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Prospect Currents: 2004 Recruiting Window Opens

The first signing day (week) in recent college hockey history has come and with it some new commitments. There are NLI signing days, which could be considered more consequential (as NLIs are binding), but this is the first time a set of top young prospects became eligible to commit simultaneously. It was also, obviously, taking place in the midst of a global pandemic which has made everything that much more interesting. Even with the lack of showcases (and hockey in general), that didn’t do anything to stop schools from making commitments, as I predicted last month.

Many of the top prospects that are rising high school juniors had already made commitments due to the rule change coming in last spring, and only a few of those remaining high-end prospects made commitments this week. I talked about some of the prospects that already look like “five star” types last month, but none of those have committed this week.

So let’s get into how it all played out.

Who won signing day/week?

I don’t think there was a clear winner. This wasn’t a crazy week with commitments being made left and right. There were quite a few on August 1st, with a few sprinkling in over the days that followed. Many schools weren’t active as far as getting commitments, though they may have been involved in recruiting players that chose other schools. There are certainly more to come in the following weeks, months and years. What we have after the first week are fifteen schools that secured new players. If I’ve missed any here, please shoot me an email or reach out on social.

From a quantity perspective, Michigan State made the biggest splash. The quality wasn’t lacking at all either — three out of their four prospects were ranked in my top 26 for this spring’s USHL draft and the fourth should have been. They’re all in-state recruits who played in-state and Michigan has the best AAA teams in the country:

04 D Tucker Shedd (Compuware) – Michigan State

04 D Dominic Elliott (Fox Motors) – Michigan State

04 F Owen Baker (Honeybaked) – Michigan State

04 F Justin Varner (Honeybaked) – Michigan State

I rated Shedd, Baker and Varner pretty similarly and any one of them could emerge as the best of the group. That goes for Elliott, too, who was only absent from my rankings because I didn’t see Fox Motors much, though he went ahead of them all in the 3rd round of the draft to Cedar Rapids. Baker and Shedd were picked by Waterloo in the 3rd and 4th rounds, while Varner went to Sioux Falls in the 4th. Baker and Varner were prolific scorers on the top 15s team in the country, dominating top teams from America and Canada alike. They may be a lot better than I give them credit for — though I do give them credit, it can be hard to evaluate a team as stacked as Honeybaked was. Baker posted 123 points on the year and Varner had 110.

Shedd is a lefty defenseman with good size out of Compuware who I really like overall while Elliott is a bit smaller, a righty who had 43 points on the year for Fox Motors.

Michigan State emerged with a very solid start to their recruiting of the 04 age group and lay the foundation for what could be some excellent classes in a few years. It reminds me of 2013-14 when they committed a set of 98s from a great Honeybaked team. Two of their top players this year were from that group: Patrick Khodorenko and Mitch Lewandowski. It’s great for the Spartans because that’s what they need to perpetuate — getting top in-state prospects with consistency — if they want to stay competitive within the Big Ten. They only have one 03 recruit (Nikita Tarasevich), so expect that staff to continue chasing talent in this age range.

Big Ten

Since we started with Michigan State, let’s keep going with the Big Ten.

04 F Andon Cerbone (Brunswick) – Michigan

The Wolverines landed what could be their biggest recruit out of prep hockey since first rounder Boo Nieves chose Ann Arbor coming out of Kent. Cerbone exploded onto the scene this year, making a lot of noise in the process. Observers felt his omission from the NTDP roster was something of a snub, as he’s a stand-out cerebral scorer with a ton of upside who proved what he can do against older players in prep hockey this year. The Chicago Steel picked him in the first round of the USHL draft this spring. He was my sixth-ranked prospect for that draft at the time and one of the few players who wasn’t named to the NTDP that is likely to be rated as a five-star in this age group.

04 D Michael Mastrodomenico (Laval-MTL) – Notre Dame

The Big Ten lost a blue chip ‘04 D recruit when would-be Wisconsin Badger Tristan Luneau signed in the Q this spring, but Notre Dame managed to get the pipeline from Quebec flowing again with this big right-handed blue liner from Kirkland, Quebec. The Lac St-Louis Lions product went 9th overall in the QMJHL draft to Shawinigan after playing for Laval-Montréal (Quebec Midget AAA) this season, posting 17 points in 42 games.

03 D Jake Martin (NTDP) – Wisconsin

The former Miami recruit is technically a pull from Minnesota, where he played (for Gentry Academy) prior to the NTDP. A right shot with decent size who posted 5 points this year, Martin is a solid, two-way add for the Badgers who should be ready to play by 2022 if not 2021. Including Martin, the Badgers already have four ‘03 defensemen committed as well as two ‘02s and one ‘04.

Hockey East

03 F Michael Emerson (NJ Avalanche) – UMass

04 D Shaun McEwen (Selects Academy) – UMass

Hockey East was very active with six schools adding players this week. You can put UMass’ two recruits up against any set of players added this week. Both are top scorers out of top AAA programs in the North Jersey Avalanche and Selects Academy. Emerson is a prolific scorer with decent size while McEwen, a 6’0 defenseman who put up a point-per-game, is a local and the grandson of former UMass skipper Toot Cahoon.

04 F Michael LaStarza (Waterloo) – BU

03 F Jack Musa (NJ Avalanche) – BU

03 F Shane Lachance (Tabor) – BU

It was no surprise that both Comm Ave schools were active this week. BU also picked up the grandson of a former head coach (Jack Parker) in big, toolsy forward Shane Lachance, who had a good first year in prep hockey at Tabor this season. The other two commits are smaller, very talented scorers who look like the real deal. Jack Musa split the year between Trinity-Pawling and the North Jersey Avalanche while Michael LaStarza is a Quebec native who played for Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota. LaStarza was tendered by the Waterloo Black Hawks. The Terriers already have two top ‘04s committed in NTDPers Lane Hutson and Devin Kaplan, as well as a number of top ‘03s including forward Ryan Greene. They even have an ‘05 already on board in Ryan Fine.

04 D Seamus Powell (NTDP) – BC

04 F Connor Welsh (Brunswick) – BC

The Eagles had a solid outing this week. Like BU, they’ve already made some forays into this age range, especially if we count the ‘03s, where they have some great players committed. They did recently lose two top ‘03 forwards to QMJHL-Saint John though, so they might be more active than others in the coming months. In addition to NTDP ‘04 defenseman Charlie Leddy, who committed two years ago, the Eagles added the brother of current freshman Eamon Powell (who also played for the NTDP) in Seamus Powell. He looks like he’ll be an all-around contributor for the Eagles in two years, coming out of the Rochester Selects 15 team with 48 points in 63 games this season.

Connor Welsh is a nice add as well. He played with Andon Cerbone (Michigan) at Brunswick and in the fall for the Mid-Fairfield 16 team, where they technically played up a year. He didn’t explode in the way Cerbone did, but he posted 20 points this year and could become a terrific college scorer in his own right. Sioux City took him in the 2nd round.

04 F Christian Kocsis (Honeybaked) – Providence

03 D Declan Loughnane (Thayer) – Providence

The Friars had a decent start on the ‘04 age group with forwards Brady Berard and Ryan Schelling but they switched it to another gear with two great additions this week. Kocsis was my 14th-ranked skater for the USHL draft this spring and went in the 2nd round to Lincoln after posting 100 points for Honeybaked, the top 15 AAA team in the country. Now that the core of players on that Honeybaked team have gone their different ways, we’ll see how he does this year, but he’s got size and real offensive upside. The other get was big, too: Declan Loughnane, a quality defender at both ends who made his intro to prep hockey with Thayer this year. He’s a late ‘03 who moves well and won the Super Eight title with BC High as a freshman in 2019, scoring the game-winner in the fourth overtime.

04 F Mike Murtagh (Gunnery) – UConn

UConn added a late ‘04 out of prep in Murtagh, a decent-sized right shot forward who spent the last two years at Albany Academy where he scored 16 and 17 points in ‘18-19 and ‘19-20 respectively. He’ll be at the Gunnery this fall, much closer to his future collegiate home.

03 D Brendan Fitzgerald (Governor’s) – New Hampshire

New Hampshire added skill, competitive fire and skating ability to their blue line in Fitzgerald, the brother of Casey and Ryan, who both had great careers at Boston College over the last decade. He had a point-per-game in his first year of prep hockey at Governor’s.

NCHC

03 D Kent Anderson (Drumheller) – Denver

04 G Paxton Geisel (Dallas Stars) – Denver

Denver continues to have success in Western Canada, picking up two big prospects for their pipeline on the defensive side. Late ‘03 D Kent Anderson played in the Alberta junior league for Drumheller where he had 23 points and 36 PIM in 56 games, as well as 4 points in 5 playoff games. He’s a 6’2 righty who went in the third round to USHL-Green Bay this spring.

Geisel is a Dubuque pick (4th round) who was born in Estevan, Saskatchewan but has played the last few years all the way down in Dallas. Geisel, who is 6’1, tendered in the NAHL with St. Cloud this year.

04 D Jeremiah Slavin (Thunderbirds) – Colorado College

Colorado College’s staff have done a great job recruiting players outside of their state but in Slavin they get a really solid local who will follow in the footsteps of his brothers, Jaccob (now in the NHL with Carolina) and Josiah, who both chose CC. Josiah is going to be a sophomore this year, so they might not play together, but if Jeremiah ends up anything like his brothers, Tiger fans should be thrilled.

Last but not least

04 D Chase Pietila (Honeybaked) – Michigan Tech

A third Pietila brother chooses Tech with the decision of this 6’2 righty. As mentioned above, Honeybaked were the top 15 team and the real “winner” of the week was that group of players, many of whom are now committed. For his part, Pietila had a point-per-game on the blue line this year and tendered with Lincoln in the spring. He’s a big get for Tech, though perhaps it was never really in doubt.

04 F Connor Gourley (Camrose) – Arizona State

Gourley had 39 points in 26 games (20 goals) in the CSSHL for the Calgary Edge School and will head to the AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks this year. He looks like a nice add for the Sun Devils on paper.

03 D Nicky Wallace (NJ Avalanche) – Quinnipiac

The Bobcats got a pretty good defenseman from one of the top 16 AAA teams in the country in Wallace. He’s a two-way defender with some offensive upside and played with one of their top recruits this past season in ‘03 forward Sam Lipkin.

04 F Marek Hejduk (NTDP) – Harvard

04 D David Hejduk (Thunderbirds) – Harvard

04 D Ryan Healey (Boston Advantage) – Harvard

Harvard picked up commitments from the Hejduk twins (sons of Milan), who played for the Colorado Thunderbirds. Marek had 16 points in 17 games and was named to the NTDP. They also added a local in righty defenseman Ryan Healey, who played for the Boston Advantage. I didn’t see enough of the Advantage this year to speak about him, but he must have been pretty well-regarded to go 7th overall in the USHL draft this spring.

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