Editor’s note: ATB will unveil each pick for its preseason college hockey power rankings in ascending order from Sept. 21 through Oct. 2. In at No. 11 of our Top 20 poll are the Boston University Terriers.
Jack Eichel is gone from the Boston University lineup, joining the Buffalo Sabres as the NHL’s reigning second overall draft pick after a sensational freshman campaign. But that does not mean it’s time to count the Terriers out as a serious competitor in Hockey East, and possibly the NCAA at large, in 2015-16.
Of course, there is a lot to be said about the departure of one of the greatest freshman players in the history of college hockey. Eichel led the country with 71 points in 40 games and won nearly every personal award there was to win in the conference and the nation. He became the youngest-ever Hobey Baker Award winner in history, and was one of the main reasons the Terriers went from a 10-win team in 2013-14 to a Frozen Four finalist in 2014-15.
BU also suffers the loss of Eichel’s partner in crime, Evan Rodrigues, who graduated last spring and subsequently signed a contract with the aforementioned Sabres. Rodrigues was nearly as potent as Eichel, finishing second in the nation with 61 points in 41 games.
Then there is goaltender Matt O’Connor, a steadying force in net last year until the national championship game against Providence College, when he misplayed a puck and kicked it into his own net late in the third period to tie the score at 3-3.
BU, of course, went on to lose the game, 4-3, but O’Connor’s miscue did not cost him NHL attention. O’Connor chose to forgo his final year of NCAA eligibility, signing with the Ottawa Senators to much fanfare. He left as the Terriers’ all-time second-leading goaltender in career save percentage (.921) and fifth all-time in goals-against average (2.55).
BU’s losses are certainly significant, but aside from Eichel, Rodrigues, O’Connor and graduated forward Cason Hohmann, the core of the Frozen Four finalists will return. Most importantly, the team has a strong class of seniors, who are led by second-year captain Matt Grzelcyk.
Last season’s team struggled in terms of experience – the Terriers did not have much big-game experience to speak of on the roster, and had just three seniors (Rodrigues, Hohmann and graduate student Anthony Moccia).
This season, Grzelcyk is part of a six-man senior class, and every returning player on the roster knows what it takes to win a Beanpot, win a Hockey East title or reach the Frozen Four.
While BU might miss O’Connor in net, it has a capable replacement in senior Sean Maguire, who will return to the team after taking last season off for personal reasons.
During his first two years, Maguire split time with O’Connor, as both showed the Terriers they had what it took to be the starting goaltender. Maguire boasted a .926 save percentage in his freshman year, then maintained a .919 save percentage during BU’s 10-21-4 campaign in 2013-2014, despite playing with a lacking defense in front of him.
If Maguire brings back the same skill he showed during his first two seasons, the Terriers will be all set in net.
BU’s attempt to maintain a potent offense will center around some of its remaining stars from last season’s arsenal. First-line forward Danny O’Regan is looking to improve on a junior year that saw him finish seventh in the nation with 50 points. Then there is Ahti Oksanen, a defenseman-turned-forward who finished just under a point-per-game average in scoring last year with 38 points in 40 games.
BU will look for junior Robbie Baillargeon, an Ottawa draft pick, to step up this year after mononucleosis and nagging injuries limited him to 30 games and just three goals last season. Meanwhile, rising sophomore A.J. Greer will have a chance to play a larger role on the team after showing some real potential last season.
On defense, the Terriers will face an early test, as they will likely have to play for some time without Grzelcyk. The defenseman is recovering from summer surgery to repair a torn ACL, and depending on when Grzelcyk had the surgery, there is the potential that he could be out a few months.
BU coach David Quinn told reporters at Hockey East Media Day that the team would allow Grzelcyk to take his time coming back, thereby hinting that the defenseman will miss more than just a game or two.
In his absence, the sophomore-dominated defensive corps of Brien Diffley, Brandon Hickey, John MacLeod and Brandon Fortunato will attempt to improve on an incredible learning curve that saw BU comfortably relying on the four then-rookies in championship games throughout the second half of last season.
While the rookie class is nowhere near as exciting as last year’s Eichel-dominated group, there are still some interesting new faces to watch for this season. Bobo Carpenter, son of former NHL mainstay Bobby Carpenter and brother of U.S. Olympian and Boston College women’s hockey star Alex Carpenter, will have quite a reputation to live up to if he wants to follow in the footsteps of his famous family members.
Then there is Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, a Swedish-born forward who is bound to be a popular player in Boston considering his nickname (JFK) and his status as a second-round Bruins draft pick.
Another second-round pick, Jordan Greenway of the Minnesota Wild, will also try to make his mark on offense. His 6-foot-5, 223-pound frame creates the expectation that he will help BU set a physical tone.
Goalie Max Prawdik, defensemen Shane Switzer and Charlie McAvoy and forward Ryan Cloonan round out the freshman class.
It is almost certain that BU will not live up to its 28-8-5 record from last season, and Boston College was the Hockey East preseason favorite in both the coaches’ and writers’ polls. But BU still projects to be among the top third of the 12-team conference this year.
Whereas the question with BU last year was whether Eichel could live up to the tremendous hype of a top NHL prospect, the question this year will be how good this team is without Eichel.
Given the depth in every area of the roster ahead of the season, it looks like BU should do just fine.