RPI has gradually become “the other team” in the Capital Region. That shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing as that Union is coming off a National Title and has won the ECAC three consecutive seasons. To be brutally honest there really isn’t much reason to think that RPI will be any better this season than last. Super scorer Ryan Haggerty is gone (New York Rangers) as are Brock Higgs and Mike Zalewski.
Coach Seth Appert says “we’re going to have to score by committee” and that’s usually not a good sign. However, what RPI does have is two very good goaltenders in Jr. Jason Kasdorf and Sr. Scott Diebold. In NCAA hockey, that means a lot. For RPI, it means that they shouldn’t ever be an easy team to win against. Kasdorf is a legitimate NHL prospect, he was one of the best goaltenders in the country as a freshman, but was injured two games into the 13′-14′ season, forcing a heavy burden on Diebold, who responded with outstanding, consistent goaltending. (RPI did beat Union 2-1 at the Times Union Center)
On defense the Engineers are led by Chris Bradley, a big, strong puck-moving defenseman who should see a big role on this year’s team. Fans have good reason to be excited about freshman Michael Prapavessis who put up 54 points in 47 OJHL games played and was drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars. It might take him a few months to settle in, but there’s no doubt he will be a big part of the program.
Curtis Leonard (one of three captains) brings size, skill and experience to the blue line. At 6’3-200 he has the size that pro scouts like in a defenseman, he has a legitimate chance of playing pro hockey by the end of March.
The big question is: where is the offense going to come from?
Haggerty was a super efficient scorer, but he had help. Sr. Matt Neal is very capable of being a top-flight ECAC forward as is fellow Sr. Jacob Laliberte. It’s unlikely either of them will come close to Haggerty’s goal total, but each is capable of a 35 point season.
Freshman forward Louis Nanne comes to RPI with an interesting background. The Edina, MN native was originally committed to the Minnesota Golden Gophers and was drafted by the hometown Minnesota Wild (7th round, 2012). He spent a year in the BCHL, then spent 13′-14′ in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede. Nanne’s father (Marty) and grandfather (Lou) each starred for the Golden Gophers. Nanne stated on Twitter that he didn’t want to play living in his grandfather’s shadow”.
(Soph defenseman Parker Reno is also an Edina, MN native and played with Nanne.)
Another freshman to be excited about is Drew Melanson (Waterloo, USHL). Melanson signed with RPI a few years ago when he was one of the top players in his age group in USA Hockey. Melanson and Nanne are among a group of three forwards who should see the ice regularly for RPI, the other is Stockholm native Viktor Liljegren (Fairbanks, NAHL). Liljegren had a big role on a very good NAHL team that captured the league championship. He’s 6’3-200 and is probably best described as a finisher.
There is a group of forwards that didn’t see the ice enough on last season’s team to really have an impact statistically. They are: Sr. Zach Schroeder, Soph Riley Bourbonnais, Jr. Milos Bubela and Jr. Mark Miller. Each is capable is filling a top-six forward role and having a much bigger impact on this year’s team.
Outlook: RPI is going to be a difficult team to play against every night. Then again, the same could be said for just about every team in the loaded ECAC Conference. Games are tight and sometimes one goal is all you need to come away with the 2 points. RPI has the goaltending, they have big, experienced defenseman, and they will play teams that have to face Union the previous night. RPI is going to be a team that creeps up on people and finishes higher in the standings than expected. Fair or unfair, Seth Appert will be judged on whether or not this team wins a playoff series.