Pioneers add recruits for 2016-17, transfer for ’17-18
Fresh off its first trip to the Frozen Four in 11 years, the University of Denver wasted little time reinforcing an already strong talent base.
The Pioneers, who graduated four seniors and saw sophomore do-everything forward Danton Heinen sign with the Boston Bruins, have six players signed to National Letters of Intent for the 2016-17 season. The group includes two defensemen and four forwards, and it adds an intriguing blend of size and skill to DU’s lineup.
In addition, the Pioneers will welcome transfer goalie Packy Munson from Vermont. Munson started 20 games as a freshman this past season, going 9-10-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He will have three seasons remaining when he is eligible to play in the 2017-18 season, when Evan Cowley and Greg Ogard will have graduated.
The crown jewel of the recruiting class is 6-foot-3 forward Henrik Borgstrom of Finland. The late 1997 birth year is rated the No. 9 European skater by NHL Central Scouting Service for June’s NHL Draft.
Borgstrom, who committed in early April, had 55 points, including 29 goals, in 40 games playing for HIFK U20. He added six points in four playoff games.
“He has elite skill with his shot and playmaking ability,” DU coach Jim Montgomery said. “He has the ability to create offense out of nothing. He’s big, and as he puts on muscle mass, he’s going to be an elite college player.”
Borgstrom will be joined by another offensively gifted forward, Liam Finlay, who had 49 points – including 17 goals – in 51 games for Vernon of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). Finlay, a ’97 who stands 5-foot-7, added three points in five playoff games. He was an early target of Montgomery’s, committing in October 2013.
“He’s a lightning bug that is extremely quick with great hands and vision,” Montgomery said.
Two players from the United States Hockey League (USHL) round out the forward group – Youngstown’s Kevin Conley and Madison’s Tyson McLellan.
Conley also committed to DU in 2013, when he was playing high school hockey in Wisconsin. A 6-foot, 192-pound ’97, Conley had 15 points, including 10 goals, this season. He also had 104 penalty minutes.
“He’s a big power forward who can skate and shoot the puck,” Montgomery said. “He will be one of the guys we look to add energy to our lineup in the same mold as Grant Arnold.”
McLellan, the son of Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan, had 25 points, including 10 goals this season. A ’96, the versatile 5-foot-9 forward committed to the Pioneers on March 31.
“He’s a smart, reliable player in all three zones, along the lines of Gabe Levin, but he probably skates better,” Montgomery said.
The two blue line recruits offer a stunning contrast.
Michael Davies (’97) helped Waterloo (USHL) into the Clark Cup semifinals. He piled up 34 points in 57 games and added a couple more in eight playoff games. The 5-foot-9 prospect gave the Pioneers a verbal commitment in 2014 while playing for Dubuque (USHL).
“He’s a solid two-way defenseman,” Montgomery said. “He’s smaller like we’re used to, but he has elite skating to him and really makes good decisions and good passes in all three zones.”
There’s no secret to Erich Fear’s game. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound blueliner is defensively responsible and has the size to keep opponents from setting up shop in his zone. The ’97 birth year played for Springfield of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and committed to DU in early March. He had 12 points and a plus-2 rating in 56 games.
“He really came on in his first year of junior,” Montgomery said. “He’s big, can break the puck out and has a mean streak.”
Fear (pictured) is ranked No. 157 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting’s season-ending rankings.
Photo/Joni Coons Photography
— Chris Bayee