The 2008-09 College Season kicks off tonight, at least for three of Edmonton's five student prospects, so it seems as good a time as any to preview what's in store for these guys this year.
Robby Dee (C/F) - Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
3rd Round, 86th overall 2005
6'1, 185 lbs. Sophomore
Dee has to be one of the oldest sophomores in the NCAA (he's not, it just feels that way). He was drafted back in 2005 and was supposed to spend the next season in the USHL before heading to college. A serious sholder injury in Omaha that next year ended up delaying his NCAA career a full season when Maine head coach Tim Whitehead asked him to return to the USHL for another year of development. That's not out of the norm really, many players are beginning their college careers as 19 or 20-year-olds now (except the uber-talented 18-year-old freshmen that end up playing a year or two at the most).
So Dee's tenure at Maine started just last season, two full years after he was drafted. Now 21-years-old, Dee will be expected to perform to his age; more confident in going to the net, battling in the corners or in the slot and just be more assertive over all.
If you're looking for an offensive player, don't think too hard about Dee. Since leaving High School he hasn't really had much success with offensive production. Dee had just 1 goal and a pair of assists last year with the Black Bears.
Consider Dee a checker in training and a guy who will more than likely be a long term project. At this point, he's an extreme longshot to have a NHL career but by the time he gradautes from Maine he'll be 24 so there is still plenty of time for this particular cake to bake.
Maine's season doesn't get underway until next weekend as the Black Bears are playing a pair of games in Eastern Canada against CIS powerhouse University of New Brunswick. Maine is Hockey East, one of the 3 highly competitive and respected NCAA Conferences which also includes Boston College, Boston University, Providence, UMass, New Hampshire and more.
Matt Glasser (LW) - Denver Pioneers (WCHA)
7th Round, 220th overall 2005
5'10, 180lbs. Junior
The native of Calgary is in a similar boat to Robby Dee; a former scorer who has had to refine his game to contribute at a higher level. When he was playing in the AJHL with the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons, Glasser was a leading scorer on the team. Since joining the NCAA he's been converted to a checking role because he isn;t nearly as talented offensively as the key Pioneers.
Glasser is beginning his 3rd season with Denver on Sunday when they host the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. For much of last year he trailed his netminder in scoring but a late surge of production got him to finish the campaign with 6 goals and a pair of assists for 8 points. I don't think much more should be expected from him this year but perhaps considering the success he found late in the season, Coach George Gwozdecky may see times where Glasser is used a bit more than he was at the beginning of 2007-08.
Like Dee, Glasser is a longshot to play in the NHL or even get a contract after the almost obligatory post-graduation training camp invite. Thanks to a late exam schedule at DU, Glasser has not been able to attend and of Edmonton's June prospect camps since leaving the AJHL.
Riley Nash (C), - Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
1st Round, 21st overall 2007
6'1, 179 lbs Sophomore
Cornell doesn't begin its regular season until November 7th... no, that's not a typo. They play two exhibition games later this month (against the Team USA U18 squad and then against Western Ontario) but while the rest of the NCAA is well underway, the ECAC is... well, studying I guess. People ask me why I don't have Riley Nash as Edmonton's #1 prospect and the two biggest reasons are: that he's projected to be a 2nd liner and the lack of games he plays in a year.
Cornell has 29 games on their schedule this year. Playoffs and success at the NCAA tournament would up the number but even last year, a good one for The Big Red, Nash played 36 times. By comparison, teams in the WHL (like the Swift Current Broncos who own his rights) will have 21 games under their belt before Cornell's season even starts.
The trade off is the extra time in the gym which is actually going to be a major benefit to Nash who has the frame to fill out but is still in the midst of doing that. He's got size but not the thickness or upper body strength that he'll need to reach his potential as a pro.
After winning just about everything he was eligible to last year, Nash will be expected to return as Cornell's go-to guy. He's not going to surprise anyone this season so everyone else in his conference will be keying on him right from the start. I'm getting the impression that this is likely his final year at college so there should be no reason not to expect Nash to be at the top of his game. He certainly looked good at prospect camp in June but playing games is a different story. Nash and Taylor Chorney were in studio with Dean and I back in the summer, you can hear that full hour here.
Cornell should be one of the better schools in the ECAC this year but I expect Princeton to be the top team.
Jeff Petry (D) - Michigan State Spartans (CCHA)
2nd Round, 45th overall 2006
6'3, 195 lbs Sophomore
Expectations will be high for the second year defenceman as the Spartans lost a coupleof key members of last eyar's blueline corps. Petry will see increased time on special teams as well as 5-on-5 but clearly coach Rick Comley believes in the former USHL standout after naming him an alternate captain for the coming season. (The Spartans pulled a Luongo by naming goaltender Jeff Lerg as their captain). It will be interesting to see how Petry handles the leadership mantle as he's a fairly soft-spoken individual, at least to the media.
It's no secret that I consider Petry to be Edmonton's top prospect. Contrary to one person's belief (that I have only one source to develop my opinion from), based on conversations I've had with scouts in and out of the Oiler organization , his coach at MSU, media that covers the Spartans, as well as former teammates and opponents of Petry's... this player is the real deal.
He had 24 points as a freshman and was named to the Conference All-Freshman team. He's already been pegged as an All-Conference team candidate according to USCHO.com for this coming year. Inside College Hockey is also hyping Petry as 'one to watch' this year.
The Spartans play in an extremely tough conference which includes the Michigan Wolverines, The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the Miami RedHawks and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Most years there are 3-5 teams from this conference that make it to the 16-team NCAA bracket and MSU should be in the mix to return again. They were national Champs in 2007, the year before Petry arrived.
Chris VandeVelde (C)- North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA)
4th Round, 97th overall 2005
6'2, 210 lbs Junior
Last year I picked VandeVelde as my breakout player based on the way he ended the 2006-07 season as a freshman. For once, one of my predictions came through and VandeVelde had a terrific year for the Sioux. He didn't replace Jonathan Toews but he did help fill the void and North Dakota got back to the Frozen Four again despite the loss of the Chicago Blackhawks star.
This year Vande Velde is going to be thurst into an even bigger role now that T.J. Oshie has also left the team for the NHL. North Dakota's top forward remaining is Calgary native Ryan Duncan (Hobey Baker winner in 2007) but Vande Velde will be the squad's top center.
Vande Velde (pronounced Van-duh Vel-dee) is bigger and stronger than Riley Nash but not the same sort of player. Nash is more finesse while Vande Velde is the more classic power forward. Both should be no worse than 3rd liners in the NHL but Nash has more of a ceiling for moving up than I perceive Vande Velde to have. Circle November 28th and 29th on your calendars as North Dakota will host Cornell for a weekend series on non-conference play so Nash and Vande Velde can go head-to-head.
It's probably unreasonable to expect much of an increase in production for Vande Velde who had 15 goals and 32 points last year. Even with Oshie gone there is a talented freshman group coming in but I won't be shocked if the Sioux take a small step back as they begin what could be a developmental year. That said, Michigan has been strong for years and have had massive turnover the last couple seasons but don't seem to miss a beat. The same could hold true for North Dakota as well.
North Dakota will also clash with Michigan State just after Christmas so Vande Velde will cross pass with Jeff Petry as well. That game is slated for December 27th at the annual Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit.
Much to look forward to this year as three key Oiler prospects reach pivotal stages in their college career. Can Petry and Nash repeat and improve on terrific freshman seasons? Will Vande Velde take his game to yet another level? Can either Glasser or Dee get themselves back into consideration? All things worth watching for in 2008-09.