RPI 2021-22 Season Preview

RPI Hockey celebrates their Mayor's Cup win over Union at the Times Union Center (photo: RPI Men's Hockey)

What a crazy year and a half. We don’t need to rehash everything that has happened in that time, but it sure is nice to be talking about RPI hockey again and an upcoming season of hockey!

Graduation and Transfer Synopsis

After a really good season in 2019-20 where they ended as one of the hottest teams in the country, RPI enters this season as a bit of a rebuilding season. Eight seniors graduated following that season, which was 6 out of their top 7 scorers. Then, on top of that, there were a multitude of transfers. Following the cancellation of the season in November and the administration not letting the team practice or use the facilities, 5 players entered the transfer portal, starting with Owen Savory. Tristan Ashbrook, Danny DiGrande, Tommy Lee and Alec Calvaruso followed. Then, in March, there was a second group of transfers when the administration would not commit to a fall season and the team still not practicing. Cory Babichuk, Brady Ferner and Billy Jerry entered the transfer portal. All of these players have found new teams since then. Savory went to Lowell, and Ashbrook went to Michigan Tech, which allowed both to play this season. DiGrande committed to Canisius, Babichuk committed to UVM, Ferner committed to North Dakota, Jerry committed to LIU, and Calvaruso is rumored to be going to Michigan, although his commitment has not been confirmed by an official source. Lee signed a pro contract in Sweden.

Despite these departures, the Engineers have an abundance of talent and depth on the roster that will hopefully lead to a competitive team once again! Let’s get into it.

Breaking Down the Roster

Forward

Returners: C Ture Linden, C Zach Dubinsky, LW Ottoville Leppanen, LW/C Rory Herrman, RW Jakub Lacka, RW Nick Bowman, LW Ryan Mahshie
Losses: LW/C Jake Marrello, RW Todd Burgess, RW Patrick Polino, RW Chase Zieky, C Tristan Ashbrook, RW Mike Gornall, C Billy Jerry, RW Danny DiGrande, LW Tommy Lee
Newcomers: LW Shane Sellar (Dartmouth), C John Beaton (USHL), LW/C Henri Schreifels (BCHL), LW/C TJ Walsh (Northeastern), RW/C Jake Gagnon (OJHL), LW/C Altti Nykanen (Prep), LW Jack Brackett (BCHL/NAHL), RW/C Jake Lee (Merrimack), RW/C James McIsaac (AJHL), C/LW Reid Leibold (NAHL)

Obviously there’s quite a bit of roster turnover here as only 4 of RPI’s 12 regulars from the 19-20 season are still on the team. As previously stated though, this group still has a ton of talent, and every forward has the capability to contribute in some fashion. With lots of spots available and lots of talent to fill them, the competition for roles should be fierce and cause everyone to raise their game.

Starting with the returners, Linden and Dubinsky are extremely important players to return. RPI had outstanding center depth and returning their top 2 centers allows it to stay that way. With those two, the Engineers essentially have 2 top-line centers, which is a luxury only top teams tend to have. Linden will continue to provide shutdown defense as one of the ECAC’s best two way forwards while hopefully continuing to develop his offense. Dubinsky went back to the USHL and had a monster year, putting up more than a point per game. Both players should produce at least 20 points, but I think they’ll both have more than that.
Leppanen did not have as many points in 19-20 as his freshman season, but he was still good with 14 points. He’ll continue to be a playmaking maestro on one of the top 3 lines and will be a key part of the power play.
Herrman started out as a depth player, but when Dubinsky went down in February, Herrman took his spot centering Zieky and Polino and performed well. With his strong finish to the season and versatility to play anywhere in the lineup, Herrman will be an important player. Look for him to improve on his freshman year numbers.
Lacka had a sophomore slump after his strong freshman year as he struggled to get into the lineup consistently with all the depth on the roster. This year, RPI needs Lacka to return to his freshman year form with all the departures they had. He has always been a talented player with good skill and a good shot, and he could be a key secondary scorer.
Bowman had a similar year to Lacka after a solid freshman season. He started the year with 3 assists in his first game, and then had no points in his remaining 8 games. He is definitely capable of contributing in the bottom 6, and he’ll be fighting to do that this season.
Last, but not least, Mahshie had a good start to the season with 2 goals in the first 2 games and looked like he would be a solid role player for the Engineers. Then, he got injured with a concussion against UMass on a high hit and was out for a long time, which was right when the team hit its stride. When he was finally healthy again, it was tough for him to crack the lineup when the entire team was clicking at that point. Mahshie will be looking to contribute as a secondary goal scorer.

For the newcomers, there’s a lot of exciting players that could make big impacts right away. It’s a group filled with talent.
Starting with Shane Sellar, you can read his full profile here, but he is an excellent all-around forward who can play in all situations. He has size, can skate well, is good at finishing around the net and is great on the forecheck. Sellar should be a very big contributor near the top of the lineup.
John Beaton is a two-way center who is outstanding defensively and can contribute offensively. He’s another player who can play in all situations and be counted on to contribute immediately. He has good size at 6’1″ and 190 LBs and is a solid skater with very high hockey IQ. I think he’ll make an immediate impact in the middle 6.
Henri Schreifels went back to juniors when the season was cancelled and excelled with more than a point per game in the BCHL season. Schreifels is gifted offensively with his size (6’1″ 195 LBs), skill with the puck, and great finishing ability. He also is a good skater for his size and is very strong, which he uses to protect the puck from defenders. Defensively, he uses his strength well and has good stickwork. He played both center and wing, and he’s capable of adding some immediate offense for the Engineers.
We already profiled TJ Walsh here, but overall, he is a highly skilled playmaker with outstanding skill, vision and passing. He regularly creates scoring chances for his teammates and himself due to this hockey sense. Additionally, he’s a fast skater as you would expect for his size and creates space with his speed. His soft hands allow him to dangle defenders regularly and create even more space. Walsh can play all 3 forward positions as well, which is helpful versatility for RPI. He should slot immediately into one of the top 3 lines and make a big offensive impact.
Jake Gagnon is a scorer with an excellent shot and a nose for the net. He scored lots of goals in junior hockey and could do the same at RPI. He’s very strong on the puck despite his size and is hard to knock off of it. He plays with great speed, skating, vision and stick-handling offensively. He’s also very good on the forecheck as the F1, making life tough for defensemen breaking out the puck. He can play both center and wing, and he’ll add a goal scoring threat to the Engineers.
Altti Nykanen is an outstanding skater for his size (6’3″ 185 LBs) and has a very dynamic skill set. He has smooth hands and a quick, powerful release on his shot. He was extremely productive in prep school but never played juniors. He has very high potential, but the adjustment to D1 hockey might be difficult straight from high school.
Jack Brackett is an extremely fast skater and an absolute pest on the forecheck and penalty kill because of it. His speed is his main asset, which he uses both offensively and defensively. He’ll fit in well as a bottom 6 forward that’s tough to play against.
We profiled Merrimack transfer Jake Lee here. He had a tough season as a freshman at Merrimack, but with the oddities of the college hockey season along with Merrimack being a really bad team, it’s hard to know how much stock to put into that. In junior hockey, he put up nearly two points per game, which is tough to do and shows he does have lots of offensive capability. He’s a strong player with good awareness and vision, and he can shoot the puck well. He’s the type of player who can play anywhere in the lineup at any forward spot due to his hockey IQ. He could play anywhere in RPI’s lineup.
James McIsaac is a fast and tough player similar to Brackett. He is extremely tough to play against, gritty and a pest. He would also fit in well as a bottom 6 forward.
Last, but not least, Reid Leibold is a versatile forward who can play both center and wing. He’s very fast and has good hands to stick-handle through defenders. He excels at zone entries as he likes to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed and then gain the offensive zone. He’s young like Nykanen though, so it’s tough to know how fast he will adjust to D1 hockey.

X-Factor

Jakub Lacka is the forward group’s biggest x-factor. He has lots of talent as previously stated and had a good freshman season but took a step back as a sophomore. RPI needs him to have a resurgence this season because they lost every RW who was regularly in the lineup in 2019-20. He has the talent to fill a top 6 and power play role, and that’s what RPI is hoping he can be this season.

Biggest Wildcard

Altti Nykanen is the biggest wildcard in the forward group because it’s impossible to know how he transitions to D1 hockey. If his transition is quick, you’ll see him become a key contributor on offense as a freshman. If it takes him longer, he could struggle to crack the lineup consistently due to the depth of RPI’s forward group.

Defensemen

Returners: LD Simon Kjellberg, RD Kyle Hallbauer, LD Jake Johnson, RD Mason Klee, LD Louie Helsen
Losses: RD Will Reilly, LD Cory Babichuk, RD Brady Ferner, RD Shane Bear, LD TJ Samec
Newcomers: LD Lauri Sertti (NAHL), LD Dylan Davies (USHL), LD Anthony Baxter (UMass-Lowell), RD Jack Agnew (Boston College)

There’s not as much turnover for defensemen as there is for the forwards. Kjellberg, Hallbauer, Johnson and Klee were all regulars on the blue line in 19-20. The 4 new defensemen are all good players as well, so overall, this is a good group of players. The blue line should be a strength of RPI in the 2021-22 season.

Starting with the returners again, Kjellberg had a great freshman year with 11 points in 32 games in a key role in the top 4. The New York Rangers draft pick is big with soft hands, good skills with the puck and great hockey IQ. He will need to take a step this season to be RPI’s #1 defenseman, but with his two way play, I think he will be ready for that.
Hallbauer didn’t produce as much as his freshman season, but he was a key part of the blue line in both seasons. Hallbauer is extremely gifted with the puck and as a skater. At his best, he can control the game at both ends when he’s on the ice. Having Hallbauer on the 3rd pairing in 19-20 was a luxury that not many teams have, and now they’ll need him to play a bigger role. He’s definitely talented enough for a first pairing role, but is he ready to play that larger role?
Johnson is a reliable two way defenseman. He can skate, break out the puck, handle and carry the puck, and play up and down the lineup. He was on the top pairing as a freshman but the bottom pairing last season, and he excelled in both roles. He is versatile and can play any role the team needs, and he will be a key player once again this season.
Klee took a bit to adjust to D1 hockey as a freshman, but he hit his stride in the middle of the season and looked great from that point on. He is a stay-at-home, shutdown defenseman, and he played that role pretty well in the second half of the season. Look for him to build on that this season.
Helsen missed the entire season with a torn ACL, but he’s a big, stay-at-home defenseman similar to Klee. It’s unknown how he’ll do at the D1 level due to his injury, but he can play a good depth role for the Engineers.

The newcomers are what will complete the group and ensure RPI’s blue line is a strength.
Lauri Sertti is a well-rounded defenseman with a two way game. He’s very comfortable handling the puck and is great at sending out smooth, crisp passes on the breakout. He has outstanding passing vision and is always seemingly able to find seams in the defense. He ran the power play in juniors on their top unit and was also on their top unit for the penalty kill. He can shoot the puck well too with a hard wrist shot and solid one timer. Lastly, he played mostly on his off side, which is a good skill to have. I think Sertti will play key minutes in all situations right away for RPI.
Dylan Davies is a big, athletic and mobile defenseman. He uses his size, strength and reach very well in his own end and has good awareness and IQ for breaking out the puck. He’s another player that is more of a stay-at-home defenseman that will help the Engineers limit scoring chances with his play in the d-zone.
Anthony Baxter is a graduate transfer from Lowell who will be an immediate key player, both on the ice and off the ice. He was a captain for Lowell as a junior and was always relied on to play tough top 4 minutes. You can read his full recruit profile here. Baxter is an excellent defender who has some offensive skill too. He has always been a positive player in plus/minus, and he will be a big part of the team.
Last, but not least, Jack Agnew is a transfer from BC who we profiled here. He is a player who can play in all situations and excel in all of them. He’s a great skater with a lot of speed, but he also has good strength to defend in the d-zone. He’s great at breaking out the puck due to his skating and his great vision. Lastly, his shot from the blue line is excellent. Agnew’s two way ability in all 3 zones adds another capable player to the blue line. I think he will start out as a depth player, but he has a lot of potential.

X-Factor

Kyle Hallbauer is the group’s biggest x-factor. Like Lacka for the forwards, he is extremely talented, and RPI is going to need him to step up and play a bigger role. He has shown flashes of elite ability in various games during his career, and the Engineers will hope to get that consistently from him this season.

Biggest Wildcard

Jack Agnew is the biggest wildcard for the defensemen. He has a lot of talent and ability, but he did not show that at BC last season and was seldom played. I think he was just not ready for D1 hockey as only an 18 year old. He could provide a big boost to the blue line if he reaches his ceiling quickly, and they could really use his ability in all 3 zones.

Goaltender

Returners: G Linden Marshall
Losses: G Owen Savory, G Alec Calvaruso
Newcomers: G Brett Miller (NAHL), G Jack Watson (BCHL)

This group might be RPI’s biggest wildcard as a whole with 2 players with no D1 experience yet. I expected them to get a transfer goalie with experience, but instead of that, they brought back Linden Marshall as a graduate student to fill that need.

Starting with Marshall, he has always had a lot of talent and has flashes of absolutely elite ability. He won the #1 job midway through his freshman season and had a good season in front of a shaky defense. He started his sophomore season as the starter, but then, Savory got hot and showed out as one of the best goaltenders in the country, which moved Marshall down to the backup role. He had a .890 save percentage for that season. Last season, he was clearly the backup all year, and he had a season similar to his freshman year. In ECAC play last season, he had a .938 save percentage, which is outstanding. However, he only had a .904 overall last season. Marshall’s problem has been consistency, not talent. RPI will need him to put it all together this season as they need him to be the #1, and that will be the biggest x-factor for the goalies and possibly the entire team.
Brett Miller is a goalie that is calm and reliable in net. He’s more of a positional goalie that relies on being in the right spots to make saves. He will compete for the backup job with the next goalie.
Jack Watson is a very big goalie at 6’3″ and 195 LBs. He is also a goalie that relies on his positioning, size and calmness. Unfortunately, he was not able to play this season in juniors because of a broken bone that took him out for the shortened BCHL season. Hopefully, he will come back from that fully healthy and ready to play, but that injury makes him a wildcard for the goalie position. He will compete for the backup job with Miller if he’s healthy.

Lineup Prediction

SellarDubinskyLacka
LeppanenLindenGagnon
SchreifelsBeatonWalsh
NykanenHerrmanLee

Dubinsky and Linden are a given on the top 2 lines, and the order doesn’t particularly matter. The top 2 lines will be more like 1A and 1B lines with those two as centers. Sellar and Leppanen are probably RPI’s 2 best wings, so splitting them up between the top 2 lines makes sense. We mentioned before that Lacka will need to fill a big role. His best shifts during his sophomore season always came next to Dubinsky and Ashbrook, and their skating would create space for Lacka to use his shot and stick-handling. That’s why he is next to Dubinsky here. Gagnon is a big goal scorer, so he gets put next to 2 players who are great passers and playmakers. Beaton is going to be an excellent two way center. Walsh has so much skill and ability that it made sense to put him there even though it’s as the RW. Schreifels is a great finisher and also has strength, speed and skill. The three of them together would be a great line in my opinion. Beaton would be the the defensive anchor who can also chip in offensively. Schreifels and Walsh would use their skill to get clean zone entries and create scoring chances. All 3 are good skaters, and Schreifels and Beaton have the size to grind down low. This is a line that I would love to see in action. Lastly, there’s a lot of ways that you could do the 4th line. Herrman did well at center last season, but primarily played on the 4th line at LW. Moving him to center and keeping him on the 4th line would make lots of sense, and he would likely thrive in that role. As for his wings, it really depends on what type of 4th line that Dave Smith wants. I went with more of an offensive upside line with Nykanen’s skating, skill and scoring, and Lee’s hockey sense, IQ and scoring. Mahshie, Leibold and Bowman could also slot in and still provide offensive upside. If he wants more of a checking and grind line though, he could slot in Brackett and McIsaac and have a tough as nails 4th line that would wear down opponents every game. The fact that there are so many options that would capably play in the lineup is a great problem to have for Coach Smith.

KjellbergHallbauer
BaxterSertti
JohnsonKlee
Agnew

Kjellberg and Hallbauer are likely RPI’s top 2 defensemen and will play together on the top pairing. Baxter should fit right in on the 2nd pairing, but he can play anywhere in the top 4. I think Sertti’s ability to play on his off-side as well as his skill set will allow him to play in the top 4 right away, and having a player as experienced as Baxter as his partner will really help his transition. Johnson can really fit in anywhere, so I have him on the 3rd pairing behind Kjellberg and Baxter. Klee finished the year strong on the 3rd pairing, and I think he should be able to play good minutes there again. The extra spot could really be filled by anyone, and they will all fill it in various games. I went with Agnew due to his two-way play and higher offensive upside than Davies and Helsen. Davies and Helsen are very good players though, and I think they will all play a lot of games throughout the year.

Marshall
Watson
Miller

Marshall is the clear cut starter coming into the season due to his experience and talent as we mentioned before. For the backup spot, I think Watson will take it because I think his ceiling is higher based on his success in two different junior leagues, and the BCHL is more talented than the NAHL. I could see it going either way though.

Power Play

GagnonDubinskyLeppanen
KjellbergHallbauer
SellarLindenWalsh
SchreifelsSertti

Penalty Kill

LindenSellar
KjellbergKlee
BeatonDubinsky
BaxterJohnson

With RPI’s roster turnover, it’s tough to predict the lines, and I doubt that I get any of them right. There’s a reason that Dave Smith is paid to be the head coach and not me! It’s still a fun exercise to think about though, and it really shows the depth of the team. It should also be noted that the lines that the Engineers start out with will not be how it stays all year. There will be lots of tinkering and moving players around until the team gels and finds a sweet spot, which is the way it should be.

Record Prediction

RPI’s non-conference schedule is weaker than it usually is, but this should set the team up to win games and get ready for ECAC play. I think they will go 9-6-1 in these games. For ECAC play, it’s tough to predict since most of the teams are in the same situation as RPI with their seasons cancelled and lots of roster turnover. I’d be very surprised if they finished below Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Brown. Union, Colgate, and St. Lawrence could go either way, while it’d be tough for them to finish higher than Quinnipiac, Clarkson, Harvard and Cornell with the players those teams bring back. Overall, I’m going to go with a 6th place finish with the potential for another top 4 finish if the team clicks early on in ECAC play. I think they’re more talented than Union and Colgate, while I think St. Lawrence is a true toss-up because they are on the rise under their new coach. I predict an 11-10-1 ECAC record with that finish. Overall, this makes for a 20-16-2 season, which would be on-par with the 19-20 season. I think that would be a strong season after the roster turnover, and it would set up RPI very well for the future.

I’m very excited for this season and think the team has a lot of potential. Can’t wait for October to come, so we can find out. Let’s Go Red!!!

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