The Boston College hockey season gets underway for real tomorrow night when the Eagles travel to West Point to take on the Army West Point Black Knights. We asked our panel of hockey writers, along with Mike from the Boston College Hockey Blog, to weigh in with their thoughts on what's to come. Here's part one.
1. Who is going to be BC's MVP this season?
Joe Gravellese: There's only one choice here and it's Thatcher Demko. He was arguably the team's MVP last year on bum hips. Following his surgery he should show this year why he's such an elite NHL prospect. He's also going to be relied upon to help a young defense through its inevitable growing pains and give BC's skilled forward license to be aggressive.
Laura Berestecki: Demko. He's going to keep BC in games, and now that his hips are finally fixed I foresee even more amazing highlight reel saves.
BCHB: On a team with a lot of star power up front, it is going to be interesting to see if one guy breaks away from the pack. I think, by seasons end, Zach Sanford will be the MVP of this team. I can see Demko or Tuch taking it home as well.
Dan Rubin: I think it's easy to say Thatcher Demko, but I really think the MVP is going to come from the forwards. If you think back to last year, Demko played very well and, at times, out of his mind, and it wasn't enough. The MVP needs to come from somewhere else on the team and change the perception that the Eagles struggle scoring.
Grant Salzano: I'm actually going to go off the beaten path here and say it's going to be one of the freshmen. My gut says it's going to be Colin White. What little I saw of him in the exhibition game impressed me -- specifically, his movement around the ice. He's not tiny like Gaudreau, but his silky smooth skating reminded me of him.
Demko is going to have to do what he did last year up keep BC in contention, but I really think the difference maker this year is going to come from someone who jumpstarts the scoring.
Arthur Bailin: Thatcher Demko is easily the most important player on this team. While the influx of talent up front will likely result in a more offense-first style of play, Demko's reliability will be key in being able to sustain that style and will allow the team to be more aggressive.
AJ Black: I'm going to go with the new guy here, Jeremy Bracco. I know he's just a true freshman, but we saw at BU last year what one talented player can do to a team. Not calling him Jack Eichel, but I'm going to predict that Bracco will become that elite scoring punch the Eagles need.
Joe: When Ian McCoshen was a freshman I saw a bit of Brian Dumoulin in him. He's never quite reached the level Dumoulin did, when he was (IMO) the best defenseman in Hockey East for a couple of years. I think this year McCoshen makes a big jump and becomes an all-Hockey East player. Santini is another defenseman who I expect to improve year over year.
Laura: Sanford. He was impressive as a freshman, but I think having a full year of experience under his belt will make him more confident and even more productive.
BCHB: The player I look to see improve the most will be Scotty Savage. After a terrific freshman year, he stubbled a bit last season. With the forwards being so good, I think the defense's minutes spent in their own zone will be cut drastically. Savage is as good an offensive defenseman as BC has. Look for him to notch 15-20 points.
Dan: I really want to see Ryan Fitzgerald make the jump to the next superstar athlete. He led the team with 17 goals a year ago, but he only had eight assists. He finished the year with a -4. To me, if he becomes a complete player, he might not see his senior year, since the Bruins are likely to throw money at him given their need to two-way hockey players.
Grant: Biggest Improvement: I say Santini. Santini was a monster his freshman year with his physicality but last season with his injury he sort of had a pause in his development. Now that he's fully healthy I'm looking for him to take the next step and be one of the team's really elite defensemen.
Arthur: I'd be interested to see how Steve Santini flourishes, provided he remains healthy. He was a -2 last year, a drop off from his +26 his freshman year. I expect him to go back to his freshman form.
AJ Black: I'm going to go with Thatcher Demko. Now this isn't saying he was bad last year, but he did finish 6th in Hockey East in goals against. I think with a better team around him he's going to jump from a good HE goalie to a great Hockey East goalie.
Joe: The cop out answer is "all of them" but I'm going to go with Miles Wood. He's been compared with the Hayes brothers a bit and I could see flashes of that in the exhibition game. He's a grizzled vet compared to most BC freshmen, which will help him be an impact player sooner.
Laura: All of the forwards? I'll go with White. He didn't do anything big in the exhibition but I liked what I saw out of him. I think he'll settle in quickly and be a steady presence for the Eagles. Also people compare him to Patrice Bergeron with a bit of Bill Arnold, so he's already my favorite freshman.
BCHB: Of all the freshman, I think Miles Wood will have the biggest impact on the team but it may take some time. Coming straight out of the ISL can be difficult but if the exhibition is any indication, the 20 year old freshman is ready.
Dan: Bracco. Bracco's a 5'9" undersized freshman who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's described as incredible but his size had him ranked incredibly low for some teams.
While with the US National U-18 team, Bracco put up 94 points, including 64 assists. That's almost 30 points more than some guy named Patrick Kane.
Grant: I jumped the gun on this one with my answer for team MVP... I think it will be White. I'm not looking for an Eichel-level contribution from one guy (it would be stupid to expect that) but I do think by committee the top tier of our freshmen will provide that kind of production, led by White.
Arthur: I'm usually hesitant to base too much off highlight videos, but it is hard not to be intrigued by Jeremy Bracco. He has fantastic stick handling skills, good hands and a good mind for the game. This slot could probably be filled by Miles Wood or Colin White, but I think Bracco will be center of the forward resurgence.
AJ Black: Said it before, I'll say it again, I'm expecting big things from Jeremy Bracco. All the other writers have said basically what needs to be said, but he's going to be a beast.
It'll also be important to stay out of the penalty box. Certain players (Fitzgerald the Elder, for example) have a tendency to let their frustration out via penalties, which results in BC taking penalties they don't need. It's a heck of a lot harder to score when you're on the PK, so staying out of the box will be big. Especially with the loss of Matheson and Hanifin on D.
BCHB: I think BC's achilles heel will be the amount of penalties they take. Everyone is talking about the defense but look at any top 6 in Hockey East outside of BU and there isn't one you would take over BC. Wood, White, Brown, and perhaps Bracco will make an immediate impact on the PK.
Dan:Last year, Boston College finished 35th in the nation with a 15.6% power play success rate. Comparable teams in that area of the rankings included Alaska, Bowling Green, Colgate, and Holy Cross. Their penalty kill was better - 86.4%, good enough for 14th in the nation - but they took 162 penalties.
Owing to its lack of offense last year, BC absolutely has to get better and make teams pay if they want to get into shoving matches. BC was a team you could take a penalty against last year and not worry about. They have to get better at that during this season.
Grant: Defense is going to frustrate us all year long, unfortunately. Hanifin was an elite blueliner and as much as everyone loved to pick on Matheson, he put in a ton of minutes. The group of defensemen we have now is decent, I think, but a step back from last year's group that we were expecting, however unfairly, to be the best in the country
Arthur: I selected BC as my top team in the preseason Hockey East. I expect them to drop. There is still a lot of youth on this team (primarily amongst the forwards), and it will take some time to find their footing. The key to the season (and any championships) is how quickly the freshmen acclimate to the college game. If the freshmen don't acclimate, they might have some trouble down the road.
AJ Black: I have to agree with Grant here, I'm worried about BC's defense. Hanifin was one of, if not the best defensemen in the country. Losing him and Matheson (who could be frustrating as hell at times) are big losses. The Eagles are going to feel that, and will need to score points to cover up for problems on the blue line.
Join us again tomorrow for Part II, where we'll make our predictions for how the season will turn out, among other things.