Monday, June 19, 2017

What's This Team Look Like?

Haven't posted on the blog for a while, but we've been keeping up with goings on with the Engineers - new coach and all - on the Twitters, which is our primary outlet for breaking news. Do check it out.

This is a bit more heady of a discussion, far more than can be squeezed into 140 characters, even multiple times, so here it is, a blog post. What exactly does this team look like heading into 2017-18? There's been a lot of turnover, so it's a legitimate question to ask, especially since we're not 100% sure of who's in and who's out. Time to make some educated guesses.

For the most part, we're making the assumption that any recruit who isn't known to have decommitted is still coming. To date, there's only one recruit that has been confirmed to no longer be coming to Troy, and that's forward Bailey Conger (now bound for Providence College). If there are any others, we may not know for certain until they commit elsewhere.

Additionally, any player who is listed on the current RPI roster for 2017-18 is assumed to be returning, even though there have been murmurs about one or two of those names looking to possibly leave.

Senior departures: Riley Bourbonnais, Jimmy DeVito, Jake Wood.
Other departures: Drew Melanson, Lou Nanne, Sam Rappaport, Alex Rodriguez.
Returning: Jacob Hayhurst, Viktor Liljegren, Jake Marrello, Jesper Ohrvall, Patrick Polino, Max Reisinger, Evan Tironese, Brady Wiffen.
Definitely arriving: Todd Burgess, Jaren Burke, Gavin Payne, Troy York.
Possibly arriving: Billy Jerry, Emil Ohrvall, Jon Richards, Owen Stout.
In the pipeline: Jon Bendorf (2018), Matt Cameron (2019)

The amount of turnover up front for RPI is going to make the 2017-18 Engineers drastically different than the 2016-17 team. Nearly half of the forwards on last year's roster will be gone (although one, Rappaport, never played).

Nanne's departure was somewhat unexpected although it doesn't appear to be directly related to Seth Appert's firing -- graduating with a degree in biomedical engineering in three years is a laudable accomplishment even without adding hockey to the mix, and his struggle with injuries both before and at RPI have been well known. Throwing in his brother's heart ailment and it's certainly a move that makes sense for him.

Melanson's move to grad school at BU may also have been planned in advance, although the high amount of uncertainty with next year's team and the low point the program reached this past season does make the move even more understandable. On Comm Ave, Melanson will get the opportunity to play for titles and a new venue could be just the thing he needs for development in a still-promising career. The last two seasons especially have been a struggle for him in Troy to reach his true potential.

Rodriguez was much more unexpected -- he was even seen in a video that Dave Smith posted on Twitter taking part in team workouts. At times, he seemed on the verge of breaking into a much stronger role this past season, but ultimately managed just one goal in 20 games last year, a drop off from his 8 points in 26 games as a freshman. It's possible that Smith decided he didn't fit the system the way he wants it.

The moves leave the Engineers with only two forwards who have two or more full seasons of college hockey under their belts -- Liljegren and Jesper Ohrvall. Wiffen, a junior, had to sit out his freshman year, and Tironese, a redshirt sophomore, played just a handful of games as a true freshman before suffering a season ending injury two seasons ago.

This season's forward corps, therefore, is going to be painfully inexperienced. Even if counting Burgess as a sophomore, RPI will be forced to suit up three freshmen up front for every single game even if every single returning player is healthy. Two of those returning players played only sparingly last season: Marrello appearing in just over half of RPI's games, Reisinger in juts 11 out of 37.

Burgess is already in school, but when he hits the ice for the Engineers this season, he's a definite addition to last year's functional team, so he's listed as an arrival.

Jerry, Richards, Burke, and York are Smith's first four RPI recruits. Burke and York are '96 birth years, which means they have to come in for this coming season, but in all honesty we can expect all four of them in the fall. Emil Ohrvall and Stout could technically play juniors again, but considering they'd make the optimal 16 forwards and with Bendorf already primed to replace the lone loss after next year (Liljegren), there's no reason for them not to come right now.

The biggest question mark with the incoming forwards revolves around just how late so many of them committed. Unusual for this day and age, six of the seven likely true freshmen committed less than a year before their expected arrival on campus and five of them are just since February (Smith's recruits and Payne). That's a short amount of time to be throwing together almost a third of the offensive element.

As with many RPI teams in the last several years, there are enough options for the Engineers to be competitive offensively if the most talented of the bunch can start scoring with some regularity. We've seen great stretches from the juniors and seniors (Liljegren, J. Ohrvall, Wiffen). Hayhurst and Tironese were dynamic players last year for an otherwise moribund team. If Burgess can bounce back from his medical redshirt season and display the kind of form he had in juniors, he can be a solid boost. Emil Ohrvall was impressive in high school and juniors playing these past two seasons in the US. That's seven guys right there who, if RPI could get outstanding seasons from even half of them, would be cooking with fire. And who knows? Perhaps one of these late gets is a diamond in the rough.

Senior departures: Parker Reno.
Other departures: Bradley Bell.
Returning: Tommy Grant, Charlie Manley, Meirs Moore, Mike Prapavessis, Will Reilly, TJ Samec, Jared Wilson.
Definitely arriving: Mat Harris.
Possibly arriving: Cory Babichuk, Austin Cho, Atte Tuliara.
In the pipeline: Jacob Modry (2018)

The rock upon which the 2017-18 Engineers is built is their defense - the lone element that appears to have been relatively untouched by the massive turnover. Reno's graduation was obviously expected, and Bell never truly established himself at RPI despite some serious expectations, ultimately appearing in just 41 of 118 games while at the Institute, some of which were played as a forward.

There are, however, still some questions left to be answered, especially with regards to the status of Cho, RPI's longest tenured commit at three years and three months. There are basically three options: he could come in this year, he could return to juniors, or he could be decommitting due to the coaching change. Only the first and third options are realistic. Although his age would allow him another year in juniors (and could actually happen if he decommits), at this point and with the turnover in coaching and recruits, it would almost certainly mean he's not coming at all.

Harris is a guarantee since he's turning 21 in July. He gives the Engineers a total of eight defensemen, which has been the roster complement in recent years but nine is certainly preferable as a hedge against injury and slump. So it's likely that at least one of the other recruits will be coming in as well.

Cho and Babichuk had long been considered likely to push off their original expected arrival date, perhaps even as far back as early 2016. Cho did that this past season, and it had previously been thought that Cho would replace Reno and that Babichuk would probably spend another year in juniors. Babichuk recently turned up in camp for the Bloomington Thunder of the USHL, so
that would seem to be his path - either a move to the USHL, or another year in the BCHL. Again, if Cho is still coming, he's going to make nine.

Tuliara, a product of Finland, has yet to get any North American hockey under his belt, but there's a good amount of buzz about his potential capacity to step in immediately and contribute in similar ways to Wilson, Reilly, and (despite his rough season last year) Prapavessis. It's a bit of a tossup as to whether he'll do a tour in the USHL first and then come to Troy, or whether he's due in the fall as was expected when he committed. Some reports from Finland have suggested that it's going to be this year. Either way, whether he makes nine or ten defenseman, he'd be a very welcome inclusion on a team in need of solid depth somewhere.

Senior departures: None.
Other departures: Cam Hackett, Liam McBain.
Returning: Chase Perry, Kyle St. Denis.
Definitely arriving: Linden Marshall.

Even the usually straightforward goaltending has been the focus of a lot of drama in the last six months or so. Hackett's apparent implosion set off a chain reaction that led to the inclusion of St. Denis midway through last season as an emergency backup for Perry, the fact that St. Denis never saw any ice time could mean that he can treat the spring semester as a redshirt year, although the fact that he dressed for the team's last 11 games as the backup could mean that he doesn't qualify and will be an athletic sophomore even though he's almost certainly still an academic freshman. Whether he is or not is probably not really relevant until 2020 at the earliest, since he now projects as the team's third-string.

McBain didn't play either after being brought in from club to serve as the third-string goaltender, since St. Denis is likely to serve that role now, McBain is probably returning to club, depriving college hockey of its only D-I player from Oregon (unless there is one in this year's crop of freshmen).

Marshall is going to be 19 by the time the season starts, which means he'd have the option of going back to juniors, but everything we've heard has him not only sticking to his commitment but also coming in as a freshman this fall. Given the struggles that Perry exhibited early last year, expect Marshall to get every opportunity to establish himself as the team's first choice, but Perry is certainly right there as well. He did have some flashes of excellence at times, including the noteworthy accomplishment of being the only netminder in the country to shut out Harvard last year.

If all of the seven potential incoming forwards (not including Burgess, of course) arrive in the fall along with Cho and Tuliara, with Babichuk pushing off to 2018, the Engineers would appear ready to field a full roster in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, with Bendorf, Babichuk, and Modry to be the entirety of the Class of 2022 (replacing Liljegren, Wilson, and Prapavessis).

When the roster is released, hopefully we'll be able to do a full, extremely late (by over 6 months) pipeline piece detailing the new arrivals - of which nine of them have never appeared in a previous pipeline edition. Stay tuned.