Caitlan Gannam | Clarion

Despite bringing DU its eighth NCAA hockey championship this past spring, Head Coach Jim Montgomery’s season doesn’t end with the team’s. Instead, he will be busy on the recruiting trail, talking to potential future Pioneers and scouting junior leagues across the globe in hopes of piecing together another elite-level roster.

Denver has already received five National Letters of Intent for the 2017-18 hockey season. Goalie Dayton Rasmussen, defensemen Ian Mitchell and Griffin Mendel and forwards Adam Goodsir and Kohen Olischefski spearhead the incoming class.

Both Rasmussen, an athletic and rangy goaltender, and Mitchell, a dynamic offensive defenseman, are expected to be selected in the second or third rounds of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft this summer. Rasmussen is expected to backup senior Tanner Jaillet (Red Deer, Alberta) next season, while Mitchell has the tools to make a similar impact as current freshman defenseman Michael Davies (St. Louis, Missouri) did in his first season.

Mendel is a hulking 6-foot-3 defenseman from the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), while Olischefski is a playmaking forward. Olischefski, who decommitted from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in favor of the Pioneers in 2015, blossomed this past season with 76 points in 58 games in the BCHL.

Per hockey recruiting websites College Hockey Inc. and College Hockey News, Denver will also welcome forwards Ryan Barrow, Jake Durflinger, Jaakko Heikkinen, C.J. Dodero, Jack Doremus, Joachim Weberg and Ben Brar next season. Barrow, Heikkinen and Weberg each averaged over a point per game in their 2016-17 seasons.

Losing four forwards to graduation this spring, Denver’s freshmen should have ample opportunities to contribute early. The influx of forwards is also reflective of the possibility of sophomore forwards Henrik Borgstrom (Helsinki, Finland), Troy Terry (Highlands Ranch) and Dylan Gambrell (Bonney Lake, Washington) turning pro this offseason.

Two more defensemen are also expected to enroll next fall in Michael Boyle and Eero Teravainen. Boyle, measuring in at a solid 6-foot-3, racked up 114 penalty minutes in the USHL last season. Teravainen, the brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen, is another exciting Finnish player recruited by Montgomery.

Looking past next season, forwards Brett Stapley, Tyler Ward and Mathias-Emilio Pettersen are set to join the Pioneers in the 2018-19 season. Stapley and Ward scored at nearly a point per game average in the BCHL last year, while Pettersen is a Norwegian phenom who is playing in the USHL.

On the back end, Slava Demin is also expected to suit up for the Pioneers in 2018-19. A highly ranked prospect for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Demin is an exciting two-way defender from Cypress, California.

Denver even has a commitment from 15-year-old Ty Smilanic, a forward for the local Colorado Thunderbirds U16 team. Also joining him in the very distant 2021-22 recruiting class is forward Bobby Brink, a Minnesota high schooler, and defenseman Jacson Alexander, who plays in British Columbia.

To put in perspective how young these prospective players are, Smilanic, Brink and Alexander are scheduled to arrive on campus when the incoming freshman goaltender, Rasmussen, is a senior.

The lifeblood of college sports, recruiting is the key to shaping a team’s roster. A program’s ability to forecast and fill team needs over four or more years with not only the most talented players, but the most fitting ones, separates top institutions from the bottom ones.

Every player who suits up for the Pioneers is deliberately placed to fill a niche. While students and fans enjoy the team’s immediate success, those achievements are the freshly-squeezed final product generated by a half-decade’s worth of preparation in recruiting efforts and roster construction.