Incoming Arizona State freshman class a strong blend of character, skill, potential
Even as the NCAA season came to an abrupt end in March due to the spread of the cornavirus, Arizona State is already looking to the future, announcing its six-player freshman class for the upcoming 2020-21 season.
Two of the six players are NHL draft picks, and the class features four forwards, one defenseman and one goaltender.
“This is an exciting and new level of draft class for us, and one that we’ve been very excited about bringing in,” said ASU head coach Greg Powers. “We have a great balance of two-way players, an elite goaltender and raw talent top to bottom. They’ll be another freshman class that comes in and makes an immediate impact.”
Forwards Benji Eckerle, Matthew Kopperud, Michael Mancinelli and Ryan O’Reilly join blueliner Carson Kosobud and goalie Cole Brady as future Sun Devils.
One of two incoming Sun Devils from Northville, Mich., Eckerle is player that will bring versatility to the Sun Devils lineup and figures to be a player that will contribute right away.
This season, the 1999 birth year tallied 14 goals and 34 points in 48 games for the USHL’s Tri-City Storm.
“Benji does it all,” said Powers. “He can play any position up front and can really skate. He is responsible in his own end and has really developed a really good offensive game throughout his career. He’s also an incredibly high-character kid and will really add value to our culture inside the room.”
In his first year in the USHL playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints after two full seasons with the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials, Kopperud notched 17 goals and 41 points over 46 games in 2019-20.
The Denver native and 1999 birth year committed to the Sun Devils in Sept. 2018.
In 2018-19 with the Centennials, Kopperud recorded a career-high 51 points with 27 goals in 49 games.
“Matthew has been on our radar for a long time,” Powers said. “He attended our very first summer camp before the hybrid year and stayed in touch ever since. He’s a very gifted offensive player that competes every shift and loves to put up points.”
A former North Dakota commit, Mancinelli is the second incoming Northville, Mich., product and committed to ASU last December. He’ll bolster the center position for the Sun Devils in 2020-21 after posting 16 goals and 26 points in 45 games this past season for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers.
A 2001 birth year, Mancinelli is one of the youngest recruits in this class as he turns 19 this summer.
During his rookie USHL season with the Madison Capitols in 2017-18, he ranked sixth in league scoring among rookies with 35 points. He played the 2018-19 season for Des Moines and the Fargo Force.
In 2018, Mancinelli played for Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
“Michael is a complete 200-foot center,” Powers said. “He can score, win draws and can play in his own end. He’ll fit in very well right away, especially with losing a right-shot center like Brett Gruber.”
Originally committed to Denver, O’Reilly will be the fifth NHL draft pick to play for ASU after being taken by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round (98th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft.
O’Reilly, a 2000 birth year and native of Southlake, Tex., has recorded 52 goals and 46 assists over three USHL seasons with Madison, Fargo and the Green Bay Gamblers. While wearing an ‘A’ for the Gamblers during the 2019-20 season, O’Reilly compiled 17 goals and 32 points in 48 games.
In 2018, O’Reilly played for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta. The United States won the tournament and O’Reilly was one of just five USA players to record four points.
“Ryan is a very high-end talent,” Powers said. “He’s big and he can flat out score. I don’t think we’ve had a player with his physical makeup yet and we’re thrilled he chose to be a Sun Devil.”
As the only defenseman in this class, Kosobud is another former Phoenix product that made his way to Minnesota for high school, following ASU sophomore forward Demetrios Koumontzis.
Kosobud, a 1999 birth year, played at Moorhead High School and committed to ASU during his senior season in April 2017. That same year, he helped lead Moorhead to the Minnesota 2A state hockey championship.
During the 2019-20 season, Kosobud registered four goals and 17 points in 57 games for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees.
His speed and skating ability will help fill the back end upon the graduation of co-captain Brinson Pasichnuk.
“Carson is big, strong, and can skate incredibly well,” said Powers. “He’ll be a welcomed addition to our back end and will make us more difficult to play against. He grew up in Phoenix and we’re thrilled he’s coming back home to be a Sun Devil.”
Standing 6-foot-5, Brady will be the largest goaltender in the Sun Devils short NCAA Division I history.
Brady was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth round (127th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft.
During his first season with the NAHL’s Janesville Jets in 2018-19, Brady earned the Jets’ MVP award after posting a 21-17-4 record with a 2.79 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and five shutouts.
This past season with Fargo, the 2001 birth year from Pickering, Ont., went 21-12-5 with a 2.79 GAA, a .903 save percentage and two shutouts.
“Cole is a special talent,” said Powers. “He’s a big and very cerebral goaltender. He’s developed a very high compete level over three years of junior hockey and is ready to come to ASU and really add to our goaltending group with Evan (DeBrouwer) and Justin (Robbins). He’s a great teammate and loves to win. He’s been committed to us for a long time and we’re thrilled he’s finally coming to Tempe.”
Brady played the 2017-18 season for the OJHL’s Markham Royals.
Overall, as a team that was ranked for most of the 2019-20 season, the Sun Devils are proving to be a perennial national contender playing as the country’s lone independent team.
Powers said the half-dozen players will add to a solid returning group for next fall at Oceanside Ice Arena.
And there may be more signings to come.
“Our staff has done a tremendous job going out and getting us players,” Powers said. “This class excites us as is and we have other verbally committed players that could be great options to add to this class as well. We will make that determination at the end of everyone’s seasons.”
— Matt Mackinder
(May 14, 2020)