Season Recap: 2018-2019 Recruiting Class

With the USHL recently wrapping up its regular season, it’s time to recap the seasons of all the future Chargers. In this piece, we’ll focus on the incoming 2018-19 recruiting class, which recently grew with the commitments of defensemen Dayne Finnson, Bailey Newton, and Simon Chen. All in all, another solid recruiting class for Coach Mike Corbett:

Forwards

Bauer Neudecker, 5’7, 160, 1998, St. Louis Park, MN, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) – Following a mid-season trade to Sioux City from Dubuque, Neudecker really took off. In 36 games with Sioux City, he put up over a point per game with five goals and 15 assists, improving his point totals to conclude the season with a respectable 60/5/21/26 slash-line on a below-average Sioux City team. All things considered, his numbers really don’t reflect how good of a season he had. Buried on the depth chart in Dubuque and flanked by younger and less experienced players in Sioux City, Neudecker became a legitimate force in the country’s top junior league by season’s end. His speed, hockey IQ, and creativity served him well in his first (and only) full season of junior hockey, and suggest he’ll continue to get better as he gets bigger and stronger. I expect him to step into a top-nine role immediately and be asked to contribute offensively to a team that’ll have lost its top three point getters up front. Arguably the crown jewel of this recruiting class, Neudecker’s signing is major boon for the program – akin to Max McHugh’s four years earlier. He’s a leader who’ll quickly become a fan favorite.

Jack Jeffers

Jack Jeffers, 6’0, 185, 1997, Oakville, Ontario, Markham Royals (OJHL) – Jeffers had a superb final season of junior hockey scoring 23 goals, 56 assists, and 79 points in 54 games played – good for fifth overall in the OJHL. He was a fixture on Markham’s top line all season long and factored heavily in the team’s success. After he suffered an injury during Markham’s second playoff game, the squad was quickly eliminated from contention. A Second Team OJHL All-Star, Jeffers still exhibits many of the same attributes that had him on NHL Central Scouting’s radar in 2016: exceptional speed, lateral quickness, offensive instincts, and playmaking ability. These skills, combined with four years of high-level junior hockey experience, should result in a quick transition to college hockey. Like Neudecker, he’ll be counted on to help fill the void left by departing seniors Josh Kestner, Tyler Poulsen, and Brennan Saulnier.

Tyr Thompson, 6’0, 180, 1998, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Whitecourt Wolverines (AJHL) – The long-time commit will finally be heading south this fall following three successful seasons in the AJHL. In 2017-2018, he had 16 goals, 30 assists, and 46 points in 54 regular-season games to go along with a goal, seven assists, and eight points in 14 playoff games for a strong Whitecourt team.  Tyr, who is originally from Alberta, played youth hockey all across the continent as his father, Rocky, a former NHL tough-guy and current head coach of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, worked his way up the coaching ladder. The ever-changing hockey melting pot that he grew up in is reflected in his play: He’s a versatile playmaker who does everything well and can contribute up and down the lineup. As the son of a former enforcer and current coach, it should not come as a surprise that he also has a good hockey IQ and an edge to his game when needed. I anticipate Tyr will be a jack-of-all-trades for Coach Corbett, providing a steady presence both on the ice and in the locker room.

Ben Allen, 5’9, 170, 1997, Allen, TX, Melfort Mustangs (SJHL) – The Texan began the season with the vaunted Penticton Vees in the BCHL, but was traded midseason to the Melfort Mustangs, a team in the neighboring SJHL, where he’d get more playing time. The trade paid dividends, as Allen plotted seven goals and seven assists in 16 games down the stretch for Melfort. He’s another guy whose got a high hockey IQ, really understands the game, and can skate. Similar to Tyr Thompson – who was ironically a teammate of Allen’s in minor hockey – his versatility, leadership qualities, and mature approach make him a welcome addition to the 2018-19 Charger squad.

Defensemen

Dayne Finnson, 5’10, 190, 1997, Arborg, Manitoba, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) – Make no bones about it, after losing three of his top six defensemen, Coach Corbett had to sign an impact defenseman who could step in and play top-four minutes. Fortunately, he was able to do just that when he secured Dayne Finnson’s commitment back in March. Finnson, a farm boy from rural Manitoba, plotted an impressive 41 points, including five goals and 36 assists, in 56 games played for the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL. His point total was first among defensemen on the Grizzlies, and good for sixth overall in the entire league. He continued his strong play on into the postseason, with two goals, five assists, and seven points in 12 playoff games before the Grizzles were eliminated in the second round.  In sum, this past season was Finnson’s second with the Grizzlies, who brought him out west following a 2-year stint of prep hockey with the New England powerhouse Salisbury School in Connecticut. An excellent skater with good vision and a strong first pass, Finnson will remind many Charger fans of outgoing senior Brandon Parker given his stature and ability to jump up into the play from the back end. Don’t let his height fool you, though: Finnson is tough as nails and can dish out absolutely bone-crushing hits like this one back in November of 2016:

 

Drew Lennon, 6’2, 180, 1998, Bloomington, IL, Lone Star Brahmas (NAHL) – Given the Chargers’ aforementioned need for defensemen, it likely came as a huge relief to the coaching staff when Lennon announced his commitment to UAH towards the beginning of the season. As noted when he first committed, Lennon, who is originally from Illinois, has played junior hockey all over North America these past few years. After a year in Connecticut playing for the Connecticut Oilers (EHL), Lennon went to the opposite coast with Prince George in the BCHL in ’16-17, and then to Texas this season. Regardless of where Lennon’s gone, he’s put up solid numbers and continued to improve. Although the two goals, 16 assists, and 18 points he notched for Lone Star in 58 games this year may not jump off the page, they’re pretty good considering the shutdown role he often played for his team. In keeping with the theme of this class, Lennon is also a strong skater who works hard and plays a heady game. As one scout put it, “his value lies behind the red line,” but he still has some serious upside offensively. It’ll be up to Coach Corbett and whoever replaces Matty Thomas as the defensive assistant coach to unlock Lennon’s offensive potential. In any event, expect Lennon to get playing time early and often as a freshman.

Bailey Newton, 5’11, 190, 1998, Halton Hills, Ontario, Oakville Blades (OJHL) – Newton, a physical blueliner who served as Oakville’s captain this past season, recently pledged his commitment to UAH where he’ll be reunited with former Blade Christian Rajic. Widely lauded for his work ethic, leadership qualities, and character, Newton is bona fide defensive defenseman who does a lot of little things on the ice that are necessary for a hockey team to be successful. The former draft pick of the OHL’s Erie Otters shadows other teams’ top players, kills penalties, and stands up for his teammates, as evidenced by the 124 PIMs that he piled up during the regular season. He wasn’t tasked with being an offensive contributor, and his goal, 16 assists, and 17 points in 53 games reflect that. However, Newton could very well develop into more of an offensive threat, as he – like everyone else in this recruiting class – is a good skater with ample hockey smarts. Hockey abilities notwithstanding, this is a kid who’s been team captain just about everywhere he’s played and is revered by both teammates and coaches alike. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case in college.

Simon Chen, 5’10, 180, 1997, Beijing, China, Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL) – This kid has to have the most unique background of any UAH recruit, ever. Born in China, Chen played minor hockey there until his desire to develop his game exceeded his country’s limited hockey resources. Not knowing that New England prep schools typically recruit their players, he enrolled at the Brooks School and ended up being the only “walk-on” to make the team. Later, after playing for a couple of different U18 teams in the Northeast, he headed out to British Columbia to play for the Cowichan Valley Capitals in the BCHL, where he spent the past two seasons. After his first season with Cowichan, he was invited to attend the Vancouver Canucks Development Camp, where he got a chance to compete with a number of top NHL draft picks and prospects, as well as share his unique hockey background with a larger audience.

His 52/2/9/11 line this year belies the improvements he made in his second season of junior hockey. And given the fact that Chen has really only played top-flight hockey for a few years, he’s got a tremendous amount of room to grow as a player. It’ll be fun to watch him get better, and, hopefully, achieve his goal of playing for China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. For more detailed info on Chen’s background, check out these other pieces done on him:

That all for this year’s incoming recruiting class. Stay tuned for a write-up about UAH commits for 2019-20 and beyond.