Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pipeline 2015: For Brains and Intellectual Worth

Last year, RPI's recruiting picture was a bit jumbled and difficult to predict, especially as it pertained to defensemen. This year, things are an awful lot clearer, and as you're about to see, there are a few players coming in who could be fairly exciting to watch fairly quickly.

Welcome to Without a Peer's annual "pipeline" feature, which every year in mid-to-late January takes a close look at the future of RPI hockey by running down the details of players who have made their commitments to don the Cherry and White in the coming years.

The Engineers are currently expected to lose one goaltender (Scott Diebold), two defensemen (Curtis Leonard and Luke Curadi), and either three or four forwards (Matt Neal, Mark McGowan, and Jacob Laliberte), depending on if Zach Schroeder returns for his redshirt season. Additionally, there was no replacement for Mike Zalewski on the roster when he departed this past summer (Viktor Liljegren was functionally a replacement for Ryan Haggerty when he left), so it's likely that we'll see him replaced as well with a fourth (or fifth) forward.

The eleven players profiled below are all expected to be arriving in Troy at some point over the next three seasons, though the vast majority of them will be coming in time for next year. Consider this, as every season, a sneak preview of the upcoming freshman class with a couple of glances into the farther future.

Thanks once again to Reilly Hamilton, who has produced some awesome looking graphics for each incoming recruit. The recruit's current jersey number is followed by their position and their birth year. The "projection to replace," as in years past, is an attempt to visualize where they will fit onto the roster compared to contemporary recruits and graduating/departing players, and isn't necessarily a direct correlation of talent, play style, or output expectations.

Goaltenders

Team: Tri-City Storm (USHL)
Projected to replace: Scott Diebold

Expectations are high and continuing to rise for Alec Dillon. A season after establishing himself as one of the best players in the BCHL, he has moved up to the top junior league on the continent for college-bound players, and he has only continued to excel. After being selected by Tri-City in the 2nd round of the USHL draft last May, he beat out former US Under-18 goaltender Blake Weyrick for the starting job and has since become one of the top everyday netminders in the league.

The Los Angeles Kings called his name with the 150th pick in last year's NHL Entry Draft, the final selection of round five. That makes him the third straight top-end RPI netminder to arrive on campus as a draftee, following Allen York (Columbus) and Jason Kasdorf (Winnipeg).

All signs point to an August arrival for the behemoth netminder. Following the draft, he indicated that he'd be open to doing whatever it was that the Kings wanted from him in terms of his development, but it sounds like the Kings aren't pushing for Dillon to play for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL - if they were, he probably wouldn't have signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Engineers this past November (he was even wearing Scott Romfo's 2005 Black Friday jersey when he did it - Romfo is a fellow Tri-City alum), and more to the point, he'd probably already be in Edmonton.

Kasdorf will have two seasons of eligibility remaining when Dillon arrives, but it's tough to say that he will utilize both of them - Kasdorf is, again, an NHL draft pick himself, and one that his hometown Jets seem to covet. The most likely scenario probably has Dillon spending his freshman year as Kasdorf's understudy, learning the NCAA ropes without having to get tossed on the fire immediately, then graduating to the top job in 2016-17 after Kasdorf completes his undergraduate degree.

That seems to be the way Appert has preferred to bring his goaltenders in. York, you'll recall, spent most of his freshman year backing Mathias Lange, and the plan with Kasdorf was to have him back Bryce Merriam, although that went out the window when Kasdorf proved too valuable to leave on the bench as he led RPI to a 2nd place finish in the ECAC. So while we'll get to see Dillon in uniform next season, we'll probably only get to see him in "preview mode" until 2016, when he likely assumes the mantle as the starting goaltender. Kasdorf, of course, has been fairly injury prone (he's missed games to injury in each of the last three years), so having a netminder of Dillon's caliber waiting in the wings is a benefit to the team even if he doesn't see much ice.

Forwards

Team: Alberni Valley Bulldogs (BCHL)
Projected to replace: Matt Neal

We had expected at this time last year to be seeing Tironese in an RPI uniform by now, but a tough season in Green Bay probably helped move that projection back by a season. At any rate, it's in keeping with the tradition of being semi-wrong about when some recruits are coming in - if we'd been right more frequently over the years, Drew Melanson would be a sophomore, Riley Bourbonnais would be a junior, and Jacob Laliberte would have graduated by now.

Tironese's move to the USHL last season was a bit surprising, since he was expected to be one of the top players in the BCHL, but he was quoted in a Green Bay newspaper saying that the RPI coaching staff preferred him in the USHL - and that's been a preference of the coaching staff for a while, it seems. His production suffered a bit in Wisconsin but wasn't horrendous - he finished with 10 goals and 28 assists, good for fourth on a middling Gamblers team.

He told The Province in Vancouver that his experience in Green Bay was less than what he'd been looking for, and that he felt more comfortable in the BCHL. So he came back for his swansong third season in the league, one that was originally expected to take place last season. Once he returned to his old stomping grounds, the offensive prowess that he displayed in his first two BCHL seasons was back in spades.

Unfortunately, with Tironese, what you see is what you get as far as his season stats are concerned - he suffered a shoulder injury in November that has ended his year (at about the same time shoulder injuries were attacking the Engineers, no less). The next time he suits up for a game, he should be in the Cherry and White.

At the time he suffered the injury, he was the leading scorer in the entire BCHL, scoring at a clip of 1.7 points per game. As we've mentioned in the past, the USHL is probably the top college-prep league on the continent, but the BCHL certainly isn't that far off. Anyone who can lead that league in scoring, as he was certainly on pace to do, is likely to have a very solid career in college hockey. One of last year's leaders was Landon Smith, now of Quinnipiac, who had 19 points in his first 20 college games. It's a reason why, as long as Tironese's shoulder heals well, we're still as excited to see him play in Troy as we were when we first heard of his commitment in May of 2012.


Team: Topeka RoadRunners (NAHL)
Projected to replace: Mark McGowan

The end of Carlos Fornaris' season last year was troubling to say the least, but he does at least seem to be getting a new lease on his hockey career in the NAHL.

In February 2014, Fornaris was suspended by the USHL for checking from behind. In March, he was hit with a four-game ban for the same infraction. Then, when the playoffs rolled around, he was suspended for the playoffs for an unspecified violation of team rules, which forced Cedar Rapids to call up one of its affiliate players to fill in.

The final suspension especially was an indicator that Fornaris may have worn out his welcome in Cedar Rapids. He did return to join the RoughRiders for the preseason but was not retained on this year's roster. His final scoring line for last season was six goals and seven assists in 41 games - even when he was healthy and available, he was frequently in and out of the Cedar Rapids lineup.

Fornaris was not without a team for long, however, as he quickly caught on in the NAHL with the Topeka RoadRunners. He's gotten some regular ice time in Topeka, which is pretty vital in and of itself in order to prepare for life in the NCAA. On a team full of players that are a year older than him, Fornaris is certainly holding his own and making contributions offensively. He surpassed his output from all of last season in Cedar Rapids in just over half as many games in Topeka, so if he can keep the trend up for the remainder of the season, it's likely to represent a significant improvement despite now playing in a lower-level league.

As we mentioned in last year's pipeline, Fornaris has a reputation as a better than average stickhandler who relies on those skills to beat defenders and create offensive opportunities for himself. Given his smaller stature, that's probably a necessity, and we wouldn't be a bit surprised if there was a little speed that went with those stickhandling skills.

On a completely RPI level note, the RoadRunners had a Star Wars night a couple of weeks ago, wherein the team dressed as Jedi Knights in a game against the Wentachee Wild, dressed as storm troopers. Fornaris scored two goals in a 3-1 win for the "Jedi." So if nothing else, the Force is strong with this one.


Team: Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
Projected to replace: Jacob Laliberte

OK, go ahead. Get it all out of your system. We'll be here when you're done.

Set to become the most popular athlete in New York State named Alex Rodriguez when he arrives in the fall, Rodriguez is a graduate of the esteemed Shattuck St. Mary's program in Minnesota. He has long been an acquaintance of fellow Miamian Carlos Fornaris - the two played on the same squirts team (not just in the same league - on the same team) in Miami when they were nine, and now they'll be coming to college together in Troy.

Rodriguez spent five years at Shattuck, where he was lauded for his work ethic and especially for his forechecking ability. In two seasons with the varsity squad, he posted 48 goals and 107 points in 105 games. He was rated as a "B" prospect by NHL Central Scouting in their preliminary rankings for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which indicated a possible mid-round selection, but he ultimately went undrafted last year, something that's at least partially attributable to his size, as the NHL tends to covet players bigger than Rodriguez.

Originally slated to be headed for the BCHL's Surrey Eagles, Rodriguez was instead taken in the 3rd round of the USHL Draft last May by Sioux City. There may have been some push from the RPI coaching staff on that move, considering that his commitment came in March of last year. That commitment came literally on the same day that Ryan Haggerty signed with the New York Rangers, so he may have been waiting in the wings to commit as soon as a scholarship was made available. After all, it was not surprising in the least that Haggerty, after the season he had last year, would make the jump to the pros. At the time of his commitment, Over The Boards (a college hockey recruiting website) had Rodriguez ranked 8th among uncommitted players, but he was also the oldest player in their ranking.

Rodriguez's numbers this season look a bit out of place for a guy who was one of the biggest point producers for one of the nation's top prep teams, but it's worth pointing out that the Sioux City team he's on is pretty much bursting at the seams with offensive capacity - the Musketeers have five players in the USHL's top 25 scorers, an impressive feat for a 17 team league. So it's likely Rodriguez just hasn't been playing on one of the top two scoring lines this year. We noted this same phenomenon with Haggerty before his arrival, as he'd been playing on the fourth line for the US Under-18 Team, which is always loaded with offense. They may simply be utilizing his forechecking skills more effectively on the third or fourth line.

Overall, we project Rodriguez as a player who should be able to contribute fairly quickly. He's likely to see a solid amount of ice time in his freshman season, potentially on special teams as well as playing a possible role on a second or third line.


Team: Trenton Golden Hawks (OJHL)
Projected to replace: Mike Zalewski

We thought RPI's recruiting for 2015 was pretty much done by September of last year, so when Brady Wiffen's name came down the pike, it meant one (or both) of two things: either one of the forwards we had penciled in for 2015 was getting pushed back to 2016, or Zach Schroeder wasn't expecting to return for his redshirt season next year.

To be fair, it could also be a third option by itself - RPI simply needs more bodies up front, since the Engineers are presently at a paltry 14 designated forwards on the roster, which means the team can only afford a pair of injuries to centers and wings. Already, three different defenseman (Luke Curadi, Phil Hampton, and Craig Bokenfohr) have played forward this season. So we'll go ahead and put Wiffen down as Mike Zalewski's replacement.

But back to Wiffen - his numbers are rather gaudy, some might say they're downright Lalibertian in nature, given where he's coming from. That's probably enough to give some folks pause. After all, there was a great deal of hype for Laliberte for the numbers he produced in Ontario, but he hasn't scored in bunches during his time in Troy. That's the one real caveat. On the other hand, that's still a heck of a lot of points - and it's worth pointing out that while the OJHL isn't up where the USHL and the BCHL are, it's not a slouch of a league, and Laliberte came out of the lower-end CCHL in eastern Ontario.

We're going to be cautiously optimistic on Wiffen being a strong pickup for RPI. If he were doing what he's doing now in an upper-tier league, he'd be an instant head-turner. He may well be a strong contributor right off the bat, especially since he's going to be an older freshman.  He's already 20 - in fact, he'll be 21 when he dons an Engineers sweater next year - so count on seeing him in Troy next season.

A 2010 OHL Draft selection of the Kingston Frontenacs, Wiffen is a veteran of Ontario junior hockey. He's now playing in his fifth season there after two years in the Junior B GOJHL followed by three in the OJHL. This season, he competed in the Central Canada Cup for one of the OJHL's four all-star teams, scoring 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games for OJHL Hawerchuk, making him one of the tournament's top scorers.

As of this writing, Wiffen is second in scoring in the OJHL, and the league's leading goal scorer. He is described thusly in his team bio: “Big, strong, heady, leader, playmaker, scorer, grinder, gritty, versatile, coachable and deceptively fast.” Sounds like just about everything you want in a scoring forward. He's shown steady improvement in each season at the higher level, he's got size, and he's got a scoring touch. Hopefully, he can help inject a little more life into the RPI offense next season, especially when being added alongside players like Tironese and Rodriguez.


Team: Fairbanks Ice Dogs (NAHL)
Projected to replace: Mark Miller OR Zach Schroeder

The Engineers are plucking players from an increasingly diverse location set these days. There are the usual set of New Yorkers and Ontarians that have long been the backbone of RPI rosters since time immemorial, but now there's a growing group of players from locations that have rarely or never been represented on the Engineers. Two Europeans are featured on the current roster. Two South Floridians are coming next year. In all likelihood, a year later, they'll be joined by the first Arizonan to play at RPI.

Committing to the Engineers on the same exact day in April 2014 as his then-teammate Viktor Liljegren (and apparently completely coincidentally, too), Burgess is a product of the NHL's frequently maligned expansion into Phoenix. Born just a couple of months after it was announced that the Winnipeg Jets would move to Arizona, Burgess is part of the vanguard of young Arizonans who grew up with NHL hockey right on their doorstep. A product of the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, a youth hockey program that operates from the Arizona Coyotes' training facility in Scottsdale, Burgess led the Jr. Coyotes' minor midget team in scoring in 2013 as a 16 year old, but instead of moving up full time to the major midget squad for 2014, he instead got about as far as one could get from Phoenix to continue his career - Fairbanks, Alaska.

The NAHL isn't a league that features an awful lot of 17-year-old players. Usually, at 17, you're either still playing in high school, in midgets, or you're good enough to be playing in a top level junior league. But Burgess made the jump to the league and had a fairly successful season despite being one of the youngest players on the ice, not just on his own team but in the entire league. He collected just five goals and 11 assists in 39 games, but that's pretty decent considering his age. After a slow start while adjusting to the higher level, he settled in nicely.

Burgess missed the first 12 games of this season to an injury, but has been a regular in the lineup ever since and, as you can see, is hovering near the very productive point-per-game mark - despite remaining one of the youngest players on the Ice Dogs.

Like most 18-year-olds he does have a bit of filling out to do, but he fits in nicely heightwise. The question is whether Burgess will come to Troy in time for next season, or whether he'll spend a third year in juniors. As things stand, if Zach Schroeder leaves and the Engineers seek to expand their complement of forwards, Burgess would almost certainly be coming next year. If Schroeder stays at RPI, Burgess would almost certainly spend that third year in juniors. Assuming Burgess is aimed to 2016, don't be surprised if the coaching staff seeks to move him to the USHL for next season.


Team: Toronto Patriots (OJHL)
Projected to replace: Milos Bubela

Playing in the same league as Brady Wiffen, he's put up a very solid number of points and he's doing it at the age of 17 (he turned 18 yesterday). He ranks 8th in the OJHL in scoring players under the age of 19, leading his team in scoring - and leading forwards on his team in scoring by a significant margin. To be managing more than a point per game at his age in this league is a solid accomplishment.

A teammate last year of Mike Prapavessis, Hayhurst is always closer to being the smallest guy on the ice than being the biggest, if not being the smallest guy outright. As you'd expect for a smaller player, Hayhurst is blessed with a serious amount of speed, and he uses that speed to burn past defenders wide in the neutral zone, which is a great skill for creating odd-man rushes. In fact, speed is a word that is used repeatedly any time anyone's talking about him. When the Kingston Frontenacs drafted him in the 10th round of the 2013 OHL Draft, their head scout was quoted saying, “when we looked at all the reports on him the same words kept popping up: speed, speed, and more speed.” He plays with a tremendous amount of energy and he's not afraid to take the punishment that any forward is going to pick up playing near the net.

Like Wiffen, Hayhurst participated in the Central Canada Cup in November, and perhaps fittingly, played on the OJHL Oates squad, named after a guy you've probably heard of who spent a few years in Troy. The Oates team won the tournament, with Hayhurst scoring a goal in the championship game. For his 18th birthday yesterday, Hayhurst was a participant in the CJHL Prospects Game, a collection of the top 20 eastern-based NHL draft eligible Junior A players in Canada against the top 20 western-based draft-eligible players. He scored a goal for Team East and just missed scoring a second one on a breakaway.

Hayhurst was drafted in the fifth round of last year's USHL draft by Cedar Rapids, a relatively high draft position for a guy who would fill an import slot and who was unlikely to leave Ontario for this season. Almost everything we've seen has Hayhurst staying in juniors next season pretty much no matter what, so the question is whether he stays with the Patriots, where he could really shine offensively next season, or whether he moves on to Cedar Rapids, where he probably won't produce quite as huge numbers but where, again, we know RPI prefers to have its crop ripen due to the competition level.

Our money is certainly on the USHL. Expect a move to the States next season, followed by an on-campus arrival in August of 2016 where he'd be one of the key additions to what looks to be shaping up as a team with a significant amount of speed and scoring touch.


Defensemen

Team: Estevan Bruins (SJHL)
Projected to replace: Curtis Leonard

The long hockey journey of Charles Manley continues in a fairly unlikely place this year: Saskatchewan.

To recap, Manley is a Western New York native who went to Connecticut for prep school and to play midget hockey with the Selects Hockey Academy. He got a taste of the USHL during winter break of his junior year of high school, playing a few games with Waterloo. Following that junior year, he appeared set to join Waterloo full time the following year, but didn't make their roster. Instead, he played for the Austin Bruins of the NAHL. His season there last year was tough to draw too many conclusions from, with some of our thoughts from last year's Pipeline being that his youth may have played a role in his odd numbers, considering that most of his teammates were two or three years older.

Since Waterloo retained his rights, we hoped we'd finally see Manley pull a full season in the USHL, but come the end of September, he was released from their camp once again, and he didn't catch on in the NAHL, either. For a few weeks in late September and early October, there was concern that he might not find a gig at all until he turned up in Estevan. The SJHL isn't a place where you find a high number of college committed players, but quality wise it isn't a lower tier league. It's probably about on par with the NAHL, where he played last year. Not the best, not the worst. The major difference is simply orientation - most SJHL players are likely to be either heading to the WHL, or are even former WHL players themselves. He's one of only three players in the league slated to join an NCAA Division I program next season, and four D-I commits overall.

Last season in Austin, Manley put up just a goal and five assists in 58 games played. It was the first real year that we got to see some really solid numbers on him, and a lack of scoring isn't necessarily an issue for a defenseman, of course. The word on Manley was that he was a puck mover, something that Seth Appert has certainly valued in a blueliner for the last several seasons, so much so that he brought in three freshmen this season that fit that mold. If that is the case, the distinct lack of assists is troublesome, but the real answer at this point is that it's tough to know exactly what to expect from Manley when he arrives in Troy.

He's not the first recruit we didn't know a great deal about by the time they arrived - Mark Miller was much the same way, and he's played a significant role since day one. Perhaps Manley will end up in a similar position once he arrives - from Western New York to Connecticut to Iowa to Minnesota to Saskatchewan... and finally back to New York this coming season.


Team: Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
Projected to replace: Luke Curadi

Moore's first year out of high school was a rough one. Saddled first with a team that didn't have interest in using him as a power play quarterback and offensive-minded defenseman, he was frequently not even dressed for Sioux City in the USHL. Put on waivers and dealt to Fargo, he got more ice time there, but was playing for the worst team in the league by far, which put a serious damper on his output.

Originally expected on campus in 2014 when he committed in May 2013, his tough season combined with the commitments of Jared Wilson and Bradley Bell probably added up to an extra season of junior development for Moore.  Sometimes, a player just ends up finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in his career, and that more or less seems to apply to Moore last season.

Heading north of the border, Moore seems to have found his groove once again in terms of being able to move the puck and contribute offensively. It appears that he's getting plenty of opportunities to head up the Grizzlies' power play, and he's the team's top scoring defenseman. In fact, Moore ranks among the top scoring defensemen in the entire league, which is a lot closer to what we'd been hoping to see last year.

Last year, we compared Moore to Nick Bailen in terms of his capabilities. They are roughly the same size and project to fill similar roles on the power play, but RPI is certainly trending toward having more offensively capable defensemen - again, all three freshmen brought in this year on the blue line fit that mold - so Moore should fit in very well with this scheme. We also suggested that he might fit well on a pairing with a more traditional defenseman like Parker Reno, though he may also have some utility filling in up front when necessary as well as Luke Curadi currently does, and as Bryan Brutlag did before him. Like Mike Prapavessis now does with some frequency and Bailen did all the time as well, we won't be shocked to find Moore anywhere on the ice, even deep in the attacking zone.

All in all, we're still excited to see what Moore can bring to the program. He was outstanding for one of the best high school teams in Minnesota, Duluth East, especially in his last three years there. He has the pedigree - we mentioned last year that his father played on the Minnesota-Duluth team that RPI battled in the '85 Frozen Four - and he's got the bonafides. Adding him to a team that already looks ready to be full of guys who can work the puck along the blue line (and beyond) could be a real treat.


Team: St. Andrews College (CISAA)
Projected to replace: Chris Bradley

We saw Cho scoping out RPI at last year's Big Red Freakout!, although it wasn't until his commitment a little over two weeks later that we knew who he was. It didn't take long to get the feeling that he was a pretty solid pickup.

Cho was listed as a "C" prospect in the NHL Central Scouting preliminary rankings in September, and was ranked 125th among North American skaters in the midterm rankings (released just yesterday), suggesting that he has a chance of being a late round draft pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft this June. He was the only high school athlete in Ontario on either list - but of course, most draftworthy players throughout Canada are playing at least Junior A hockey, if not major junior hockey by the time their draft year comes up. St. Andrews College, however, boasts not only an excellent hockey program, but also an outstanding educational regimen (the combination of which should be solid preparation for being a student athlete at RPI).

OHL scout Sean LaFortune says Cho is "a good skater, smooth on his edges," who "plays a safe and controlled game." A November 2013 critique of Cho by the US Hockey Report following SAC's participation in a tournament in Vermont suggested that he probably didn't have the skill to be an offensive or a stay-at-home defenseman in Division I, but that he had time to develop as a hybrid, which has been precisely what we've just been repeatedly talking about when it comes to RPI blueliners. Given his size, which is closer to the standard for defensemen than any of the other currently recruited blue liners, he may have to focus more on the defensive end at the Institute - while still having an offensive capacity. That'll likely make him very similar to the man he's probably going to replace on the roster.

Drafted in the sixth round of the USHL draft by Lincoln in May 2014, Cho's rights were dealt to Cedar Rapids for "future considerations," which could mean that Lincoln doesn't think Cho is ever coming to the league - frequently, that trade is only completed if the player in question eventually comes to play for his new team. However, Cho is almost a mortal lock to be playing in the USHL next season, assuming Cedar Rapids is willing to use one of four import slots for him (and they likely would be). Given that Manley and Moore were originally expected on campus for this season, that RPI graduates only two defensemen this year, and that there's a pretty good glut of defensemen on the current roster, there's no real chance that Cho will be in an Engineers' uniform in 2015, but mark him down for a 2016 arrival as long as he doesn't have any major hangups in Iowa.

It's hard to get a strong idea of what to expect from Cho in part because he's not playing against an overly talented opposition in high school. There's at least some expectation that he'll be a decent player at the highest amateur levels, given the attention that he's earned from NHL scouts, his late-round selection in the 2013 OHL Draft (12th round by Sault Ste. Marie), and his relatively high USHL draft selection. Cho's former teammate at St. Andrews College, UNH freshman Warren Foegele, was taken in the 3rd round of last year's NHL Draft based solely on his accomplishments with the Saints, lending just a bit more credibility that the numbers are legitimate.

Nonetheless, next year is certainly going to be one to watch with Cho. In Cedar Rapids, he'll likely be playing with future Engineer Jacob Hayhurst, so expect plenty of reasons to be checking in on the RoughRiders' progress in the coming season.


Team: CAC Gregg Distributors (Edmonton) Canadians (Alberta Midget AAA)
Projected to replace: Parker Reno

RPI's most recent commitment came in early November of 2014. There's still a lot that we don't know about Cory Babichuk - first and foremost, his size. His Elite Prospects page lists him at a lilliputian 5'4". A post on the Hockey's Future forum from April 2013 (when he was 14 and still playing bantam) also lists this as his height, calling into question 5'4" as a current height since most young men aren't fully grown at 14. A report by Gazette writer Ken Schott the day Babichuk committed had his height at 5'5", which is what recruiting guru Chris Heisenberg lists him at as well. College Hockey Inc. now keeps a list of college commitments, and lists Babichuk at 5'10". We're going to be optimistic and say he's grown quite a bit.

For comparison, the median height on the RPI women's team right now is 5'6" - so unless College Hockey Inc. is right and Babichuk gained six inches in the last two years (not outside the realm of possibility), we're talking about an unusually short-of-stature player. That doesn't mean he's going to struggle. After all, Theoren Fleury had a noteworthy 16-year NHL career at just 5'6". You just don't see it very often.

That Hockey's Future post also comprises most of the scouting report we've seen on Babichuk (as you can see, we don't even have a known picture of him to use). According to the observer, he possesses "puck management skills and his containment game is of a player much bigger and older." The post largely talks about how he would be overlooked in the WHL draft because of his size, but that his pedigree would make him a top major junior talent if he had the size to go with it (he was, in fact, not drafted).

In his final year of bantam in Edmonton, Babichuk was third on his team in scoring - as a defenseman - with 23 points in 33 games. In minor midget last season, he was fourth on his team in scoring with 29 points in 35 games. As you can see by his numbers for this season, he's basically still maintaining that general pace in major midget. They're excellent indications of - stop us if you've heard this already - another puck moving, offensive minded defenseman. Even if the most optimistic estimate of his height is true, that's probably got to be a given if he's going to survive even in Junior A, let alone in college.

At any rate, we know for sure that Babichuk won't be here next season, because he's only 16 and doesn't turn 17 until September. He has to graduate high school before coming to college, naturally. His arrival is expected for 2017, which makes him the likely first confirmed recruit for the RPI Class of 2021.

The Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL currently have his junior rights, we'll have to see if the RPI coaching staff tries to swing him toward the BCHL instead, either next year or the year after. We should have another two years to watch him develop in juniors, which will give us plenty of time to hammer down exactly how tall he is and to get a better feel for what his full skill set is.

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Finally, as always, we leave you with a cursory glance at how recruiting is shaping up for the somewhat more distant future, that is, beyond next season. More and more frequently, we're seeing teams round out recruiting about a year out from the start of the season, and some teams are loading up for the more distant future. Maine last year took a commitment from a 13-year-old with an anticipated arrival for the 2019-20 season - which is essentially a 10-year commitment (assuming he doesn't leave school early) to a player who has barely even been alive that long. That's the first of six players born in the year 2000 that have made college commitments, even though they're just now starting to turn 15.

RPI's not quite on that level (and probably won't be due to the academic rigors required). But we still have a few years down the road that we can examine.

2016-17
Leaving: 1-2 goaltenders, 3 defensemen, 3-4 forwards
Currently incoming: 1 defenseman, 1-2 forwards

All things being equal, RPI is moving along nicely timewise in assembling the Class of 2020. Expect in the next 7-8 months to see at least one more defenseman, probably two more forwards, and a goaltender who would likely be backing Dillon as a freshman make commitments, with the rest of the class being filled out quickly thereafter. The uncertainty on goaltenders and forwards revolves entirely around whether Kasdorf and Schroeder use their redshirt seasons. With Kasdorf, however, it's fairly inconsequential to the recruiting process, as Sam Goodman's graduation would require a third goaltender regardless. So we'll probably see a goaltender who could play regularly if he had to added to the team here - Scott Diebold's functional replacement.

2017-18
Leaving: 0-1 goaltenders, 1 defenseman, 3 forwards
Committed: 1 defenseman

Babichuk is the start of a smaller than normal class for 2021, barring any early departures. We may learn one or two new names for this class before the beginning of next season, but we don't usually find more than that, especially with a class this small. The goaltender for this season would surely be a practice netminder (if there even is one to bring in), so the focus now is definitely on forwards.

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