Joseph Gravellese: It's always exciting when BC hockey is about to hit the ice for the first time in a game situation. But this week's run-up to the BC vs. St. Francis exhibition on Sunday night is more exciting than usual if you're a follower of this team.
There haven't been many seasons in recent memory that have started with this many unknowns, right on down to who will be actually in the lineup when games start for real on October 10.
So the battles for position, and the first look at BC's ludicrously loaded freshman class, make Sunday night's tilt an intriguing one.
If BC is going to contend for major hardware this year, they are going to need freshman contributions all over the ice. On paper, they have the manpower to do it, with NHL prospects coming in at forward, defense, and between the pipes. But there's a lot of mystery about where to set the bar and what to expect this year.
Grant Salzano: Absolutely. And it makes you a little nervous, because there is always that chance that we fall flat on our face relying on freshmen so much.
But on the other hand, there is a lot of reason for excitement, because the ceiling is very, very high.
JG: I'd like to talk about expectations for this year, and I'd like to start by dragging out a famous Donald Rumsfeld quote (This week has, I guess, opened the floodgates of D.C. talk spilling on to BC Interruption).
As Ol' Rummy once said, there are known knowns -- things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns -- things we know that we don't know.
And then there are unknown unknowns -- things we don't know that we don't know.
I'd like to take a look at all of them.
There aren't very many known knowns this season. One of them, obviously, is Johnny Gaudreau. I would put Billy Arnold in that category as well, along with Mike Matheson. We know those guys are going to produce at a high level.
The other "known knowns" are, to me, guys you know are going to put in a solid shift this year and help form the backbone for success. I put Patrick Brown and Quinn Smith in that category; to me, their ice time is likely as close to guaranteed as possible. I will throw Isaac MacLeod into that category, too, on defense.
The "unknown unknowns," of course, include things like players taking the famous Jerry York Jump (maybe Brown is a candidate for that?), getting injured, or whatever. But I think, for the most part, the players outlined above... you know what you're going to get.
In that group, you've got a couple nationally elite players, and enough good players to make for a team that should qualify for one of the stupid first-round byes in the Hockey East tournament. (There are 5 of them, right?)
GS: Something like that. I keep forgetting the tournament is dumb now.
I would be surprised if we weren't somewhere toward the top though. It will be awfully hard for that many big-time recruits to fail.
To me the biggest "known unknown" is the D. I am pretty confident we'll replace the scoring we lost. But outside of a select few on the blue line last year it was really an adventure. Those are the players that we are going to need to step up more than anyone.
JG: Well, that's a good start. Let's get into those "known unknowns."
I would call Kevin Hayes a known unknown, insofar as we've never quite seen him produce fully at the level we know he's capable of.
Destry Straight is an example of someone who, again, clearly has more talent than we've seen in terms of production. I've been waiting repeatedly for him to break out. I predicted it halfway through his freshman year, I predicted it before his sophomore year, I kept hoping for it all year, but it hasn't happened. You can't really bank on him making a leap this year. But he's someone to keep an eye on.
GS: I predicted a Steve Whitney breakout for like three years myself and it finally happened last year. Perhaps you'll finally be rewarded on Straight.
JG: On the defensive side, Teddy Doherty, Colin Sullivan, and Travis Jeke were all guys who, at some point during the year, looked like solid players for BC. But they all had major struggles. That's part of being a freshman, obviously. But what's unknown is who among them is poised to take a big leap this year.
Doherty seems like the most likely to make a jump as he really looked good in the first half of last year.
GS: They had flashes, but the short version of this is really that at least a couple of them are going to need to make a decent sophomore jump.
JG: Now, I'm going to tweak the original definition of "unknown unknowns" a bit. Technically, this would refer to things that come up throughout the season that we could have never anticipated (injuries, suspensions, and what-have-you). But I'm going to, for purposes of this discussion, throw the freshmen, including the goaltending equation, into the category of unknown unknowns.
We don't know where these guys are going to line up on Sunday, or who will emerge from the pack of freshmen. We don't even really know for sure what the situation between the pipes is going to be.
I have to guess Thatcher Demko is given the chance to seize the starting job... but that's not confirmed right now. So, there's a lot of mystery.
GS: I have to imagine he will at least be given a shot. I am really excited, if only because he has experience -- and relative success -- against NCAA opponents already.
At the very least, he's saying all the right things about working hard and having to earn it. That's nice to see.
JG: It is good to hear him saying the right things. I have to imagine that if anyone ever feels like anything is going to be handed to them in this program, the first few practices probably take care of that.
Anyway, let's start getting real. Let's set some expectations for these guys, then set expectations for the team.
Let's start with the ones we know a little better. Kevin Hayes. Destry Straight. Ted Doherty. And to make the Section OO girls happy, Cam Spiro.
Kevin Hayes is tough because you want to point to him as the next big senior explosion. And I think it will happen. A bit unfair to put that pressure on him though, especially after the injury. I do think he'll have a career best season.
Straight, I'm not as optimistic as you. I think he'll be fine but I'm not expecting anything surprisingly good.
Doherty, I am expecting some growth out of him. I think he will quietly (which is great for a defenseman) have a really good year. You won't notice him. That's high praise.
And Spiro will play usually.
JG: Get off the fence, Salzano.
Kevin Hayes is going to put up about 40 points.and be a big part of the power play.
I actually am no longer on the "just wait, Straight is going to score 15-20 goals eventually" bandwagon. I think he might crack 10, though.
Doherty will never really be the kind of defenseman you don't notice at all because he has such advanced offensive skills. He had 17 assists last year and I think he'll be in the same neighborhood this year, but I do think he'll clean up some of last year's defensive lapses and maintain a level of performance similar to how he came out of the gate.
Spiro will be 2nd on the team in CSpG (Caused Squeals per Game), behind Gaudreau, natch.
GS: That stat needs to be park-adjusted. All BU players ever involved in a 2-on-3 rank in the top 20 in Hockey East in CSpG.
JG: I meant 2nd on BC.
GS: He's definitely going to have to work to catch Gaudreau.
JG: And... let's hear your expectations for Demko.
I'm going to say:...around 30 starts... a GAA in the 2.3 range... and emergence as a likely four year starter.
GS: 3 year starter because he leaves for the pros early, and is Hockey East 2nd team this year.
I have extremely high expectations for him.
JG: And now let's get to the bottom line. Set your baseline expectation for this team.
GS: The bad part about having unanswered questions is obviously that if the replacements don't meet your expectations, you can have a really unexpectedly disappointing year.
But on the plus side, you don't know if you have a couple superstars coming in. For all we know we might have three new Gaudreaus on the team this year. That's pretty exciting, just that hope and the possibilities that are out there.
Would I rather be a team like UNH, who had a pretty strong team last year, but you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get?
Or would I rather be this BC team, with the unanswered questions but a potential talent level that makes the sky the limit this year?
I think it's obvious you would rather be BC. It's more fun that way.
As for my "expectations" ... I'm going to go out on a limb that at least one of these freshmen are going to be a legitimate superstar, future Hobey winner even. And possibly more than one of them. Demko is going to be the next Cory Schneider.
There are a lot of pieces to fit together here, but I think there is just too much talent for us to have any reasonable chance to fall flat on our face.
I am expecting Frozen Four, with the talent to win it all.
JG: I am setting an expectation of top 3 in Hockey East, a tournament berth with a 2-3 seed, and patented improvement down the stretch.
To shift gears briefly (and I know this is even more tl;dr than usual): the women's team opens on Sunday at 5 against Maine. My very quick prediction for that one: Pain(e).
GS: That game is going to be really, really ugly. Bold prediction: The BC women will outscore Army this weekend.
It's hockey season, folks. Go crazy!