This is Part I of ELynah's season preview displaying a player-by-player analysis and forecast. Part II, an overall and more general preview of the Big Red's 2004-2005 season will be out later this week.
1 - Louis Chabot
There is not much question who the number three goalie is, but Chabot does seem to have the right attitude and approach to his role on the team.
2 - Ryan O'Byrne
O'Byrne progressed quite a bit last season, especially in his decision-making. O'Byrne will play with Jeremy Downs to form the Big Red's top defensive tandem and they will see opposing team's top lines on a nightly basis. Although not known for his offensive abilities, O'Byrne has shown flashes of it, and did take some shifts on the second powerplay unit against McGill. Expect O'Byrne to bloom into one of the more noticeable and physically dominant defenseman in the ECACHL this season.
4 - Sasha Pokuluk Another 6'5" blueliner, Pokuluk has considerable upside both offensively and defensively. In both the Red-White game and the McGill Game, Pokuluk was paired exclusively with Charlie Cook, indicating that the coaching staff thinks highly of him. He saw some powerplay time and showed pretty good decision-making with the puck and possesses a very heavy shot. Last season, there was a drop off in offense from the backend - especially lacking in hard shots from the point on the powerplay - so expect Pokuluk to be looked upon in this area. Pokuluk's biggest weakness is his foot speed. Although it is not horrible, he could be a liability against some of the smaller, quicker teams. The fact that there are seven defensemen pushing hard for six spots means that Pokuluk may be scratched on occasion, depending on the opponent.
5 - Jon Gleed
Gleed was one of Cornell's most improved players last season and he looked even better against McGill. His confidence level has clearly risen a great deal, especially after he was unexpectedly drafted in June by Montreal, and it showed on Friday. Gleed's skating is one of his best assets and he is solid in all three zones. There is a chance that he could be scratched on occasion with the excess amount of capable blueliners on the roster, but because he has more experience than the three other players he is battling with for a spot (Pokuluk, Krantz, Glover) and the fact that he has no apparent weakness in his game, it would be surprising if he fell out of the lineup. Gleed, although underrated, has more room to grow, and can potentially become a top pair defenseman by this time next year.
6 - Evan Salmela
It looks as if Salmela will be in tough for a lineup spot again this year. It was not a positive sign that he was the only defenseman scratched against McGill when Coach Mike Schafer dressed seven defensemen. Salmela took a big open ice hit from Paul Varteressian in the Red-White Game, further highlighting Salmela's small stature and his apparent inability to defend effectively against bigger forwards. He has a significant amount of skill, but don't expect to see him play unless injuries force him into the lineup. Last year he played sparingly despite the fact that there was a lack of offensive ability on the blueline. This year, there is a lot more offensive ability from the blueline corps so it's even less likely that he will be able to crackthe lineup this year. Salmela is clearly eighth on the depth chart.
7 - Charlie Cook
His confidence continues to grow; Cook looked very comfortable in the Red-White Game and the exhibition against McGill. His increased confidence has improved his effectiveness carrying the puck a great deal. His long, smooth skating stride and his above-average vision make him a more than adequate powerplay quarterback. His decision-making with the puck, however, is occasionally a weakness that holds back the powerplay. There is not much question that the powerplay will live and die with Cook's ability to effectively get the puck up the ice and effectively attack the offensive zone. With Cook's outstanding skating ability, the coaching staff will hopefully give Cook the green light to lead some rushes out of the defensive zone (although that does not generally cater to the Mike Schafer system) and generate more offense for the Big Red 5-on-5 (something the Big Red struggled with last year). Cook has the potential to put up excellent offensive numbers and finish top five in defensemen scoring in the ECACHL and perhaps even crack the ECACHL First Team.
9 - Paul Varteressian
After finally finding his identity in the latter stages of last season, Varteressian is poised to have an impact year. His reputation as an outstanding defensive forward precedes him, but what really stood out late last season was his toughness and rugged play, highlighted in Game 1 of the ECAC Quarterfinals when he initiated a fight with Clarkson bad boy Matt Nickerson. Obviously with almost no fighting at the college level there are no "enforcers," but Varteressian comes as close to fitting that role as one can, and he will hopefully continue to excel in that job this season. He was moved to center late last season and looked very good in that position, but seems to have been moved back to the wing on the fourth line. Also expect him to kill penalties and take key faceoffs, seeing as Varteressian is one of the Big Red's best faceoff men whether he is playing center or not.
10 - Mark McCutcheon
After a disappointing freshman season in which he struggled to make adjustments in many critical areas, McCutcheon was easily the hungriest player on the ice against McGill. His line, including Varteressian and Chris Abbott at center, played more than any other line for Cornell and sustained pressure on almost every shift. McCutcheon had a few opportunities where he came close to scoring but ran out of room or was taken off the puck. This was often the story last year as well. McCutcheon possesses a high skill level and good vision which would theoretically make him a potent threat on the powerplay. Issues regarding his size and skating surfaced last year so McCutcheon will need to play well right out of the gate if he wants to keep his spot, because Byron Bitz will be taking someone's spot when he comes back.
11 - Mitch Carefoot
Carefoot really came on late last season scoring several big goals. He is poised to take a considerably larger role with the Big Red this year. Although Carefoot is not the prettiest player, he gets the job done. He is an ideal third line player in that he works hard every shift and battles effectively on the boards. Carefoot does possess decent speed and above-average skills as well pretty good touch around the net, so he would not be out of place in a scoring role. He played with Mike Iggulden and Mike Knoepfli against McGill and will likely stay there at least until Bitz returns. Although this line would technically be considered Cornell's "third line," the tandem would have considerably high offensive potential. In addition, this would likely be the line that would go up against opposing team's top lines. Carefoot is one of the squad's most versatile players and thus can play on any line and in any role. Expect him to kill penalties regularly again this season and possibly play on the first powerplay unit where he played occasionally against McGill.
12 - Raymond Sawada
The Big Red's most highly touted freshman, Sawada is a consensus top-six forward. He has all the makings of a superstar and of a future NHLer in that he is big, fast, physical, and skilled. Despite being a weak draft year, at 55th overall Sawada was the highest picked Cornell forward in several years. He still needs to fill out his frame, but Sawada could be a dominant player as early as this year. It is all a matter of when he can put his package of qualities together. Sawada will definitely get the opportunity to flourish with plenty of ice time playing with offensive players. Against McGill, he played on the second line with Cam Abbott and Daniel Pegoraro and the line clicked pretty well. Sawada's best play on the night actually came on between shifts when he made an eye-popping 2-on-1 pass to Topher Scott that Scott converted. Sawada will most likely stay on the second line and will see time on the second powerplay unit, but his linemates are subject to change when Bitz returns. Expect Sawada and Cam Abbott to stay together though.
14 - Cam Abbott
With Ryan Vesce gone, Abbott should take over as the Big Red's flashiest and most exciting player. Abbott regularly makes extraordinary plays that bring spectators out of their seats and the game against McGill was no different. Abbott is an offensive threat every time he is on the ice, regardless of the situation. (My money is on Abbott to be the one to break Cornell's two-year running short-handed goal drought considering he has had numerous opportunities that he just has not been able to convert on.) He can create offense entirely on his own and on a regular basis. A knock against him last year was his ability to finish. Against McGill, he made an amazing move in tight against a McGill defender, approached the goaltender, and missed the net. This has often been the story with Abbott although he did convert on a play against McGill where he drove hard to the net in traffic to score Cornell's second goal. Abbott has never played regularly with offensively gifted players at Cornell but expect that to change this year as he will most definitely play with Sawada. Expect these two to become a dynamic duo.
15 - Daniel Pegoraro
After a miserable sophomore campaign that followed a very promising freshman campaign, Pegoraro has seemingly gotten back on the horse so to speak. He was very noticeable in the Red-White Game and the McGill exhibition, as Coach Schafer has given him another shot. He played with two very good offensive players (Sawada and Abbott) and not surprisingly did not look out of place. Pegoraro is highly skilled, but his conditioning, defensive play, and consistency have been in question in the past. As a result, he will need to land a job on a scoring line if he is to land a job at all. It was interesting to note that Cam Abbott was playing center on a few shifts against McGill with Pegoraro moved to the wing. This could have been a result of the coaching staff's concerns with his defensive play. Pegoraro is a wild card this year in that he could end up playing a prominent role, playing on a scoring line and playing the point on the powerplay, or he could end up out of the lineup altogether as he did late last season.
16 - Matt McKeown
He will be in tough for a lineup spot with the considerable depth the Big Red boasts up front and this was evident Friday night when he was scratched. In the Red-White Game, McKeown was not noticeable for large portions of the game, but got better as the game progressed. He has a reputation of being a pesky, agitator-type player in the Greg Hornby mold. Coming out of a weaker level of junior hockey than his classmates, it is not unreasonable to think that McKeown is behind them development-wise. That is not to say that he couldn't catch up by practicing a whole season with the Big Red. As far as this year goes, McKeown is probably number fifteen out of fifteen forwards on the depth chart. He will most likely get a chance to play at some point, though, as things will be tight for one or two forward spots.
17 - Doug Krantz
Krantz entered the McGill game as the number seven defenseman. By the end of the night, he may have moved up. He did not get a shift until after the mid-way point of the first period. On that shift, however, he made a good, up-ice pass to Sawada to set up the 2-on-1 that led to the Scott goal, garnering Krantz an assist. Krantz has a pretty wide array of talents in that he is big and strong, skates very well, and has good offensive skills. At 21 years of age, it should also be pointed out that he is more mature physically and psychologically than many of the other players on the team, let alone the other freshmen. In both games, Krantz showed a good ability to join the rush and to find open patches of ice. He also has good puck skills and a hard shot. His decision-making left a bit to be desired on occasion when he was caught pinching leading to odd-man rushes the other way. Krantz may possess the best offensive instincts and highest offensive upside of any of the Big Red defensemen, so his value could be very high on the powerplay. Krantz could very well be the odd man out on the blueline to start the season, but expect him to play more regularly as the season progresses or if the powerplay struggles.
18 - Mike Iggulden
Another player who found his identity last season, Iggulden has become an extremely reliable two-way center. His most notable weakness prior to this season, skating, has vastly improved over the summer. Iggulden will likely play 5-on-5 with Knoepfli the whole season going up against opposition top lines. The duo was highly effective last year in that role and will form one of the most effective shutdown lines in the NCAA. In addition to his defensive prowess, expect Iggulden to factor in more offensively than he has in the past. The Big Red is small and inexperienced down the middle after Iggulden, so anticipate the coaching staff to lean on him for his leadership and physical play a great deal. He will be one of the most important players on the team due to his intangibles and thus will factor in heavily to any success the Big Red may have this year.
19 - Chris Abbott
With the departure of Vesce, Abbott's role will be much expanded this year. Although for the time being he has been dethroned from the second line in favor of Pegoraro, Abbott is a versatile center who has proven he can succeed in any role. Against McGill, Abbott's line got more ice time than any other and was able to sustain pressure on nearly every shift. He has good playmaking ability, plays smart, and works hard every shift and will thus be an integral player to the team's stability this season.
21 - Kevin McLeod
It was very disappointing not to see McLeod dress against McGill after being one of the more noticeable players in the Red-White Game. Last season, the coaching staff likely had issues with McLeod's foot speed and below average puck skills. In the Red-White Game, McLeod was all over the ice, using his size well and effectively getting into scoring areas on a regular basis. As a result, McLeod had at least six shots on goal, far more than any player on either team. McLeod will never be a big scorer at this level, but he could be a very valuable third or fourth line forward due to his size and drive. He clearly worked this summer to improve his foot speed and this was evident in the Red-White game. It appears that McLeod will be in tough for a lineup spot again this season although he would fit in very well on the fourth line.
22 - Dan Glover
Glover is as solid of a defenseman as there is. After sitting out of the Red-White game due to injury, Glover returned against McGill and was his usual self - difficult to notice. Glover is rarely detected because he is unflashy and so sound defensively. He has gotten quite a bit bigger in the off season and as a result he will be more effective against the bigger, more physical teams this year. He seems to be very well-liked by the coaching staff so it is hard to see him being a lineup casualty of the excess defensemen on the roster. Do not expect Glover to produce much offensively, but he will have a good +/- playing mostly with Gleed to form a very solid defensive tandem. It should be noted that Glover appears to be somewhat injury-prone missing time to injury last year and already missing the Red-White Game this year.
23 - Jeremy Downs
Cornell's most reliable defenseman, Downs may be small in stature but he is big in heart. He works hard in every game and almost never looks out of place against the bigger forwards he faces every game. Downs is the fastest skater on the Big Red and as a result is almost never caught out of position. He will always be on the ice in key defensive situations and against opposition top lines paired exclusively with O'Byrne. Although Downs jumped into the rush and pinched quite a bit in the Red-White Game and the McGill game, it is highly unlikely that he will be breaking from his staunch safe and conservative play of the last three seasons.
24 - Matt Moulson One of the purest goal scorers in the NCAA, Moulson will again be counted on to produce a lot of offense for the Big Red. He will not, however, have Vesce feeding him the puck as he did the past two seasons. Moulson will be looking to prove that he can produce without Vesce, but he will still be playing with two offensively gifted players in Topher Scott and Shane Hynes to form the Big Red's top line. Moulson did not stand out much in the Red-White and McGill games, but he did not get nearly as much time in the latter as he would in a real game. He still showed flashes of his outstanding scoring ability, highlighted by a goal he scored in the shootout of the Red-White Game. Moulson's skating has improved tremendously over his tenure at Cornell and he has gotten a lot bigger as well. Moulson is a candidate to place in the top five in ECACHL scoring and could potentially even win the scoring title. Expect the first powerplay to revolve around the one-time pass to Moulson in the high slot as it did in the latter stages of last season.
26 - Topher Scott
There is not much question that he was the best player on the ice against McGill. Scott scored two great goals and was dangerous all night. He has extraordinary hockey sense and it was on display on Friday. His first goal, although it looked like a simple tap in, took great timing and coordination and his shot was accurate despite the fact that it was a backhand moving at high speed. Scott displayed incredible patience on the second goal, waiting until the McGill goaltender was down and out, and eventually putting the puck in the net from a near-impossible angle. Scott will be centering the top line between Moulson and Shane Hynes and will also likely be on the first powerplay unit. There are many similarities between Scott and Vesce including small stature, skill level, hockey sense, and drive. Also like Vesce as a freshman, Scott's main weakness is his foot speed and overall speed. After Scott scored his first goal, he didn't know what to do he was so excited. Don't tell him it was an exhibition game against one of the worst teams they would play all year. In a time where the entire NHL is shutdown due to economic reasons, seeing Scott's pure energy and excitement was an absolute pleasure. As a result, the Lynah Faithful fell in love with Scott almost immediately.
27 - Mike Knoepfli
Knoepfli is Cornell's undisputed best two-way forward. He has killed penalties and been a reliable player at both ends of the ice his entire career at Cornell. Although he has never been the Big Red's biggest offensive threat, Knoepfli has always produced at a consistent clip. This year, although he will be primarily in a defensive role, Knoepfli will still produce his fair share of offense. He does possess an excellent shot and it was displayed from low percentage areas on goals he scored in both games. Expect Knoepfli to be a top contender for the ECACHL defensive forward of the year.
28 - Shane Hynes
Hynes arguably has the most upside of any Cornell player. He possesses outstanding size, skating, and puck skills. His abilities on the boards are among the best in the NCAA. He has the potential to be one of the most dominant power forwards in the NCAA. Hynes has yet to assert himself as such yet due to a couple of factors. In his first two years he has lacked consistency, mostly because of injuries. There have been games in his career where he was the most dominant player on the ice, winning almost every battle for loose pucks. Then there are other games where he is tough to notice. Another issue is his finishing ability and patience with the puck. On several occasions, including once against McGill, Hynes will work very hard and get alone with the puck in front of the net, yet will almost always fail to score. Playing on the top line with Scott and Moulson will give Hynes an excellent opportunity to assert himself as the dominant player he has been periodically in his first two seasons.
29 - Byron Bitz
Bitz has been hurt for both games so far, but he does not have to worry about getting a spot in the lineup. There is some question as to where he will fit in, however. One possibility is him stepping on to the line with Iggulden and Knoepfli where he played arguably his best hockey of last season. Bitz also played center for periods last year after Vesce got hurt, but it is unlikely that he will return there with the amount of centers the Big Red has already. That being said, aside from Iggulden, the centers are all relatively small. With Bitz's size and skating along with his ability to win battles on the boards, he should play on the wing though. Bitz did struggle to produce offense after the first month of last season (he didn't score a goal after November) and thus his offensive upside can be questioned. Regardless, Bitz can fit a checking line role well as he is a good defensive player. It would not, however, be surprising to see Bitz put in an offensive role at some point. The bottom line is that he is a versatile player that would fit in well on any line or in any role.
30 - Troy Davenport
It is difficult to know this early what kind of goaltender Davenport is and what his potential upside may be. After all, although he played a good amount in the Red-White Game, he did not face a shot in his ten minutes of work against McGill. Davenport is regarded as a good goaltender with tremendous technical ability. Possessing the technical skills is the part that not all goalies can achieve because they don't have the natural ability. Perhaps the most important aspect of goaltending that separates to good goalies from the great ones is the mental part. Whether Davenport has that mental element remains to be seen, but in likely being the backup goaltender, there is a good chance that it will be tested. Although there was not much to judge Todd Marr on, he did come in in the third period of a close, important game on the road last season after not playing in a game in nearly a years time and did extremely well. Expect to be surprised by Davenport and see him push starter David McKee for time. Expect Davenport to start at least a few games this season.
31 - David McKee
He wasn't so much a surprise as he was a relief last year. With so many people talking about the huge hole left in David LeNeveu's premature departure, McKee silenced nearly everyone by mid-season. He was arguably the Big Red's most valuable player last year, being their best player on many nights. His performance in the playoffs was only average, however. The starter's job is obviously his to lose as Davenport will have to be spectacular to dethrone McKee. McKee stayed in Ithaca over the summer, working hard to further elevate his game which speaks well for his drive and commitment to get better. The spotlight will be on come playoff time - a time that has seen many of the goaltenders in Cornell's long dynasty of greats falter.