Projecting lines for any hockey team in the offseason is a fool's errand. Little things like how players click at practice or who becomes comfortable shifting to the off wing change all the time. Additionally, Jerry York seems to always experiment with and tweak the lines throughout the first half of the season, and often seems to hold off on seemingly obvious big moves until later in the year. That said, with BC's first exhibition game coming up on Saturday night, let's take a look at how the Eagles might attack the University of New Brunswick.
The Boston College Hockey Blog has attended a few of BC's practices during training camp and has noted these line combinations this week:
Alex Tuch / Zach Sanford / Jeremy Bracco
Miles Wood / Austin Cangelosi / Chris Calnan
Ryan Fitzgerald / Colin White / Adam Gilmour
Matthew Gaudreau / Chris Brown / Brendan Silk
Two weeks back during first practice, BC Hockey Blog reported that the lines looked a little different, though the top nine forwards were fairly similar.
Wood / Sanford / Calnan
Fitzgerald / Brown / Gilmour
Bracco / Cangelosi / Tuch
Gaudreau / White / Silk or JD Dudek
A few observations/thoughts based on looking at these line charts:
-Zach Sanford has moved to center this year after playing right wing for most of last season. In the long run, Sanford projects as a center at the pro level. To me, Sanford is your #1 center right now and has the potential to be a top notch all-around player. This is reflected in both sets of projected lines.
-Adam Gilmour has essentially swapped positions with Sanford and is playing right wing after centering the first line last season. However, we apparently haven't seen last year's top line of Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford and Adam Gilmour together, as we did down the stretch last season. As it was one of the few things from last year that worked pretty well, I wouldn't be surprised to see that line reunited at some point, even if the coaches try for something different to start with this year.
-I think it's reasonably clear that your top nine forwards are going to be, in some combination, Tuch, Sanford, Gilmour, Austin Cangelosi, Chris Calnan, Miles Wood, Jeremy Bracco, Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald. It's also reasonably clear that of the 15 forwards on the roster, the bottom two right now on the outside looking in for regular time are Chris Shero and Peter McMullen.
-JD Dudek and Brendan Silk seem to be battling for the last spot on the fourth line, though I'm sure no assurances have been given to Matt Gaudreau or Chris Brown (or for that matter, Colin White, who centered the fourth line in the first practice) unless they earn their time.
-When it comes to the projected top nine, it's more just a question of how you want to fit the puzzle pieces together. Sanford, White and Cangelosi seem likely to be your top three centers, through Gilmour can also play center and Brown could make a case for a top-nine role. Matt Gaudreau has played center in the past, but he seems likely to be on the fourth line this year in some capacity barring an emergency.
-While Jerry York certainly won't hesitate to move guys to their off wing if he feels it would be helpful or necessary, Jeremy Bracco, Adam Gilmour, and Chris Calnan are all natural right wingers. Miles Wood is a natural left winger. Ryan Fitzgerald and Alex Tuch have moved around a bit positionally at BC but given the way the rest of the depth chart looks, you expect them to be left wingers.
-Colin White and Jeremy Bracco have familiarity with one another from being linemates at the US Under 18 team, so don't be surprised to see Jerry York pair them up at some point. The same goes for Sanford and Tuch.
-Throughout the past two seasons, Austin Cangelosi's role and position have been shifted several times in an attempt to try to get the most out of him. I expect he will be given an opportunity at center to play with at least one highly explosive winger.
So, bottom line, what might we expect in the exhibition, as well as in the season opener?
I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll see Cangelosi and Bracco together, at least in the exhibition, to see if Bracco's speed and shiftiness can help bring Cangelosi back to the level he showed early in his freshman year when he got a lot of playing time along Johnny Gaudreau (not to compare Bracco and Gaudreau in terms of expected production, obviously, but in terms of style).
I also think JD Dudek has a good chance of winning the positional battle for fourth line right wing, especially given that York spoke of Dudek as having "high end skill" in the BCEagles.com season preview. However, he and Silk will probably both get their chances (and they'll certainly both play on Saturday, as will everyone, most likely).
Taking a stab in the dark, I'm going to guess:
Tuch, Sanford, Calnan
Wood, Cangelosi, Bracco
Fitzgerald, White, Gilmour
Gaudreau, Brown, Dudek
...Perhaps swapping Gilmour and Bracco to get the two junior teammates together (White/Bracco) on the same line.
The gist here is that Jerry York has a lot of options and weaponry at his disposal, unlike last season when it seemed like everything was being scraped and bandaged together. No matter how York rolls out the lines, the top three should all be able to score, and the fourth line should be able to compete and drive some possession and not be completely housed as they often have been the past two years.
I'm not ready to say the preseason #1 label is an accurate reflection of my own expectations until I see the freshman forwards perform at the collegiate level, but it's clear this crop of forwards has a lot of potential.