NU Hockey Blog is counting down to the start of the 2017-18 Hockey East season with a look at the upcoming year for each of the returning clubs (Note: get lost Notre Dame). Today, we wrap up our reviews with our Northeastern Huskies. Photo credit: Melissa Wade/USCHO Photography
Northeastern Huskies 2016-17 Results:
Hockey East: 9-10-3
Hockey East Tournament: Swept Connecticut in Hockey East Opening Round; Swept by Boston University Terriers in Hockey East Quarterfinals
NCAA Tournament: Did not qualify
Departures: Zach Aston-Reese (F), Brendan Collier (F), Mike Jamieson (F), Sam Kurker (F), Tanner Pond (F), John Stevens (F), Ryan Rosenthal (F), Jon Barry (D), Nick Fiorentino (D), Jake Schecter (D), Curtis Frye (G)
Additions: Drew Blackmun (F), Austin Goldstein (F), Bobby Hampton (F), Brandon Schultz (F), Eetu Selanne (F), Zach Solow (F), Billy Carrabino (D), Ryan Solomon (D), Cayden Primeau (G), Liam Pecararo (F, transfer), Brandon Hawkins (F, transfer)
Season In Review: The 2016-2017 edition of the Huskies started the season with high expectations. Coming off the program’s first trophy since 1988, Northeastern sought to continue their momentum and return to the NCAA tournament. Despite the losses of Kevin Roy, Matt Benning, Colton Saucerman, Mike McMurtry, and others, the Huskies retained plenty of talent to make that goal a reality. Another slow start set them back, as they grabbed just one win in conference play through the first twelve games. Yet another second half rally (8-2 in Hockey East) gave them home ice in the opening round of the Hockey East Tournament, but their eighth-place seeding set them up for a quarterfinals date with the Boston University Terriers and an early summer.
To say that a high-powered offense led the way would be an understatement. Last season’s Huskies were a goal-scoring machine the likes of which Huntington Avenue has rarely, if ever, seen. Northeastern featured three bona fide Hobey Baker candidates. Junior Dylan Sikura and sophomore Adam Gaudette wrought havoc on defenses, posting eye-popping lines of 21-36-57 and 26-26-52 respectively. Meanwhile, senior Zach Aston-Reese just missed the Hobey with a ridiculous 31 goals and 63 points total.
Despite criticism from this blog (including this author) about the club’s scoring depth, Northeastern ended up having fairly impressive offensive contributions from outside the “big three.” John and Nolan Stevens put up 28 and 22 points respectively despite each of them missing a significant chunk of the season. Rookie Matt Filipe also chipped in 21 points (9 goals) and even the Huskies blue line filled up the score sheet. Garrett Cockerill posted the first 30-point season for an NU defenseman since Jim Fahey (7-26-33), falling just outside the Hockey East top 20 in overall scoring. He and rising sophomore Jeremy Davies (8-15-23) will be the top two returning defensemen scorers in Hockey East. This is especially interesting to note in the context of last year’s season preview, courtesy of Mike Downie. Mike made the observation that head coach Jim Madigan has made a point to build the defense around offensive, puck-moving defensemen. This is more or less exactly how things played out. Look at last year’s defensive scoring for the Huskies:
Trevor Owens, Garrett Cecere, and Jake Schechter, when on the ice, are never going to put up points. That’s not their game. But the top four of this defensive group – Davies, Shea, Cockerill, and Williams – can all break the puck out and make plays offensively. This is a team with a plan and the talent to execute it. And as Mike put it so eloquently last summer, the best defense is a good offense.
Taken altogether, the 2016-17 Husky offense decimated opposing defenses. Whether it was overall offense (3.68 goals per game, 6th in the country), power play scoring (27.9%, 2nd in the country), or shots on goal (30.1 for to 28.4 against), the Huskies excelled. The problem, as it has been for several years now, was goaltending. Northeastern was 48th in the country in save percentage (.895) while being 18th in the country in shots allowed at 28.4 per game. Just bumping the team save percentage to .910 – a generous definition of “middle-of-the-pack” for Hockey East – would have dropped NU’s goals allowed per game from 2.97 to 2.55. Injuries played a role in the team’s slow start, but, when you look at the entire body of work, it’s hard to not see bottom-of-the-table goaltending as the lone reason NU missed the national tournament.
The 2017-2018 Huskies welcome a freshman class of nine, in addition to two transfers (thank you to the fine folks at GoNU.com for much of this information).
Drew Blackmun (F) – Blackmun has been described as a two-way forward, arriving at Northeastern by way of the NAHL’s Aston Rebels. He posted 16 goals and 24 assists in 51 games last season. A late addition to the 2017 entering class, we expect Blackmun to provide depth at the forward position for the Huskies.
Austin Goldstein (F) – The Malden Catholic alum has spent the last two seasons with the USPHL’s Islanders Hockey Club. Goldstein enjoyed a breakout season last year, racking up 26 goals and 26 assists in 39 games. Madigan has highlighted Goldstein’s speed and talents on the penalty kill previously as well. A former teammate of Matt Filipe’s at Malden Catholic, Goldstein should compete for time in the bottom-six right away.
Bobby Hampton (F) – Madigan has described Hampton has a versatile forward with a good shot and good skating abilities, saying he can play both center and wing. After showing some offensive talent with 11 goals and 25 points over 53 games in the USHL last season, most of which came after a late-season trade to Cedar Rapids, Hampton could step into a bottom-six role some time this season.
Brandon Schultz (F) – Schultz is another forward that could serve an immediate role on the third or fourth lines. Schultz played 58 games with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL last season, posting 45 points (15 goals). On top of the playmaking abilities, Madigan has highlighted Schultz’s energy, grit, and special teams play, reminding this blogger of what Brendan Collier was able to bring to the Huskies.
Eetu Selanne (F) – An alum of the USHL’s Madison Capitals (12 goals, 18 assists in 103 games over two seasons), Selanne has been praised for his two-way play and high hockey IQ. The son of NHL legend Teemu Selanne, expect Eetu to compete for time on the fourth line.
Zach Solow (F) – Solow should be an immediate addition to the Huskies’ top six. In 56 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints last season, Solow assisted on 51 scores and potted 18 goals himself. His 69 points led the USHL and helped him land USHL Forward of the Year and 2017 USA Junior Player of the Year honors. Madigan has compared his style to Dylan Sikura, labeling him a “distributor first.”
Liam Pecararo (F, transfer) – Pecararo will start his Northeastern a career a year later than originally planned due to eligibility issues. He’ll finally take the Matthews Arena ice with two years of eligibility remaining after a short stint with the Maine Black Bears in 2014-15. The 21-year-old originally committed to Maine under former head coach Tim Whitehead in 2010, at the age of 14. Whitehead departed the school before Pecararo arrived, and the latter followed suit after reported differences with the new coaching staff. Pecararo scored 61 points in 2014 with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks before enrolling at Maine and scored another 44 in 45 games in his return to Waterloo after departing. He’ll have to shake off some rust after sitting out the past year, but with age, proven scoring ability, and previous Hockey East experience, Pecararo was an underrated missing piece to the Huskies offensive attack a year ago. He should help mitigate the loss of John Stevens and Zach Aston-Reese.
Brandon Hawkins (F, transfer) – Jim Madigan’s annual forward transfer comes from Bowling Green this year. Hawkins stepped away from Bowling Green a year ago despite a fast start to his collegiate hockey career. He was named to the 2014-15 WCHA All-Rookie Team after leading the team in points and goals (16-14-30). He followed up his freshman campaign with a nearly identical sophomore season, posting a 13-15-28 line. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Hawkins will not be eligible until the spring semester, but his proven scoring ability should provide an instant boost.
Billy Carrabino (D) – The 6’2″, 205 pound Carrabino posted 9 points (3 goals) in 23 games with the Boston Jr. Bruins of the USPHL last season. Madigan describes him as a physical defender who adds quality to the back end of the Huskies’ zone. Expect Carrabino to mostly serve as depth this season on a crowded Northeastern blueline.
Ryan Solomon (D) – Solomon spent the last two season with the Philadelphia Rebels of the NAHL where he registered 12 goals and 34 assists in 106 games, including 31 points last year. Described by Madigan as a two-way defenseman with quickness and skating talent, he fits the existing Husky defenseman mold much more than Carrabino does. Again, expect Solomon to serve as depth this season, with a greater role to come in future years.
Cayden Primeau (G) – Primeau’s arrival at Matthews Arena has been long anticipated by the Northeastern faithful. Consistent goaltending remains one of the toughest challenges Jim Madigan has faced as the Huskies’ head coach, but Primeau is a significant notch above his previous recruits (including Derick Roy, Ryan Ruck, Jake Theut, and Curtis Frye). The 6’2″ netminder posted an absurd .951 save percentage with the Philadelphia Revolution of the Eastern Hockey League in 2015-16. Unfortunately, Primeau took a step back in the USHL last season, putting up a meek .895 save percentage with the Lincoln Stars while splitting time in the crease, but that wasn’t enough to bother the Montreal Canadiens who drafted him in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft. After the draft, it was reported that Montreal had him ranked 6th-best among draft-eligible goalies, and feel that he had legitimate pro upside. Coach Madigan has since been quoted saying Primeau played last season with an undisclosed injury, which may have affected his final stat line more than we realize. Primeau has been lauded for his lateral movement and athleticism but is still a raw talent. He has a high ceiling and will compete with Ryan Ruck for playing time to start the season. It would be surprising, however, if Primeau is not the starter by the end of the season.
Projected Forward Lines:
The top six forwards are tough to argue with; Sikura and Gaudette return to take a run at the Hobey Baker award. Captain Nolan Stevens is back and ready to score more goals, while Matt Filipe is well on his way to being a cornerstone of the Northeastern offense for seasons to come. Solow’s playmaking abilities will allow him to slide right into that second line center slot from the start. Pecararo nabs the last spot mostly based on his previous Hockey East scoring pedigree. The third line will likely feature some real x-factors Northeastern: Lincoln Griffin and Grant Jozefek. Griffin potted 6 goals (10 points) and was a pivotal player on the fourth line during the Huskies’ run to the conference championship in 2016. A true freshman that season, he looked prime for a breakout in year two. Instead, he posted an underwhelming 5-6-11 line and felt like a non-factor most nights. Jim Madigan has always been high on Griffin, so his third season will be one to watch closely. Meanwhile, Jozefek was highly touted when he arrived on campus last fall but played just 10 games due to a concussion and post-concussive symptoms that lingered through the season. He’s another player who could tap into his offensive talent this season and make a huge impact. Finally, the fourth line will likely be shuffled around a few times in the early weeks of the season, as Madigan tries to find a combination that works. The names we expect to get a significant chunk of early playing time include returning sophomores Biagio Lerario and John Picking, as well as freshmen Schultz and Goldstein.
Projected Defensive Pairings:
An underrated point in favor of Northeastern this coming season is the fact that they return essentially their entire defensive lineup. Cecere and Owens will provide stability and stay-at-home defense as the bottom pairing, but the top four will really make this unit click. What’s particularly exciting is that there is so much room for growth for this group. Davies and Shea posted solid freshman seasons and should continue to make strides as sophomores. Eric Williams, though, is the player to watch here; his famous slapshot was notoriously quiet last year. We don’t expect that to be the case again, and that could put him in line for a huge leap in his junior season.
While we project Primeau to win the job eventually, we expect Ruck to be in net opening night. Ruck has showed flashes of Hockey East-caliber play over the course of his first two collegiate seasons, but the body of work is not confidence-inspiring (and has been well-documented on this blog). His .897 save percentage last season could and should be easily surpassed by Primeau, even accounting for rookie struggles. It’ll take some time to establish it, but Primeau will likely be the primary starter barring injury or an unforeseen leap forward by Ruck.
Season Outlook: Despite the significant losses of Zach Aston-Reese and John Stevens, the Huskies return an impressive amount of scoring and their entire defensive corps. As a group, we have Northeastern ranked as the fourth team in Hockey East this coming season, but, frankly, it would be a disappointment to see them finish much lower than that. Barring injuries, the only thing that can hold this group back is sub-par goaltending. It will be hard to have a worse result than last year in that department, so expect a high floor for this team. If Ryan Ruck bounces back or (more likely) Cayden Primeau breaks out in his freshman campaign, Northeastern’s run could extend in to late March and maybe – just maybe – even April.