Aside from those schools in the Frozen Four, everyone else is forced to think about what could have been and what could happen in the future.
That’s where recruiting comes in. Head coaches and assistants have spent the season retooling for the future, but what are the programs with the best recruiting classes? Here’s a look at Slightly Chilled’s picks for the nation’s Top 10 recruiting classes based off current commitments per Chris Heisenberg’s 2011 recruit list.
10. New Hampshire (Hockey East)
Notable names: Trevor van Riemsdyk (D), Casey DeSmith (G), Ryan Randall (D)
Dick Umile and Co. have 18 players committed to them over the next few years for what is one of this year’s deepest recruiting classes. What’s likable about this class is who they have coming in on defense. There’s van Riemsdyk, who at 6-2, 185 has pretty good size and is the kind of player that was a strong offensive defenseman playing for the New Hampshire Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He scored 16 goals and 22 assists, but his strength is the power play where he scored seven goals and chipped in with 13 assists. UNH has six defenseman committed. Another solid pickup is DeSmith, who plays in the USHL with the Indiana Ice. DeSmith as 21 wins and a 2.50 GAA on a team that could be a contender to win the league’s Eastern Conference title.
9. Boston University (Hockey East)
Notable names: Robert Polesello (F), Matt Grzelcyk (D), Matthew O’Connor (G)
The Terriers have a 10-player recruiting class that has a good mix of forwards and defenseman. Polesello might be the biggest name on this list even if he his 5-7, 160 pounds. Polesello was recently featured by Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News as being a guy to watch given the playmaking ability he’s showed in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League. He scored 47 points for Vaughan in the during the regular season and heading into last weekend had six points through nine playoff games. Polesello isn’t the player with offensive upside in this class. Forward Cason Hohmann, who is playing with Cedar Rapids in the USHL, has 50 points in 49 games this year. Another trend with this class is they aren’t big on size with a number of players around that 5-9, 5-10 range.
8. Michigan (CCHA)
Notable names: John Gibson (G), Connor Carrick (D), Travis Lynch (F)
Michigan has a good situation going on because it has a mix of players that can come in immediately and guys waiting in the wings still playing juniors. Lynch is one of those guys that is set to come in next year. Here’s what’s to like about Lynch. At 5-11, 176 pounds, he has some decent size but has room to grow. He’s also a pretty smart player too. Lynch only has 11 PIM in 56 games this season with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Throw in his 40 points this year and it appears he could fill a two-way role for the Wolverines. Another advantage Michigan has with this class is size and Gibson is proof given his 6-3, 175-pound frame that’s only going to grow. Gibson, potentially, could be the next solid goalie to come through Michigan if he continues to develop. As for the future, Michigan has four kids coming up through the infamous Detroit Honeybaked system. Having chemistry with freshman isn’t a bad thing either.
7. Boston College (Hockey East)
Notable names: Sam Piazza (D), Michael Sit (F), Ted Doherty (D)
BC has a class that’s a bit similar to UNH and Michigan by having players that can come in right away and having players that can develop. A guy that is said to come in right away is Sit, who played at Edina, arguably the best high school program in Minnesota. He was part of an Edina team that won a state title when he was a junior. His senior year wasn’t bad helping Edina finish fourth in the state tournament. Sit can do a variety of things but his strength is setting up players. He scored 31 points in 24 games for Edina and 21 of those points were assists. The big name in the up-and-comers group is Piazza out of the Chicago Mission youth system. Piazza is a offensive defenseman that likes to score, which if things keep progressing, could work out well for the Eagles. Most of BC’s current commits won’t arrive for another year or two, maybe longer. Even still, it is a young class with promise that should challenge for a Hockey East title once it gets on track.
6. Ohio State (CCHA)
Notable names: Brady Hjelle (G), Zach Stepan (F), Ryan Dzingel (F)
Ohio State is listed at having 22 commits with six of them slated to come in the future. Either way, this is a deep class that’s got strengths all over the board especially at defense. There are a number of d-men that stick out such as Alex McLean, who plays for Omaha in the USHL. McLean is that guy with good size who at 6-2 185 pounds is a presence at the back. Another guy Ohio State fans should be familiar with if they aren’t already is Hjelle. He’s done nothing but set the USHL record for most wins by a goaltender in a season and has played in virtually every game for his season. Hjelle is a workhorse and really hasn’t had a point in the season where he’s looked weak. Hjelle is 37-7-4 with a 2.22 GAA. The future of this class is also bright when looking at Stepan, who plays at the infamous Shattuck-St. Mary’s boarding school that produced NHLers like Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise. Stepan finished his junior season by being third in the team in scoring with 61 points in 48 games this season. This is a solid, solid recruiting class.
5. Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA)
Notable names: Tony Cameranesi (F), Matt McNeely (G), Tim Smith (D)
This is a very, very solid and respectable recruiting class that could surprise a few people over the next few years. Getting a guy like Cameranesi gives the Bulldogs speed up front just based off what he did at Wayzata during the Minnesota High School season. UM-D fans are excited about Cameranesi because of his speed and because he was a player that created a lot of discussion for the state’s Mr. Hockey Award. Cameranesi had 63 points in 28 games but did a lot of damage by creating scoring chances, which was evidenced by his 46 assists. Getting McNeely was a big, big thing for the Bulldogs too. Having a guy from the NTDP come to the program is proof Sandelin is doing the right things to get guys there. Also, Adam Johnson, a sophomore at Hibbing/Chisholm, won’t be there for a while, but he is a good guy to grab. He was electric during the Class A Minnesota State High School tourney and if it wasn’t for Kyle Rau, he might have been the most exciting player to watch during this tournament.
4. Miami (CCHA)
Notable names:Â Connor Murphy (D), Blake Coleman (F), Tyler Biggs (F)
Miami, just based of the USHL alone, has arguably the most dangerous scoring potential of any incoming class. Coleman leads the USHL in points while Jimmy Mullin is an electric player that can rack up points too. Don’t forget Biggs, who will be a lunch-money stealing bully with his size. Miami also has four defensemen in this class headlined by Murphy too. Putting Miami at No. 4 was hard given the potential this group has. Speaking of the USHL, of the 10 players slated to come in next season, all of them played in the USHL. Making that jump, of course, will provide challenges but having a group of freshman with a year or more of juniors under their belt isn’t a bad thing. If there is such a thing, this is my pick for the sleeper class.
3. North Dakota (WCHA)
Notable names: Rocco Grimaldi (F),Â Zane Gothberg (G),Â Jordan Schmaltz (D)
Damn. That’s really what anyone can say when looking at the Fighting Sioux’s class, which is ridiculously sick. Putting this class in the No. 3 spot has a hard choice given how much talent should be rolling in over the next few years. Forget size, Grimaldi is the real deal. He’s got a quick shot and speed that makes him so dynamic and hard to contain. Gothberg, who won’t enter until 2012, has looked sharp at times in the USHL. He could be the starting goaltender next year in Fargo and that experience could prove well for the Boston Bruins draft pick. Then there is Schmaltz has been the kind of player to dominate games from the blue line. UND fans have had a chance to watch him as he’s had some pretty good games in Fargo. Schmaltz comes in 2012 along with Gothberg, but the future is bright. And a guy to pay attention to is defenseman Andrew Panzarella. He has good size at 6-2, 190 pounds and strong footwork too. Really, an argument can be made that there are more guys to watch for the Sioux, which isn’t a surprise. This is a class that should do a lot of great things over the next few years.
2. Minnesota (WCHA)
Notable names: A.J. Michaelson (F), Seth Ambroz (F), Ben Marshall (D)
Any year, this would win the prize for best recruiting class. Just not this year. Don Lucia has crafted and recruited a class that not only fits that whole “Minnesota-born” philosophy Gopher fans love or in some cases, love to hate, but he captured the best players that state has to offer. What Minnesota has coming through next year in Ambroz, Marshall and Michaelson alone is a lot to be proud of. Ambroz is a player that some NHL Draft experts have going in the first round and well, that’s really all that needs to be said. Marshall, for some, is the clear choice as the USHL’s best defenseman. He keeps an active stick and his positioning allows him to be near the puck whether its on the offensive or defensive end. Michaelson, who just finished his junior year at Apple Valley (Minn.), had 60 points (29 goals, 31 assists) in 25 regular season games. He turned down an invite to play for the NTDP yet will play in the USHL next season for Waterloo. Michaelson, if he had stayed, would have been a favorite to win Mr. Hockey along with being a favorite for a state title.
But there’s more players like Christian Isackson, who has been slapping kids around the USHL like they’re a Raggedy Andy doll with how active he is. He’s not really physical but he’s around the puck constantly. Isackson puts himself in great position most of the time he’s on the ice. Then there’s the O’Reilly twins, who are speedy and have already gained a partnership with Isackson by playing on the same line as him from time-to-time. And then there’s something about some Kyle Rau kid. No one ever really writes about him, but he might have recently won a state title and some Mr. Hockey award too. Eh, hopefully the kid can get some more exposure. Cry about Lucia and what he hasn’t done the last few years all you want. Man can recruit and this class is proof. End of discussion.
1. Nebraska-Omaha (WCHA)
Notable names: Brian Cooper (D), Josh Archibald (F), Nick Seeler (D)
Here’s why UNO wins the award for best recruiting class. Minnesota and North Dakota have more “blue chip” players but UNO has constructed a more-than solid, reliable class that has a ton of potential. The thing about getting too many “blue chip” players is that they could potentially leave early. Maybe that happens with a few players in UNO’s incoming class, but it doesn’t appear that way for now. One of the higher-end players in this class is Cooper, a guy that the Gophers made a hard push at but opted for UNO instead. There were some upset people that Cooper did not head to Minnesota and a lot of that has to do with the fact he’d fit in that system given his speed and strength. Cooper is 5-9, 180 pounds and is built like a rock. He’s the kind of player that can provide that big, booming hit and is a puck-moving defenseman that can do multiple things from set up the power play to flying down the ice and scoring.
Archibald, perhaps, might be the sleeper of this class for those not familiar with Minnesota High School Hockey. Some might knock him because he played at Brainerd, which isn’t exactly a hockey power. But he was a Mr. Hockey candidate and Dave Morinville, the head coach at Moorhead and a former NHL scout, said that he’s told other scouts to draft Archibald because of what he can do. Morinville, who faced the likes of Camernesi, Rau and two other Mr. Hockey candidates this season, said Archibald, by far, was the best player he coached against all year.
Half of this class is expected to come in over the next few years giving them time to develop. Four of those players play with Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League, which can create familiarity for the future. Another guy to watch could be Tanner Lane. Lane as a junior in high school scored 90 points resulting in him being sixth-round Atlanta Thrashers draft pick. He’s finishing his first year of juniors in the USHL, but could really showcase his talents next season with a year of experience in his pocket.
It might not have be like having Grimaldi or Michaelson, but based off what these prospects have done in juniors and in high school, this is a class with a lot of upside. Minnesota and North Dakota have that upside too, but there’s just something about this class that just make it a little bit better. That and every time you looked up, you kept hearing about UNO getting this kid or that kid and this is proof of that.
Those are pretty much my picks for the Top 10 best recruiting classes in the nation. Surely, there are going to be disagreements so let the debate begin.