Once again, the fluid nature of recruiting and timing for a recruit's freshman year is leading to a bit of ambiguity as to what RPI's incoming class is going to look like. Last year, most of the confusion focused on the defensive situation. This year, it's up front as roster depth, injuries, and the ages of new recruits - including one who just committed last week - comes into play.
The situation on defense is pretty well known. Luke Curadi and Curtis Leonard have graduated, they project to be replaced by Meirs Moore and Charlie Manley. Scott Diebold graduated, he will be replaced by Alec Dillon.
At forward, it's not as clear cut. Seven forwards have been recruited by Seth Appert, Bryan Vines, Nolan Graham, and Marc Cavosie. Certainly, not all will be enrolled at the Institute by August, but just who will be isn't easy to know for sure.
The forward situation was dicey for RPI this season. With only 14 forwards on the roster, the Engineers were exposed to injury problems, and when the injury bug struck, the team had few options. Three different defensemen spent time occasionally playing forward this season because of the lack of depth. Therefore, with three forwards graduating - Jacob Laliberte, Matt Neal, and Mark McGowan - we should expect at least four, and possibly five forwards coming on board this season.
However, all seven forward recruits that are in the pipeline at the present time have been at various times linked with a potential 2016 arrival. So who's in the Cherry and White come October? Here's the analysis.
Brady Wiffen: There's nothing at all that points to Wiffen being anywhere but at the Institute next season. He's out of junior eligibility and he just completed a highly successful season in which he scored almost as many goals as the Engineers did this year. RPI needs at least four forwards, and he's easily one of them.
Jesper Öhrvall: The Swede's commitment to RPI came just a week shy of a full year from the time countryman and former Ice Dog Viktor Liljegren decided that the Institute was where he'd ply his trade. The only real difference is in age - while Liljegren had another year of junior eligibility when he committed, Öhrvall turns 21 in November, so he's got to come in for next season. He had injury problems this season, missing 33 games with a concussion and a neck injury, but he didn't lose his entire year to the maladies, and he picked up well when he got back on the ice. One of those four spaces is definitely his.
The Known Future
Jacob Hayhurst: Last year, Hayhurst was part of the future because he was too young to be on board for this season. This year, he's a high school graduate (or at least will be shortly), but everything has pointed to another year of juniors - specifically, in the USHL - to prepare him to be one of the key elements of the Class of 2020. It's no longer outside the realm of possibility, but the Engineers have too many other options available to rush him into college and start burning eligibility now.
Todd Burgess: With Öhrvall's commitment, we can safely say that his teammate in Fairbanks, Burgess, will be coming in 2016. There had been some possibility that he'd be in for 2015, but given his age and the readiness level of other commits, it's a very easy bet to make that he'll wait another year before college. It'll be interesting to watch where he goes this summer. He's not yet attached to a USHL team, but don't be surprised to see him move there next year.
Evan Tironese: Quite a change from last year at this time, when we had Tironese listed as a sure thing to be on campus in August 2014. Whoops. The highly awaited Tironese was long expected for this past season, but a rough experience in the USHL led him back to the BCHL, where he was on pace for a tremendous year before a shoulder injury sidelined him in November after just 19 games. Now the question is whether he's ready for college hockey right away coming off that long-term injury, or whether he should utilize that last season of junior eligibility to fully prepare for the NCAA. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Öhrvall is being brought in partially to allow Tironese that buffer time. Gut instinct says he's probably ready to come in regardless of the missed time - unless his injury won't allow him to be ready to play in October. That may be enough to see him back in the BCHL next year.
Alex Rodriguez: Twist our arms, and we'll still list Rodriguez as a likely fall arrival in Troy. By most accounts, he had a pretty decent year in the USHL, despite the lack of flashy offensive numbers that he became known for in high school. But, like Tironese, he does have another year of junior eligibility remaining, and if it's desired that he take another turn in the USHL - this time likely playing on one of Sioux City's top lines as many of the Musketeers' top offensive threats move on to college - that's something that's entirely possible. But it's not really necessary, either.
Carlos Fornaris: Like Tironese, Moore, and Manley, Fornaris was originally expected for 2014 when he committed to RPI, but was put off to 2015 likely due to his rough outing in the USHL in 2013-14. By most accounts he has had a far better year in the NAHL playing for Topeka, and while his offensive numbers, like fellow Miamian Rodriguez, don't exactly stick out, he doesn't project as a goal-scorer for the Engineers anyway - he's more likely to be a puck-mover and a playmaker similar to Mark Miller. If that's not the case, he does still have another year of junior eligibility at his disposal. So if four is the number, he's a candidate to be held for 2016.
Five forwards wouldn't be out of the question. That would give the Engineers 16 on the roster, which is what they had from 2011 through 2013. It would also give them 28 total players, which is pretty high - although there may be a higher than normal number of non-scholarship skaters for a 26-man roster as it sat this season. It kinda feels like we can pencil in everyone in the "unknown" section for a 2015, at least as things stand now. If RPI lands another forward with a high probability of immediate arrival, we'll know at least one of the "unknowns" will be held back a season.
If it does end up being only four forwards, though, Tironese may again be the odd man out for the second year in a row - but probably only if there's any doubt whatsoever about where he's going to be physically come the start of the season. A very bright looking season was cut very short. Was that 19 game stretch enough to wipe out the issues he had playing in the USHL in 2013-14? Maybe. But for a player with the talent and promise of Tironese, it wouldn't be a complete shock if he's not added to the fold unless he's absolutely, 100% ready to roll.
UPDATE (4:12pm - 4/13/2015): Well, that didn't take long. Four and a half hours after this post originally went live, an eighth name was added to the list of forward recruits.
Lonnie Clary: The Riverside, CA native who committed to the Engineers today from the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (making him the second Ice Dog commit in as many weeks, and fourth in a little over a calendar year) turns 21 in September, which means he'll be incoming for this season. That makes for three '94 birth year forwards who lose eligibility if they aren't enrolled for this coming season. The early word on Clary - capable offensively, but a cursory look at his stats suggests an intimidating presence as well: he has accrued 333 PIM in three seasons in Fairbanks.
If we needed proof that one of the three "unknowns" is not coming to Troy in August, Clary is pretty much all we need. RPI might bring in five forwards (and probably will at this point), but not six. The only way the Engineers will see Tironese, Rodriguez, and Fornaris all on campus this fall is if one of the forwards currently scheduled to return next season has left or will leave school. Stay tuned.