The talent on the Boston University roster this season didn’t quite match up with the regular season results this year and the Terriers needed to win the Hockey East Conference Tournament to keep their season alive with an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. They faced the same scenario last season and were able to get in, but lightning didn’t strike twice. The Northeastern Huskies knocked off BU in the Hockey East semifinals tonight and now decisions await several of the teams stars.
The most notable decision will come from 2016 first-round pick Dante Fabbro. The 16th overall pick by the Nashville Predators that year, Fabbro was a superstar for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL and has only continued to progress at BU into a high-end two-way defenseman. Fabbro set a career high with 33 points in 37 games this season and was named a first-team all-conference selection for his efforts. Fabbro may not have much more growing to do at the college level, but does have another year of NCAA eligibility remaining. If he chooses to turn pro and surrender that final year, he would undoubtedly be a welcomed addition in Nashville. However, he does have some incentive to wait one more year. The Predators have one of the deepest blue lines in the NHL, armed with an elite top-four and seven veteran defenders already signed through next season. Fabbro could end up buried in the minors or at the very least outside top-four consideration for several years if he signs with the team that drafted him. If he instead opts to return to BU for his senior year, he could then wait until August 2020 and become an unrestricted free agent. The wait is now on to see what Fabbro decides to do. Ironically, teammate Patrick Harper finds himself in the same situation with the Predators. The talented forward had a down year after back-to-back point-per-game campaigns to begin his collegiate career. He may be looking to move on from the college game, but Nashville’s 2016 fifth-round pick could benefit from another year with the Terriers and also opens himself up to the possibility of free agency if he returns for a fourth NCAA season.
The clock may also be ticking for Fabbro’s teammate and fellow first-round pick Shane Bowers. A 2017 selection, Bowers actually has two years of eligibility remaining, but rumors surfaced earlier this season that Bowers was considering moving on from the NCAA ranks. In fact, there was some doubt that Bowers would return to BU after the World Juniors earlier this year, with some speculating he could sign with the Colorado Avalanche instead. Originally a pick of the Ottawa Senators, Bowers was one of the pieces moved to the Avs in the Matt Duchene trade and now finds himself with the opportunity to join a good team with a need for secondary scoring. Bowers certainly has room to improve before turning pro, but the former USHL standout would still likely step into an immediate role in Colorado. Bowers could potentially even join the Avalanche right away this season to help the team in their playoff push. Such a chance doesn’t come around very often and could persuade Bowers to cut his tenure in Boston short.
Elsewhere on the roster, starting goaltender Jake Oettinger, another 2017 first-round pick, may consider a move to the pros as well. The Dallas Stars top goalie prospect had another up-and-down year, but has undeniable talent and could choose to leave the college level behind him. However, after watching another talented, young Dallas keeper, Colton Point, see limited action and ample struggles in both the AHL and ECHL in his first pro season in the Stars’ system, Oettinger may not be in any rush. Most of the Terriers’ other NHL prospects have years of eligibility remaining and seem unlikely to jump ship, including Hockey East Rookie of the Year and Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder Joel Farabee, another Nashville Predators prospect in David Farrance, and intriguing Chicago Blackhawks defensive prospect Chad Krys.
Two players without any choice in the matter are Bobo Carpenter and Max Willman. Carpenter, who struggled with injuries this season, nevertheless will be a priority free agent now that BU’s season is over. The undrafted forward has NHL lineage, leadership skills, and a strong work ethic. At just 22, Carpenter brings four years of NCAA experience and consistent scoring numbers to whichever team is lucky to land him. There may not be the same press to sign Willman. A rare five-year college player, Willman is a 2014 selection of the Buffalo Sabres but may not be tendered by the team. In four years at Brown University and a graduate year at Boston University, Willman managed just 51 points in 134 games with just one breakout year as a junior at Brown. Buffalo may like how the 24-year-old’s mature game could translate to the pros, but his upside may not be worthy of an entry-level contract. Should Willman become a free agent, the Cape Cod native will have plenty of AHL teams close to home who could be willing to give him a chance.
Change is coming to Boston University one way or another, but just how much change will depend on how many of their top players decide to turn pro versus return for another year. Either the Terriers or the NHL will end up with a good amount of talent added to the mix next season.