Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pipeline 2013: Stockpiling

No two college teams are ever the same from year to year. Seniors graduate and freshmen arrive, making each team different than the last. Four years on from any point in time, the team is a completely different animal. When Without a Peer first started publishing, we were watching Marty O'Grady and C.J. Lee in their freshman seasons (along with a couple of their classmates) with fellow first-year Bryce Merriam backing up an interesting young sophomore who had just been handed the reins in net - Allen York.

Now, we watch those players as they enter the final months of their careers in the Cherry and White. But just as sure as they added to the team they joined, so too will others as a new class of freshmen arrive on campus in August to replace them.

Believe it or not, the current season marks the first in which head coach Seth Appert has a roster made up entirely of players he recruited to play for the Engineers - Joel Malchuk was one of Dan Fridgen's last recruits, and he did not arrive until Appert's second season, eventually staying for five years due to a medical redshirt. Regardless, this has certainly been Appert's team for the last three or four seasons now, and there's been one thing that his supporters and detractors tend to agree on: if nothing else, Appert tends to bring in recruits with outstanding potential.

That's what we're hoping will continue as the years continue to roll by. Right now, there are seven known recruits expected at the Institute in the coming years, and they continue to come from the right places in terms of pre-college experience. The United States Hockey League (USHL) and the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) are generally considered the top two Junior "A" leagues in North America, and as of now, five of the seven recruits are regulars in those leagues, with a sixth logging some time in the USHL around his high school schedule and the seventh a highly-rated prospect from the top public high school league in the United States.

The future of RPI hockey is below, ordered first by their expected arrival dates and then in the order of their commitment. As of now, there are five recruits expected on campus in August 2013 and two expected in 2014. Next year's freshman class is almost certainly set with the exception of a replacement for Merriam, likely to be a walk-on goaltender that we won't learn about until August.

Once again, great thanks to RPI TV alum Reilly Hamilton for his help with the visuals. The recruit's current jersey number is followed by their position and their birth year.

Team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Projected to Replace: C.J. Lee

We expected to see Wood play in either the USHL or BCHL in final preparation for college hockey after graduating from The Gunnery last year, and we were right. The Stars scooped him up with a third round pick in the USHL Futures Draft, and he is now playing for them as one of four "imports," as USHL teams are limited in the number of non-American players on their roster. That means teams must be judicious with their import slots, and is a solid indicator that Wood is thought highly enough to be worth using one of those slots.

He has speed, which has been the hallmark of forwards Appert has brought in recently, and he demonstrated in Connecticut the ability to both score goals and move the puck. Wood was compared last year to Chase Polacek at a similar level of development, and at RPI that can only mean good things. He's got a physical edge to his game (as his penalty minutes show very well), willing to go into the corners and fight for puck possession, which means he'll fit in well in the ECAC. We've been watching him develop since his commitment to RPI in January 2011, and we can, with some confidence, project that he will eventually play a very solid offensive role for the Engineers.

Whether that is something that will manifest itself immediately is difficult to tell, but keep in mind that Appert went out and snapped Wood up relatively early - early enough that this is now the third time he's appeared in our yearly pipeline feature. More often than not, that's a sign of higher than usual expectations. He's currently seventh at Lincoln in scoring, but he's behind a couple of North Dakota recruits, a Penn State guy (transferring there after playing at Alaska-Anchorage last season), and a future Gopher. If you're going to be seventh, those are some pretty solid guys to be behind.

Regardless, Wood seems to have transitioned well from the prep level into juniors, and while we've found in recent years that even many well-hyped players are unable to be major contributors right away, RPI certainly seems to have a recruit with lots of potential in Wood, and you're going to be hearing his name quite a bit in the coming years.

Team: Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Projected to Replace: None (additional roster spot)

The "none" in this case, is kind of an anomaly - the Engineers had a 29-man roster in 2008-09, and it was 28 in 2009-10, which it hasn't returned to since Brandon Pirri, Jerry D'Amigo, and Jordan Watts departed in August of 2010, all earlier than expected. There have been 16 forwards on the roster since then, and with Marty O'Grady, C.J. Lee, and Greg Burgdoerfer graduating in May, the four expected forwards will bring that number back up to 17 for the first time since that August three years prior.

But certainly don't take that to mean that Melanson should be looked at as an afterthought - far from it. Based on his exploits in New Jersey over the last couple of seasons and for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Europe over the summer, he may well be one of the most highly anticipated forwards since Pirri and D'Amigo.

Melanson possesses some lightning-fast speed and a demonstrated scoring ability - in 25 games for the Delbarton School last year in New Jersey, he produced 57 points, including 40 assists, in helping his team to a state championship. Without much left to prove in the Garden State, he began play in the USHL this season as a 17-year-old. While the numbers aren't nearly as gaudy, one has to expect a bit of a drop-off with the improved competition, especially since most of his competition is older (and a bit bigger) than he is. Given all of that, the numbers aren't half bad.

It is known that Melanson spurned offers from Yale and Princeton (both schools where some of his Delbarton teammates have committed), from Union, and even Boston University to accept a scholarship at RPI - and as we've seen in the past, when you can ace schools like BU for recruits (and, in the semi-recent past, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan), you're usually getting someone worthwhile.

There had been some ambiguity as to when Melanson was coming to RPI. For over a year after his commitment, it was in doubt whether he would come in 2013 or 2014, and many had expected that 2014 would be a more likely scenario given Melanson's age and the fact that eventually there were three other forwards coming in to replace the three graduating at the end of this year. But after Melanson tweeted that he had signed a National Letter of Intent, that made things academic and he will be on campus in the fall.

It could be argued that Melanson would be better off waiting a year to come to RPI, but given his talent level and the current composition of the team, it could make sense to aim for him to have a season of college hockey under his belt when today's sophomores are seniors - it could contribute to what may be a very dangerous RPI team. He needs to get bigger, but there's no shortage of players recently who have played an undersized freshman year and returned for their sophomore year with the requisite size.

Team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Projected to Replace: Marty O'Grady

Most observers had thought that Bourbonnais would have been on campus in time for the start of this season, but an extra year of seasoning in the USHL certainly never hurt anyone. Although it was a bit surprising when it was announced that he would arrive in 2013 instead of 2012, Seth Appert insisted that it was always the plan to have him turn out in 2013.

He made his visit to RPI during the 2010-11 season, which was certainly a good time to see the Engineers in action. Hailing from a college hockey family - his father and uncle both played for RIT - he was ranked as one of the top prospects in eastern prep hockey when he committed to RPI in September 2011 shortly after his graduation from Berkshire Prep in Massachusetts.

Last year was his first in the USHL, and there was a bit of a learning curve. He put up 39 points in 53 games, certainly a good start right out of high school, but this year he has picked it up a bit, as you can see. He played the first 17 games of the season for Cedar Rapids, where he played last year, and produced nearly a point per game with seven goals and nine assists, and after being traded to Sioux City, his point production has been practically as steady. He was the team's leading scorer measured by points per game by quite a bit for the last place Musketeers, who then turned around and traded him to Lincoln, where he'll play with two other soon-to-be-Engineers.

Bourbonnais may need to improve his foot speed a bit according to his own admission and some scouting reports, but he projects well as a playmaker for the Engineers, someone who can both score goals himself and find the open man. Last year we projected him as an early contributor, and with his improved play in the USHL that's certainly something we're still hoping for when he arrives in the fall.

Team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Projected to Replace: Greg Burgdoerfer

Last year, we kicked off the Jimmy DeVito preview by highlighting some of the many fights he had been involved with while playing with his hometown Chicago Steel - so many, that he had his own YouTube channel. While that channel doesn't appear to be getting updated, his stat line certainly indicates that not much has changed. He's still the tough guy he was likely recruited to be.

DeVito was dealt from the Steel this offseason, where he'd played 102 games in two seasons - impressive, given that he is now only 18 years old. That kind of experience playing in the USHL is certainly a positive; he'll be hard pressed to play as many games in the Cherry and White during his career as he did in juniors, but that's partially a function of season length, too. You have to be pretty decent to be playing in the USHL at age 16, even with a hometown squad, but that's what he was doing in the 2010-11 season.

DeVito's toughness sticks out like a sore thumb in any of his stat lines, but his scoring line last year in Chicago - 24 points in 57 games - shows that he can chip in offensively as well. He obviously will not be able to throw down in college the way he did in the USHL, but given how frequently we've been hearing from Seth Appert about the physical game, there's no question he'll be a welcome addition to the roster and a must-start grind line guy for games against any of the more notoriously physical teams like Cornell, Union, and Brown at the very least.

As a bit of a bonus, DeVito will come to Troy having played a season with Jake Wood already (and the end of the season with Riley Bourbonnais), which will make them the first set of Engineers to join the team at the same time having been teammates immediately beforehand since Chase Polacek and Bryan Brutlag came aboard from the Academy of Holy Angels (Zach Schroeder and Andrew Commers played together at St. Thomas Academy but were not and are not classmates, it had been anticipated that Luke Curadi and Nick Quinn would have joined together from Dubuque of the USHL but Quinn decommitted).

Team: Edina High School (MSHSL)
Projected to Replace: Nick Bailen

The lone defenseman expected to come to RPI in 2013, Reno could potentially be coming to school as an NHL draft pick given his position in the most recent rankings from the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. The Lincoln Stars hold his USHL draft rights, but given that Reno has signed a National Letter of Intent, it doesn't look like he'll see time there unless he joins their roster at the end of the high school season (which, incidentally, would give Lincoln four future Engineers on their roster).

Reno is one of three captains for the Edina Hornets, currently ranked second in Minnesota's Class AA behind Hill-Murray. Like Melanson, Reno played on the US Under-18 select team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in Europe this past summer. He's the first (and possibly only) top-level Minnesota high school defenseman to commit to an eastern school this year.

From the sound of things, there aren't too many flaws in Reno's game. He's bigger than the guy he's replacing on the roster (although it's not difficult to be bigger than Nick Bailen), he's got a heavy shot and has good speed considering his size. He's reportedly a stay-at-home defenseman with good passing skills, and word is he's not afraid to throw his weight around when he has to. Perhaps the one thing he's missing in comparison to Bailen is an offensive outlook, but you don't always need that when you're talking about defensemen.

The other things that keep coming up with regards to Reno is that he sees the play well enough that he is rarely out of position, and makes excellent decisions on where to place the puck when it's in his possession. The only knock that seems to be out there on Reno is that his overall speed could potentially be better, but considering that it's already decent for his size (and there's room for improvement), that's just more to be excited about when it comes to Reno.

If there were nothing else, Reno's addition to the lineup next year makes an already large corps of blueliners even bigger. That's certainly something worth being excited over.

Team: Selects Hockey Academy (USEHL)
Projected to Replace: Bo Dolan

Last year, when we first found out about Manley, there wasn't much to report on him. He played for a new program in Connecticut that we didn't know much about, knew he was really young, and knew he had a much bigger relative playing Division III hockey. We've learned a little bit since then, especially since the Selects Hockey Academy is in a new environment.

The USEHL is basically a regional midget league started this season among midget programs and a few prep schools. Selects Hockey Academy is kind of both - their players attend the South Kent School in Northwestern Connecticut while playing hockey for the Selects, which functions more as a midget team than a prep team like Albany Academy. South Kent actually maintains a separate varsity hockey program from the Selects. Manley, for sure, is playing on an elite squad.

Manley has described himself as a "puck moving defenseman." He's a junior in high school, which means he has options for next season before arriving in Troy in 2014. He can either stay with the Selects or, more likely, move on to the USHL as Melanson did, sort of foregoing his senior year of high school (although that year is academically completed while in juniors). Manley, this season, got the opportunity to play four games with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, the team that selected him in the third round of the 2012 USHL Futures Draft. Those are the numbers you see above, since Manley's numbers with the Selects are unavailable. At any rate, it could be an indication that he will move on to Waterloo next season.

Regardless, the optimism we had last year when we learned the Engineers had secured a commitment from a high school sophomore seems to have been well placed. While Manley may replace Bo Dolan on the roster, he may project to be more like Nick Bailen - small and offensively oriented, the kind of smaller defenseman who has speed and isn't afraid to play the body when he has to. At any rate, we'll almost certainly learn more about him next season.

Team: Alberni Valley Bulldogs (BCHL)
Projected to Replace: Brock Higgs

Tironese is another guy who is projected to eventually be a blue-chip talent for the Engineers. Fourth on his team in scoring at the age of 16 (as the youngest player on his team), he's already worked his way up to almost a point per game at 17 and he's still got another year of seasoning to go in the BCHL before coming to Troy - expectations are high that he will be one of the BCHL's top scorers next season, if his general trajectory continues the way it has been. He's not scoring at rates similar to Jacob Laliberte was in juniors, but then again, Tironese isn't playing in Ontario, and Laliberte was older when he was putting together some of the eye popping numbers that caught the attention of RPI fans.

This season, Tironese appeared on the Canada West team at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia. On a team largely comprised of 93 and 94 birth years, he was the second-youngest player on the team, one of only four 95 birth years on the squad.

Before Alberni Valley - where assistant coach Nolan Graham was the head coach before returning to RPI - Tironese played with the prestigious Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan, a program that has generated numerous NHL players over the years.

According to his scouting reports, he skates and passes very well, and he makes up for what he lacks in size by being able to get physical in the corners. At his size, pro scouts will possibly take a pass, which is good news for RPI as he'll likely be able to develop his game in college hockey. He's already shown a tremendous amount of growth between the Hounds and the Bulldogs, and that third year in the BCHL next year is going to ensure that Tironese arrives in Troy well seasoned and ready to contribute in 2014.


We finish with a quick look ahead to future seasons - a glimpse of what the team still needs in campaigns off in the distant future:

Departing: 2 defensemen, 3 forwards
Currently incoming: 1 defenseman, 1 forward

Departing: 2 defensemen, 5 forwards, 1 goaltender
Currently incoming: none

1 comment:

  1. Love the look forward... now I'm already excited for Melanson and Reno!


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