Tuesday Morning Skate: April 25th, 2017

After a month’s absence, the Tuesday Morning Skate column makes its return with the all the latest news and notes from across the country as the first signings of a busy offseason trickle in.

Top Stories:

1. Coaching announcements have dominated the headlines all week with the Ryerson Rams and UBC Thunderbirds both announcing interim coaches Johnny Duco (details) and Sven Butenschon (details) returning to their head coaching roles, but on a full-time basis. Now the real question that remains is what’s going on at U of T? That’s a question with no clear answer at the moment, but we do have a much better sense of direction. I’ve been told everything from Darren Lowe is retiring, to Darren Lowe is taking a leave of absence, to Darren Lowe is taking an administration role at U of T instead of coaching. One thing is for sure, and that’s that the U of T head coaching position is up for grabs. Once we find out for sure what the circumstances surrounding Lowe’s departure are, the scenario will become much more straightforward. At the moment, there’s a lot of interest from ex-CIS coaches, Tier II coaches, and even some OHL personnel in the job, despite potentially inheriting one of the worst programs in the country last year.

2. The floodgates to the Windsor Lancers season have open rather abruptly. Ben AssadJoshua SlegersJohnny ReinhartRyan Shaw, and now Jake Brown have all made commitments to the Lancers, and huge 6-foot-7 D-man Jack Van Boekel is expected to do the same. The most intriguing of these names is Reinhart, the Elmira Sugar Kings’ starting goalie who was recently named the GOJHL Midwestern Conference’s MVP. He joins a crease already stockpiled with SJHL MVP Kris Joyce, former OUA all-rookie Blake Richard, and Paolo Battisti…. or so we think. That’s a lot of goaltending talent to fit in one crease, and although it’s not at Concordia levels of hoarding just yet, it makes you wonder if all four of those goalies are actually in the picture for next season. If they are, playing time will be at a premium.

3. The latest from the ‘UNB offseason watch’ is some positive news for the Varsity Reds, who will reportedly get Randy Gazzola back for another season. With UNB’s primary puck-mover in Jordan Murray gone to the AHL, and Matt Petgrave also out of the picture for next year, it looks like this could be Gazzola’s time to shine. One of the more unheralded heroes on a UNB team stacked with a roster full of them, Gazzola is putting up consistently great numbers, and can move the puck as well as anyone in the AUS. Even if he does turn out to be UNB’s primary powerplay quarterback next year, it’s a given that Gardiner MacDougall will still look to add speed and offensive acumen to his blueline, just like he had this year through all three pairings.

4. A couple of big names fell off the U SPORTS MHKY market this week signing ELC deals with NHL teams. Giovanni Fiore winds up with the Anaheim Ducks while Steven Lorentz signs with Carolina. Fiore would’ve easily been a top three recruit this year, and Lorentz finds himself playing the best hockey of his career right now for the Peterborough Petes. A few overage NHL draftees still sit out there without contracts yet and are worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks, namely Stephen DesrocherAlex PetersChris MartenetMatt SchmalzAaron IrvingKeegan IversonJulien Pelletier, and Olivier Leblanc among others.

5. Terrific news this Monday as Carolina’s Derek Ryan has been announced as a nominee for the 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy along with Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators, and Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks. Ryan’s incredible journey from being undrafted, to the University of Alberta, to Europe, and now the NHL has received well-deserved attention over the last year, and he would become the first Canadian university hockey player to win the award should he do so. One of the many good guys to come from university hockey in Canada, it’s great to see Ryan get the recognition he’s worked so hard to receive.

Rumour Mill

 To add to my report last week that Justin Brack could be headed to Brock, it wasn’t that long ago that both Ryerson and Carleton were both in the conversation for acquiring his services, so don’t rule those schools out yet either.

 Jordan Papirny supposedly has a shortlist of three schools for next season. This after signing an ATO with the Marlies on Monday, Papirny is one of the top goalies available to universities this season. Calgary is almost certainly a school on that list, and there’s an equally high chance that Papirny is looking outside Canada West for a spot next year.

 The Alberta Golden Bears appeared to be a contender at some point for Papirny next season, and although they still may very well be, it sounds like the Golden Bears have a bigger development regarding their goaltending situation. Nothing reportable just yet.

– The UNB Varsity Reds are one of the busiest teams this offseason on the recruit front with as many as ten positions to fill for next season. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to picture UNB reaching out to the best overage junior hockey players in the country, but Mathieu Henderson from Flint and Alexandre Goulet from Victoriaville (now with the AHL’s Rochester Americans on an ATO) are two names that seem like fairly strong rumours that will come to fruition as UNB recruits.

 The Western Mustangs having a solid recruit class this year will be vital to their turnaround effort next year, and so far indications are that they’re doing alright for themselves to start. There was a time when Western was a premiere destination for any overage junior hockey player with talent, but now that so many schools have so much to offer, it’s more of a struggle for Western to establish themselves as a top landing-spot for recruits. The Mustangs have a strong pipeline of ex-Barrie Colts on the roster. Expect that to stay the same this summer.

 It appears the Dalhousie Tigers are still sticking to their “size matters” agenda as they try and make themselves more of a pain than ever for the AUS powerhouses to play against. Both Patrick Sanvido and Dylan DiPerna could possibly be in play for them.

 Without Scott Stacjer and Keith Hamilton both moving on, the Guelph Gryphons are actively seeking goaltending. If they want to stay local, Liam Herbst makes sense, but Dawson Carty could be another target who is also one of the most underrated goalies on the market this year. Of course, Tier II is still certainly an option if someone catches Shawn Camp’s eye.

Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:

Introducing a new segment recurring through the summer series of TMS, it’s the Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5. This week, we’re counting down the top five WHL defenceman available to Canadian Universities.

Top 5 WHL D-Men Available:

1. Aaron Irving, Everrett Silvertips

A sixth round selection of the Nashville Predators from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Aaron Irving proved his worth as a number one defenceman and captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings this season, but was traded to Everett midway through the season where he played second-fiddle to Noah Juulsen. No shame in that at all, as Irving is still one of the best defenceman in the league, even if he’s not a number one. Decent size, and great ability in every zone combined with great character makes him the biggest prize possession for Canadian universities from the WHL D-Man pool.

2. Chase Harrison, Regina Pats

Been impressed nearly every time I’ve seen Chase Harrison play this season. Around the same size as Irving, Harrison is the better of the two at visualizing the game up-ice, but may not offer the same physical edge Irving can at the U SPORTS level. Comparisons aside, Harrison is a tremendous defender in his own right, and can easily put up 20+ points in this league. A native of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba should be salivating at the chance to reel him in. Saskatchewan also has to be interested as well.

3. Clayton Kirichenko, Medicine Hat Tigers

There’s so little that separates Clayton Kirichenko from Harrison and Irving, you could easily interchange the top three on this list. Another average-sized defender, Kirichenko put up huge numbers with Medicine Hat this season, recording 52 assists and 64 points. Also the captain of Medicine Hat, he’s the best puck-moving number one defender available to Canada West teams. A former Vancouver Giant, you know the UBC Thunderbirds would love to have him, but as a guy who played the majority of his minor hockey in Sherwood Park, Alba. either the Univ. of Calgary or Univ. of Alberta are certainly in play.

4. Sam Ruopp, Prince George Cougars

The most physical defender on this list, Ruopp doesn’t rank higher because he’s not as offensive as the first three, but has the highest potential to go pro of all the players listed. A Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick from 2015, Ruopp was a physical force on a nightly basis for Prince George, and served as their captain for the last three years. Size and leadership are two valued commodities at the pro level, and Ruopp has both of those things. If he goes the U SPORTS route, he has the ability to rival Kendall McFaull as the best shutdown defender in the conference, but don’t hold your breath on Ruopp heading to university.

5. Colton Bobyk, Red Deer Rebels

A product of Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels, Colton Bobyk offers a lot offensively, as well as a very physical edge to his game. Although Bobyk only scored five times this season, he found the back of the net 20 times in 2015-16 and still has one of the WHL’s hardest shots. Bobyk took 102 PIMs for the Rebels this season, second on the team, and can be a fearsome body-checker when he choses. Channeling that fire can be a double edged sword at times, but it won’t deter universities from actively pursuing his services. Another Alberta born defender, Calgary should be all over Bobyk, but Lethbridge would have a great spot for him on defence too without Tim Campbell. Bobyk likely won’t be a number one defender at this level right away, but the potential certainly exists.

The Week Ahead:

Monday was a high-traffic day for news, and the rest of this week could very well be the same. Some schools remain in holding patterns on their recruits, but now with some junior hockey teams well clear of their season, players are beginning to make stronger commitments more and more frequently. Expect an increase in recruit news in the early part of May. Hopefully the U of T situation becomes a little more clear, but it sounds like they’re still a long way away from naming a head coach.