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2015 Recruiting Class: Haves, Needs, and Wants

As mentioned in yesterday’s weekly recruit update tonight’s piece is going to take an in-depth look at next year’s incoming recruiting class in terms of commits and needs.  It makes sense to take a look now since the early signing period just occurred last month, so we know a little more about who is most likely to be coming in next year.  It also gave an opportunity to see if any unexpected names popped up during that time.  In coincidental timing, Jeff Cox of SBN College Hockey put out his rankings of next year’s recruiting classes.  UMass was dead last in Hockey East.

While I definitely have more than just a passing interest in college hockey recruiting, I haven’t studied the other Hockey East schools enough to know how they all shake out comparatively.  But I do understand why Coach Micheletto’s crop for next year is ranked so low by Jeff.  It’s not so much about the quality of players who have committed but more to do with having a lot more work to do to fill the holes that exist on the team next year.

Departures

Before looking at those players who will be joining the team next year it’s probably important to know who the team will need to replace.  There will be seven players honored on senior night in February.  At forward there is Troy Power, Steven Guzzo, Emerson Auvenshine, and Zack LaRue.  On defense there’s Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo.  And then also graduating will be goaltender Steve Mastalerz.

At forward you have four very similar players.  None are truly prolific scorers.  Power is currently tied for 5th on the team with 8 points while LaRue is just behind him at 7.  LaRue does have a career high four goals on the season, though has been kept off the scoreboard in the last seven games.  Guzzo has three assists on the season.  Auvenshine, who has put in time at both his natural forward position and defense, has just one point on the season, but as the game winning goal at Northeastern it was a big point.

So overall it does not appear that the team will be losing a lot of scoring next year.  However in Power, LaRue, and Auvenshine they’ll be losing some size and toughness.  Add in the scrappy Guzzo and all four are fairly decent defensive forwards.  Guzzo has also done quite well in limited action in the faceoff circle.

At defense the team will lose their two best defensive defensemen.  Oleg has improved his game dramatically over the years, especially in terms of his skating, and is going to be tough to replace.  Though you may find another solid defensemen to take his spot, it is very unlikely you’ll find someone with such intimidating size.  In Busillo the team will need to replace a very reliable blueliner.  Not overly flashy or athletic, Busillo has been very consistent over the years.  Playing on teams where it seems you never know if they’ll play terrific or terrible from one night to another, Busillo’s play through his career has been unheralded and a steady influence.

Mastalerz has given UMass solid minutes through his years and even a few headline wins as well.  Last year was the only year where he was the true #1 starter, but he has always been counted on for decent performances, though maybe not as consistently as he and the coaching staffs would’ve liked.  Still, he’s been a capable Hockey East goaltender and one that will definitely need to be replaced.

Arrivals

Sometimes it’s tough to know the exact make up of a class because coaches may decide to delay or accelerate certain players based on their junior performance or specific roster needs.  At forward UMass hockey fans can definitely count on seeing centers Austin Plevy and Kurt Keats however.  Plevy was originally slated to suit up at Merrimack for this current season, but found it to be a bad fit and returned to juniors for a year.  He is currently tearing up the AJHL in Alberta where he leads the league in points (51) and is 3rd in goals (20).  He was the AJHL Player of the Month for November.  Keats meanwhile is putting in a similar performance in the BCHL, where he’s 2nd in goals (22) and 5th in points (38).  Just today he was named to the Team Canada West squad which will participate in the World Junior A Challenge next week.  Both of these players will only add to a Minuteman squad that is trending upward in terms of offense, currently 6th among Hockey East in goals per game after finishing 10th last year.

Defenseman Brandon Egli is supposed to arrive in Amherst next fall as well.  The 5’10”, 190lb Egli signed his National Letter of Intent last November.  He had a big offensive year last season while playing for Victoria of the BCHL, accumulating 11 goals and 24 assists 53 games.  Early on during this season though he was traded from Victoria to Vernon and has had a tough time finding regaining his scoring touch after the move.  Through 20 games he’s only had five assists and has not found the back of the net.  Important to note that it’s always tough to truly know how good a player is defensively while looking only at stats.  Based on last year’s performance he does look like more of an offensive oriented defenseman in the mold of the blueliners in the last couple classes.

After Egli things get a little cloudy.  According to Chris Heisenberg, who runs the bible of college hockey recruiting sites, defenseman Jake McCarthy is a possible 2015 commit as well.  The problem is McCarthy has yet to play this season after getting injured during training camp out in the BCHL.  When he gets healthy again he’s due to start playing for the South Shore Kings of the USPHL, but that hasn’t happened yet.  With him continuing to miss time you start to wonder if the staff would push him back a year.

As a ‘96 birth year Mick may end up accelerating left wing Kyler Nachtigall to next fall, though Heisenberg currently lists him as arriving in 2016.  Nachtigall is teammates with Plevy on the Brooks Bandits (same junior team as current Minutemen Patrick Lee and Maddison Smiley) where he has 9 goals and 7 assists in 32 games.  Last season for the Bandits he had 12 goals and 18 assists in 50 games.

Needs

So that’s it in terms of committed players that are, or may be, coming next fall.  If we go by Heisenberg’s site the team has two forwards (Plevy, Keats) to fill the four open slots.  One defenseman (Egli) and maybe one more (McCarthy) to replace the two defenseman lost.  And the most concerning gap in next year’s class is that the coaches have yet to secure a commitment goaltender to replace Mastalerz.

To be perfectly honest, Micheletto’s fate with the Massachusetts hockey program may depend on the abilities of the goaltender he brings to Amherst next fall.  Obviously the glaring deficiency with this year’s team has been its defense and its goaltending.  I don’t want to knock Mastalerz and Henry Dill for their performance so far, especially Dill who has surpassed my expectations at times.  But sometimes I wonder if the defense is what it is and it’s really the goaltender that will shoulder the load under this style of play.  Therefore it is imperative to have not a good goaltender, not a great goaltender, but a truly elite goaltender in net.  UMass hasn’t had that in recent years, though the staff has definitely done their best to bring a top notch goaltender to Amherst.  I heard rumors that they were aggressively pursuing Zach Naglevoort, but he ultimately chose Michigan where he had a .929 save percentage as a freshman last season for the Wolverines.  At the very least Dill will need competition to push him next year.  At worst UMass will need a Jon Quick type of performance to lessen the problems on defense and have the improved offense translate into wins.

It will be interesting to see what type of player fills the second defenseman spot that is open.  Do we see another Brandon Montour or Jake Horton where their focus is very much offense?  Or do we see a more stay at home defenseman like Busillo, or perhaps a mountain of a player like Yevenko?  Does Mick try to balance the defensive corps in terms of offensive and defensive oriented?  At forward adding Plevy and Keats to the likes of Vatrano, Pigozzi, Iacobellis, Lee, and Kravchenko could make this a very scary team offensively for Hockey East opponents.  The third and fourth spots at forward could likely be filled with more grinder type players for the third and fourth lines.  Or maybe there’s another scorer that assistants Ryan Miller and Joey Gasparini have an eye on that will allow UMass to roll three deep for scoring lines.  I feel very confident in UMass’ offense when thinking beyond this year.  But will there be someone on the other end to keep the puck out of the UMass net?  That is the huge question mark for 2015 currently.

(edit: UMass addressed a major question mark with this recruiting class with the commitment of goalie Nic Renyard for next year)

Speaking of recruiting, it’s rare to hear future Minutemen discussed on the weekly coach’s show, mostly due to NCAA rules that prohibit talk of a commit before they sign their NLI.  However last night assistant Ryan Miller talked to Brock Hines about Brandon Montour, Plevy, Keats, and Ty Pelton-Byce who’s projected to come to UMass in 2016.

2017 commit and Springfield Cathedral forward John Leonard was named to Masslive’s State Super 7.  Cathedral appears to be loaded this year and could make a serious run at the Super 8 championship.

Triangle era player Sal Manganaro will be making his high school coaching debut this season for Nauset.

Frank Vatrano is featured on the most recent UMass Sports Insider (18 minutes in), giving fans a tour of his nearby hometown, East Longmeadow and nearby Springfield, including his family’s pizza joint across from the AIC campus.

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