Can we all agree that it’s early, thereby accepting that caveat without further asterisk-ing? Great. Now then: ECAC Hockey is looking good so far. Scary good. Let’s take a spin ’round the league we call our own.

What the NHL doesn’t know…

In order to be a top team, you have to get the top players. Sometimes they come to you, sometimes they fall in your lap, sometimes you develop them yourself. But generally speaking, the best teams know how to find the best players, and do so through expensive, exhausting, painstaking research, assessment, and recruiting.

So you’d think the best mercenary hockey teams in the world – those in the National Hockey League – would be able to spot talent in their own back yards with a bit more accuracy, eh?

As it stands, only five of arguably the top 34 players in ECAC Hockey are NHL draft picks. (Granted, “top 34” is a relatively arbitrary number, based on current statistics.) Those players are Yale’s Kenny Agostino (drafted by Pittsburgh), Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey (Nashville), Cornell’s Joakim Ryan (San Jose), Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia), and Princeton’s Michael Sdao (Ottawa).

At the moment, Agostino ranks fifth in the league in overall scoring, behind four undrafted talents: Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey from St. Lawrence, Tyler Sikura at Dartmouth, and Agostino’s teammate Antoine Laganiere. ECAC’s six top scorers beyond Agostino are also free agents: Princeton’s Tyler Maugeri and Andrew Calof, Union’s Kyle Bodie, Dartmouth’s Matt Lindblad, Rensselaer’s Jacob Laliberte, and Union’s Wayne Simpson.

The conference’s top 13 goal-scorers are also thin on NHL property: Vesey and Agostino pull in fourth and seventh in the category, respectively. Above Vesey is Laganiere, Eric Robinson at Dartmouth, and Carey. Brown’s Matt Lorito and Cornell’s John Esposito follow, then Agostino, Flanagan, Sikura, Maugeri, Quinnipiac’s Jeremy Langlois, Lindblad, and Andrew Ammon at Princeton.

Ryan and Agostino each factor into the league’s top assist-ers as well, joined by some of the aforementioned stars as well as Eric Meland at Princeton (ahead of both), Clarkson’s Allan McPherson, and Yale’s Clinton Bourbonais. Among offensive-minded blue-liners, Gostisbehere may make Philly look smart at the top, but he is followed by the overlooked likes of Meland, SLU’s Justin Baker, Union’s Greg Coburn, Nick Bailen at RPI, Ryan, Union’s Spiro Goulakos, Sdao, and Yale Bulldog Tommy Fallen.

Last but not least, I can’t fathom how the pros would walk right by some of the top talent in what is frequently regarded as one of the most defensive, goalie-heavy leagues in the country: Not one of ECAC Hockey’s top half-dozen netminders (as judged by current save percentage) is on the “prospects” list for an NHL franchise. Raphael Girard at Harvard, Yale’s Jeff Malcolm, QU’s Eric Hartzell, Cornell’s Andy Iles, Matt Weninger at SLU, and Union’s Frozen Four backstop Troy Grosenick are in line for big paydays, should they keep it up.

Apologies for not listing stats for each of these stellar standouts, but this is a tough enough list to read through as it is, I’m sure.

Never too early to smile

A bajillion miles to go, of course, but starting hot is certainly better than the alternative, eh? The preposterously early PairWise rankings show ECAC Hockey in pretty solid shape entering the last month of 2012.

If the NCAA Tournament started today, the ECAC would place two No. 1 seeds (Dartmouth and Yale), a No. 2 (Quinnipiac), two 3’s (Cornell and Union) and a No. 4 (Harvard). Tip of the cap to Cornell SID Brandon Thomas for a related note on Twitter.

Granted, as Thomas pointed out as well, this league will certainly eat itself alive in the second half. Six NCAA teams sure would be sweet, but a goal of four would be pretty satisfactory, too.

Hot team of the hour: Quinnipiac

Yes, yes, Bobcats supporters, I am aware that the ‘Cats have been winning quite regularly ever since they lost quite… irregularly… to (gulp) American International in early November. QU is on an eight-game roll (7-0-1), having smothered the Capital District by a 7-1 aggregate (4-0 at Union, 3-1 at RPI).

The season-opening win at Maine isn’t shaping up to be such a feather in the Bobcats’ caps anymore (the Black Bears are 2-10-2 and dead last in Hockey East), but the win and tie against Ohio State (7-4-3) looks solid. The team just finished its longest “road trip” of the season – six games – with a 5-0-1 record, and swept two of the four toughest road trips of the year, at the Capital District as well as the North Country. (I am presuming that Harvard/Dartmouth and Colgate/Cornell will be at least as tough as the aforementioned pair.)

Twenty of the 24 QU players to have suited up this season have registered a point, and two of the point-less quartet are goalies. (The other two have combined for four appearances.) A full two-thirds – 16 – of those two-dozen players have lit the lamp themselves, led by senior and aforementioned free agent Jeremy Langlois; he also leads the team in points, but his eight goals and 14 points are decidedly modest for such a hot team. That speaks volumes about the depth Pecknold has at his disposal… there are no Reid Cashmans, Brandon Wongs, or David Marshalls carrying this team.

The Q-Cats only have seven road games among their 19 remaining regular-season contests… but at 6-0-1 away from home (and 4-2-1 in Hamden), perhaps coach Rand Pecknold should put his boys up in hotels before all of their remaining tilts, regardless of venue.