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Boston College Hockey: Optimism About The Offense

Sonny Milano is not walking through that door, friends. Johnny Gaudreau is not walking through that door. Kevin Hayes is not walking through that door. But here are some of the guys who are.

Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

There has been plenty of hand-wringing in the days following Sonny Milano's departure to the OHL about what BC's offense is going to look like this season. For some, this news has dramatically altered their outlook on the season, for fear that BC just won't be able to score enough goals to contend.

Well, I'm here to speak up on behalf of the pollyannas. BC's offense is going to be pretty good this year, I think. And I hope to explain why I feel that way.

Let's start with the obvious: the offense is going to be nowhere near as good as it was last year. We might never again see an offense that prolific or dominant. The Eagles averaged 4.1 goals per game - 0.4/gm better than the second best offense, Union. They averaged winning by 1.82 goals per game. They spent most of the season averaging a 2+ goal victory, prior to games tightening up down the stretch.

To try to put these numbers in perspective, the leading offense in the nation in 2012-2013 was Minnesota with 3.48 goals per game. (BC was second at 3.37). Minnesota also led the nation the year before, with 3.6 goals per game. You have to go back to Yale in 2010-11 to find a team that averaged over 4 goals per game, and that was in a conference that was not nearly as strong top-to-bottom as the one BC salted and burned last season.

Last year's BC team was a truly extraordinary one. We have been spoiled by four national championships in the 21st century, so anything less than winning it all is seen as a disappointment. But that was a great team. The fact that Union was even better is a testament to what a great squad they built.

When assessing the offense for this upcoming season, however, it's important to judge BC compared to everyone else rather than making the unrealistic comparison to last year's Eagles. Last year's team was so much better than everyone else over the course of the Hockey East regular season -- they wrapped up the regular season title before freaking Valentines Day -- that they could have been significantly less prolific and still probably won around the same number of games, such was the nature of their domination last season.

Let's take a look at what we might expect from the roster *this year*, and see how the numbers stack up against the competition.

To start with, BC will be rolling six forwards with legitimate NHL potential. It's not likely that very many teams in the nation would not swap their six best forwards for this group going into the season:

Ryan Fitzgerald
Austin Cangelosi
Alex Tuch
Zach Sanford
Chris Calnan
Adam Gilmour

So, what do we expect from these guys?

Fitzgerald and Cangelosi both showed flashes of being high-level college players as freshmen. They were certainly helped by getting some special teams time with the G-A-H brigade, but they will also have the benefit this year of more ice time and more power play opportunities. Last year, Fitzgerald scored 13 goals and Cangelosi scored 10. I don't think it's at all unreasonable to expect that the two of them will score a combined, say, 34 goals. Anyone think that's an unreasonable guess? That might be a low estimate if they really find their stride . Frankly, I see Fitzgerald becoming a 20 goal scorer this year, but let's keep the estimate a little lower than that.

The other returnees in this group are Calnan and Gilmour. I, personally, was really impressed by both of them all season long. There's just something about them both - they have poise. They're both NHL draft picks for a reason. In limited roles, Gilmour put up a solid 7-13--20 line, while Calnan had a total of 13 points. I expect them both to improve their production this year. I think it's pretty reasonable to guess around 13 goals for Calnan and 9 for Gilmour. 22 combined.

The unknowns in the group are Tuch and Sanford. You obviously never know what you're going to get with a freshman. But there's reason to expect both to be pretty good right away. Tuch comes in with possibly the best pedigree of any BC forward since Chris Kreider. Tuch was the #18 overall pick of the Minnesota Wild this year. He's a big, powerful forward (6'3''), and put up 29-35--64 in 61 games for the USNTDP last year. Kreider scored 15 goals his freshman year at BC. Tuch is not Kreider, so I don't want to make that unfair comparison. But... based on his pedigree, him scoring, say, 12 goals is a decent estimate. And would you really be shocked if he did better than that?

Zach Sanford is a prospect who really intrigues me. He was the second round pick last year of the Washington Capitals (#61 overall), who bundled together three draft picks to trade for the spot to grab Sanford. He's another big guy (6'3'') who reportedly has explosive speed and playmaking ability, though his game is considered raw and scouts thought he needed to bulk up and add muscle last year during his draft year. This is perhaps why he played a full year in the USHL after his draft year, putting up 17-18--35 for Waterloo. Intriguingly, he will arrive at BC as a 19 year old, and will turn 20 during the season. Wherever you stand on the issue of older players in NCAA hockey, two things are certainly true: 1) it's not something  BC takes advantage of very often, and; 2) it's clear what a huge benefit it can be to have an extra year of strength and maturity to bring to the table.

Sanford is my sleeper pick to really emerge this year and be a force for BC. I also think he'll be a double digit goal scorer right away, and putting him at around 12 seems fair to me.

So among these first six forwards I predict (and I think these are all fair estimates that aren't reaches at all, though certainly feel free to let me know if you think I'm wrong) about 80 goals.

Then, it's time to figure out what to expect from "the rest." It's no secret that BC's offense was top-heavy last year. 112 out of 160 goals came from Gaudreau, Arnold, Hayes, Cangelosi, Fitzgerald and Pat Brown, BC's six leading scorers last year. That means everyone else -- all the blue liners, and all the lower-tier forwards - added up to 48 goals.

Will that number increase this year? Well, you have to account for removing Calnan and Gilmour from the "and the rest" list. However, you also need to add in Noah Hanifin, one of the most highly touted prospects in the country, coming in on the blue line with the potential to put up big numbers. You also have another year of development and improvement out of McCoshen and Matheson to look forward to - two guys who have demonstrated outstanding offensive ability. Also, it seems like clockwork most years that someone emerges from the lower lines, makes a big leap during the offseason, and becomes a solid contributor. Think back to Quinn Smith scoring 8 goals in 2012-2013. Maybe Quinn can get back to that level himself? Maybe Matt Gaudreau makes a name for himself?

I don't think it's unreasonable to think that, between there being less first-line ice time, the addition of Hanifin, and development of players that are already here, the group of players beyond the six top forwards can combine for at least 48 goals again, even without Calnan and Gilmour. And I wouldn't be surprised to see that figure go up.

1,238 words later, where does that leave us? With a team that can be pretty reasonably expected to score around 128 goals. To put that in proper context, 128 goals last season would have been 3.28 goals per game - good for 9th in the nation in goal scoring (and one of those teams in the top 8 was Bentley, which, lol New Guy). Get even more conservative and say 123 goals, and you're still looking at an offense that puts up more goals per game than the 2nd highest-scoring Hockey East team did last year (Northeastern, 3.16 g/gm).

Where the team should make the biggest improvement this year is defensively. Everyone is expecting/hoping that Thatcher Demko steps up and is one of the elite goalies in NCAA hockey this season. And the blue line will be even stronger with Hanifin in and another year of development for everyone else. Last year, defensively, BC allowed 2.28 goals per game (8th in the nation). The key to being a top contending team next year will be improving those numbers and becoming a top 5 team defensively. If BC can do that, they'll be fine.