Thursday, July 19, 2012

Your 2012-13 RPI Engineers

This morning, RPI released its yearly announcement of the incoming freshman class. With the roster apparently set for the 2012-13 campaign, it's time to take an in-depth look at the Engineers, with some early guesses on what to expect in the coming year.

Eight players who were on last year's roster will not return - seven seniors and one early departure. Given that RPI is expected to lose five players in each of the next two seasons, that's quite a lot at once. That also means that this year's team will still be a little bit young, with only 10 juniors and seniors combined.

The departing players are replaced with nine freshmen from a class (of 2016) that looks to have at least a few names that could develop into standouts in Troy. Last year's highly anticipated freshman class had just three players from the USHL and none from the BCHL, arguably the top two junior leagues in North America in a class of eight. This year's crop features five alumni from those leagues.

Forwards
Gone: Alex Angers-Goulet, Patrick Cullen, Joel Malchuk, Josh Rabbani, Justin Smith.
Returning: Greg Burgdoerfer, Ryan Haggerty, Brock Higgs, Jacob Laliberte, C.J. Lee, Mark McGowan, Matt Neal, Marty O'Grady, Johnny Rogic, Zach Schroeder, Matt Tinordi.
Arriving: Milos Bubela, Andrew Commers, Travis Fulton, Mark Miller, Mike Zalewski.

A pair of problems had the RPI offense hamstrung for much of the season - early on, the almost total lack of goal scoring put a serious hamper on the team leading to a serious lack of competitiveness, and later on, the inability of the younger forwards to get into a scoring groove (or avoid injury).

The Engineers lose five forwards, but offensively are not really that worse off than they were last season. Angers-Goulet and Malchuk may represent RPI's biggest losses up front if only because of their prowess on the penalty kill. Besides that, you're looking at a group of players who, with the exception of Malchuk, were healthy scratches on multiple occasions. Smith was known to be a solid locker-room presence but he suited up only 42 times in his four-year career, and only 9 times last season. Cullen found his groove in a line with Higgs and Tinordi late in the season, but was a frequent healthy scratch in the middle of the season and never quite got back to where he had been in his promising freshman year. Rabbani was rarely seen after January. Even Angers-Goulet was a healthy scratch down the stretch.

Given that offensive outlook from the seniors, it could be argued that the Engineers were offensively young last year, and that will continue to be the case this season with Lee and O'Grady standing out as the only offensively inclined senior forwards on team with 16 forwards, 10 of which will be either freshmen or sophomores. That somewhat explains the issues that the sophomore class, last year's freshmen, had despite a boatload of expectation surrounding them. Many considered Laliberte's freshman year disappointing since he failed to put up the gaudy numbers he had become known for in juniors, but he was injured early in the season and struggled to bounce back from it. McGowan and Neal also had early season injuries, Haggerty got sick and missed a few games, and Schroeder's season was ended in the first round of the playoffs with an injury he will have to work to overcome early in the coming season.

Those players will undoubtedly be part of RPI's offensive bedrock in the coming season, especially considering that they all were basically part of it last year when they were healthy. Joining them are a freshman class that arrives without the same level of fanfare as last year's forwards, but with some individual standouts. Most notable among the additions is Zalewski, whose outstanding output in the always-tough BCHL portends a smooth transition to the college game, potentially as an immediate impact scorer. Miller, as we have mentioned before, is something of an unknown quantity given his USHL record, but Seth Appert has said on more than one occasion that he expects him to be a solid contributor. Commers comes from St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota, where he formerly played with Schroeder and put down similar numbers in his senior year. Fulton averaged close to a point-and-a-half per game in the OJHL, which is where Neal and McGowan put up solid numbers in the past.

Practically since his commitment last September, it had been anticipated that Riley Bourbonnais would be part of this year's class, but Appert insisted in an interview with the Troy Record in back in May that he had always planned for him to arrive in Troy in 2013. That opened the door for Slovakia's Bubela to come to Troy this season, and as a World Junior Championship alum with USHL experience, he has the high-level competition experience necessary to come in and contribute immediately. There was question about whether he'd passes the NCAA clearinghouse - star European players sometimes run into trouble getting clearance to play college hockey because youth and junior teams in Europe sometimes intermingle with semi-professional ranks, and the NCAA is always on the lookout for players who were paid or played with players who were paid. We'll likely never hear for certain on passage before the season starts, but his inclusion in the official recruiting press release at least indicates that the school is confident that it will happen, if it didn't already.

Defensemen
Gone: Mike Bergin, Pat Koudys.
Returning: Nick Bailen, Luke Curadi, Bo Dolan, Guy Leboeuf, Curtis Leonard.
Arriving: Craig Bokenfohr, Chris Bradley, Phil Hampton.

The situation on the blue line has been interesting to say the least. Coming into last season, the possibility existed that the Engineers would not lose anyone at all heading into 2012 given that Bergin, the only senior on the roster, had a medical redshirt available due to his mostly lost freshman season in 2008-09. Since then, it had been understood for a while that Bergin will not return next season (confirmed when he signed a pro contract in Sweden last month) and in late April it became known that Pat Koudys had elected to return to juniors in anticipation of playing his last two years of eligibility elsewhere (most likely in the ECAC, given his field of study).

The d-corps has been in a serious state of flux pretty much ever since Bryan Brutlag was moved to forward during the 2009-10 campaign, perpetuated by the defection of highly anticipated recruit Nick Quinn to major junior before he ever donned an Engineers sweater and the inability of the team to draw a walk-on to the roster last year. Thus, for the past two-and-a-half seasons, RPI has been shorthanded on defense, frequently carrying only seven defensemen at any given time, which created a decided lack of competitiveness for ice time and almost zero cushion for injuries.

That issue may now be resolved with three freshmen coming in to replace the two departures. Of the three, Bradley is easily the most anticipated by default (since he committed in September 2010 while Bokenfohr and Hampton committed in February 2012 and May 2012 respectively), but his talent and size should make him an immediate impact player for RPI in much the same way as Leonard last season. If he lives up to the hype, we should expect to see him playing on any night where he's healthy along with Bailen and Leonard.

Curadi, Dolan, and Leboeuf all have shown the definite ability to be lineup regulars, especially late in the season when they along with Bailen, Bergin, and Leonard were the usual six starters. At least one of them will likely join the aforementioned three as a regular starter, perhaps two, but the presence of Bokenfohr (who comes to RPI from the AJHL, which isn't too shabby itself) and Hampton, two guys with some pretty good potential, could definitely create the competition for ice time that will help build a solid defensive effort.

Goaltenders
Gone: Jeremy Coupal.
Returning: Bryce Merriam, Scott Diebold.
Arriving: Jason Kasdorf.

The Engineers will have a somewhat unusual situation in net next season with three goaltenders capable of holding down the #1 spot on a Division I team on the roster instead of the usual scheme of two and a walk-on practice goalie. This is, in some respects, a by-product of Allen York's decision to forego his senior season and sign an NHL deal after the 2010-11 season, which necessitated the arrival of Diebold for last year.

Kasdorf had always been expected to be York's replacement on the roster, instead he now replaces Coupal, the man who started RPI's club program, joined the varsity as the practice goalie as a junior, and now moves on to take up a position as volunteer assistant coach at Bemidji State.

Merriam will almost certainly begin his senior season as the team's top goaltender, but that position isn't necessarily going to be his by default - with two other D-I talents on the roster, he will probably have to be sharper than he was late in the year to keep that role. While his GAA was a respectable 2.36 last season, his save percentage of .908 left a little to be desired. His numbers were definitely boosted by a torrid streak of hot goaltending in late January that powered three straight wins with only one goal allowed.

If he played like that regularly, there'd be no question about who the Engineers were relying on this season, but as it stands, the door is open for Diebold (whose freshman numbers were both below that of Merriam's but whom also showed flashes of brilliance) or Kasdorf (whose single USHL campaign was rough to say the least, but comes in as RPI's lone NHL draftee) if Merriam falters even a little bit, especially late in the season  as happened with senior Mathias Lange in York's freshman year.

It's always worth taking a look at the longer-term picture as well, so here's quick look at where we stand with recruiting down the road.

2013-14
Out: Merriam, Burgdoerfer, Lee, O'Grady, Bailen
In: F Riley Bourbonnais, F Jake Wood, F Jimmy DeVito, F Drew Melanson?

Recruiting for 2013 seems all but done. In all likelihood, we'll see one defenseman sometime in the next year, and that's probably it unless the roster expands or we see early departures. Merriam is likely to be replaced by a walk-on goaltender, with Diebold and Kasdorf to run things this season. At present, the thought on Melanson is that he will likely spend this season honing his skills in the USHL this year, especially since there are already three confirmed forwards to replace the three that are graduating, none of which are likely to get pushed to 2014.

All four recruits and potential recruits will be playing in the USHL next year. As we've mentioned before, Bourbonnais is projected to be a solid points producer, and an extra year in Cedar Rapids will likely help his adjustment to the college game. The bruising DeVito will play a third season with Chicago. Wood will join Lincoln after being drafted in the 3rd round of this year's USHL Draft (the team's second pick of the draft), while it sounds like Melanson will forego his senior season at Delbarton HS in New Jersey to play for the always solid Omaha Lancers.

2014-15
Out: Higgs, Rogic, Tinordi, Leboeuf, Dolan
In: D Charles Manley, F Evan Tironese,  F Drew Melanson?

Oddly (for RPI, anyway), recruiting may be coming close to a close for 2014 as well. Assuming Melanson is coming this season (a strong likelihood unless Appert feels he needs to bring him in earlier to keep him in the fold), the Engineers need just one forward and one defenseman to replace its departing players two years out. Not a bad place to be two-and-a-quarter years before this class arrives on campus.

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