I’ll be honest. There’s a bit of a bias in this prediction. As I’ve said before, I believe spots 5-7 will be separated by a few points at most, in a tight battle that will go down to the last weekend. I think Northeastern can have the mettle to prove itself over Maine and Vermont for these spots and come out on top of the race.
Let’s look at the goalie position first. Chris Rawlings was the big show here, with a 2.68 GAA and .920 save percentage, with 5 shutouts, and Clay Witt provided solid backup work with a 1.86 GAA and .940 Save percentage in the 7 games he played. Look for Witt to play some more games, he really proved himself last year, and was a very athletic goalie. Rawlings will hopefully continue to improve upon his game, as he improved greatly from freshman to sophomore year. The goalie position is arguably Northeastern’s strongest position, and one of the best in Hockey East, and will likely be a strength in the coming season.
For defense, Northeastern took a bit of a hit. The graduation of Hewkin wasn’t a major loss, but Oleksiak signing with the OHL is a bigger loss, as he could have had a major impact this year. Northeastern returns the tandem of sophomores Luke Eibler and Anthony Bitetto, who were the top defensive line for most of the year. Bitetto in particular will be a major impact player, playing point on the Power Play, and helping shut down opposing team’s top lines. The Huskies also return Drew Ellement and Drew Daniels. Daniels in particular ended up as a solid defenseman, adding a puck moving defenseman to the blueline. The defensive corp will be joined by Josh Manson, another converted forward from the BCHL. Manson provided solid offense this past season (having a 12-35-47 line in 57 games) and is a draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks. They’ll also gain Ben Oskroba, a big defenseman from the USHL, who, along with Jacob Hoefler and Dan Cornell will likely rotate for the 6th D-man spot.
The forward corp is a group waiting to breakout. The loss of the top 4 scorers will certainly put a crimp in the Huskies’ production, but a number of players are looking at a potential breakout. Justin Daniels, who had 15 points his freshman year and ended up on the top line, was injured early last year and seemed to never fully recover. Garrett Vermeersch, who had 20 points his freshman year will need to pass more, and utilize his strong shot more. Mike McLaughlin exploded last year, with an 11-4-15 line, and will hopefully improve upon that. Braden Pimm is a big power forward who had a lot of hype coming in, and will hopefully become a Joe Vitale-esque player, who is a strong center, quality PKer, and fights hard along the boards. Cody Ferriero really played well the end of the season, and will hopefully be able to improve his game. In terms of freshman, Vinny Saponari is a transfer, having played 2 years with BU, spent his last year with the USHL, and returns as a Junior. He contributed in a big way, and will likely be a top-6 forward from the get-go. The Huskies also add a lot of size, with their 4 incoming forwards all over 6 feet, which will likely help with board battles and puck possession.
The Huskies have the pieces, and if Jim Madigan can put them together quickly and get his team gelling quickly, Northeastern could be a dangerous team.