Last season, Boston College rolled out a stacked group of defensemen - a group that was expected to largely carry the team and be the driver of their success. To some extent, they did. While BC's overall team defense was middling (2.39 GA/gm, good for 23rd in the nation), it picked up steam considerably down the stretch, ranking #13 from January 1 onward and firmly in the top 10 for most of January and February before the wheels started to come off the wagon.
While BC got pretty good offensive production from the blue line, it wasn't exactly to the level we'd hoped for, which can largely be chalked up to a simple lack of production from the team all around. Mike Matheson led the group with 25 points; Noah Hanifin followed with 23 points. With those two now gone, BC's D looks much less imposing on paper. What does the depth chart look like following their departures? Solid, but not as good as last year's, obviously.
Ian McCoshen is probably BC's best returning defenseman. A 2nd round pick of the Florida Panthers, McCoshen has size (6'3'') and vision that give him the potential to be one of the league's best defensemen this year as a junior. In his sophomore season, he put up 16 points, a step up from the 13 points he scored as a freshman. He'll likely lead the blue liners in scoring this year.
The Captain of the Eagles will presumably be firmly entrenched as a defenseman this season rather than being used as an experiment in trying to create more forward depth. This is a good thing. While it's hard to quantify, it often felt like good things happened for BC when Doherty was on the ice as a blue liner. In mid-January, before being shifted up front, Doherty was actually briefly the team's leading scorer, but he cooled off a bit down the stretch, ending with 23 points. While Doherty's strength is what he can contribute offensively, he's made great strides in improving the defensive aspects of his game. Look for Doherty to be a key special teams player for BC this year.
Santini is a player who I think BC fans should be able to expect a lot more out of this year if he's healthy. He missed a big chunk of games in the middle of the season after suffering a wrist injury, which limited him to 22 games played on the season. While he was able to play in all of BC's games down the stretch, he clearly never looked to be full strength, and never showed the big physical presence that made him such an imposing player as a freshman. He also had only 5 points on the season, though his job has more to do with stopping the other team than it does scoring. With a full offseason to recover, here's hoping Santini makes a big leap forward this year.
Savage came in with big-time credentials but has been inconsistent in two years as an Eagle. This year, he'll likely be playing a lot more minutes; can he finally put it all together and produce at a high level? As a freshman, he put up 18 points and was a +13 on the season. While he seemed to be prone to the occasional defensive lapse, these were good first year numbers to build off of. Unfortunately, the sophomore season didn't go as well, with Savage notching 6 points and finishing -7. If he can return to his freshman year productivity, it will help make the D be much deeper.
Here's where we enter in to the territory of the unknown. Fitzgerald will be one of two freshmen who will likely play big minutes on the blue line. The 18-year-old and brother of Ryan is not the biggest (5'11'') but he's highly touted for his skating ability. After starring at Malden Catholic he shipped off to Michigan for two years with the US national team development program; he had a solid year with the U18s last season, posting 25 points in 57 games. With a pair of USHL seasons under his belt, he should be able to transition smoothly into the college game, though it's hard to project just how much he'll produce on the offensive side.
The former Northeastern commit turns out to be a bigger piece of the puzzle this year than we all hoped he'd have to be. At first, it looked like Couturier would probably ride the bench a lot in his freshman year, but now you have to think he has every opportunity to win a regular starting spot. He comes in a little bit more seasoned at age 20, he's also got good size (6'2'') and is a left-handed shot. In his year in the USHL with Des Moines and last season with the Junior Bruins, Couturier developed a solid two-way reputation. While he's known as a big, physical D-man who's hard to beat, he also potted 38 points in 49 games for the Junior Bruins. If Couturier's accomplishments translate to the NCAA level, this could be a sneaky important pickup for BC.
I've always thought that Travis Jeke has played well in limited opportunities at BC, but for whatever reason, the staff has never trusted him to play very often. That leads me to believe he'll be on the outside looking in when the season starts. But with the possibility of injuries, World Juniors, and other incidents that happen throughout the year, Jeke will have to be ready to go and might get more games than he did in the last two years. After playing in 22 games as a freshman, Jeke played 2 games in 2013-14 and 8 games in 2014-15, often being passed over for converted forward Danny Linell or simply just rolling 5 defensemen. The 6'2'', 22-year-old D-man from Pittsburgh has shown some flashes of offensive skill in his limited playing time; we'll see if he gets more of a run this year.
The main concern is that there are only 4 defensemen on the roster who have considerable experience as starters. If Hanifin had returned, in addition to being the best blue liner on the team, he would have given BC a lot more depth and stability in the event of injuries and incidentals. Unfortunately, this looks like a much thinner group, but one with potential to have a good year, particularly if Santini and Savage return to their freshman year form and the two freshmen look as adept as the scouting reports suggest they will.