We're 135 days away from the first puck drop of the season for Boston College hockey (but who's counting). A lot can happen between now and then; more players may come or go. But the addition of Finnish forward Julius Matilla to this year's recruiting class helps bring some more clarity to the situation.
Right now, there are two big dominoes that could impact next year's lineup: 1) Ian McCoshen departing for the Florida Panthers - which seems likely, based on rumors from sources close to the program; and 2) BC snagging another forward as a late commitment. None of BC's forwards who are pledged to enter in 2017 seem poised to accelerate, so this would come from flipping a recruit previously committed to another school.
If this happens, it will almost certainly be a forward; as you'll see, even without Ian McCoshen, BC will have a lot of bodies in camp on the blue line.
In general, BC is setting up to be a pretty deep team again, though just how many of their players will be high-end contributors is in question. Let's take a look at the potential depth chart.
BC's biggest strength going in to the summer appears to be their depth up the middle. The Eagles return all four centers from their optimum lineup last year - Zach Sanford, Colin White, Austin Cangelosi and Chris Brown. BC could easily plug them 1-2-3-4 and know right away that all four will contribute to solid lines.
But the amount of talent that BC lost on the wing, combined with some reinforcements who can play center, might make the Eagles look in to moving things around a bit. David Cotton, possibly BC's most highly touted incoming forward, is regarded as a two-way center and a skilled playmaker. Julius Matilla has also played center in Finland and faceoffs are reported as one of his strengths.
Cangelosi, Sanford and Brown have all played on the wing at various points in their BC careers, and all three could be candidates to be moved to wing to bolster one of BC's top two lines and make it more explosive. This could open up a 3rd or 4th line center spot for Cotton or Matilla.
Incoming forward Michael Booth has also played center in addition to right wing.
Jerry York has not been shy about moving players from left wing to right wing and vice versa, so there's flexibility here as we figure out who will slot in where. For instance, BC's leading scorer from last season, Ryan Fitzgerald, spent most of the year on right wing, though he did play left wing in a few games, including in the NCAA tournament when York moved Alex Tuch to first line right wing.
The returning players who have mostly played right wing are Ryan Fitzgerald, Chris Calnan, and JD Dudek; Matt Gaudreau seems to be the only returnee who mostly played left wing, if my memory and box scores serve me right. As mentioned above, Brown, Cangelosi and Sanford have all played wing at various points as well.
According to scouting reports, freshman Graham McPhee is a left winger, while Zach Walker is a right winger. Mike Booth is listed as center/right wing.
How might this actually shake out in real life?
If York decides to stick with all 4 centers as he used them last year, it could look something like this. (Bear in mind, this is entirely a guess... and more of a depth chart exercise than a thought of what lines would work well together. Also, it's hard to compare incoming players... all caveats apply.)
Cotton / White / Fitzgerald
McPhee / Sanford / Calnan
Gaudreau / Cangelosi / Walker
(Matilla/Dudek) / Brown / (Dudek/Booth)
An alternate scenario would be moving one of BC's centers to the wing. Austin Cangelosi re-emerged this year when surrounded by skill players who helped get the most out of his playmaking ability. So just spitballing here, maybe you'd want to load his line up...
Cotton / White / Fitzgerald
Sanford / Cangelosi / Calnan
McPhee / Brown / Walker
Gaudreau / Matilla / (Dudek/Booth)
However you slice it, it looks like BC is going to, at the very least, have two very good scoring lines, and maybe three depending on how the freshmen come along. With Matt Gaudreau, Chris Brown and JD Dudek all returning and presumably progressing, the bones are there for a solid fourth line too (and based on scouting reports, someone like a Booth or a Matilla could be a fourth-line contributor as well).
This won't be as high flying a team offensively as last year's or certainly 2014, but it's not going to be 2015 either.
This is where things get questionable. Obviously, we're really hoping Ian McCoshen comes back. If he does, BC brings back a top defensive pair in McCoshen / Casey Fitzgerald that will be up there with any top D pairing in the league.
Michael Kim and Scott Savage, who both showed some impressiveness in streaks this year, also both return, as does Josh Couturier, who fell on the depth chart toward the end of the season but will certainly have his chance to fight his way in to the picture.
Clouding the picture (not in a bad way) are four blue line recruits who all are pretty well-regarded - Mike Campoli, Connor Moore, Luke McInnis and Jesper Matilla. If McCoshen returns, that would seem to give BC 9 blueliners for 6 spots, so perhaps one freshman would have their entrance delayed for a year or maybe moved up to forward to bolster depth at wing.
If McCoshen does come back, you could keep that top pairing together, put Savage on pair #2, Kim on pair #3, and let the two freshmen who prove to be at the highest level round out the corps... and suddenly, that's a pretty decent looking blue line.
Without McCoshen, you're very reliant on at least one, maybe two freshmen to step up and become very reliable contributors right away. That's not always a sure bet, so D could be a question mark for this team.
Based on NHL Central Scouting rankings, you'd expect Joe Woll to be the favorite to win the starting job, but Ryan Edquist, who recently flipped his commitment from Minnesota to BC, would likely not have done so if he didn't think he'd have a chance to play at some point. Do they think Woll is a flight risk, or do they want to bring in someone to push him for the starting spot? We'll find out soon enough.
Ian Milosz is the question mark here; initial rumors suggested he'd transfer when the Edquist news came down the pipe, but that's not confirmed, and The BC Hockey Blog seemed to recently indicate he'd return and battle for the job.
Chris Birdsall's career unfortunately appears to be over due to a series of concussion issues.
Thanks to a big and solid freshman class, BC should be reasonably deep next year, though not as deep as this past season's team. None of the freshmen up front jump out as immediate star contributors, but this might serve as a long-term blessing in disguise; they seem likelier to be the kind of player that develops and improves over a full four year stay at BC, something the program badly needs after the recent bloodletting. How quickly the freshmen develop - particularly on the blue line - will determine just how far they can go.
While I can't say I have a solid grasp on the outlook of all the other teams BC will be competing against next year just yet, my gut tells me Ian McCoshen returning or not is the difference between a team that could be a sneaky contender (2/3 seed) vs. one that will be pretty good, but will have to really battle its way in to the NCAA Tournament. Either way, I think some of the early doom and gloom has been overstated. The depth chart looks pretty solid for now.