With classes underway once again on Huntington Avenue, Ryan, Josh, and Mike sat down to talk about the arrival of the hockey recruits. Tune in to WRBB 104.9FM to hear all this and more at 7 PM on September 23rd, during the season premiere of Hockey East This Week.
Ryan Fallon: Let’s start with the most important component of the Huskies’ success this year: goaltending. Obviously NU has Derick Roy and Jake Theut returning, but Ryan Ruck is also coming into the fold from the USHL. I imagine goalie will be an open tryout, with Roy having the edge. What can Ruck bring to the table and can he push Roy?
Mike Davis: Ruck played for a below-average Des Moines team in the USHL and saw a very high amount of shots per game, one of the highest in the league. As such, his stats are a little below what you’d look for in a USHL incoming goalie. But he filled up the net well and has two years of starting under his belt, which will serve him well transitioning to Hockey East.
RF: As you said, Ruck only posted a .903 save percentage last year in Des Moines, but the year before he put up .918 mark. Even if he doesn’t grab the job from Roy this year, is he the goaltender of the future?
MD: Derick will finish his degree this year, so there is a real chance he leaves after the season. If that happens, Ruck will be the go-to guy for at least a couple of seasons. Cayden Primeau is NU’s “goalie of the future” but isn’t scheduled to arrive until 2017. So until then, Ruck is the man between the pipes
Josh Brown: Jon Barry, an incoming 6-foot-1 defenseman, is someone who might not be getting as much attention as some of the other recruits. He didn’t put up big numbers last year in the USPHL but the coaching staff seems to think highly of him. What do you think his role is going to be, and how do you see his transition to college going?
MD: Barry will be looked at to contribute immediately. He initially accepted a lacrosse scholarship to Providence, but ultimately chose to play hockey at NU. I would expect him to have above-average stick skills as the result of his lacrosse background. He is a solid 6-1, 200 lb physical presence and I expect him to make his presence felt immediately.
RF: The other blue liner coming in is even more intriguing, I think. Eric Williams was named CJHL Defenseman of the year last year while scoring 22 goals in 52 games. He might be the highest regarded defenseman to arrive on campus in my five years here. Is this an accurate take? Or are we reading too much into the CJHL award?
MD: Jim Madigan has already stated that Williams will have the best defenseman shot the second he steps on the ice for practice, so the coaches are expecting a lot from him too. The OJHL is known as a more offensive league, but that CJHL award encompasses all of Canadian Junior Hockey. Williams was a CJHL First Team All American as well. He is highly thought of, and is not short on size at 6’1”.
JB: A lot has been made of the arrival of Sam Kurker, the former Boston University Terrier. The junior didn’t put up earth-shattering stats by any stretch of the imagination over at BU. What do you think the thought process was for bringing him in and what do you think he can contribute this season?
MD: Similar to Barry, he is expected to play major minutes right off the bat. Making the jump from prep hockey to Hockey East is tough, and that may account for a number of Kurker’s struggles. He threatened decommitment when Jack Parker did not bring him right from prep, so he may have just not been ready yet. 1.5 seasons in the USHL did wonders for his growth. Scoring in the USHL usually carries over to the NCAA, and he put 22 pucks into the net last year. Kurker is projected as a top 6 forward and he knows what it takes to succeed in Hockey East. Kurker I personally project for 30 points this year, at 16-14-30
RF: I think Kurker’s going to be a major piece in the top 6 this year, really looking forward to seeing what he can do after some time in the USHL. Another guy who might end up there is Adam Gaudette. Also coming in from the USHL, where he posted 30 points a year ago, Gaudette seems to be the best-positioned freshman to contribute offensively. Are 10-15 goals from him realistic?
MD: 30 points in limited playing time, as he got hurt for a little bit. Gaudette I think will be this year’s top freshman. Maybe not 30-40 points like Szmatula and Roy put up their first year, but I think we can expect 12 goals from Adam. Drafted by the Canucks, and he was second in MA high schools in scoring 2 years ago, second to Ryan Donato (the 2nd rounder for Boston and attending Harvard this fall). Gaudette I have penciled into Szmatula’s old 2nd line center spot, so I think he will contribute immediately. He plays a great 2-way game, and can be used on the PK as well as the PP. He also gives some balance, being a righty. Same with Kurker. NU is so lefty heavy, including the whole top line. A righty on the PP will help balance the attack. I’m very high on Adam Gaudette this season
RF: He almost sounds like a Szmatula clone, with a little less scoring. Do you think the production of Gaudette and Kurker can approach or replace Szmatula & Snydeman’s?
MD: Absolutely. No disrespect to Torin, but he wasn’t really a true scorer. Kurker sliding into his spot should be an increase in production, and Gaudette should at least give 75% of what Szmatula gave the team last season. Assuming Aston-Reese grows more consistent, I can see that second line being the highest scoring line the Huskies have this season.
JB: The other three incoming forwards – Jason Cotton, Lincoln Griffin and Patrick Schule – will all look to not only fill the void left by Szmatula, but to also create a foundation for the inevitable loss of Kevin Roy and Mike McMurtry next season. Who do you see really stepping up this season and what do you see their ceiling’s being as they progress through their time on Huntington Ave?
MD: As for the other three: Jason Cotton was one of Jim Madigan’s first commits when he took over the job. Tall lanky kid from Texas, whose brother is a ’97 and BC hockey commit, he will probably start on the 4th line and fill the role Adam Reid had his last season. Grind on the boards, but I expect Cotton to have more of a scoring touch. He lit up the BCHL, where NU has had success recruiting in the past. Tough to project a stat line due to unclear minute projections, but he can score on the 4th line for sure.
MD: Schule is a late commit from the NJ Hitmen of the USPHL, which produced Trevor Owens last year. Paddy Schule will be seen more as a depth player this season, simply due to the numbers game, but could be the next man up if a player goes down or struggles. He has a great reputation as a leader (former assistant captain in the USPHL) and a tireless work ethic. He undoubtedly will make the players around him better.
MD: Lincoln Griffin in an interesting case. He played at Thayer High with Barry and Gaudette, and was actually accelerated to attend this year after Szmatula transferred. Griffin led MA HS players in scoring this past season, so he clearly has the ability to score goals. He is eligible for the 2016 NHL draft so scouts will have eyes on him. He currently projects as a 4th liner, simply due to age, but chemistry with Gaudette and strong performance could up his placement. Like I said about Kurker, the jump from prep to Hockey East is tough. But the coaches thought enough of Griffin to accelerate him, and expect him to be up to the challenge.
RF: So if there’s any sort of “sleeper” in this class, he’s the one to look out for?
MD: For sure. He should be in the lineup from the get go. He was on scouts’ radars last year, and this year, as his draft year, he’ll be motivated to show he deserves to hear his name called. Again, tough to forecast a stat line. But 10 points from him, his first year with the jump, I would be happy with. When looking at most younger players in Hockey East, there are far more years like Kurker and Brendan Collier had than there are Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin. It’s reasonable to keep expectations tempered with Griffin. But him breaking out and contributing should not be a shock if it happens.