BOSTON — Year after year, Hockey East churns out stars who leave early to sign NHL contracts. It’s one of the reasons why the league is so competitive and entertaining.
It’s easy to choose the 2017 All-Early Departure team:
G – Colin Delia (Merrimack and Chicago)
D – Charlie McAvoy (Boston University and Bruins)
D – Jake Walman (Providence College and St. Louis)
F – Clayton Keller (BU and Arizona)
F – Anders Bjork (Notre Dame and Bruins)
F – Tage Thompson (Connecticut and St. Louis)
Not a bad squad, eh?
After watching Bjork fit in nicely with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in Boston’s preseason win over Chicago on Monday night, I had early signees on my mind as I arrived at Tuesday’s Hockey East Media Day at the TD Garden. I talked with a couple of coaches and a player who figures to leave school early in a year or two.
“The league overall, I think, has gotten younger, and it’s because of (underclassmen leaving). As coaches now, you go into it and know that when you get a good player and he develops the right way, he’s probably not going to be there for all four years,” said PC coach Nate Leaman.
“We’re one of the programs that every year we’ve had one or two guys that signed early. You think back, it would have been nice to have Noel Acciari and Jon Gillies the year after we won the national championship. Those two guys would have helped us win another one. That’s the game now – and the NHL is younger,” Leaman said.
“A couple of years ago, I think Carolina had two defensemen that jumped straight from our league to the NHL in (Brett) Pesce and (Noah) Hanifin. Defense is a hard position to (make that) jump, but when you can show the guys, you know what, if you play in Hockey East, you can make that jump to the NHL. I think that’s very attractive.
BU’s David Quinn recruits first round draft picks year in and year out. A stud like Jack Eichel is one and done.
“You’ve got to bring them in and there’s a little bit of a thought process when you’re recruiting them, guys you know aren’t going to be there for the four years. You can’t have too many of those guys, because you need seniors to win, you do.
“It speaks to the competitiveness of our league. I’m sitting in the Hockey East coaches meeting and I’m looking around and thinking, ‘God, there’s a lot of good coaches.’ The competition is fierce, not only on the ice but in the recruiting world. That’s why our league has had so much success,” he said.
UMass freshman Cale Makar was selected fourth by Colorado last June. He’ll give the Minutemen a big shot of energy this season and maybe next, but don’t expect him to spend more than a couple of winters in Amherst.
“One of the big reasons why I committed to UMass was Hockey East. I knew it was such a competitive conference and they’re able to bring in some of the best talent. To know that you get to play against those guys and have the ability to get better, that was the way that I looked at it during the recruiting process,” he said.
In freshman Brady Tkachuk, Quinn and the Terriers have a player who could be picked in the top five next June.
You never know. Maybe Makar and Tkachuk will headline the 2018 Early Departure team.
Poll position for PC
The Friars, who open the season at Miami on Oct. 6, were picked third in the Hockey East Coaches’ Poll behind BU and Lowell.
They were ranked 11th in the season-opening USCHO.com poll and fifth in the USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine poll.
The Friars will be tested right out of the gate, with two at Miami, a home game against Boston College, a trip to St. Lawrence and Clarkson, followed by home tilts vs. BC and Boston University.
“We’ll find out where we are a month into the season,” said Leaman.
The Friars are healthy to start the year. “We’ve got everyone out of red jerseys now. We don’t have any health concerns as of right now,” he said.
I’ll have more on PC next week.
Bright NHL future for Bjork
Leaman and the Friars saw plenty of Bjork last season.
“We played Notre Dame four times down the stretch. When I went back and watched the film, he’s involved in almost every one of their scoring chances. Over four games, we really didn’t have a way to stop him. (Jake Evans) is a very good player, also, and they worked off each other.
“With his speed and his skill, Bjork was impossible to stop. They might have 15 scoring chances and he’d be involved in 12 of them. You’d go, wow, he was that good and that good consistently,” he said.
Doherty debut upcoming
Rhode Islander Timmy Doherty put up a lot of points with the ’95 Providence Capitals, St. George’s School and the Junior Bruins. Now that he’s finally eligible to play at Maine, maybe he can give the Black Bears’ offense a boost.
“Timmy’s a competitive kid, a real thoughtful kid. He fits in the locker room real well because he understands the dynamics of human relationships, so even though he hasn’t played a game for us, we’ve already seen some leadership ability,” said coach Red Gendron.
“As a hockey player, Timmy’s competitive but he’s also very smart. One of his biggest assets is his hockey sense, on both sides of the puck. We’re hoping he can be a big contributor right away.”