Is it October yet? The Penn State men’s hockey team drops the puck on its 2017-18 season in 17 days; the Nittany Lions will open the regular season against Clarkson on the road October 6.
Last week, we took a look at what Guy Gadowsky’s first defensive pairings of the season might look like when the team hits the ice in the opener. Today, it’s the forwards’ turn; here is what Penn State’s four-line unit could look like on opening night:
Denis Smirnov – Chase Berger – Andrew Sturtz
It just so happens that Penn State’s three most productive returning forwards from last season each play a different position, so it’s only natural to slot them together into Guy Gadowsky’s top line.
Smirnov led the team in scoring last year as a freshman with 47 points, but the Colorado Avalanche draft pick was closely followed by Sturtz (37, including a team-leading 22 goals) and Berger (36).
The Russian’s smooth style of play combined with a balanced center and a prototypical goal-scoring power forward seems like an ideal combination on paper.
It will be intriguing to see how Andrew Sturtz’s role grows throughout the season. Now that David Goodwin is gone, the Buffalo native will be the Lions’ top right winger. You shouldn’t be worried about him though; the energy and passion he shows for Penn State hockey should help him flourish on the top line.
Brandon Biro – Nate Sucese – Liam Folkes
This second line is a very interesting combination that Guy Gadowsky may use this year. All three of these players stepped into the lineup as freshmen and were important pieces in winning the Big Ten title.
Sucese saw ice time with Denis Smirnov & David Goodwin towards the end of last year, but Folkes and Biro were not used in key roles until the postseason. Liam Folkes etched himself into Penn State folk(e)lore in the Big Ten tournament, and Biro scored Penn State’s first NCAA tournament goal in program history.
Putting three second-year players together on a line may be costly if they suffer a sophomore slump, but based on their quality, I don’t expect them to struggle.
We know Sucese is capable of putting up good offensive numbers; he scored 17 goals and 19 assists in 38 games last season. If Biro and Folkes continue to grow on the flanks, then this could be a dangerous line for the Blue & White.
James Robinson – Evan Barratt – Alec Marsh
On paper, this is one of the most interesting lines that Penn State could use this season. Captain James Robinson and junior Alec Marsh flanking freshman Evan Barratt would be an excellent third line that could be a big source of secondary scoring
Barratt was a third-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in this past NHL Draft, and he had an excellent season with the U.S. U-18 national team last year. The Bristol, PA native is a very well-rounded center, and if he develops properly, he could be Guy Gadowsky’s top center in the future.
Marsh wasn’t necessarily a regular in the lineup through all of last season, but he totaled six goals in a bottom-six role last year. Expect him and Robinson to mentor Barratt as he grows as a player here in Hockey Valley.
Another thing to note: Penn State only has five right-handed forwards on the roster, and assuming that less than four of them play, at least one lefty — in this case, Alec Marsh — will have to slot in on their off wing.
Brett Murray – Nikita Pavlychev – Alex Limoges
Fourth lines are usually not talked about too much, but this combination of two NHL draft picks and a rookie is very intriguing.
Pavlychev and Murray are the two tallest skaters on the roster, coming in at 6’7″ and 6’5″, respectively, so it will be interesting to see how both use their size on either side of the puck.
They may combine with freshman Alex Limoges, a center by trade, but the Winchester, VA native won’t be on the fourth line for long.
He enjoyed a productive USHL career totaling 36 goals and 95 points in 98 games with Tri City and Waterloo, and he won the 2015-16 Clark Cup with the Storm.
Brett Murray will also be an intriguing player to watch this year. He joined the Lions at the start of the spring semester last year, playing twelve games and recording one assist. The fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres could potentially have a bounceback season and establish himself as a regular in the lineup.
Extras: Sam Sternschein, Blake Gober, Matt Mendelson