Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pipeline 2016: Today I Sing Tomorrow's Song

Well, January's almost in the books, and around here that means one thing - it's time for Pipeline.

Every year about this time, WaP 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.

Currently scheduled to graduate are Zach Schroeder (a fifth-year senior), Mark Miller, Milos Bubela, Travis Fulton, Chris Bradley, and Phil Hampton. These players have used up their eligibility at the end of the season. Also likely to depart - though with eligibility remaining - are seniors Jason Kasdorf and Sam Goodman.

The eleven players profiled below are expected to arrive in Troy some time before the next three seasons, though most of them will be here in August ahead of the 2016-17 campaign. Here they are, broken down first by position, and second by their expected arrival timeframe, and finally in the order they committed.

And, as always, special thanks to Reilly Hamilton for his help with the RPI TV graphics to introduce each player and their statistics so far this season. Along the top are listed the player's current number, their position, and their birth year.

Goaltenders

Team: Wentachee Wild (BCHL)
Projected to replace: Jason Kasdorf

The goaltending situation at RPI is a little bit more complicated than it usually is, but it's still fairly straightforward. After Alec Dillon's defection this past May, he was quickly replaced by Cam Hackett. Jason Kasdorf was granted a medical redshirt after missing nearly all of his sophomore season to injury, so he has the potential to play next season as a fifth-year senior (like Zach Schroeder is doing this year), but it is thought to be unlikely that he will do so. Throw in the technical truth that practice netminder Sam Goodman has a year of athletic eligibility remaining, and there's the situation.

Now we can add the addition of Chase Perry to the unusual circumstance - a transfer from Colorado College who will have three years of eligibility when he arrives in the fall. When he committed to RPI last month, it gave a bit more credence to the idea that Kasdorf is not going to use his redshirt eligibility.

Perry's numbers in Colorado Springs last year were pretty rough. In 15 games (10 starts and 5 relief appearances), he had a GAA of 3.97 and a save percentage of .876. Not stellar, but CC was a trainwreck last year (and this year). His overall record was 1-8-1, the lone win coming against a Wisconsin team that was as much if not more of a trainwreck. He largely backed-up starter Tyler Marble as the youngest Division I goaltender in the nation, so you can do the math - bad team, young goaltender, not a lot of playing time. He left CC this past July to return to his junior team.

With Wentachee when the Wild were in the NAHL, Perry was the team's MVP and rookie of the year in 2013-14, posting 3 playoff shutouts (including one against Viktor Liljegren, Lonnie Clary, Todd Burgess, and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs) with overall numbers of 2.34 and .905. He was rated as high as 4th among North American goaltenders in the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau ahead of the 2014 Draft, and he was ultimately taken by Detroit in the fifth round - 15 spots ahead of Alec Dillon (advantage, Seth Appert).

Wentachee is now in the BCHL, and Perry's numbers are very similar to what they were two seasons ago - an improvement, given that the BCHL is a lot more goal-happy than the NAHL tends to be. Frequently, even top-level goaltenders (like Kasdorf) struggle to put up gold standard numbers in the BCHL or the USHL.

RPI had eight years running of having two goaltenders from the same class following Bryan Masotta's early departure for Maine in 1996. From 1996 through 2000, it was Joel Laing and Scott Prekaski - and from 2000 through 2004, it was Nathan Marsters and Kevin Kurk. That was broken up in 2004 when Dan Fridgen brought in Andrew Martin from the folded program at Fairfield. He split time his senior season in 2004-05 with freshman Jordan Alford, and more or less since then the top two netminders have been roughly one class year removed from each other. That changes next season, assuming that Kasdorf will leave for Buffalo's system, as Hackett and Perry will both be sophomores.

The most likely scenario has Perry arriving with either a freshman practice netminder or another call-up from the club team (current starter Liam McBain will also be a sophomore next year), and playing beside Hackett for the next three seasons - assuming, of course, that the Red Wings don't come calling sooner.

And hey - the last Chase P from Minnesota that played for the Engineers (olacek) did OK.

Forwards

Team: Connecticut Jr. Rangers (USPHL)
Projected to replace: Travis Fulton

When Fornaris first committed to RPI in February 2013, the expectation was that he was likely to be on campus in time for the 2014-15 season. That didn't happen the wake of a difficult USHL season, so his arrival was pushed back a year. Then it was pushed back again for reasons we don't really know about - but you can pretty much write it down that he'll be here this coming fall, as he turns 21 next month, which will make him the Big Ten dreaded 21-year-old freshman.

This hasn't been the best of years for Fornaris once again. Although he showed some decent development last year with Topeka of the NAHL, this year seems to have produced some stagnation instead in a season that should have seen him improve offensively since he was among the older players in the league. That didn't prove to be the case, and this month he was traded to the USPHL, which is generally a lower-tiered league.

The USPHL can be all over the place when it comes to talent. Some of the best players in Hockey East played in the USPHL (almost always players from New England, playing close to or at home). A number of players in the league will never play Division I college hockey. But there are also players like Kenny Gillespie who come out of this league - guys who had some solid expectations earlier in their careers, then had a tough run of things but who were able to resurrect in the USPHL. If Fornaris follows Gillespie's track - from prep to the USHL and eventually into the USPHL at age 20 before arriving at RPI - perhaps he can be a quality piece of the puzzle just like Gillespie has become, if not a star player who's going to rack up points and be a name on everyone's tongue.

That would be just fine. From what we've heard of Fornaris, he's an undersized guy with some speed and some stickhandling ability. If he ends up taking Travis Fulton's role in the lineup as an energy guy for the fourth line, he'll certainly have the potential to be a solid role player as Fulton is today. And as mentioned last season, there's already some familiarity between Fornaris and fellow Miami native Alex Rodriguez, as they've been playing hockey together for over a decade. It's always good to have something to build upon.


Team: Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL)
Projected to replace: Milos Bubela

Hayhurst tore up the OJHL last season, pacing the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots in scoring at age 18 with 55 points, good for third best in the league among 1997 birth years. Now a high school graduate, it made perfect sense for him to move on to the USHL this season to develop in a more rigorous league.

Once he arrived in Cedar Rapids, there was a bit of a learning curve, and he struggled to produce points in the first couple of months in the advanced league despite his experience in the OJHL playing against plenty of guys who were bigger and/or older than him. But gradually, he's found his groove. After sitting out of the lineup for a few weeks in late November and early December, Hayhurst has become a more frequent contributor on offense.

A natural center, Hayhurst forechecks well and projects as more of a scoring chance creator than a pure goal scorer - somewhat in line with a player like Mark Miller, for instance. His skating ability and speed should make him a good addition to an RPI team that likes to be able to create scoring opportunities on the counter-attack.

Hayhurst will likely be the kind of player who'll be focused more on adjustment and development as a freshman before becoming a more solid contributor from his sophomore year on. Given what the Engineers should have at their disposal upfront next season, that's certainly not a bad thing. That's a little bit tempered from what we have been thinking in the past, but he should still be in line to be a major part of the team's attack for much of his time in Troy. His size shouldn't be too much of a hindrance to college success even if the conventional wisdom is frequently that it'll scotch professional aspirations. In many ways, that's exactly the formula that many college teams look for these days.

If you want to get super-technical, especially since for the last several years we've seen players who we thought were coming in the next year getting deferred by a year, Hayhurst is probably the most likely of the forward recruits expected for this coming season to have his arrival delayed, which would almost certainly herald a second year in the USHL in the hopes of gleaning more from him during his freshman campaign, but there hasn't been much to suggest that this is a likely scenario. The only indication we're likely to get is if another forward commits for 2016.


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

We thought we'd see Burgess move to the USHL for his final year of juniors, and the USHL seems to have expected that too - Sioux City used a fifth-round pick to take him in last year's draft. But Burgess himself made the decision to return to Fairbanks for a third season with the Ice Dogs, and that decision has been paying off in spades for him and his squad.

Burgess has been on an absolute tear this season, the very clear leader in scoring in the NAHL by a fairly wide margin. In fact, he paces the NAHL in goals and assists. He has a 6 point lead over second place, linemate and Lake Superior State commit Ryner Gorowsky, a 12 point lead over third place, linemate and Merrimack commit Logan Coomes (a former Quinnipiac commit who had been recruited by RPI), and a 20 point lead over fourth place, the top scorer in the NAHL not on his line. His play has been strong enough that, at age 20 (the age he'll be by the time the 2016 NHL Entry Draft arrives), he has entered the NHL scouting bureau's rankings for the first time, registering 203rd among North American skaters. That probably opens up the possibility of a team taking a flyer on him in a late round, but he's already been passed on twice before. So it's unlikely that he'll be drafted, but he's certainly starting to pique professional interest.

The addition of Burgess to the RPI lineup next season could be a part of a veritable troika of potential point-producers for an Engineers team that should already be returning top producers in Riley Bourbonnais, Lou Nanne, and Drew Melanson. Brady Wiffen (last year's OJHL goal scoring champ) should become eligible next year as well, while RPI fans already saw the potential that Evan Tironese has before he became injured early in the season. Those two additions, along with Burgess, could be a huge shot in the arm for the RPI attack. While no team should have to count on a freshman contributing in a major way to success, Burgess seems to have the capacity to transition well and he'll have the benefit of having all the upperclassmen listed above shouldering much of the load.

The "Alaska Pipeline" now includes Burgess, Viktor Liljegren, Lonnie Clary, Jesper Ohrvall, and, indirectly, Ohrvall's younger brother (who we'll touch on shortly). Those long recruiting flights from Troy to Alaska are certainly paying off in spades for the Engineers, mining talent from one of the best but remote programs in the NAHL.


Team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Projected to replace: Mark Miller

Another of the much-feared 21-year-old freshmen, Polino is the most recent player to commit to RPI, his name dropping just a few days after Perry's early last month.

Joining an increasingly large group of recent RPI players from Western New York - including Nick Bailen, Scott Diebold, Chris Bradley, and Riley Bourbonnais - Polino is in the middle of his fourth full season in the USHL (he played a handful of games in a fifth in 2012 as well after being drafted 4th overall in the 2011 USHL draft), and spending that amount of time in that league certainly never hurt anybody. The aforementioned Nick Bailen did just that before his arrival at RPI. If nothing else, it probably indicates an ability to transition to the college game a bit faster than you'd expect from the average freshman.

Size-wise, he compares favorably to another former Lincoln player currently at RPI - Jake Wood, although he doesn't seem to have Wood's mean streak in him, since he's had only slightly more penalty minutes in four USHL seasons as Wood had in his only year in the league. Polino's had a strong year as one of the top players on a resurgent Stars team that has gone from being one of the worst teams in the USHL last season to being a potential playoff team this year.

Since we haven't had much of an opportunity to examine his play, there's still quite a bit we don't know about Polino, but based on a couple of months of observation, it's safe to say he's a pretty solid pickup. There is, of course, the obvious question that is first to pop up when a 20-year-old makes a commitment - why wasn't he scooped up earlier? There could be some concern that he's already peaking, but even if that's true, he should still have something to offer in Troy, whether it's added backbone to the attack or simply as an efficient penalty killer, which is one of the things that has been mentioned about his game.

Interestingly enough, Polino originally came to Lincoln in a trade from Green Bay, being moved to the Stars alongside Cam Hackett in 2014, so Polino and Hackett will be playing together on a third different team when the former arrives next season.


Team: Shattuck St. Mary's (HS-MN)
Projected to replace: Riley Bourbonnais

There's a long line of brothers who have played for the Engineers - the Chiarellis, the Kummus (although not at the same time), the Tappers, the Cavosies, the Angers-Goulets, and the Burgdoerfers, to name a few (women's hockey has the Scammell and Mankey sisters).There's also a few of the "ones that got away," like the Zarbos (Mark came, the others didn't) and the Tinordis (Matt, but not Jarred). In 2017 we'll be able to add the Öhrvalls to the list.

When Öhrvall committed in May 2015, we thought maybe we'd see him join that Alaska Pipeline by taking his brother's place in Fairbanks. When it turned out that he'd be playing at Shattuck St. Mary's instead, that was... more than a little bit acceptable. SSM is one of the most renowned bantam and midget level development programs in North America. You may have heard of some of their alums - Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, Derek Stepan, Kyle Okposo, Jack Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon... just to name a few. Ben Barr attended SSM back in the day, as did current Engineer Alex Rodriguez.

Öhrvall is one of the top scorers at SSM this season, on a team that stocked with solid talent, including Harvard-bound Oliver Wahlstrom, the Maine native who was a hockey prodigy at age 9, Ohio State commit Vincent De Mey, and Jack Johnson's younger brother Kenny, who's following in his footsteps to Michigan.

Emil is already taller - though not yet bigger - than his older-by-four-years brother, and its been said that their style of play is very similar. Given what we've already seen from Jesper, that has to be a warm, fuzzy feeling for RPI fans. Their age difference means they've never played together on the same team, but you can be sure they've played together on the pond, at least. Given that there were only a few months to wait for Jesper's arrival (in fact, he hadn't committed in time for last year's pipeline feature) and we've got a couple of years to wait for Emil, the anticipation certainly is going to be a bit higher for the younger Öhrvall, but it has also been said that his ceiling is likely a bit higher to go with his taller frame.

He's listed as a junior on SSM's website, which means he certainly has to spend another year in high school before he can come to RPI, so in all likelihood we can probably expect to see him playing there another year rather than heading into the USHL - unless, of course, Seth Appert feels he'll develop more in the USHL. Choosing between the two's like choosing between having cake or ice cream for dessert, you really can't go wrong.


Team: The Hun School (HS-NJ)
Projected to replace: Drew Melanson

It's interesting that Bendorf lines up roughly to replace Melanson on the Engineers' roster, because there's a lot that the two have in common. They're both Garden State natives. They're both products of New Jersey prep, and much like Melanson was when he committed to RPI, Bendorf is likely to fit into the category of "much awaited," although there are certainly additional development steps that need to be taken before we can be absolutely sure.

The son of a high school coach, Bendorf competes for the Hun School, a private boarding school in Princeton (yes, that Princeton). In his freshman season for the Raiders two years ago, he put up 66 points in just 27 games, and last year threw down 44 in 20.

In addition to the Hun School, Bendorf has played for Team Comcast, a midget squad that boasts Hobey winner Johnny Gaudreau was one of its most famous alums. Johnny Hockey, much as with Bendorf, played for Team Comcast in addition to his prep schedule. Last year, between Comcast and Hun, Bendorf appeared in 85 games, which means he's been staying very busy.

Part of Bendorf's numbers (above, only his figures for Team Comcast) looking a bit rougher than they were last year is possibly due in part to the departure of one of his teammates, the Penn State-bound Evan Barrett, who is playing for the US Under-17 Team this season. Bendorf and Barrett had some very good chemistry, having played together since they were with the Mercer Chiefs mite team at the age of 6. But even without Barrett, Bendorf's production is still fairly outstanding, as it should be in the New Jersey prep ranks.

It's clear that Bendorf will probably need to leave New Jersey next season to continue his development, which likely means heading to the USHL (as Gaudreau and Melanson both did) for a couple of years. He was taken in the 7th round of last year's USHL draft by Madison, so Wisconsin is a most likely landing spot for him next season.

The naysayers might point to Bendorf's less eye-popping figures and say that Barrett's presence helped him produce more than he would have otherwise. And that could well be true. But the numbers he's producing without him - indeed, including what he produced last season during a lower-body injury that kept Barrett sidelined for part of the season - show that he has his own potential as a goal-scorer and point producer. Next year is the crucial season, though. If he can make the jump to the USHL at age 17 and contribute, the excitement level in Troy is sure to rise.


Defensemen

Team: Estevan Bruins (SJHL)
Projected to replace: Phil Hampton

It's safe to say at this point that expectations are fairly softened for a player we've been trying to keep an eye on for over four years now - Manley's RPI commitment is now of a longer length than his actual collegiate playing career can be (barring a redshirt). By the time he arrives on campus in August, it'll be just a few months shy of five years since his commitment to RPI in December of 2011. He's one of only five remaining 2011 commitments that have yet to start playing college hockey - and in theory, his arrival could be deferred as late as 2017 if absolutely necessary, as he only turns 20 in July.

That seems a bit unlikely. When he first committed, Manley was thought to be incoming for the Class of 2018, which would have made him a freshman last season. Now he's slated to come in for the Class of 2020 instead. Twice his arrival has been deferred already, a third deferral would probably make it unlikely that he'd be coming at all.

As we said last year with Manley, it's hard to know for sure exactly what the Engineers are getting with him. When he committed, it was thought that he was something of a stick-handling defenseman, but if that's true his assist numbers aren't quite where one would expect them to be. Given that several years have elapsed in the interim, it's entirely possible that his game has evolved more into one where he's primarily a defensive defenseman. At 5'11", he's not exactly overflowing with size, either, but he'll certainly suffice.

Now in his second season playing in Saskatchewan, Manley is an assistant captain for the Bruins, but only for their road games, oddly enough. That's an indication that he at least has some recognizable leadership qualities, something that always comes in handy regardless of what the player brings to the table. 2012 graduate Justin Smith appeared in only 42 games across four seasons for the Engineers, and only nine as a senior, but was still an assistant captain during his final year in Troy, an indication of the impact he had in the locker room.

Manley hopefully is bringing a little more on-ice output to the table, but the truth is that we're probably going to have to wait until Manley is (finally) in the Cherry and White to see exactly what to expect, which is a lot like what we needed with Phil Hampton, honestly. That's turned out OK, even though Hampton was mostly a reserve player for his first three seasons. Even after five years, given the odd course that Manley's junior career has taken, there's still just too much we don't really know.

Team: Georgetown Raiders (OJHL)
Projected to replace: Chris Bradley

It's been a difficult season for Cho, who entered 2015 with the possibility of being selected in the NHL Entry Draft (which didn't happen) and has steadily regressed from there. We thought we'd see him alongside Hayhurst with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL, but Cho never even arrived at training camp - which could indicate that Lincoln knew something when they traded his rights to Cedar Rapids in the first place. Instead he started the year with the BCHL's Vernon Vipers, the BCHL being a frequent landing spot for college-bound Canadians, since the USHL only allows a limited number of "import" players per team.

After a rough 17-game start with the Vipers, Cho was traded to the Langley Rivermen, where he lasted only seven games. From Langley, Cho managed a trade back closer to home, landing with Georgetown in the OJHL. It's a far cry from possible NHL draftee to where he is now. He was not listed on the NHL's preliminary rankings when they came out in November and was also not on the mid-term rankings this month. All of that adds up to some very tempered expectations.

But for whatever reason - be it simply a matter of being closer to home, or perhaps that the OJHL is a step down from the BCHL - Cho's numbers have rebounded somewhat since his return back east. That's certainly a step in the right direction. Producing at nearly a point-per-game with Georgetown is more in line with the offensive-minded defenseman we noted that he was in high school, which hopefully will be able to translate to more of a hybrid style in the NCAA. That points rate was what Cho was doing at St. Andrews prior to his numbers tailing off late in the season.

While it was difficult to translate his numbers last season into something concrete because of the level of competition he faced in high school, this year's numbers are difficult to assess because of all the moving around that he's done and the differences in the leagues he's played in.

Last year we said that you could "mark Cho down for 2016 as long as he doesn't have any major hangups in Iowa." That he didn't end up in Iowa at all aside, there have certainly been a few hangups, and there's now some thought that his arrival could be deferred to 2017, in which case another defenseman would have to be recruited for 2016.


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

Last year, there was a lot we didn't know about Cory Babichuk. This year, there's still a lot that we don't know, but we can at least semi-confidently confirm that he's not 5'4" any longer. In lack of things to talk about, the height discrepancies arose. We're going with 5'10". Certainly not a giant by any stretch of the imagination, he still wouldn't be the smallest defenseman on the Engineers (he's got Meirs Moore by a couple of inches), so we can at least stop talking height and try to move on to the substance of his development and his game.

With little information to go on from the Alberta midget circuit, all we can really do is look at the numbers, which suggest a defenseman who's comfortable with puck distribution. That's a model that has fit nicely at RPI in the past several years and has really hit a high point in the last few years.

Babichuk started off the year with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL, a step up from the midget program in Edmonton that he's been with for several years. He appeared in just two games with the Crusaders, registering an assist and 16 PIM before heading back to the Canadians. It's unknown exactly why Babichuk isn't competing regularly in the AJHL - it's unlikely to be a distance-from-home thing, since Sherwood Park is a suburb of Edmonton. For instance, Parker Foo - brother of Union's Spencer, who'll be joining his kin on the Mohawk next season - was a teammate of Babichuk last year with the Canadians, and he's in the AJHL full time. The difference in arrival time in the Capital District (Foo next year, Babichuk probably in 2017) might have something to do with this, but the AJHL's a definite step up from midget, and a year of experience there could have been a good step toward the BCHL or the USHL for next season.

At any rate, Babichuk's numbers in Edmonton are slightly advanced from last year, so he's at least showing some growth, which is nice. Next season will certainly be more crucial in his pre-RPI development, wherever that ends up being - in the AJHL at the least, since he'll be aged out of midget, but more hopefully in a league like the BCHL, where the competition level is higher. Should Cho be deferred to 2017, there's probably a chance Babichuk is deferred until 2018 (since the Engineers lose only Reno in 2017), which would give him the opportunity to spend two years in junior hockey before coming to Troy.


Team: Los Angeles Jr. Kings (Tier I Elite)
Projected to replace: Mike Prapavessis

That's not a misprint. At age 17, Modrý stands at 6'3" and, as with most 17-year-olds, he's got plenty of space to fill out. He projects to be very similar to the man he'll replace on the roster assuming that Mike Prapavessis stays through his senior year - a puck-moving defenseman not afraid to join the play with strong defensive fundamentals. And Modrý brings with him some of the size that Prapavessis lacks.

In many ways, Modrý is a local "get." His mother hails from the Capital District, where she met his father while he was part of the Albany River Rats' 1995 Calder Cup championship. After Jaroslav Modrý's NHL career concluded in 2008 after 725 career games, and his hockey playing career ended in the Czech Republic in 2011 after 24 seasons, the Modrýs returned to Albany, where he served as a volunteer assistant coach at RPI during the 2011-12 season. Jacob played three years of top-level bantam hockey while living in Albany after having the opportunity to play some of his youngest hockey wherever his father's career took him - mites and squirts in places like Atlanta, Dallas, and Philadelphia, eventually playing the equivalent of peewee hockey in the Czech Republic at the end of his father's playing days. There aren't too many 16-year-old players that can claim the benefit of having learned both the North American style and the European style of the game.

Now with the family back in Southern California, where the elder Modrý played parts of 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Jacob was part of a Jr. Kings U16 team last year that won the California state championship, and he was invited this past summer to participate in USA Hockey's Select 16 festival just outside of Buffalo.

Modrý still has probably another year with the Jr. Kings as he's likely to move up to their major midget squad next year (although he did appear in an NAHL camp this summer), and after that don't be surprised to see him in the USHL (and getting some attention from the WHL) ahead of his Fall 2018 arrival in Troy. He's definitely a recruit worth keeping track of in the near future.

--

For a broad view of what future teams are looking like, see our spreadsheet of the "five year plan" as it seems to be panning out (including this season).

2017-18
Leaving: 0-2 goaltenders, 1 defenseman, 3 forwards
Committed: 1 defenseman, 1 forward

Most likely, there's no goaltender to be recruited for this season - this is merely accounting for the notion that Kasdorf and Goodman technically have one additional year of eligibility at their disposals. This is set to be a smaller than usual class, so beyond Babichuk and Ohrvall, we should probably expect another pair of forwards to be recruited here - likely both in the coming months.

2018-19
Leaving: 3 defensemen, 4 forwards
Committed: 1 defenseman, 1 forward

A great start for the Class of 2022 with Modrý and Bendorf. We should likely see a few more commitments for this class in the coming months, although it probably won't get filled out completely until late 2017.

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