In each the ECAC Coaches' Preseason Poll and the ECAC Hockey Writers and Broadcasters Association Preseason Poll Union is picked to finished 6th out of 12 teams. Each poll picked the top 6 teams exactly the same having Yale in first followed by Cornell, Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, and then the Dutchmen in sixth. The second tier of the poll is a mix of St. Lawrence, Colgate, Clarkson, Quinnipiac, and RPI with Brown coming in last in each poll.
I can't say that I don't agree with this 6th place finish. It's a solid finish and guarantees home advantage in a first-round playoff series. Up front the Dutchmen are very, very solid having only lost one impact forward, Matt Cook, last season. With the return of Jason Walters, Mario Valery-Trabucco, and leading-scorer Adam Presizniuk the offense should not be much of a concern. Also, newcomers Wayne Simpson, Kyle Bodie, and Jeremy Welsh are also to be impact players this season. Simpson should especially be exciting to see since he is supposedly faster than his older brother John, and let me tell you that is REALLY fast! With bigger seasons out of role players like Stephane Boileau, John Simpson, and Luke Cain along with the ever growing improvement of Kelly Zajac the Dutchmen should be able to role out 4 lines with scoring ability and could possibly have one of the best offensive units in the ECAC.
But, here's the catch: at this moment in time the Dutchmen defense looks pretty weak. This is probably the reason why the Dutchmen were picked to finish 6th. I mean it wouldn't surprise me if they had the top ranked offense in the league and the worst ranked defense in the league, which in the end would average out to 6th overall. Having graduated defensive legend Lane Caffaro, Brendan Milnamow, and Mike Harr all to the pros there will be big shoes to fill in the Dutchmen defensive corps. Returning to the blueline will be fan favorite Mike Wakita, the always steady Brock Matheson, and crafty Mike Schreiber. They are all pretty solid on the defensive side of the puck, but the real problem with this trio is on the offensive side of the puck. Between the three of them last season they scored a combined 5 goals and 19 assists. Caffaro on his own last season scored 8 goals and obtained 14 assists, and to prove my point even more, Milnamow had 9 goals and 9 assists last season as well. So, just between two players the Dutchmen defense will have to some how make up for 17 goals and 23 assists. It does seem pretty unlikely that these numbers will be put up by one of the incumbents, but I'd pick Schreiber to have a pretty good offensive season.
So, who's going to fill in to take the three open spots? Well, there is plenty to choose from. To start off you have sophomores Nolan Julseth-White and Taylor Reid who between them played a combined 6 games last season. They might be the first players to get a shot just because of their age, but who knows. Nobody really knows what they can do on NCAA level. Coach Leaman did a great job this summer finding defensemen to find these vacancies as he brought in 4 defensemen: Ryan Forgaard (a former teammate of Kelly Zajac), Jean-Sebastian Bergeron, Greg Coburn, and Shawn Stuart. You also can't forget about redshirt freshman Carl Ekstrom from Sweeden. Union's first European import missed all of last season with a hip injury, but hopes are still high for this guy who was the top scoring defenseman in Sweeden's J20 SuperElit League before coming to Schenectady. So, in conclusion, only 3 of the 10 defensemen on the roster have any real NCAA experience. Who really knows what these guys will do when the season comes around? There are high hopes for all of these guys, and it should be really interesting to see what happens.
But, no matter how good or bad these new guys are it all really depends on goaltender Corey Milan, who had a school record 19 wins last season. Corey might have to steal a game or two for the Dutchmen, and will have to be the backbone of this inexperienced defense. Even though Milan was good last season, he wasn't stellar. He was pretty susceptible to the weak goal or bad game. This could have been a lack of motivation because he was basically guaranteed to start every game not matter what. But, this year could be different as Coach Leaman brought in a goaltender with a gigantic resume in Keith Kinkaid. Keith, a native of Long Island, played for the St. Louis Bandits last season where he was named the NAHL MVP, Goaltender of the Year, and First Team All-Star, along with winning the NAHL championship where he was named MVP of the playoffs. Maybe this is the motivation Milan needs, or maybe Kinkaid will steal the throne of starting goaltender. It could also be possible that Leaman will institute a split system that he used with Milan and Justin Mrazek two seasons ago. We will all find this out in a matter of time.