Ideally, part of this intro paragraph to a recruiting class ranking would look back to four years ago, and in the interest of being totally transparent and providing full disclosure, we’d look back at how we did.
Well, you have to start somewhere.
I have’t publicized these in the past, but have always formulated them on a napkin prior to the start of each season. These rankings are based on the classes that I believe will have the biggest impact over their four-year period.
BU captures the top spot, and it’s not really because of Jack Eichel. The Terriers will have Eichel for one, maybe two years if they’re really lucky. But BU garners the top spot because of a deep class behind Eichel, some of whom will be four-year players, I’m sure.
The Fab 5 (+ a goalie)
F, Jack Eichel, Boston University
F, Alex Tuch, Boston College
F, Liam Pecararo, Maine
D, Brandon Montour, UMass
D, Noah Hanifin, Boston College
G, Cal Petersen, Notre Dame
1. Boston University
Top Recruit: F Jack Eichel (2015 Draft Eligible)
Most of BU’s points in its 2014 recruiting class were scored when they landed Jack Eichel, who is not only the golden goose of this class, but he’s one of the best American-born prospects to come down the road in quite some time.
Eichel has the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL this June – it’s Eichel or OHL’er Connor McDavid – which could mean his stay on Comm. Ave. is short, but it shouldn’t matter.
As much as this class seems built around Eichel, assuming he’s not a four-year player for the Terriers is a safe bet at this point. Down the road, they’ll rely heavily on the plethora of other skilled players coming in this fall, including NHL picks J.J. Piccinich up front and Brandon Hickey and John MacLeod on defense. Undrafted Brandon Fortunato is another high-end player who was recruited heavily after re-opening his recruitment last season (he was originally committed to Harvard).
This is just the beginning for the Terriers. Head coach David Quinn and associate head coach Steve Greely have other big names waiting in the wings for 2015 and 2016, including Maxim Letunov, who was a second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues this past summer, as well as Jordan Greenway, Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy, all who seem locks to be top-60 picks in the NHL down the road. BU also added alumnus Albie O’Connell to its staff in the spring, and O’Connell has a reputation for landing several high-end players in rapid-fire succession.
2. Boston College
Top Recruit: D Noah Hanifin (2015 Draft Eligible)
The Eagles’ class is lacking in size, but certainly not in quality.
Hanifin, like Eichel, is the top of the class despite not being NHL Draft eligible until 2015. Eichel and McDavid seem to have locked up the No. 1 and 2 spots in most scouts’ eyes, but for many, Hanifin could be picked No. 3 overall. No matter who you talk to, he’s penciled in as a lock for the top-10, if not the top-5, in the upcoming draft.
He joins two players up front who were both selected in the first or second rounds of the NHL Draft in their draft year. Zach Sanford is a local player out of New Hampshire was who selected in the second round by the Washington Capitals in 2013. Alex Tuch was taken in the first round by the Minnesota Wild this past June after playing on Eichel’s line with the NTDP last season, and not only brings some skill but also the ability to do the dirty work when paired with other elite players, using his strength and size to go into corners and dig out pucks. Just ask Eichel.
Sanford and Tuch break the mold from what has become the prototypical BC forward. Both have serious size on the wing – they’re both 6-foot-4 – and should complement a returning cast that includes some smaller skilled players like Austin Cangelosi.
Even Hanifin is 6-foot-3.
3. Notre Dame
Top Recruit: F Anders Bjork (2014 BOS 5th)
It’s a tough call between Bjork, Petersen and Hurley as to who will end up being the best of this deep and talented group for the Irish.
Bjork, always a highly-regarded ‘96, is a player who began to emerge late last season with the NTDP. The Boston Bruins selected him in the fifth round of the NHL Draft in June.
Petersen will likely make the biggest impact on the program as a freshman. He enters the program at the right time, with starter Steven Summerhays graduating last spring. Petersen was also named USA Hockey’s Goaltender of the Year last season and has a decorated past in both the USHL and with USA Hockey.
At the start of last season, Hurley seemed like he could have been hit or miss, but after joining the Green Bay Gamblers midway through the USHL season, he found his game again and the 2013 second-round pick was back to being a point-per-game player.
Remember, at one point, this Irish class also included Sonny Milano, before he reneged on his commitment and later committed to Boston College. Of course, Milano will never see the ice in Chestnut Hill either after signing with the Plymouth Whalers – and later the Columbus Blue Jackets – this summer. If Milano had stuck to his commitment, and had reported to South Bend, this Notre Dame class would have jumped BC for the No. 2 overall spot, and would have contended heavily with BU for the top spot overall. Even without him, it’s still plenty talented and deep enough to earn a spot in the top-5.
Top Recruit: D Jake Walman (2015 Draft Eligible)
Walman is the real deal. The reigning CJHL Rookie of the Year is a terrific puck-mover and already has good size, despite only turning 18 in February. In 43 games last season, he totaled 33 points (7-26–33) while picking up six major awards: the CJHL Rookie of the Year, OJHL Rookie of the Year, OHA Top Prospect, OJHL First Team All-Prospect, and the OJHL’s Top Prospect Award.
Walman isn’t alone, either. Brian Pinho will provide a scoring punch up front after a stellar year in the USHL last season, following his time at St. John’s Prep.
5. New Hampshire
Top Recruit: F Shane Eiserman (2015 Draft Eligible)
Eiserman is a local product, and a big, strong power forward who will make an impact right away at UNH. Eiserman played in the USHL last season after a stint with the US NTDP.
Warren Foegele is another strong power forward for the Wildcats, who probably has more speed than Eiserman. He was originally projected as a later addition, but had a monster season last year as a high school senior.
The Wildcats also add goaltender Danny Tirone at the semester break.
Top Recruit: F Brett Seney (2015 Draft Re-Eligible)
Seney comes to North Andover with the most offensive potential since Mike Collins preceded him four years ago. He’s little, but he’s tenacious and proved in the OJHL last season that he’ll play with an edge as well as showing off supreme skill.
Marc Biega shouldn’t be overlooked. He comes with a terrific offensive pedigree – his three brothers preceded him playing college hockey at Harvard – and word is he has impressed in early practices. Goaltender Collin Delia will prove to be more than just a backup to Rasmus Tirronen as well.
Defenseman Aaron Titcomb, based on his size alone, will get some pro looks once he fills out and puts some finishing touches on his game. One scout said Titcomb might have the best pro prospects of this group after he sands off some rough edges.
Merrimack’s class is large and quite deep. While not as skilled at the top as some classes below it, it makes up for it with quality throughout the roster of 10 freshmen. Look for at least six or seven of these freshman to play nearly every game, barring injuries.
Top Recruit: F Liam Pecararo
Maine adds a lot of size strength in this class, especially on the blue line, but Liam Pecararo, a forward from the USHL, is the top member of this class. He was one of the best forwards in the USHL last season and uses his speed to find open ice and facilitate the puck to his teammates.
Nolan Vesey, son of former Merrimack forward Jim Vesey, also adds some skill around the net.
Top Recruit: D Brandon Montour (2014 ANH 2nd)
The Minutemen won’t have Montour until December because of an eligibility issue, which hurts. However, once he arrives, he’ll immediately become of the UMass’ best defenseman, and the minutes will probably reflect that.
Dennis Kravchenko, despite dipping in production last season, is a slick forward with plenty of playmaking ability. He’ll fill a role up front immediately for the Minutemen.
The Minutemen also add Anthony Petrella, who was a top-notch scorer at Shattuck St. Mary’s.
Top Recruit: F Dylan Sikura (2014 CHI 6th)
Dylan Sikura is without question the best of Northeastern’s group; after proving to be an efficient playmaker in the OJHL last season with 64 points, he was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks this past June.
Forward Nolan Stevens, a big forward with a lot of range, provides a power game up front and word is he’s good defensively. He’ll be re-eligible for the draft this coming summer and spent the last two seasons as part of the US National Team Development Program. A defenseman to keep an eye on is 20-year-old Garret Cockerill, who as a 16-year-old, was considered one of the best defensemen in his age group.
10. UMass Lowell
Top Recruit: G Jeff Smith (2015 Draft Re-Eligible)
Smith will battle UMass transfer Kevin Boyle for the starting goalie job left vacant with Connor Hellebuyck signed with the Winnipeg Jets last season. Smith was ranked as the No. 19 North American Goaltender by NHL Central Scouting but went undrafted; he’ll be eligible for this June’s draft as well. UML also added s goaltender Olli Kälkäjä late this summer.
Elsewhere, Chris Forney is said to be a steady defender and Tyler Mayea, like Kalkaja, is an interesting late addition. Up front, Gage Hough proved to be a scorer for the Omaha Lanchers last season. UML’s class is large – 16 total players – and they’ll need to find some diamonds in the rough.
Top Recruit: F Anthony Petruzzelli (undrafted)
Anthony Petruzzelli is a 21-year-old freshman out of Brooks (AJHL) but has been a consistent scorer since his 18-year-old year. He’s a former second-round pick in the USHL and bloomed later than perhaps some scouts were anticipating when he was a midget.
The Catamounts also bring in Jarrid Privitera and his brother, former BU Terrier Alexx, but only Jarrid counts in these rankings (Alexx is obviously a transfer).
Top Recruit: F Jesse Schwartz (undrafted)
Scwartz looks like a late bloomer for the Huskies, and he’ll be joined by Corey Ronan, a St. Sebastians grad who captained the team last season and was ask part of the 2012 USA U18 team.
Kasperi Ojantakanen might be the most interesting. He flourished in Finland, but it’s up for debate how high the competition was.
UConn has really done a nice job targeting local recruits and building from the home base. Most of its top-tier targets will arrive in later years, however.
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report as well as on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN