1. As per usual, Canada West comes down to the wire before completely disclosing their recruit classes. The last two weeks saw every team officially announce their WHL recruits, including the full releases for Calgary, Alberta, and Saskatchewan; three of the most prestigious schools from the Canada West conference. Let’s have a look at what they did this offseason.
13 Recruits: 1G, 4D, 6F | WHL Experience: 3,176 GP
The Calgary Dinos were expected to have a bulky recruit class after receiving news of a number of departures, including Elgin Pearce, Parker Bowles, and Coleman Vollrath. So Mark Howell and his staff had to get to work quickly to bring in 13 recruits in just a matter of months, before the start of the new season. Aaron Irving, Ryan Gagnon, Colton Bobyk, Jordan Papirny, and Graham Black are all A-list recruits for the Dinos roster. And some of the pieces that they’ve surrounded them with, like Ryan Graham and Matt Alfaro, truly make this class one of the very best. Shaun Dosanjh made a surprise appearance on Calgary’s recruit list after originally committing to York, but after playing for four different WHL teams last year, maybe we should’ve seen this one coming. At any rate, one wonders if the news of Chris Dennis’ departure had anything to do with the decision for Dosanjh to jump ship. The final question mark in Calgary’s class is Tyler Coulter. Signing in the ECHL one week, then appearing in Calgary’s announcement the next leaves us wondering what’s really going on there. Calgary has yet to comment to me on what the reality of this situation is, but my best guess is he’s signed his LOI with the intent to play pro in the ECHL before making a final decision to jump to Calgary or not in December.
6 Recruits: 1G, 1D, 4F | WHL Experience: 1,408 GP
The Saskatchewan Huskies could have recruited absolutely nobody this offseason and still have been considered a national title contender. But the WHL talent was too plentiful for the Huskies to say no to, and as a result, they’ve added four forwards, a goaltender from pro, and a defenceman via transfer. Saskatchewan tells me that Jesse Shynkaruk is still debating playing senior league hockey next year, a decision which will likely be influenced by how he projects into the lineup after the preseason. But Collin Shirley will certainly be a part of their lineup next year. Taylor Sanheim adds bottom-end grit to a Saskatchewan team that needs to be strong in every area to come out atop the Canada West standings once again this year. Carter Folk is a lesser-known WHL recruit, but Dave Adolph is a huge fan of his versatility and attention to detail. Defensively, MacKenzie Johnston comes over on transfer, and is good enough to be a top four defender right away. In net Taran Kozun has a fantastic resume, but it’s hard to imagine Jordon Cooke being dethroned as Saskatchewan’s go-to goalie.
Alberta Golden Bears
4 Recruits: 1G, 1D, 2F | WHL Experience: 1,015 GP
In comparison to last year, this offseason was much quieter for the Golden Bears. But even with only four recruits on the board, they’ve secured substantial talent for next year. Zach Sawchenko was an early-offseason bombshell after deciding to forgo his WHL overage year to join Alberta. The Golden Bears now have two goalies capable of backstopping them to a national championship appearance. Up front they add Steven Owre from Medicine Hat, and Brandon Magee becomes eligible after a year of red-shirting. Players who come out of pro and take a year to become eligible like Magee are difficult to project. But the Golden Bears won’t necessarily need him to be great to win. On the other hand, Owre provides another great offensive weapon for Alberta, but might have a hard time slotting into the top six right away. On defence they add Clayton Kirichenko, who joins a top-heavy defence with talent and makes them substantially deeper. Depth was the name of the game for Alberta this offseason, but if they go far again, it’ll likely be the pieces from years past that get them there.
2. The Guelph Gryphons took their sweet time assembling their recruit class this year, but there are a couple interesting surprises to be found amongst their additions for 2017-18. Patrick Kudla sticks out as one of the most surprising and impactful recruits of the 2017 offseason. After plans fell through that would see him attend Arizona State University this year, he chose to go back to his hometown of Guelph and play for Shawn Camp and the Gryphons. A rare case where a university player is still property of an NHL organization (in this case the Arizona Coyotes), Kudla is still looking to develop into a future NHLer. This means his stay at Guelph may not be very long should he take another step forward this season. It’s a unique situation, and one worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. Mathieu Henderson is another impressive talent being added to the Gryphons back-end, which look impressive heading into the preseason. The big question was netminding, with both goalies from 2016-17 leaving. Cue Andrew Masters, the future of Gryphons goaltending. Masters hasn’t played a meaningful game since 2016, but had great numbers to close out his junior hockey career. This led to an opportunity in the NCAA with the University of Miami (Ohio), but after not seeing any ice-time last year, he’s made the move back north of the border. It’s an interesting move for the Gryphons who were in dire need of goaltending with slim pickings remaining from the OHL/WHL circuit. Matt Kenney, J.P. Villeneuve, Todd Winder, Chris Brill-Morgan, and Chris Cobham round out a recruit class that makes Guelph look better on paper than they did a year ago.
3. After piecing together a pretty underwhelming recruit class on paper for 2017-18, the Moncton Aigles Bleus are already making some serious moves for 2018-19. With a complete overhaul of the hockey operations and coaching department, a mediocre recruit class was to be expected. But the addition of Maxim St-Cyr for the 2017-18 season is a promising sign of good things to come. Moncton seems happy to have J.F. Damphousse and Judes Vallée run the show for the future, while Étienne Rouleau has been added to their recruiting staff, and played a big part in the acquisition of St-Cyr. Having St-Cyr red-shirt for a full season makes him a bit of a wild card looking down the road, but it’s hard to bet against someone who has previously led the QMJHL in scoring. Ultimately the Aigles Bleus certainly haven’t replace the firepower lost with the departure of the Saulnier twins and Pierre Durepos, and that will likely make for an uphill battle all season long. But the groundwork is being laid for much further down the road by a Moncton staff which has its fair share of experience around the game of hockey.
• Two weeks ago, Jim Parker from the Windsor Star tweeted that it seemed apparent that Windsor Spitfires backup Mario Culina was on his way to Ryerson for 2017-18. At this point, the deal isn’t totally done, but might as well be. This makes a lot of sense for Ryerson, who had to scramble to solidify their goaltending after losing Charlie Graham. Any coach in the league will tell you, the two goalie tandem can be a dangerous game in university hockey. All it takes is one injury in the net to throw a season off the rails. University teams don’t have the luxury of having a farm system, and will actually turn to their school’s intramural league if in desperate need. Stockpiling the crease with some company for Brodie Barrick and Taylor Dupuis is a good insurance policy.
• With the recent detractions of a number of pieces from last season, the Ryerson Rams went out to bring defender Jared Walsh from the woodwork for 2017-18. Walsh didn’t play competitive hockey last year, but during his peak in the OHL, he was a very trusty blue-liner for the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s a decent top four option for the Rams this season.
• ICYMI: Former UBC Thunderbird Luke Lockhart is off to a great start with the Kunlun Red Star in the KHL. He recorded his first point two weeks ago on an Alexei Ponikarovsky goal, which you can see here. But point scoring isn’t going to be Lockhart’s forte while he’s in the KHL. Head coach Mike Keenan currently has him pegged as the fourth line centre, and one of the top penalty killers on the team. So far Lockhart has played his role exceptionally, and has been a mainstay in the lineup through the first few weeks of the KHL season.
• The Acadia Axemen announced last week the addition of Jackson Houck who will red-shirt with the team in 2017-18 before becoming eligible to play in 2018-19. Houck was rumoured to be leaning towards the Lethbridge Pronghorns at Christmas last year, but now joins an Acadia team already stocked with five ex-WHLers. Houck’s aggressive style and physicality is a great fit for Acadia’s system, but he won’t be able to help them for at least a year. In the meantime, the Axemen hope they’ll get either Kameron Kielly or Cristiano DiGiacinto before the season starts to round out their roster.
• Though Kameron Kielly has signed his LOI with the Axemen, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll go to Acadia next year, but it definitely means he won’t be going to UNB. The Varsity Reds have 13 forwards on paper at the moment, and they’ll be campaigning to get Alexandre Goulet for second semester, if not sooner. But the Varsity Reds seem fine with what they have. The 13 forward strategy gives them some flexibility to add bodies if desired, and also affords the opportunity to get everyone a chance to play in the lineup. The risk of injuries is still very apparent, but the V-Reds have showed versatility in moving players around the lineup before, and appear to still have that capability this year. Overall, this should be considered a successful offseason by the UNB camp.
• UPEI‘s recruit class is out in the open now, which consists of Matt Mancina, Olivier Arseneau, Filip Rydstrom, and Nathan Yetman. It’s not a remarkable class by any standards, but UPEI thinks they still have enough to compete in the AUS this year. Rydstrom is the most intriguing of the recruits, being a Swedish import into the QMJHL who finished out his junior hockey days with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. After playing two seasons in Charlottetown, Rydstrom enjoyed his time so much in Prince Edward Island that making the decision to attend UPEI was an easy call.
• Last week Gabryel Boudreau quietly signed with the Jonquière Marquis of the LNAH for next season. This effectively ends his time with the UQTR Patriotes after just nine games. Brought in midway through last year, Boudreau brought in a lot of hype as a former second round NHL draft pick, but Marc-Etienne Hubert did acknowledge there was some risk in his addition. Unfortunately for UQTR, the Boudreau project did not work out.
Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:
With the offseason effectively over and training camps full steam ahead, it is time to look back on the best recruit classes from the 2017 offseason. Some schools are still waiting on last minute recruits, and the Western Mustangs website appears to have forgotten they have a men’s hockey team, but for the most part all of the recruit classes are out there. So of the 35 programs and the 229 players committing to play U SPORTS men’s hockey next season, here are the five best recruit classes of 2017.
Top 5 Recruit Classes of the 2017 Offseason:
5. Alberta Golden Bears
The smallest of the recruit classes on this list, the Golden Bears hold the fifth position primarily due to the talent they’ve added to their roster, rather than the needs they’ve addressed. The Golden Bears didn’t really have any glaring holes heading into this offseason, but now they’ll ensure things stay that way in 2017-18, even if they encounter a few road bumps along the way. Clayton Kirichenko is coming off a monster season with the Medicine Hat Tigers where he put up big numbers, and sported the ‘C’ on his chest all year long. The Golden Bears back-end had great top-end talent last year, and Kirichenko now serves as the replacement for the graduating Brennan Yadlowski. Offensively, Alberta picked up both Brandon Magee and Steven Owre. Like Kirichenko, Owre also had a fantastic year in Medicine Hat playing on one of the CHL’s most offensive squads. He possesses the potential to put up numbers with Alberta just as he did in the WHL. Magee also has high potential, but is less of a guarantee to reach it. After red-shirting for a year, it’s hard to tell what his numbers will look like this year. Finally, we have Zack Sawchenko. One of the biggest surprises this offseason, Sawchenko is arguably the best goaltending recruit of any team in the offseason. He’s a prime example of a chance the Golden Bears took to get better, even though they didn’t need to. Bonus points to Alberta for looking at the bigger picture past this season.
4. Concordia Stingers
Over the last few seasons under the leadership of Marc-André Élément, the Concordia Stingers have pieced together consistently impressive recruit classes, something they lacked for many years. This year, Carl Neill headlines their group as one of the biggest game-breakers that was on the market this offseason. But Concordia’s recruit class is built with the strength of two key forwards in Alex Pépin and Massimo Carozza. Carozza is a playmaking centre who should benefit from the wealth of threats Concordia have on the wing. One of those could prove to be Pépin, a steady QMJHL goal-scorer who joins a program which thrives off it’s ability to create offence in many ways. William Gignac is a wild card forward who boasts big numbers from tier II a year ago, and QMJHL defender J-S Taillefer will forgo his overage year to help out the Stingers blue line. Julio Billia was by far the best QMJHL overage goalie available last year, but joins an already star-studded crease at Concordia. The Stingers lost some offence from last season and a huge piece in Olivier Hinse, but they’ve addressed their needs by adding some of the best players possible in those roles.
3. UNB Varsity Reds
After losing a plethora of some of the very best players the AUS (and U SPORTS) had to offer last season, the Varsity Reds had a tough task of replacing them with players capable of bringing this team to the national championship standard once again. Recruiting is a never-ending process for UNB, and it makes offseasons such as this much more manageable. The Varsity Reds got off to a quick start with picking up Kris Bennett up front, while assembling Hayden Hodgson and Tyler Boland to round out their forward additions. Boland comes in as one of the most hyped recruits, fresh off a 100+ point season in the QMJHL. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Hodgson winds up as UNB’s leading rookie scorer. Popping off for 38 goals on a Saginaw team that wasn’t very good last year, Hodgson is a power forward who could turn out to be one of the best offensive additions in the country should he transition quickly. Defensively, the V-Reds add Olivier Leblanc, Tristan Pomerleau, and Trey Lewis. All three offer different skillsets to the blue line, and ensure UNB’s defensive corps is one of the most versatile in the country. Finally, Rylan Parenteau is the replacement for the departing Étienne Marcoux in net. Although Alex Dubeau also has a great chance to be the starter down the stretch, it was essential that UNB found another netminder from the major junior ranks. Collectively, there’s a lot of star power in this class, as you’d expect with UNB. But the variety and quality within their class is what makes it stand apart from the rest.
2. Calgary Dinos
After hauling in a large group of recruits a season ago, the Calgary Dinos probably shouldn’t have needed to be in this situation, but here they are, adding 13 players for the 2017-18 season. Subtractions from the roster aside, the Dinos defence has to be considered one of the best in the country, now featuring Ryan Gagnon, Shaun Dosanjh, Colton Bobyk, and Aaron Irving. Behind them, Matt Greenfield already showed tremendous promise last season, but Jordan Papirny is also a top-tier goalie who can be a star later on in his university career should he be given the chance. Forwards are the key for Calgary this year, who lose substantial scoring in Elgin Pearce. Ryan Graham is a popular candidate to put up good numbers for the Dinos, but should Tyler Coulter wind up with Calgary, he is capable of carrying a hefty offensive burden too. Matt Alfaro and Riley Sheen both have offensive potential, but are less safe bets to add points right away. Finally, Josh Uhrich, Trent Lofthouse, and Tim Vanstone add character, grit and depth to Calgary’s lineup. The Dinos address nearly every role imaginable, not including the acquisition of long-time AHLer Graham Black for 2018-19.
1. UQTR Patriotes
If there was a top-end QMJHL player on the market this year, the UQTR Patriotes were in some sort of rumour for their services for this season. Dealing with one of the biggest roster turnovers of any program this year, the Patriotes have essentially opted to build from the ground up. But unlike most rebuilds, the Patriotes are starting off with an extraordinary collection of rookies, all from the QMJHL. Offensively, Christophe Boivin headlines a group of forwards as one of the most offensively proficient players joining the university ranks this year. Mathieu Ayotte joins him as an offensively gifted centre capable of playing a top six role, while Yannick Turcotte and Antoine Marcoux will be role players for this season. Defence is where UQTR’s class really shines. They’ve added Julien Bahl, Loik Léveillé, Bruno-Carl Denis, Nicolas Latulippe, Jonathan Deschamps, Guillaume Beaudoin, and potentially Raphaël Maheux for next season. That’s a completely brand new defensive corps. Clearly, there is great variety amongst the Patriotes and lots of talent to be had. But whether or not they can find chemistry and get on the same page this season could make or break UQTR. It’s an interesting experiment involving some of the best junior talent out of the QMJHL this year, and if it all pans out, UQTR has the potential to be a national championship contender once again.
The Week Ahead:
It’s hard to believe, but the offseason is unofficially over. Yes, there are still going to be some last minute roster moves and transactions, but the main course has already been served. For myself and that of the athlete body, it’s time to go back to school. But it is also back to training camps. Across the country, teams are gearing up for exhibition hockey. The U of T Varsity Blues and Manitoba Bisons already have preseason games under their belts, but the real fun will begin in a week’s time. For all the latest, stay tuned to Twitter and CUSN.ca’s MHKY Transaction Page.