Hockey East Preview – Northeastern University

By: Josh Brown

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Head Coach: Jim Madigan (7th season)

Last Season: 18-15-5 (9-10-3 in HE, 8th); Lost to Boston University in Hockey East Quarterfinals

Losses: D Nick Fiorentino, D Jon Barry, F Sam Kurker, D Jake Schechter, F Zach Aston-Reese, F Brendan Collier, F John Stevens, F Tanner Pond, F Mike Jamieson, F Ryan Rosenthal

Newcomers: F Brandon Hawkins, F Drew Blackmun, F Austin Goldstein, F Eetu Selanne, D Ryan Solomon, D Billy Carrabino, F Brandon Schultz, F Bobby Hamtpton, F Zach Solow, G Cayden Primeau

A year after winning a much-coveted Hockey East title, Northeastern finished eighth in the regular season and was dominated by Boston University in the conference quarterfinals. While nobody expected the Huskies to continue their reign atop college hockey’s most competitive conference, last season served as a dose of reality that punched Northeastern fans right in the jaw. In addition, Hobey Baker hat trick finalist Zach Aston-Reese and captain John Stevens walked across the stage at the TD Garden in May, receiving their degrees and signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders respectively.

So why exactly are expectations so high for the Huskies this season both on and beyond Huntington Avenue?  The Hockey East coaches poll ranked Northeastern fifth. In addition, the Huskies begin the regular season ranked No. 14 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and No. 20 in the USCHO.com poll. This optimism starts with the fact that Northeastern returns 70 percent of its offensive output from a team that averaged 3.68 goals per game last season. Assistant captain Dylan Sikura enters his senior season with 92 career points and 56 career assists, which is good for fourth (tied) and seventh in the nation respectively among active players. In addition, Adam Gaudette has amassed 38 career goals in just two seasons, 21 of which have been scored on the power play (most in the nation). And while both Sikura and Gaudette are locks to be in the Hobey Baker discussion this year, don’t forget about Nolan Stevens. The senior captain enters 2017-2018 with 33 career goals and 43 assists despite only playing in 17 games last season due to injury. The three will anchor a power play unit that operated at a league best 27.9 percent last season.

But it’s not only the Huskies “Big Three” that will help carry the scoring load. Matt Filipe returns for his sophomore season after potting nine goals and 12 assists last season. Zach Solow, who earned first line minutes in the team’s 9-1 exhibition win over Prince Edward Island, led the USHL in scoring last season (18 goals, 51 assists). The Naples, Florida native was named the 2017 USA Hockey Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year and USHL Forward of the Year. If Grant Jozefek can bounce back after an injury-ridden freshman season and newcomers Brandon Schultz and Eetu Selanne (son of NHL great Teemu Selanne) can help provide solid third/fourth line minutes, the Huskies could very well have one of the most potent offensive attacks in the nation.

Defensively, the Huskies will look to improve upon a unit that allowed 2.97 goals per game last season (9th in Hockey East) and operated at a mediocre 82.7 percent on the penalty kill. With senior assistant captain Garret Cockerill, junior Eric Williams and sophomores Ryan Shea and Jeremy Davies all projected to be in the top-four again this season, expect to see the Northeastern defense make noticeable gains in 2017-2018. On the flip side, the aforementioned quartet brings a ton of firepower along the blue line. Cockerill finished sixth in the nation in points per game among defensemen (0.87) last season, and was one of only 16 defensemen in the country with at least 30 points. His 33 total points (7 goals, 26 assists) were the most for a NU defenseman since Jim Fahey in 2001-2002. In just four seasons combined between the three of them, Shea, Davies and Williams bring an additional 69 career points to the NU blue line.

But with all of that being said, the Northeastern goaltending situation is far-and-away the most intriguing storyline heading into the new season. Will Ryan Ruck retain his starting position? Will freshman sensation Cayden Primeau steal his job? Or will Jim Madigan platoon the two goalies much like Vermont and UConn has done in recent years? Let’s begin with Ruck, who has had one of the most interesting careers in Northeastern hockey history. Not only did the junior help deliver the Huskies’ first Hockey East title since 1988, but he currently ranks fifth on the program’s all-time wins list (38), holds the third best goals against average in program history (2.64) and the fifth highest save percentage (.903). With that being said, Ruck was statistically one of the worst goalies in all of Hockey East last season. Ruck ranked 11th in goals against average (2.94) and dead last in save percentage (.897) among goalies with a minimum of 40 percent of team minutes played. Primeau, on the other hand, has garnered the attention of the Northeastern faithful for almost two years now. The 6-foot-4 left-handed netminder is ranked No. 7 by NHL Central Scouting among North American goaltenders. In addition to playing with Lincoln in the USHL last season, Primeau was a member of the U.S. Junior Select Team that played at the 2017 World Junior A Challenge. Primeau played in three games, finishing with a 3-0 record and a .966 save percentage. He was selected by the Montreal Canadians with the 199th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. If Primeau can quickly adjust to NCAA play, expect him to see significant ice time this season.

Bottom Line: Northeastern may have one of the highest ceilings and lowest floors of any team in the nation. Seriously. If everything clicks, this team could be a legitimate Frozen Four contender. That would likely entail a Hobey Baker-esque campaign from both Gaudette and Sikura, as well as Primeau quickly adjusting to the NCAA game. But it’s not that far-fetched. On the other hand, the Huskies have a history of underperforming for large portions of the season. And that’s putting it lightly. While Jim Madigan will need his team to perform consistently for the whole season, don’t be shocked if the Huskies end up with a couple pieces of hardware this season.

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