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Projecting Penn State Hockey’s Opening Night Lineup: Forwards

Is it October yet?

Penn State men’s hockey will drop the puck on its 2018-19 season in 23 days with a series against Clarkson at Pegula Ice Arena. Head coach Guy Gadowsky has just a few weeks to decide who will hit the ice for game one of the regular season. Here’s a look at what the Nittany Lions’ forward group could look like on opening night:

Line 1

Denis Smirnov – Nate Sucese – Brandon Biro

There aren’t many questions surrounding Penn State’s top scoring line, as it should remain the same as last season.

Junior center Nate Sucese and newly-promoted alternate captain Brandon Biro spent the majority of last season alongside Denis Smirnov and are the teams’ two leading returning scorers. Sucese scored 14 goals last season to finish second on the team behind Smirnov, increasing his career total to 31 in two seasons.

Nate Sucese has tallied 65 points in 74 games as a Nittany Lion.

Meanwhile, Biro had more assists than any other returning skater last season. The alternate captain only finished behind Andrew Sturtz and Trevor Hamilton in terms of playmaking output with 22 helpers while adding nine goals. It should be interesting to see how the Alberta native adjusts to his new leadership role with an “A” on his sweater.

Smirnov was the team’s most productive returning forward when healthy, scoring 15 goals and 27 points in 30 appearances. The Russian star and Colorado Avalanche draft choice had a down year in 2017-18 compared to his freshman year; he started his Penn State career by leading the Big Ten title-winning squad in scoring with 47 points.

Line 2

Alex Limoges – Chase Berger – Liam Folkes

The Nittany Lions’ lineup is much less straightforward beyond the top line. Andrew Sturtz is gone, so Chase Berger will have to play without Sturtz on his right flank for the first time in a long time.

Junior winger Liam Folkes is a prime candidate to take Sturtz’s spot alongside Berger. Folkes finished last season with 13 goals; the only players to score more were Sturtz, Sucese, and Smirnov. He’s developed nicely as a player since his Big Ten-winning overtime goal against Wisconsin in 2017 and should be a key piece of the Nittany Lions’ forward group.

Folkes’ highlight-reel goal against Minnesota at Pegula Ice Arena last season helped the Nittany Lions sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

Berger, who will wear the “C” on his sweater as the sixth captain in program history, finished last season with 11 goals and 16 assists in 38 games played. He’s a great two-way player and will likely feature in all situations for the Nittany Lions, but whether or not his production drops off without Sturtz remains to be seen.

The third and final piece of this line could be filled by many players, but I think sophomore Alex Limoges will end up starting the season in this spot. Limoges was recruited as a center, but shifted to wing last season due to the amount of depth at his natural position. He finished the season strong and developed plenty of chemistry with Folkes and Evan Barratt, so he should earn a promotion to a top-six role this season.

Line 3

Aarne Talvitie – Evan Barratt – Sam Sternschein

This could be the Nittany Lions’ most intriguing line that Guy Gadowsky fields on opening night against Clarkson.

Sophomore Evan Barratt had a rough start to his career in Hockey Valley, but proved why the Chicago Blackhawks selected him in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft with a strong finish to the season. He ended the year with 11 goals and 7 assists, including two goals and two assists in his team’s sweep of Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.

Barratt saw plenty of ice time on the Nittany Lions’ power play last season.

Sam Sternschein wasn’t always a regular in Penn State’s lineup last season, but he impressed as Denis Smirnov sat out due to an undisclosed illness. He should get an opportunity to play a bigger role after finishing last season with five goals in 25 appearances.

Freshman Aarne Talvitie checks in at left wing alongside Barratt and Sternschein. The Finnish sniper is one of four NHL Draft picks on the team and a natural center, but he may need to shift to the wing a la Alex Limoges. He had an excellent summer with strong performances at the New Jersey Devils’ development camp and with his national team, and should see lots of power play time with Penn State.

Line 4

Nikita Pavlychev – Ludvig Larsson – Alec Marsh

Penn State’s logjam at center is on full display with this line combination, as the big Nikita Pavlychev is slotted in out of position alongside veteran Alec Marsh and graduate transfer Ludvig Larsson.

Pavlychev was excellent in a defensive role for the Nittany Lions last season, but Ludvig Larsson finished 14th in the nation with a faceoff win rate of over 58 percent. Pavlychev clearly isn’t a winger and has no experience at the position, but he slots in here because I feel that both he and Larsson are too good to keep out of the lineup. If both players are in the lineup, they should each anchor their own penalty kill unit.

Nikita Pavlychev — a seventh-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins — towers over most of his teammates and opponents.

In a perfect world, Larsson would take faceoffs on this line, then switch out to the wing to cover an opposing defenseman on the point. The first Swedish player in program history transferred from Merrimack following three seasons with the Hockey East program. Larsson can put the puck in the back of the net consistently, as well; he scored 24 goals in 91 games in three seasons with the Warriors.

Alec Marsh slots in on the right wing of this line, but can move up and down the lineup as needed. The speedy winger from New Jersey has played on the left flank of Chase Berger and Andrew Sturtz at times during his NCAA career and has 15 career goals in 98 appearances. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Marsh should become the 15th member of Penn State’s century club for games played this season.

Extras

Freshman Max SauvĂ© may not crack the opening night lineup, but Guy Gadowsky certainly isn’t shy about giving an undersized right-shot winger with offensive upside a chance. The 5’9″ winger scored 22 points in 23 games for Avon Old Farms School last season.

Texas native Blake Gober is entering his third season with the Nittany Lions. He has plenty of experience at the Division I level, appearing in 32 games for the Nittany Lions since joining the team in 2016.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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