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RPI's Offseason To-Do List
How the Engineers can set themselves up for a successful 2023-24 season
Already looking ahead to the offseason and 2023-24 season less than 24 hours after this one just ended? You bet!
This season was a frustrating one and no doubt left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Brendan and I are planning to do an in-depth review of the season that explains what I mean by this, so keep an eye out for that.
The second thing I want to point out is that this should be the rock bottom for the program. Two straight years with the administration sabotaging the program lost the team pretty much all of its core players. Last season, they had enough core players remaining who had played big roles before with Linden, Leppanen, Dubinsky, Johnson and Kjellberg. The team was able to support those players with depth additions from the portal (Walsh, Addamo, Sellar, Agnew) to field a decent team after everyone they lost. Last offseason, the program lost all 5 of those guys, and the only players left who had played big roles were Mahshie and Walsh. This season was the result of the long-term damage of the administration’s COVID choices. With the team set to return most players, this season should be the rock bottom. And if rock bottom is getting 7th place in the ECAC, then the program has some positive years ahead.
Now, it’s time for the to-do list.
1. Bring back Mahshie, Walsh, Budy, and Klee
I don’t think the team actually has enough spots to bring each of these players back, so think of this as “bring back as many as you can”. This program has been ravaged with roster turnover the past two years and having a year with a lot of roster continuity would do wonders for the team next year, in my opinion. The 18-19 team scored 1.9 goals per game, returned pretty much everyone, and then went on their run in 19-20. This year's team was at 2.4 goals per game and has similar potential depending on who they can bring back.
For the 3 forwards, it would mean bringing back 3 lineup regulars. Obviously, Mahshie is the biggest and highest priority as the leading goal scorer with 15 this season. Walsh is a good player who can play all 3 forward spots in a top 6 and would also be nice to bring back. Budy may not have had an amazing year, but I still believe in his potential. He was an exciting pickup last summer because of his recruiting petigree, and I think he can still be a good player who contributes in the top 6.
Unfortunately, I only really expect Budy to come back. He was the only one not honored in the senior night ceremonies, which means he is likely back. Mahshie and Walsh being in the senior night ceremonies doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to leave. What makes me think they are leaving is the fact that the team picked up commitments just a few weeks ago from two overagers who must come to RPI in the fall since they will be too old for juniors. I don’t think the staff would have offered those two guys if they thought that Mahshie and Walsh were returning because now, there is basically no room at forward.
As for Klee, the team definitely has room for him because they only return 6 guys on the blueline. Klee showed he can be a reliable defensive defenseman this season and play a lot of minutes effectively. Him returning would be a nice boost for the team.
2. Grab a couple of transfer portal defensemen
Even if Klee returns, that would leave RPI at 7 defensemen for next season, which is 2 short of the usual 9. With a couple spots open and the team’s struggles on defense this season, I’d look to fill those using the transfer portal. There’s definitely plenty of talent on the blue line. Sertti, Smolinski, and Strom all had good seasons. Agnew had a poor year but had a great year last year. Ardanaz has obvious skating and skill as major offensive gifts but really struggled in his own end. Davies had a good second half of the season and used his skating and size to play well in his own end.
So why hit the portal to try to upgrade on the blue line? There’s just too much uncertainty for my liking. In a worst case scenario, Agnew doesn’t bounce back, and Ardanaz doesn’t take the next steps in his development, which would leave both the top 4 and the depth compromised. If the team can add two top 4 defensemen that they know will be effective, they insulate themselves against the worst-case scenario. If this year taught me anything, it’s that the worst-case scenarios are possible. In a best-case scenario, then the team would just have a very deep and talented group of defensemen.
Right now, the portal is quiet because most players don’t enter until their seasons conclude. Luke Krys from Brown and Jake Willets from Lake State are the only guys I’d take a look at. Come Monday though and throughout the next month, the portal is going to buzzing with players, and many of them will be good.
3. Rebuild Watson’s confidence
It’s not exactly a secret that the goaltending was a major problem this season. After a strong freshman year with a 0.922 SV% that led to him getting NHL interest, Jack Watson was expected to be among the best goalies in the ECAC and a rock in the crease.
He ended up falling to a 0.895 SV%, which was a major part of the Engineers’ struggles this year. Neither Cherepak nor Miller were able to do any better, so the goaltending was a weakness all season.
Cherepak has potential and is still pretty young, but Watson is definitely the most talented goaltender of the three. He has shown he can be great, and he is RPI’s most important player. They cannot win without at least average goaltending. Hopefully, he takes some time to rest and get healthy. Then, ideally he takes the offseason to rebuild his confidence and comes back in the fall rejuvenated. Watson playing up to his potential is the most important factor for RPI next season.
It’s a short checklist because most of the roster is already set for next year. For the most part, the Engineers are going to be running it back with the same group. Usually, this yields good results in college hockey, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the offseason has in store!
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