Last week opened the time period where recruited players could sign National Letters of Intent, binding them to their chosen collegiate program for the upcoming season. With Northeastern expected to lose as many as twelve players this upcoming offseason between a combination of graduation and players signing professional contracts, the 2023 recruiting class was always expected to be a large one. Let’s take a look at the eight players that signed their NLIs and will enroll next season as freshmen for the Northeastern Huskies.
Adam Zlnka– the newest member of the recruiting pipeline, Zlnka is playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, where he has 6 points (2 goals) in 14 games in his first season returning from ACL reconstruction. A native of Slovakia and the first European player to commit to Northeastern since Ludwig Karlsson, Zlnka is a 6-foot right winger with a combination of a hard, quick, accurate shot, “tons of skill” according to evaluators, and a solid combination of speed and quickness. Due to his injury he fell to the 7th round of the 2022 NHL Draft where Arizona traded up to ensure they got him, and one scout called him “the steal of the draft.” Athletes coming off ACL reconstruction generally see them return to their ceilings of ability the second year after repair, which would be next season for Zlnka when he matriculates as a freshman. We project that he will get a serious look at the top of the lineup and on special teams.
James Fisher– Another right shot winger, Fisher is a 6-foot-2 power forward currently playing for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. Despite only having 3 points (2 goals) in 12 games, Fisher is a top six forward for the Phantoms, with his specialty being a north-south power game pushing the puck towards the net. Considered to have huge upside, Fisher was snagged as a seventh round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft by Columbus, and is someone who we expect to be a four year player at Northeastern and who can blossom into a dominating power forward by the time he’s through. We’ve seen players with his makeup succeed especially in the back half of their careers while under the tutelage of Jerry Keefe, namely Zach Aston-Reese, Nolan Stevens, and currently Sam Colangelo, and Fisher has the makeup to be the next great Northeastern power forward. Across Hockey East, it generally takes at least one season for a power forward to really get going, so don’t be surprised if Fisher starts in the bottom six before being elevated as he gets older.
Ben Poitras– The youngest member of the recruiting class, Poitras is a 2005-birth year and another right shot winger. He will enter Northeastern as a true freshman, and is eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft. Currently sporting a 4-5-9 scoring line in 13 games for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL, the Toronto native is a high-IQ player with a combination of skill and compete level, who is always a threat in the offensive zone. His profile honestly reminds me of current freshman Jack Williams, and as Williams climbs the ladder into the top six next season with the aforementioned graduations and signings, Poitras could slide right into his third line spot next season to being his career.
Billy Norcross– Previously committed to Boston College before changing his commitment when Jerry York retired, Norcross took his talents to Western Canada and the BCHL for this season where he has put up 11 points (6 goals) in 18 games for the Penticton Vees, an absolute powerhouse in the league. Norcross is another tall right-shot winger who has the ability to shoot and score while also grind it out along the boards and fight for the 50/50 pucks that coaches emphasize so greatly. He’s a consummate 200 foot player and someone we can foresee being a quality penalty killer for Northeastern. Projected as a four year player, expect Norcross to fill a role in the bottom six early in his career but show the versatility to slide up and down the lineup as his career progresses.
Andy Moore– The elder statesman of the class, Moore is a 2002 birth year and is in his second season with Cedar Rapids in the USHL, a program that has produced some of the best Huskies past and present including Justin Hryckowian, Aidan McDonough, and Adam Gaudette. Limited by injury this season, Moore had 27 points (12 goals) in 58 games last year, with another 9 points in 8 playoff games, and profiles as a power forward who can play either center or wing. Expect the Maine native to bring physicality, leadership, and accountability to the Huskies for all four years on Huntington Avenue.
Michael Fisher– The latest announced NLI signee, Fisher is in his first USHL season with Youngstown but has yet to play a game as he rehabs a knee injury. He is projected to return early in the new year to get half a season’s worth of games before enrolling at Northeastern. At his peak, Fisher is a smooth-skating, puck-moving, right-hand shot defenseman who was considered one of the best skaters overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, and one of the defensemen with the highest possible upside. San Jose took Fisher in the third round of the draft, one round after taking current freshman sensation Cameron Lund. Fisher started to tap into his offensive ability in his final season at St. Mark’s Prep, tallying 50 points (13 goals) in 28 games and bedazzling scouts with his ability to carry the puck himself while also possessing a one timer what is heavy, hard, and can handcuff goalies, something Northeastern has been lacking for many seasons from its blue line. Expect the player once described by a scout as “a unicorn” to compete for top four pairing and powerplay time- we could see him pairing well with a defense-first player like Jackson Dorrington or Hunter McDonald for years to come at Northeastern.
Kaden Muir– If the two defensemen in this NLI class were a coin, while Michael Fisher claims the side where offensive upside is paramount, Kaden Muir specializes in the defensive acumen of the game. A graduate of the United States National Team Development Program, Muir is currently playing for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL where he’s got 3 assists in 12 games. An old-school defense first defenseman, Muir is a 6-foot-1 right shot defenseman who skates well and will make his teammates’ lives easier the way he can defend his own zone, get the puck out with his exit passes, and shut down opposing scoring chances. Similar in style to former defenseman Tommy Miller and current senior Tyler Spott, Muir’s talents will pair well with offensive-minded defensemen like Braden Doyle. The sixth NTDP graduate to attend Northeastern in the last decade, expect him to compete for penalty kill time as well.
Cameron Whitehead– arguably the most important member of the class for the future success of the program, Whitehead is a 6-foot-2 goaltender currently playing for the Lincoln Stars in the USHL, where he leads the league in save percentage (.920) and goals-against-average (1.95) among goalies with at least seven starts. He also has two shutouts in ten games. A fourth round draft pick by Vegas in the 2022 NHL Draft, Whitehead is expected to be the heir to Devon Levi’s starter position in net as soon as he arrives next season. Replacing the greatest goaltender in program history is no small feat, but Whitehead has been in the pipeline for over a year now with this succession always being the plan. With two years of USHL hockey under his belt we expect he will come in and find success very early for Northeastern.
With these eight players signed and ready to start in the Fall of 2023, the future looks bright on Huntington Avenue. At the same time, our roster projections still see room for players to be added depending on players returning for their bonus year or possibly putting off professional hockey. Don’t be surprised if the coaches still find ways to add talent to the 2023 class, whether on the recruiting trail or from the transfer portal in the offseason. As always we will have coverage of any move when it does break.
The Huskies are fighting the injury bug right now but are back in action this weekend against a resurgent Boston University program. See you at the rinks.
As always, go Huskies!