Last season at the semester break, it seemed like Sami Tavernier’s potential was bursting at the seams. Tavernier had just four points, but he was playing power-play minutes and was leading the Warriors in shots on goal. After scoring four points in his first 21 games, Tavernier finished with 14 points (6g-8a) in his final 15 games.
Here are TMR’s Top Three breakout candidates for the Warriors in this season’s second half (Ed. Note — Who are your breakout candidates? Discuss in the comment section below this post):
1) Logan Coomes
Coomes has 29 shots on goal this season, and that’s come while missing two games. He has more shots than several other forwards and only five less shots on goal than Brett Seney. At the same time, his shooting percentage is just 3.4 percent. When a player has a shooting percentage that low, a lot of it can be contributed to just bad luck. Tavernier was in almost the exact same position last season, with more shots on goal. His shooting percentage at the break was also below 4 percent, and we just detailed above what he was able to do in the second half.
Coomes has been a scorer at every level. Prior to joining Merrimack, he scored 65 points (25g-40a) in 56 games with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (NAHL). Prior to that, he scored 83 points (36g-47a) in just 37 games with the Frederick Freeze (MetJHL). He had 11 points in six games in the USPHL. Everywhere he’s played, he’s scored points, and he’s really close to breaking out now. It seems like every two games Coomes finds himself on a legitimate 2-on-1 or even a breakaway. He gets himself into open space often. Sooner or later, that has to pay off.
In Coomes’ last four games, he has three points (1 goal, 2 assists).
2) Cole McBride
McBride, like Coomes, has scored at every level of hockey and he is beginning to look more comfortable after missing all of last season. The series at the beginning of December against Northeastern was his best weekend as a Warrior, and McBride has points in three of his last six games.
Over Merrimack’s last five games, McBride is tied for the team lead in shots with Tavernier (16), totaling 3.2 per game.
McBride isn’t a typical new player coming into college hockey. Sure, we’ve seen some freshmen step in and have immediate success, but not many “rookie” players are coming into their college careers after taking a year off. The only player who I think is a fair comparison is Todd Burgess, out at RPI. He’s a fourth-round pick of the Senators in 2016 and missed all of his freshman season with an injury. Burgess, like McBride, has taken some time to acclimate to college hockey, but both have shown in the last month that they’re beginning to get their footing. Burgess has nine points, but six have come in the last eight games.
3) Evan Bell
It was hard not to notice Bell against New Hampshire, when he had a pair of points and finished with a +3 (at one point he was a +4 after the Warriors scored their fourth goal).
In most cases, Merrimack’s defensemen have been slower to get going their freshman seasons as they adapt to a new system. Alex Carle and Aaron Titcomb played 26 games as freshmen, for example (Merrimack played 38 games that season). Even Jared Kolquist, who is a fixture now, missed a handful of games as a rookie. The only two defensemen on the roster to play in every game their freshman season are Marc Biega and Johnathan Kovacevic.
Bell seems to have turned a corner in the last month. He played a solid game against Bentley on Nov. 10 and then had his breakout game on Dec. 10 at New Hampshire. Clearly, the staff trusted him enough to play him in a league game, against arguably the top team in the league (Northeastern), last Saturday at Lawler Arena.
Bell is, by far, Merrimack’s best skating defenseman. Most times, the biggest adjustment for good skating D at the collegiate level is knowing when to use their feet to skate the puck and when it’s more opportune to send the puck up the wall or chip it out of the zone. Bell has made really good decisions on that front the last two games. Those are all good signs that Bell is trending upwards.
Honorable Mention: Simon Loof
Loof has been absent from the Merrimack lineup thus far due to offseason surgery — he suffered an injury in development camp with the Philadelphia Flyers. Loof should make his debut sometime in the second half, and scouting reports from those who have watched him play in the NAHL and at Flyers camp, suggest that he could be an impact player on the blue line for the Warriors, particularly on the power play.