This post was written by recent BC grad and avid hockey fan Joe Gravellese, who took a post idea I had and proceeded to knock it out of the park.
While the calendar is inching toward August and hockey is just around the corner, like most BC fans, I'm still basking in the glow of last year's dominating national championship run rather than actively looking toward next season. This week, Coach York and his staff are in Bermuda as a reward for their title-winning season. When they return, however, it will be time to get to work, with practice just weeks away and the roster and schedule shaping up for 2010-11.
Their work got a little harder this week with news that incoming freshman Cody Ferriero, a strong winger who was expected to contribute immediately, decided to decommit from BC just weeks before the start of school. BC now has one fewer weapon with which to replace their departed seniors. The Eagles lose three forwards (Ben Smith, Matt Lombardi and Matt Price) and a defensemen (Carl Sneep) to graduation. Smith was the top scorer of the bunch, registering 16-21-37, while Sneep, Price, and Lombardi registered 28, 16 and 14 points, respectively. That is just 23 percent of the Eagles scoring that we lose from last year's title team.
Replacing Smith, Lombardi, Price and Sneep will be incoming freshmen Bill Arnold, Kevin Hayes and Patrick Brown at forward, Isaac MacLeod at defense and goaltender Brian Billett.
With the season just over two months from today, here are my projections on the lines we may see on October 9 when BC travels to Northeastern to open up the regular season at Matthews Arena.
FIRST LINE: Chris Kreider (So.)-Brian Gibbons (Sr.)-Joe Whitney (Sr.)
I know, I know... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The line of Atkinson-Gibbons-Whitney led the way for BC last year, scoring 148 of BC's 456 points- just under 33 percent of BC's total scoring. However, in all sports, staleness is the enemy, and York may well look to shake up his first line by adding a new dimension in Chris Kreider. With BC losing two centers to graduation and bringing in only one, I project that Cam Atkinson will slide into a role as a center, where he played much of his freshman year.
Kreider has added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and his game will be further improved by his participation in New York Rangers development camp. His play in the second half of the year was phenomenal, and he will likely be playing with an eye on earning a max rookie contract with the Rangers next summer. With all due respect to regular BC Interruption blogger Brian's pick of Atkinson for Hobey, I think Kreider is the most talented player in college hockey and will be BC's #1 weapon this season.
The biggest strength of last year's top line was its ability to kill with speed, and this combination would not lose that element, as Kreider is one of the fastest skaters in the game. But in addition to blazing speed, this line would add Kreider's size, strength, and skill in front of the net. With Gibbons' hard hitting and feisty play, this line would not lack for toughness, either, and would be a tough nut for any Hockey East defense to crack
SECOND LINE: Steven Whitney (So.)-Cam Atkinson (Jr.)-Jimmy Hayes (Jr.)
Atkinson led the way for BC with 53 points last season and will likely move back to center this year; I project that York will use him on the second line the way Kreider emerged as a top threat on the second line last year. Atkinson's speed paired with Hayes' strength would be a great combination, as it was late in the 2009 season when the two clicked during BC's upset playoff series sweep of UNH at the Whittemore Center.
Steve Whitney came into his freshman year with some hailing him as being even more talented than his older brother Joe; while his production (7-21--28) was not staggering, he contributed well on a line with Paul Carey and Pat Mullane, and his penchant for savvy setup plays would serve him well on a line with two of BC's best goal scoring threats.
Jimmy Hayes is another guy who, like Kreider, will likely be playing with an eye toward the pros next season; while BC would certainly like to keep him for all four years, his size and game are well-suited for a jump to the pros and the Chicago Blackhawks are very excited about his pro potential. While this is unfortunate from a BC perspective, his incentive to earn a bigger contract and NHL playing time could lead to him putting up monster numbers this year.
THIRD LINE: Kevin Hayes (Fr.)-Pat Mullane (So.)-Barry Almeida (Jr.)
The Chicago Blackhawks took Kevin Hayes in the first round of the NHL Draft, and the Dorchester native and younger brother of Jimmy should step in and be an important player for the Eagles right away. A big (6'2'', 201 lb) forward with good hands and a strong shot, Hayes would be a great complement to the speed of Pat Mullane and Barry Almeida.
Mullane's skill as a center is highly underrated; his hockey IQ and ability to find space to pass to is very impressive.
FOURTH LINE: Paul Carey (Jr.)-Bill Arnold (Fr.)-Patrick Brown (Fr.)
I struggled with dropping Paul Carey to my projected fourth line as he is a very impressive skater and puck handler, who figures to improve on his (9-12---21) totals next season. I could easily see him slotted into Steve Whitney's place on the second line at some point. However, I tried to keep the three freshmen from all being on the same line, something York is unlikely to do.
Bill Arnold projects as a gritty center, a perfect slot-in for the loss of role players like Matt Price and Matt Lombardi to graduation. Arnold is a graduate of the US National Development Program, where he scored 23 points in 28 games, but impressed more with his work ethic and solid two-way play. Patrick Brown is another 6-footer in a freshman class that, unlike most BC brings in, has lots of size. He may struggle with the jump straight from high school hockey in Michigan to the college level, but York's faith in Brown's ability to jump in this year without any seasoning in junior hockey speaks volumes.
Brian Dumoulin (So.)-Philip Samuelsson (So.)
Tommy Cross (Jr.)-Edwin Shea (Jr.)
Patrick Wey (So.)-Isaac MacLeod (Fr.)
Patch Alber (So.)
BC brings back six defensemen who played regularly last year, with Patch Alber filling in for the oft-injured Tommy Cross. If Cross stays healthy, he will be a very strong puck-mover for BC; he showed flashes of excellence before going out with yet another injury in February. Unfortunately, he has had a string of injuries over the last three years, so BC can't count on him definitely being available all year- which is why it's a good thing the Eagles are bringing in 6'5'' behemoth Isaac MacLeod.
MacLeod comes in after a year where he put up 23 assists in 56 games with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. He is described by scouts as more of a 'project' player, whose size and raw ability will hopefully be crafted into an excellent pro level prospect under the tutelage of York and the BC staff. He was drafted in the 5th round by the San Jose Sharks, who were impressed by his speed and touch considering his size.
I have Alber listed as the odd man out, which isn't really fair considering how well Alber played in a pinch (including scoring a goal in the third period rout of Miami in the national semifinal). He will probably get plenty of playing time and will certainly be given a chance to earn a regular spot.
John Muse (Sr.)
Parker Milner (So.)
Brian Billett (Fr.)
It's never a problem to have too many good defensemen, just as it's never a problem to have too many good goalies, which is a "problem" BC will have as they look to find time for John Muse, Parker Milner, and Brian Billett.
If it were up to me, Billett would redshirt, but that's usually not York's MO. When the chips are on the table, I expect Muse to be the guy - as he should be. Nobody should be doubting his ability anymore after taking the reins and driving his team to another national title.