Leading By Example: Men’s Hockey Forwards Positional Preview
After a record-breaking offensive season, Penn State men’s hockey will need to emulate last year’s style of play if it wants to take another step towards national prominence. The young team lost its top-two scorers ever in Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom, while freshman phenom Scott Conway was dismissed for off-ice issues. Head Coach Guy Gadowsky‘s high-flying, shoot-first-ask-questions-later system worked last year, but with a smaller, faster team, time will tell if that works with this roster.
Still, this coaching staff is certainly offensively minded. The Nittany Lions will still be among the NCAA leaders in shots and goals. One main question remains: Who will step up and take charge of the forwards? Over the past few weeks, we took a look at the team’s freshmen, defensemen, and goalies. Today, we’re taking a look at how Penn State stacks up up front, and how the team’s four lines will shape up. Of course, Gadowsky is of the “We don’t rank our lines, we just have four lines and maybe some play more than others” coaching mindset, but unofficially, there are clear distinctions between the four lines. I’ve been waiting since May to write this column. Let’s get to it.
First Line: Goodwin, Scheid, Richard
Last year’s top line of David Goodwin, Taylor Holstrom, and Casey Bailey combined for 107 points. The rest of the forwards combined for 171. That means the top three forwards were responsible for 38 percent of the offense. Goodwin is the only remaining piece of that puzzle, and it’d be a shock to see him drop down in the lineup. He spent most of the season on the left wing, but when Holstrom went down with an injury, Goodwin moved over to the center — and in his second game, he scored four points. The highest scoring returning player in the Big Ten can play either position, but probably factors in on the left wing.
Eric Scheid, arguably the team’s fastest, most exciting player, probably could’ve been the top-line center last year had it not been for Holstrom’s uncanny chemistry with Bailey. Scheid created his own offense more than anyone else last season, and even though he missed long stretches with injuries, he finished as the team’s fourth-highest scorer. The top line carried the team for most of the first half of the season, but when Scheid returned, he centered Scott Conway and Dylan Richard and they combined to light up opponents’ second-string defenses. Scheid and Goodwin were named Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch, and it’d be a surprise if they didn’t carry the offense this year. Unfortunately, Gadowsky announced at Media Day that Scheid is expected to miss a few weeks and return in mid-November following an offseason injury. Expect to see Goodwin or David Glen center the top line to start the year, then for Goodwin and Scheid to pair up once they’re both in the lineup.
Rounding out the line on the right wing might be Scheid’s former linemate, and one of the team’s best two-way forwards, Dylan Richard. Arguably the most underrated player on the team, Richard was the most defensively responsible member of the second line while Conway and Scheid put up points. Still, perhaps through association, Richard finished sixth on the team with 21 points in 30 games and had a shorthanded goal. The offensive chemistry with Scheid is already in place, and the hustle to contribute defensively has always been top-line quality. While Goodwin and Scheid are seemingly given picks to play up front, Richard is another front-runner but could be deferred in favor of veterans Tommy Olczyk or Curtis Loik, or incoming freshmen like Andrew Sturtz or Chase Berger.
Second Line: Olczyk, Glen, Sturtz
In the sake of full disclosure, I have no idea how Sturtz will shape up in college hockey. Everyone who comes to the Big Ten puts up huge numbers in juniors, and when a player is 5-foot-8, there are plenty of causes for concern. That being said, not every incoming freshman is the CCHL MVP. He’s undersized, but the coaching staff and the team have hyped him enough too much for him to seem like just another freshman. Whether or not he immediately fits in as a top-six forward remains to be seen, but it could be fun, especially since the other two spots on the line are expected to go to two-way forwards. Despite Gadowsky praising his improved defense in his last season in juniors, it’s unlikely there’s a spot for Sturtz on a bottom-six checking line.
Tommy Olczyk, back for his redshirt senior season, will bring additional leadership, checking, and scoring to wherever he shows up in the lineup. He scored Penn State’s first goal last year on a penalty shot, and bounced up and down the lineup, including a stint on the top line’s left wing when Holstrom went out and Goodwin moved over. He was also the team’s captain two seasons ago, before the distinction went to Patrick Koudys last year, and then was passed down to Olczyk’s potential center this year.
David Glen is everything Penn State wants in a leader. On the ice, he puts up points, he hits hard, and he is possibly the best defensive forward to have ever worn the Blue and White. None of that compares to his off-ice selflessness, though. In early 2014, he was notified that a woman he had never met was a match for a bone marrow donation. Glen donated to save her life and sat out a few games as a result in what fans called the “ultimate assist.” This most recent offseason saw a unanimous team vote select him as the captain. He’s first overall in Penn State history with a plus/minus of +10, and he’s fourth all-time in goals with 23. He’s a complete player, he’s selfless, and he should be on the ice as much as possible.
Third Line: Robinson, Loik, Berger/Mendelson/Marsh
The bottom two lines are all interchangeable. The roster is constructed mostly of forwards who are reliable on defense and can score sporadically. Only a handful of players can be counted on to find the score sheet with any regularity, and for more information on them, read the last two subheaders again.
Any player here could play any position on the line, especially since which players show up might change game to game, but sophomore James Robinson and senior Curtis Loik seem like the best fits. Robinson flew under the radar more than the other two freshmen last year, as Scott Conway lit up the score sheet and defenseman Erik Autio, but was still dependable enough in 32 games played, and is probably the chippiest player on the roster. He gets under the skin of opponents more than any other Penn State player, and while he can’t be the best scorer, he’s a great penalty killer and should see as much ice as any other bottom-six forward.
The next candidate for the left wing or center position is senior Curtis Loik. His name doesn’t get called very often by the fans, or at least not as much as he should. He is third in Penn State hockey history with 90 games played, third in shots, tied for sixth in points, and fourth in plus/minus. Of course, all Penn State statistics are over a small sample size, but he has been one of the team’s most consistently productive players. Like Robinson, he deserves as much ice time as anyone, but won’t get the chance.
A couple of players who were recruited a long, long time ago might occupy the final slot, but I wrote about them on the fourth line. Those seniors came to Penn State in a much different era, and they weren’t given as much recruiting hype as the more recents commits. That’s why each of the remaining forward freshmen could make a place for playing time right away. Last year, Gadowsky took a few weeks before starting all three of the freshmen simultaneously — usually only one or two of the three of Conway, Autio, and Robinson would see the ice in the same game. Whichever freshman starts ext Sunday, if there is one, is hardly a lock to play soon in the future.
Fourth Line: Brooks, Saar, DeRosa
And finally, some more of the longest tenured members of Penn State hockey. Brooks and DeRosa have traditionally been bottom-six staples. Ricky DeRosa scored three goals and had five assists last year, while Brooks only had three assists. Their value comes in the form of leadership, shootout play, and defense and powerplay time.
The projected center is a bit of a wild card. He could possibly play center on any line, depending on which version of him we see. If it’s the 2013-14 Zach Saar who scored to beat Michigan in double-overtime in the Big Ten Tournament, he could be another weapon for Gadowsky. If he’s the version of himself that was only healthy enough to dress for 16 games last year, where he tallied a mere one assists, his 6-foot-6 frame will best be used towards the bottom of the lineup.
And there are my projections and a little bit of analysis on Penn State’s forward corps in the post-Bailey era. We’ll see how close they were when the men’s hockey team drops the puch for the first time this school year in five days at Pegula Ice Arena.