The Next Wave: Ranking The Top NCAA Freshmen Classes
By Andrew Weiss (@WeissFC)
Every summer much is made about the players who ditch college commitments for the Major Junior ranks. The fact of the matter is the vast majority of players who do make a commitment to a NCAA school follow through and step foot onto their desired campus in the fall. These incoming freshmen classes to college hockey are extremely important to a college program’s immediate and future success.
While reviewing the rankings of the top 2014 incoming freshmen classes, it is important to know my mindset is in ranking these classes. I have ranked each incoming class based strictly on talent and nothing else. A class with older, lesser known players is sometimes going to be better than a class full of well-known 18-year-olds who were selected at the NHL Draft.
It is also important to keep in mind that some of these classes are coming to a program full of returning players so their impact will not entirely be felt this season. These rankings are not based on college potential impact because my crystal ball is just not that clear. No one could have predicted Danny Kristo would have spent four years at North Dakota and I’m not going to try and predict how long J.T. Compher will spend at Michigan.
Compared to last year’s rankings of the 2012 incoming classes, this year’s classes were much harder to rank. After the first tier of schools consisting of the top four, there were 14 others who received great consideration for the final six spots. Many fan bases could argue their incoming class should be higher than where they are listed and could definitely make a great case. While tough to compile, as someone who covers/scouts the majority of these players extensively before they enter the college ranks, this is my favorite column to write every year.
Hopefully these rankings do shed light into the next crop of players in college hockey. More importantly, hopefully the rankings create discussion about upcoming college hockey season because with opening weekend nearly a month away the 2013-14 season will be here before we all know it.
#1 Boston College (2012-13 Record: 22-12-4)
2012-13 USCHO.com Final Ranking: 9
Incoming Class: Ian McCoshen (D), Ryan Fitzgerald (F), Steve Santini (D), Austin Cangelosi (F), Chris Calnan (F), Thatcher Demko (G), Adam Gilmour (F), Scott Savage (D), Evan Richardson (F), Matt Gaudreau (F)
There will be many valid arguments about why a team is ranked incorrectly in this year’s recruiting class rankings, but there should be no debate about Boston College’s position. If the freshman phenom goaltending trend were to continue it would start with Thatcher Demko. Demko was outstanding for the NTDP last season and should replace Parker Milner as the starter this season. Ian McCoshen and Steven Santini are the top two defensemen entering the college ranks this fall. On top of getting the top two defensemen, it’s a true testament to the program’s pull to get a Wisconsin native (McCoshen), a California native (Scott Savage), and a British Columbia native (Evan Richardson) with this year’s class. Upfront, Boston College adds four forwards who lead their respective junior teams in scoring in Adam Gilmour (Muskegon, USHL), Austin Cangelosi (Youngstown, USHL), Chris Calnan (South Shore, EJHL), and Richardson (Powell River, BCHL).
#2 North Dakota (22-13-7)
Final Ranking: 7
Incoming Class Notables: Luke Johnson (F), Keaton Thompson (D), Gage Ausmus (D), Troy Stecher (D), Wade Murphy (F), Adam Tambellini (F), Paul LaDue (D), Matt Hrynkiw (G)
A class that was not ranked in my top five this time last year, Coach Hakstol and staff has pieced together a huge recruiting class after seven talented departures. North Dakota brings in a bit of an older class with the average freshman age being over 19 years old once the season starts. With the age comes talent having six NHL Draft picks. Defensively, the team brings in two of the top three NTDP defenseman from last season (Keaton Thompson and Gage Ausmus), the 2013 USHL Defenseman of the Year (Paul LaDue), and the 2013 co-BCHL Defenseman of the Year (Troy Stecher).
#3 Minnesota (26-9-5)
Final Ranking: 6
Incoming Class: Taylor Cammarata (F), Justin Kloos (F), Gabe Guertler (F), Vinni Lettieri (F), Hudson Fasching (F), Michael Brodzinski (D), Tommy Vannelli (D), Jake Bischoff (D)
Last year’s Gopher team was a pro hockey factory turning out what will be five AHL and one NHL rookie when the pro season leagues start. All but one of these players left with NCAA eligibility remaining and left the program in somewhat of a scramble. With that said, the Gophers needed this recruiting class that began to take form with key verbal commitments more than two years ago. While young, with all but Justin Kloos having graduated high school this past spring, the class packs major scoring punch. The four forwards who played a full season in the USHL all finished in the top 30 of USHL scorers while the defensemen all averaged more than a point per game on their respective teams last season. Taylor Cammarata has Johnny Gaudreau-like potential and is a player to keep an eye on regardless of which team college hockey fans follow.
#4 Michigan (18-19-3)
Final Ranking: 20
Incoming Class: J.T. Compher (F), Tyler Motte (F), Michael Downing (D), Evan Allen (F), Alex Kile (F), Nolan De Jong (D), Max Shuart (F), Kevin Lohan (D), Zach Nagelvoort (G), Spencer Hyman (D)
Being riddled by OHL teams the last couple of summers, the Wolverines came out of the summer unscathed with all of their commits coming to Ann Arbor. J.T. Compher has a skillset that will make him have an instant impact at the college level. Former NTDP linemate Tyler Motte was the top forward for the United States at the Under-18 World Championships and, like Compher, has a skillset that should also transfer well from junior to college. Michael Downing will not replace the voids Jon Merrill and Jacob Trouba left, but will provide offensive energy on the blue line. Downing has a lot to prove after taking a bit of a tumble at the NHL Draft and not getting invited to USA Hockey’s Summer Evaluation Camp.
#5 Quinnipiac (30-8-5)
Final Ranking: 2
Incoming Class*: Connor Clifton (D), Peter Quenneville (F), Sam Anas (F), Devon Toews (D), Brady Rouleau (G), Joe Fiala (D), Tim Clifton (F), Tommy Schutt (F)
Losing 11 seniors from their national runner-up team hurts, but Quinnipiac’s outstanding incoming class will definitely help. Peter Quenneville proved he could dominate at any junior level last year leading Dubuque to the USHL’s Clark Cup Championship and getting drafted by Columbus two months ago. Connor Clifton also heard his name called getting selected in the 5th round by Phoenix. I question how effective Clifton can be in the defensive zone though this question will be answered throughout the season with four departing seniors. He will also get help from co-BCHL Defensive Player of the Year Devon Toews. It is uncertain whether or not little-known Quinnipiac can continue their success, but an outstanding recruiting class definitely helps.
#6 Boston University (21-16-2)
Final Ranking: 17
Incoming Class*: Robbie Baillargeon (F), Brendan Collier (F), Kevin Duane (F), Doyle Somerby (D), Jack Fasco (D), Dalton MacAfee (D), TJ Ryan (D), Tommy Kelley (F), Nick Roberto (F)
While the Terriers return the majority of their top players, the program did lose a lot of depth having lost eight skaters from last season. This incoming class, which is full of depth, will definitely help the program in their first year without head coach Jack Parker since 1972. Robbie Baillargeon flew under the radar last season after getting drafted by Ottawa in 2012, but is ready for a breakout freshman year. Converted defenseman Doyle Somerby looked almost fully comfortable playing defense in the USHL last season and will provide depth for a defensive corps returning just four from last year. Brendan Collier is the third player in this class who was selected by a NHL team at the 2012 Draft and averaged a point per game in the EJHL last year.
#7 Michigan State (14-25-3)
Final Ranking: NR
Incoming Class: Mackenzie MacEachern (F), Thomas Ebbing (F), J.T. Stenglein (F), Villian Haag (F), Joe Cox (F), Chris Knudson (D)
Tom Anastos’ staff has worked hard to build Michigan State’s hockey program up with aggressive recruiting for 2013 and beyond and the work it has paid off. MacEachern is a player who had a bit of a disappointing year in Chicago (USHL) after being selected by St. Louis in the 3rd round two summers ago, but should bounce back returning to his home state. MacEachern’s teammate for the last three seasons, Thomas Ebbing, should also be an impact player for the Spartans with a dynamic skillset. Stenglein will be a tough college player to play against with his physical, chippy play and should excel in a bottom six role right away. Michigan State is a program on the rise and this recruiting class is the first sign of the rise.
#8 Minnesota-Duluth (14-19-5)
Final Ranking: NR
Incoming Class: Dom Toninato (F), Willie Raskob (D), Alex Iafallo (F), Dan Molenaar (D), Carson Soucy (D), Kyle Osterberg (F), Sammy Spurrell (F)
After appearing on last year’s list 11th overall, Minnesota-Duluth continues to recruit well with a solid crop of incoming freshmen. With great speed and a polished offensive game, Bulldogs fans should have high expectations for the Duluth-native Dom Toninato. Frequent linemate of Toninato’s in Fargo (USHL), Alex Iafallo should provide some great years down the road for UMD. Willie Raskob is a lesser known defenseman who played last season as the top defenseman on Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep team. Kyle Osterberg is an interesting player in that he’s always been able to make an impact on whatever team he plays on and add offensive punch. The diminutive forward could be in for a breakout year if put in the correct spot.
#9 Western Michigan (19-11-8)
Final Ranking: 16
Incoming Class: Mike McKee (D), Sheldon Dries (F), Chris Dienes (D), Kyle Novak (F), Aaron Hadley (F), Taylor Fleming (D), Mike Rebry (F), Thomas Nitsche (D)
Even without Michael McCarron coming to Kalamazoo, Andy Murray and staff still compiled a top recruiting class. Six-foot-five, 250 pound Mike McKee is an excellent skater and could very well turn into a top defenseman in the NCHC as soon as next season. Fellow defensemen Chris Dienes and Taylor Fleming have lots of USHL experience, but have the tough task of filling the big shoes of departing defensemen Danny DeKeyser, Garrett Haar, and Luke Witkowski. The Broncos continues the pipeline from Green Bay (USHL) to Western Michigan adding Sheldon Dries and Kyle Novak. Neither of the two is the biggest, but both will provide scoring depth for a team that lost five regular playing forwards this summer.
#10 Colorado College (18-19-5)
Final Ranking: NR
Incoming Class: Jaccob Slavin (D), Gustav Olofsson (D), Sam Rothstein (F), Zach Aman (F), Alex Roos (F), Christian Heil (F), Luc Gerdes (F), Matt Hansen (F), Tyler Marble (G)
Jaccob Slavin and Gustav Olofsson were two very under rated defensemen in the USHL last season despite being the go-to guys on their team’s respective blue line. With two regulars lost on the Tigers blue line the pair should slide in nicely to the lineup from the start. The collection of forwards being brought in is very impressive with Sam Rothstein, Christian Heil, and Zach Aman all being top six forwards last year in the USHL. Goaltender Tyler Marble also had the best save percentage in the NAHL (Tier II) last season at .938%.
2013 Classes Receiving Consideration
Final Ranking: NR
Incoming Class: Jake Guentzel (F), Austin Ortega (F), Ian Brady (D), Jono Davis (F), Justin Parizek (F), Reed Peters (G), Kirk Thompson (G)
Nebraska-Omaha is one of just a handful of schools to be featured in last year’s rankings and in both of the rankings in this column and is a testament to coach Dean Blais’ work in a non-traditional hockey power market. Jake Guentzel was the best player in the USHL for much of the second half of the season and should create a good duo with other small, speedy incoming forward Austin Ortega. Ortega also brings a lot of offense being nearly a one point per game player in the USHL last year. While I am not sure if Reed Peters or Kirk Thompson will be the answer, the team returns just three starts in goal from last season which could spell a major problem in the offensive driven NCHC.
Final Ranking: NR
Incoming Class: Zach Aston-Reese (F), Tanner Pond (F), John Stevens (F), Mike Szmatula (F), Matt Benning (D), Nathan Ferriero (F), Gus Harms (D), Dalen Hedges (F), Mike Jamieson (F), Will Messa (F), Jake Schechter (D)
Last year at this time, Coach Madigan’s 2013 class was ranked fourth highest in my look to the future. While I still think this class is going to continue to help turn around a program that fell apart after the 2010-11 season, there are still question marks. Pushing back Ross Olsson and Garrett Cockerill to the 2014 recruiting class was ultimately a good move, but both did not develop how many had expected last season. The depth in this class after losing ten players from last year does help though.
Final Ranking: NR
Incoming Class: Zach Glienke (F), Eric Schurhamer (D), Cam Brown (F), Dan Renouf (D), Brian Morgan (F), Josh Henke (F), Blaine Byron (F)
Former head coach Tim Whitehead left the program with a great parting gift with this recruiting class. Zach Glienke was one of the best seniors in Minnesota High School hockey last season and brings tremendous size and great offensive skills to campus. Many were expecting big things from Eric Schurhamer after watching him dominate at times for St. Thomas (Minn.) Academy last season, but injuries derailed his USHL season with Waterloo and Lincoln. Schurhamer should be ready to go this fall.
Final Ranking: 14
Incoming Class: Will Butcher (D), Trevor Moore (F), Evan Cowley (G), Evan Janssen (F), Matt VanVorrhis (D), Emil Romig (F), Nick Neville (D), Brad Hawkinson (F), Wade Bennett (D), Greg Ogard (G)
While new head coach Jim Montgomery has only been on the job for three months, he still had a lot of say in this good incoming class. Montgomery was able to gain a commitment from elite goaltender Evan Cowley and Evan Janssen whom he coached last season. Will Butcher had a disappointing draft year, but still provides a good all-around game for the Pioneers. For many programs a coaching change would signal a rebuild with recruiting classes, but with Coach Montgomery at the helm one will struggle to see a rebuild in Denver
Notre Dame (25-13-3)
Final Ranking: 8
Incoming Class*: Vince Hinostroza (F), Justin Wade (D), Ali Thomas (F), Chad Katunar (G), Ben Ostile (D), Robin Hoglund (F)
The 2014 class is a bit of a down year for the Fighting Irish. Vince Hinostroza made great strides from his draft year to this past year and is ready to make an impact in college. The five-foot-nine Hinostroza has struggled with injures the last two season and is something to keep an eye on. From everything I saw, Justin Wade was ready to make the jump to college last season and will be a regular in the Irish lineup this season.
*Denote programs that have yet to release an official roster for the 2013-14 season
All Early Look at 2014
Much still needs to solidify in the next year with the 2014 recruiting classes, but it is never too early to peer into the future of college hockey. Many factors including new commitments, de-commitments, and overall play will see a lot of shift in these rankings, but below are my thoughts on the top 10 2014 incoming classes as they stand right now.
#1 North Dakota
Current Class: Chris Wilkie (F), Ryan Mantha (D), Austin Poganski (F), Cam Johnson (G), Nick Schmaltz (F), Ryan Gropp (F), Tucker Poolman (D), Luke Voltin (F), Jack Rowe (F)
This class will be right up there talent wise with Boston College’s this season, but with only three senior skaters and no obvious early departures from the current team it will be interesting to see how this class looks at this time next year.
#2 Notre Dame
Current Class: Sonny Milano (F), Nathan Billitier (D), Anders Bjork (F), Connor Hurley (F), Joe Wegwerth (F), Cal Petersen (G)
Aside from BU commit Jack Eichel, Connor Hurley is arguably the most talented, young player not playing college hockey this season. Hurley joins Muskegon (USHL) to finish high school. Sonny Milano has high end skill that will make an immediate impact at the college level. Fellow NTDP teammates Joe Wegwerth, Nathan Billitier, and Anders Bjork are all players who can easily fill meaningful holes their freshman year.
Current Class: Avery Peterson (F), Jake Montgomery (F), Jake Randolph (F), Luc Snuggerud (D), Steven Spinner (F), Tyler Vesel
Much like Michigan State’s class below, there are not too many yet-popular names slated to come to Omaha in the fall of 2014. The all-Minnesota native class brings a lot of talent to the rink each time they play. A will-be 20-year-old Jake Montgomery could be one of the top freshmen in NCHC if not in all of college hockey.
#4 Boston University
Current Class: Jack Eichel (F), J.J. Piccinich (F), Shane Starrett (G)
Jack Eichel appears BU bound and will play a draft year that will rival the attention Erik Johnson received back in 2006-07. J.J. Piccinich had a great year for Youngstown (USHL) as a 16-year-old rookie and I would expect a continued improvement this year.
#5 Michigan State
Current Class: Marcel Godbout (F), Josh Jacobs (D), Cody Milan (F), Carson Gatt (D), Ed Minney (G)
The Spartans have a young class as all five are slated to enter as 18-year-old freshman, but this is very skilled class nonetheless. Marcel Godbout and Josh Jacobs are under the radar right now though will receive a lot of draft attention this year. It would not be out of the question to see four of these players selected in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Current Class: Blake Heinrich (D), Karson Kuhlman (F), Neal Pionk (D), Jared Thomas (F), Adam Johnson (F)
Minnesota-Duluth continues to piece together very talented recruiting classes and 2014 looking to be no exception. Blake Heinrich, a 5th round pick of Washington, is one of the preseason front runners for USHL Defensemen of the Year—an award UMD sophomore Andy Welinski won two seasons ago. This class could definitely be a lot higher than sixth next year at this time.
#7 Boston College
Current Class: Zach Sanford (F), Alex Tuch (F), Joey Dudek (F), Tanner MacMaster (F)
Boston College continues the reload process with four high end players already committed for 2014. Tanner MacMaster is the highest regarded draft eligible player in the Canadian Junior A ranks while Zach Sanford, a Washington second round pick, will continue to develop in the USHL playing for Waterloo this season. Alex Tuch is the top power forward at the National Team Development Program this season.
Current Class: Jack Glover (D), Ryan Collins (D), Jack Ramsey (F), Louie Nanne (F)
2014 is a weak class for Minnesota compared to other recruiting classes, but with how young the Gophers will be this season it does not need to be. Jack Glover is a towering defenseman who will be able to step in and play a top four role if needed for the Gophers as a freshman. When Jake Ramsey gets stronger he could be a force as a power forward for the Gophers down the road.
Current Class: Victor Bjorkung (D), Liam Pecararo (F), B.J. Salerno (F), Nolan Vesey (F), Sean Romeo (G)
The workhorse Sean Romeo was one of the best goaltenders in the USHL last season and will have over 120 USHL starts heading into Maine if healthy this season. Undersized Waterloo (USHL) teammates Liam Pecararo and B.J. Salerno both will provide depth to a Black Bear program turning the corner.
#10 Colorado College
Current Class: Teemu Kivihalme (D), Garrett Cecere (D), Dan Labosky (F), Fredrik Olofsson (F)
A young class with three 1995-birth years and the 1996-born Fredrik Olofsson, the Tigers brings a lot offense to campus next fall. All four will play in the USHL this year and continue to round out their games. Teemu Kivihalme is a very dynamic defenseman and will be fun to watch when he enters the college game.