Monday, July 15, 2013

Your 2013-14 RPI Engineers

The official recruit announcement for the Class of 2017 was released today - five new skaters will be arriving on campus next month, giving the Engineers a total of 26 players on the roster for the upcoming season.

The names are ones you've heard and seen before, especially if you've been following recruits here at Without a Peer (and elsewhere). So without further ado, we present to you the team's preseason outlook for the 2013-14 season, now that we know with confidence what the roster will look like.

Gone: Greg Burgdoerfer, Andrew Commers, C.J. Lee, Marty O'Grady.
Returning: Milos Bubela, Travis Fulton, Ryan Haggerty, Brock Higgs, Jacob Laliberte, Mark McGowan, Mark Miller, Matt Neal, Johnny Rogic, Zach Schroeder, Matt Tinordi, Mike Zalewski.
Arriving: Riley Bourbonnais, Jimmy DeVito, Jake Wood.

At the end of the season, we thought we'd see 17 forwards on the 2013-14 Engineers, and now it turns out we'll have 15, down one from last season. Why the change?

Well, we thought Drew Melanson was bound for Troy a year earlier than originally expected after it was learned that he'd signed a Letter of Intent. Apparently, he'll be back in the USHL instead. That's certainly not bad, especially if he can continue to learn on the pace he did last year as a 17-year-old, but it does deprive the Engineers of his more raw services for the upcoming season.

Commers has also departed a bit unexpectedly, although it had certainly become obvious that he was going to have a hard time cracking the lineup in the near future. He'll likely do very, very well at St. John's in Minnesota, where he's off to, and best of luck to him.

That leaves the Engineers with a little less padding for injuries up front - although, realistically, the competition for ice time and the talent depth is improving even if the roster depth isn't. O'Grady had functionally been replaced midway through the season last year due to his injuries, and Commers played only sparingly, usually because of injuries. Burgdoerfer and Lee are the only roster losses that played key roles for most of the season.

Adding Schroeder back into the mix off a season that saw him injured long enough that he retains his sophomore season eligibility through use of a medical redshirt, and really, you're adding four players to replace two from last season. To some extent, Tinordi's return from injury is also a boost over the end of last season. There are plenty of players returning that are going to be on the ice more often than not - even Fulton grew enough during his freshman season that he was not only one of the most improved players on the team, he was somewhat indispensable down the stretch even before considering injuries. Add to that mix a couple of very talented scorers in Bourbonnais and Wood, and we can expect to see some very good players as healthy scratches if the injuries are few.

That's a good place for a team to be.

Gone: Nick Bailen.
Returning: Craig Bokenfohr, Chris Bradley, Luke Curadi, Bo Dolan, Phil Hampton, Guy Leboeuf, Curtis Leonard.
Arriving: Parker Reno.

This is kind of cut and dried, and yet, at the same time, not. You'd have to look far and wide to find someone who wouldn't consider Bailen the Engineers' biggest loss to graduation, and if you found that person they would probably need to be slapped. He was in the top three in scoring on the team in each of his  three seasons in the Cherry and White, and he actually led the team in scoring in 2013 - the first defenseman to do that at RPI since Jake Luthi in 2007 (tied with Kirk MacDonald), the first to do it on his own since Al Jones in 1966. With 31 points, it was the most by a defenseman since... well, his sophomore season (36), which was the most since Mike Dark's own 35 in 1986 and Ken Hammond's 39 in 1985. If the point hasn't been hammered home quite yet, offensive defensemen like Bailen don't come around frequently.

That said, Bailen's replacement on the blue line promises a solid amount of talent, if not a similar kind of offensive firepower. While Bailen's offensive output will almost certainly need to be made up more by the forwards, Reno enters as one of the top players in Minnesota high school hockey last season, a finalist for the prestigious Mr. Hockey award. We know Lincoln in the USHL made a big play for him to stick around for a full season this year, but RPI certainly needs him as soon as possible and he's basically college hockey ready as it is. We had expected to see Reno taken in the late rounds of this year's NHL Entry Draft, and it was a light shock to see that he was not taken. In the evolving college/professional atmosphere, that could be a blessing in disguise for the Engineers.

The defensive corps certainly began to gel late last year, and now is becoming solidly experienced, with four juniors and seniors expected to be regular starters - with one battle-tested sophomore and a highly-touted freshman rounding things out. All that is missing, really, is a major offensive presence which was lost to Bailen's graduation.

Gone: Bryce Merriam.
Returning: Scott Diebold, Jason Kasdorf.
Arriving: Jake Soffer.

Goaltending is always the easiest position to take a look at just on a sheer numbers level. Merriam made some outstanding contributions to Engineer hockey during his four years in Troy (becoming the first RPI goaltender to defeat Clarkson in a playoff series, and he especially gave BU fits when he played them), but was the No. 2 man for the second half of his senior year as Kasdorf firmly positioned himself as the top man. Much as with O'Grady, at the end of the day you're talking about a guy who had essentially already been replaced in real terms late last season.

His physical replacement on the roster is a guy that we don't know much about yet, but the fact that we even knew his name before the end of the 2013 season was a little surprising. Expecting a walk-on goaltender that we'd learn about just before the start of the season and who would probably see all of his work in practice, Soffer's name cropped up in February. Playing for the Boston Bandits in the EJHL, the Maryland native put up some pedestrian numbers in a weaker junior league. He comes into RPI firmly in the #3 spot, but potentially as a more useful #3 than we are used to from the average walk-on/practice goaltender.

Meanwhile, Kasdorf will enter the 2013-14 season as the top returning goaltender in the ECAC - there were only four goaltenders in the conference who could be put up against him from last season statistically, three of which have graduated and the fourth signed a pro deal. That leaves Kasdorf as the pre-season favorite for the Dryden Award, although Cornell senior-to-be Andy Iles has put up far superior numbers in the past than he did last year, so it's not cut and dried.

That leaves Diebold as RPI's firm #2 option right now, a step up from #3 where he was late last season, but he's a fine option that was not far removed at all from Merriam at any point during the year. He's already proven himself to be a capable Division I goaltender, so there's not much worry here for Diebold or the Engineers.

Overall outlook
In real terms, the Engineers lose only three pieces of a team that barreled down the January and February schedule as a very tough team to beat - Bailen, Burgdoerfer, and Lee. The rest of the team will be a year older now, more experienced, hopefully a bit bigger, and with a taste of success in their mouths tempered by the bitterness of an early defeat.

A healthy Tinordi had already been doing largely the same job Burgdoerfer performed down the stretch. The potent junior and sophomore forwards are in line to perhaps collectively replace the offensive elements of Bailen, and Reno should be able to come in and at least approach where he was defensively. As long as RPI finds the leadership and corner-grinding ability of Lee, they're likely to be starting off in the same place they were last season before considering the growth of players and the addition of offensive capacity through the freshman forwards.

It adds up to a very strong team in an increasingly stronger conference. Offensively and defensively, it looks like an outstanding group. If the special teams perform as admirably, the sky could be the limit for this team.

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.

Out: Higgs, Rogic, Tinordi, Leboeuf, Dolan
In: F Carlos Fornaris, D Charles Manley, F Drew Melanson, D Meirs Moore, F Evan Tironese, D Michael Prapavessis(?)

As has become the norm in terms of recruiting for seasons two years out, the 2014 class is rounding into shape nicely - the bottom line is that if you don't at least have a general idea of who you've got coming in two years, you're in trouble these days. Fortunately, the class of 2018 is quite possibly set, with only one or two more forwards possibly left to be recruited.

Defensively, the Engineers are set for this season, with three potential names ready to replace two graduates. Moore, a highly touted blueliner out of Duluth East High School in Minnesota who will likely play a role similar to that of Bailen at RPI, will almost certainly be coming this year. We've been projecting Manley to be arriving in 2014 for a couple of years now, and Prapavessis has been thought of as a potential 2014 or 2015 arrival since he committed in February, but Prapavessis is also about six months older than Manley, so anything's possible. As of now, it looks like Moore and Manley (both of which should be in the USHL next season) to replace Leboeuf and Dolan, as Prapavessis was not chosen to join Lincoln, the USHL team that holds his rights. That means he'll likely be back in Ontario this coming season, and could potentially join them in 2014.

Offensively, Tironese will be an outstanding addition, and it appears he'll be one of the top players in the BCHL this coming year. He's good enough that Green Bay, one of the top programs in the USHL, spent a first-round draft pick on him hoping to lure him south of the border for next season, though it appears he will stay in Alberni Valley. Fornaris has a lot of potential as well, but we'll have to see how he does in the USHL himself this coming year with Cedar Rapids, should he make the team. We've already discussed Melanson's potential at length. With Commers' departure to Division III, there could be another forward in order to bring the forward complement back to 16, and a second one would put it back to 17, where it hasn't been since the Pirri/D'Amigo/Watts departures in 2010.

Out: Haggerty, Laliberte, McGowan, Neal, Curadi, Leonard, Diebold
In: Prapavessis(?)

Much less is known thus far about the class of 2019 than we knew about the class of 2018 at this time last year, however, there's definitely still time for this class to fill out. We expect to see Prapavessis as part of this class, but there's going to have to be a number of forwards, hopefully in the coming months, that are added to this list, as well as a goaltender capable of being the top dog in this group. We'll keep all eyes peeled.

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