Monday, May 19, 2014

The Shell Game

As recently as a couple of seasons ago, it was fairly easy to figure out which recruits were coming when. Sure, there was the long saga of Jacob Laliberte, who was originally expected to arrive in 2009 and didn't hit campus until 2011, but by and large it was relatively simple: X number of players departing, and the names replacing them were fairly easy to decipher based on a number of different criteria, including published reports.

Now? Not so simple. Now we're seeing more recruits committing two and three years in advance, plans changing, more current players leaving early, creating an ever evolving situation with available scholarships. We can still get a pretty general idea of who's coming when, but for the last couple of seasons it hasn't quite been perfect. In the past, announcements from the school of incoming freshmen were mostly notable for what the coaching staff had to say in their first official comments about players they'd recruited. Now there's quite a bit more drama as to just who is going to be listed for the upcoming season.

We do know the goaltending situation, pretty much - just one recruit (Alec Dillon) and he's not coming until 2015 to replace the graduating Scott Diebold. So we'll ignore that position, but there's plenty to ponder at forward and defense. Here's what we know and what we don't know.

Forwards
Needed: 5
Recruited: 9

Sure Things
Drew Melanson: He's been on the books since early 2011, has two years in the USHL under his belt, and was for a time thought to be coming in last year. He'll be 20 in January and had a solid year in the USHL, Melanson is ready to go in Troy in August.

Evan Tironese: Numbers in Green Bay were down from his last season in the BCHL, but that is partially reflective of the separation that the USHL, now clearly the top junior A league in North America, is getting from the clear #2. Turning 19 in August with three solid junior seasons under his belt, Tironese is well prepared for the NCAA after two years as a committed recruit.

Louie Nanne: Committed on Thanksgiving 2013 (after having committed to Minnesota in 2011 and decommitting in September 2013), he was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in 2012 and turns 20 this month, so it's certainly time for him to be in Troy despite a rough season bouncing back from double shoulder surgery.

Kenny Gillespie: Only just committed to RPI in late April 2014 (after having committed to UMass in 2010 and decommitting two years later after Toot Cahoon resigned), likely as a replacement for Mike Zalewski. Already 20, he's the oldest known incoming recruit and given the timing of his commitment and his age, he's a lock to be on the 2014-15 Engineers. Previously played at Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota and got two years of USHL experience in before playing in New Jersey this year in what used to be the EJHL, so he arrives well-seasoned.

The Known Future
Jacob Hayhurst: Committed this past February and doesn't turn 18 until this coming January. He's doing great things with the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, so he's certainly an exciting prospect for the future but as of now that future doesn't include Troy until probably 2016 - it's exceptionally rare to see anyone in the NCAA who hasn't yet turned 18 (Pat Koudys was such an exception in 2010, but he turned 18 before New Year's Day at least). Could be bound for Cedar Rapids in the USHL after they drafted him in the 5th round of this year's Futures Draft.

Unknowns
Viktor Liljegren: Our odds-on pick for the fifth incoming forward, Liljegren committed in mid-April and might be Ryan Haggerty's replacement on the roster. The native of Sweden had a solid season with Fairbanks of the NAHL in his first year in North America (in this case, "crossing the pond" more likely means the Arctic Ocean) and is a pretty big pickup considering how late in the game he committed. Given that he just turned 20, and wasn't drafted by a USHL team (which isn't necessarily an indication of what they think of him but instead an indication they know his plans, he'd also take up a coveted import spot), he's a good candidate to end up in Troy this year but another NAHL season wouldn't be entirely out of the question.

Carlos Fornaris: Pegged for 2014 since his commitment in February of 2013, it's starting to look like Fornaris may do another season in the USHL instead given the bumpy ride he had this season combined with the other options the Engineers have for the incoming class, especially Liljegren. Early on this year Fornaris got plenty of ice time in Cedar Rapids but wasn't putting points on the board. Later, his offensive output spiked but was accompanied by a couple of suspensions for checks from behind. Then in April, he was suspended by the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Cedar Rapids has put Fornaris on their protected list for next season, opening the door to a return. The Miami native turned 19 in February, so another year of juniors is certainly something that could be in the cards here.

Alex Rodriguez: There has been a little bit of discussion as to the possibility that Rodriguez, who committed to RPI almost immediately after Ryan Haggerty signed an NHL contract, would be coming to campus right away but that has mostly been because of the timing. It's likely that Rodriguez may have simply been waiting for a firm scholarship offer from the Institute before making the commitment and Haggerty's departure just opened it up. Before that, he'd been planning to hit the BCHL with Surrey next season, and now he's been drafted by Sioux City of the USHL with a fairly high (3rd round) pick. That's an indicator that they think he'll play there next season. Either way, at age 18 he has options (as do the Engineers) so he's highly likely to be in juniors next year, either in British Columbia or (more likely) Iowa.

Todd Burgess: Liljegren's NAHL teammate committed to RPI on the same day, but is a couple of years younger as he only just turned 18 in April. Pretty much everything with Burgess points to additional time in junior hockey, including the fact that this season in Fairbanks was the first time he played outside of Arizona, a place that isn't exactly well known for high-level junior hockey competition. He wasn't selected in the USHL Futures Draft, which means another year in the NAHL at least if he does remain in juniors. About the only thing connecting Burgess with Troy in 2014 was a comment made that Liljegren and Burgess would come to RPI together, though it does seem like that might have been an incorrect extrapolation from their commitments coming at the same time.

Defensemen
Needed: 2
Recruited: 6

Sure Things
Jared Wilson: Based on everything we know about the blueline recruits, Wilson, who turns 20 in August, is pretty much the only absolute lock to be on campus in the fall. He's just finished a second season in the BCHL, and the Engineers are sure to need his 6'3" frame in the back. Just not much of a need for him to spend a third year in juniors.

The Known Future
Austin Cho: Won't graduate high school until 2015, which precludes him from coming to college before then, and given the number of defensive recruits and blueliners who will be graduating in the next two years, Cho is looking like a 2016 arrival. He was drafted by Lincoln of the USHL in the 6th round of the Futures Draft, but isn't a lock to be playing in Nebraska next season as he might remain at his Toronto-area high school, St. Andrews College, instead. If he does end up playing for Lincoln, he could be lining up for two good years of junior hockey before coming to RPI, but he'd also be taking one of Lincoln's import slots.

Unknowns
Meirs Moore: From the get-go, there's been very little to suggest that Moore wasn't coming in 2014 and even now he's almost certainly going to be arriving in the fall. The only element causing any concern with Moore is the dreadful 2013-14 season he had in the USHL, which to be fair doesn't seem to have really been his fault. First played on a team where he got very little ice-time and wasn't used as an offensive-minded defenseman (as he was in high school and projects at RPI), and then he went to a team that was simply awful overall. Moore is young enough (turns 20 in December) that RPI could afford to try and get him another season in the USHL, especially given other D options that are available, but chances are good that he'll be on campus instead, nothing concrete has indicated otherwise.

Charles Manley: After Melanson, no one has been on the Engineers' books longer than Manley, who committed in December 2011, and at that time he was thought to be the first confirmed candidate for 2014. Like Moore, however, this has been a rough year for him in his first year out of high school. Originally expected to be in the USHL, his team lacked space for him and he ended up playing in the NAHL instead. Once there, he was frequently in and out of the lineup. Although Manley got good experience at the Midget level playing in Connecticut before this season, another year in juniors might be in line. He doesn't turn 18 until July, so it wouldn't be a radical notion for him to get that second year in, hopefully this time in the USHL.

Michael Prapavessis: One of RPI's most awaited defensive recruits in years, it's possible that we could end up seeing Prapavessis in Troy even if Moore is still coming as well given the number of defensive recruits, whether that means RPI expects to lose an underclassman or simply wants to build the depth. Lincoln owns his USHL rights, and if he doesn't come to school this season he'd be practically a lock to be playing there, which is good news since it's a step up from his current league in Ontario. At age 18 he fits the same mold as Manley in that he has the luxury of another year in juniors if that's what RPI wants, but given the season he's just concluded and the increasing amount of attention he's getting from NHL scouts, he could be ready now.

Bradley Bell: Another well touted recruit in a similar vein to Prapavessis, the tea leaves may indicate an arrival this season rather than next season, although he could certainly use another year in juniors at a higher level. Committing to RPI last September, he's got two seasons in with his hometown Sudbury Nickel Barons, but the NOJHL that Sudbury plays in is a definite step down in quality from the OJHL where Prapavessis plays. He turns 18 next week so much like the previous two defensemen, the junior option for next season is very open. It's very unlikely that we'll see both Prapavessis and Bell. Hopefully an OJHL or BCHL appearance next season is in the cards if he's not incoming right away, as Bell was not taken in the USHL Futures Draft.

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