going to be a pretty good one. His scouting reports call him an "old school player" who is tough with physical play and a willingness to do battle for loose  pucks. Add the scoring what have been described as some "sweet moves" and you've got a solid prospect, one that's right in Seth Appert's wheel well. Those in the know have described him as being very similar to Chase Polacek when the two-time Hobey Baker finalist was in prep school in Minnesota.

The fact that he is attending a prep school in New England instead of playing junior hockey at home could also point to a focus on education which could well make RPI a perfect fit for him in the long run. Those are the kind of players Appert has sought - top guys who excel in the classroom as well as on the ice. It's been written that he plans to be an engineer, though that may have been intended as a "big E."

Team: Chicago Steel (USHL)
Projected to replace: Greg Burgdoerfer

Here, enjoy this. And this. Aaaaaand this too. Oh heck, just check out the DeVitofights channel on YouTube. You can probably tell just by looking at DeVito's statline that he's a physical player, and while he won't be able to engage in the fisticuffs the way he does in the USHL, there's no doubt that DeVito is an enforcer, a tough, physical player who's not afraid to back down from a challenge. His point line indicates that he has some degree of offensive ability as well, which is a great combination.

DeVito was offered a scholarship last month and accepted it earlier this month for a 2013 arrival in Troy. Presently in his second season with Steel - which allows him to play relatively close to home - he's already surpassed last year's goal, assist, and penalty minute totals despite playing in fewer games thus far.

Since he's a relatively new recruit, that's about all we know about DeVito thus far, but we can probably expect to see him back in a Chicago Steel jersey for a third straight season next year, and three seasons in the USHL definitely never hurt anyone. It will be interesting to see what his progression looks like by next season.

Team: Delbarton School (Prep-NJ)
Projected to replace: Marty O'Grady or Brock Higgs

Sorry we couldn't find a decent picture of Melanson - even more sorry because he may well be the heir to Jacob Laliberte when it comes to long anticipated arrivals. The Delbarton junior is one of a trio of talented members of his class (one of whom is slotted for Yale in 2014) making the Green Wave a dominant force in New Jersey prep hockey.

Melanson has been on our radar since he committed to RPI last January, just a couple of weeks after our pipeline feature ran. He has some size to him for his age and plenty of room to grow. The word "beast" has been used to describe his play. He's got speed - his current coach, who has led Delbarton to five state championships in the last six years, says Melanson is the fastest player he's ever coached. Obviously, he's got a scoring touch. Blue chip is a term that appears to apply to him, and apparently he's now getting a ton of attention from the professional ranks.

There are a pair of concerns right now with Melanson, the first being that he may not be getting too much of a challenge playing close to home in New Jersey, which could limit his growth as a player. To that end, do not be surprised to see him playing in the USHL next season, and possibly for the next two seasons, given that his arrival in Troy is still unknown, either 2013 or 2014. If he is coming in 2013, he'll certainly be in the USHL next year. The other concern is that which any ECAC fan would be concerned about when it comes to early commitments from blue chip prospects - that larger programs with, ahem, low morals, may try to convince Melanson to break his commitment. That doesn't seem likely, but it wouldn't be a first.

At any rate, it will certainly be a lot of fun watching Melanson's development, and he should be an absolute treat to watch in the Cherry and White.

Team: Selects Academy (Prep-CT)
Projected to replace: Pat Koudys or Bo Dolan

Your eyes do not deceive you - RPI has a commitment from a player with a 1996 birth year. Do you remember what you were doing in 1996? Yeah, you feel old now too.

Obviously, there's not a great deal that you can say about a just-committed (late last month) 15-year-old. Manley was a strong enough defenseman to be chosen to represent New York at the national development camp in Rochester last summer. He has a 6'5" cousin who played for the US National Team Development program at one point and is now in Division III with Geneseo. Odds are that while Manley probably won't still be 5'8" when he gets to RPI, he probably won't be 6'5" either.

It's too early to be sure of whether Manley is a blue-chip prospect or not, but the bonafides from his early resume are certainly there. We'll have plenty of time to track his development, however, as he is currently expected on campus in 2014, the year this current crop of freshmen hit their senior season.

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