Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your 2015-16 RPI Engineers

Hot on the heels of a later than usual schedule release comes an earlier than usual incoming freshman release from RPI. We were closer this year than in most recent years to figuring out exactly who was coming in and who was not - ultimately, only Carlos Fornaris and Charlie Manley were among the potential recruits for this season whose arrival will be delayed until 2016.

With that in mind, here's the early look at how the transition from last season into next is looking now that we know who's comprising the roster.

Gone: Jacob Laliberte, Mark McGowan, Matt Neal.
Returning: Riley Bourbonnais, Milos Bubela, Jimmy DeVito, Travis Fulton, Kenny Gillespie, Viktor Liljegren, Drew Melanson, Mark Miller, Lou Nanne, Zach Schroeder, Jake Wood.
Arriving: Lonnie Clary, Jesper Öhrvall, Alex Rodriguez, Evan Tironese, Brady Wiffen.

The Engineers get some much needed depth up front by replacing three graduating seniors with five incoming freshmen. The extent that defensemen were being forced to play forward last year was pretty rough with only two reserve forwards when the team was healthy, which was basically never last year.

All but two of the returning Engineers played regular roles on the offense last season - Gillespie got plenty of playing time late in the season due to injuries, while Fulton, who has played a spark-plug role since his arrival, suffered a season-ending injury midway through the year. Even among those who were dressed when healthy, Bubela, Melanson, Nanne, and Schroeder all missed significant amounts of time.

Clary should fit a physical role that DeVito and Wood specialize in and also the energy role we've seen from Fulton. He provides good coverage in those often less appreciated areas of the game. Öhrvall, Tironese, and Wiffen project as goal-scorers, while Rodriguez should be an outstanding playmaker. Those four will likely find it hard to all be dressed together, but expect at least Tironese (assuming he's ready to go injury-wise, since he's coming off a season-ending shoulder injury) and Öhrvall to find regular niches in the lineup, while Wiffen and Rodriguez are also likely to be dressed more often than not, depending on the situation.

Ultimately, this is a group that simply has to be improving on its 1.88 goals per game average from last year, and there's going to be a healthy amount of competition for ice time with the added depth. Even for players who were among the top forwards on last year's team, anyone not pulling their weight could well find themselves in a suit and tie on game night.

Gone: Luke Curadi, Curtis Leonard.
Returning: Bradley Bell, Craig Bokenfohr, Chris Bradley, Phil Hampton, Mike Prapavessis, Parker Reno, Jared Wilson.
Arriving: Tommy Grant, Meirs Moore.

The blue line was about to get considerably smaller, before Grant's commitment late last month, as Moore and Charlie Manley both stand quite a bit shorter than the men they would have replaced together in the rear echelon. Instead, it only gets a little bit shorter (Grant stands 6'3") and it gets a little more offensive-minded with the addition of Moore, and that's certainly the direction the Engineers seem to be moving in.

Assessing the defense is a touch easier than assessing the offense if only because there are fewer defensemen than there are forwards. Three of the six spots are basically filled already on a healthy team: Bradley, Prapavessis, and Wilson are guys who are going to dress when they're healthy and available no matter what. We saw that last year with them already, and those three guys are definitely the core of the defense this coming season. A fourth spot is all but a lock for Bell, who fought injuries last season but came on strong in regular play late in the year and into the playoffs.

That leaves five players competing for the remaining two spots, and we can probably count on one of them becoming a regular. Bokenfohr and Hampton will be seniors, but have basically spent their first three years making spot appearances. Bokenfohr tends to run hot and cold (rarely in-between) and can be semi-regular when he's playing well. Hampton does well when he's called upon to fill in but he hasn't really approached a potential regular starting role the way Bokenfohr sometimes has.

Grant, Moore, and Reno remain as options, and as an upperclassman, you'd have to think Reno's got the inside edge. The junior-to-be out of Edina, MN has played 38 games in two years, which is a little under 50% of the total games the Engineers have played in that stretch (that's 11 more than Hampton and five less than Bokenfohr, who have accrued their totals in three years).

Best guess is that the order of likelihood for that fifth regular spot is going to be Reno, Bokenfohr, Moore, and Grant, with Hampton very likely to remain a capable reserve. Expect the two freshmen, however, to get a decent amount of playing time in that sixth spot if they aren't regularly starting.

Gone: Scott Diebold, Jake Soffer.
Returning: Sam Goodman, Jason Kasdorf.
Arriving: Alec Dillon.

As always, goaltending is the most straightforward of the positions, but it gets a little murky this season with an unusual couple of occurrences and a medical redshirt involved.

Goodman became a de facto part of the varsity squad during the 2013-14 season when the former club netminder stood in as the practice goalie following Kasdorf's season-crushing shoulder injury in October 2013, and he became a full member at the beginning of last season. That led into the departure of sophomore Soffer, who decided to forgo two and a half seasons of eligibility to go pro - in the business world.

Add in the graduation of Diebold, and you've got two departing and two returning goaltenders, with one position open. Goodman, as far as we know, is firmly a practice and emergency goaltender, and Kasdorf, of course, is the rock upon which RPI will build its hardware dreams in 2015-16. That leaves open the #2 position, and in this case, it's more of an understudy than a backup.

That's the term we have long been using to describe Dillon's upcoming freshman season at RPI, and it rings true because he's preparing to become the top guy once Kasdorf moves on for Buffalo (which is almost certainly going to happen after next season, despite the academic senior's remaining redshirt year). He's practically ready for a full-time gig in the NCAA right away. After all, he did lead the USHL in goals against average last season. But he'll be able to be gradually introduced this way rather than being tossed onto the fire - and he makes for excellent insurance against another potentially devastating injury to Kasdorf, who has yet to stay healthy for an entire season in Troy in three tries.

Appert said in the press release announcing the incoming class that the Kasdorf-Dillon tandem "should" be the best duo in the nation between the pipes. That's entirely possible.

Overall outlook

Hard not to see a team that should be at least somewhat improved over last season on both ends of the ice. Most of RPI's best offensive talent is young - freshmen and sophomores - but the added depth and hopefully a good offseason of development for the rising sophomores should add a bit more kick to the attack in the coming year. The defense has shown potential to be stingier than they were last season, and all fingers are crossed that Kasdorf is able to get through the season without injury. That by itself will go a long way toward making the Engineers competitive again within the ECAC.

Out: Bubela, Fulton, Miller, Schroeder, Bokenfohr, Bradley, Hampton, Goodman, Kasdorf(?)
In: Todd Burgess, Carlos Fornaris, Jacob Hayhurst, Emil Öhrvall(?), Austin Cho, Charlie Manley.

The Engineers are about where we'd like them to be about a year out from the expected announcement of the Class of 2020. Cho is a solid bet to get drafted in the NHL Entry Draft next month, he projects as a replacement on the blue line for Bradley. Charlie Manley's arrival has been pushed back twice now, we will be watching to see if he can find himself a job in the USHL, hopefully the third time is the charm. If the younger Öhrvall brother is coming in 2016, we can probably close the book on forwards for this class, but don't be surprised to see him come in 2017 instead, in which case, we're looking for one more forward. Diebold's functional replacement will likely need to be coming to RPI in this class, and that's a name we're hoping to see in the next few months.

By the way, an interesting little side note on Manley - with his arrival now pushed to 2016, he's now slated to replace either Bokenfohr or Hampton, both graduating, on the roster. Manley committed to RPI in December of 2011, Bokenfohr in February 2012, and Hampton in May 2012.

Out: Bourbonnais, DeVito, Wood, Reno, Kasdorf(?)
In: Emil Öhrvall(?), Cory Babichuk.

Not a bad start for what should be a smaller than average Class of 2021, especially if this is the class Emil Öhrvall is targeted for. As mentioned above, a goaltender isn't likely a strong necessity here, so after a couple more forwards this class should be in the books. Don't be shocked if we find the first member of the Class of 2022 before the end of this calendar year.

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