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Projecting Penn State Hockey’s Opening Night Lineup: Defense And Goaltending

No. 16 Penn State men’s hockey opens its 2018-19 regular season slate in two weeks with a matchup against Clarkson at Pegula Ice Arena. The Nittany Lions are wrapping up their preparations for the season without two of their most important defensemen from last season.

Erik Autio and Trevor Hamilton graduated after last season, leaving a big question mark on the back end. Here’s what Penn State’s defensive core and goaltending situation could look like on opening night.

Starting Goaltender

Peyton Jones

Nothing should change in goal for the Nittany Lions with Peyton Jones back for his third season in Hockey Valley.

Jones finished last season with a 17-13-4 record, 3.03 goals-against average, and .904 save percentage.

The Langhorne, PA native is 40-23-6 through the first two seasons of his Penn State career with a 2.82 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

Defense Pairings

Cole Hults – James Gobetz

Sophomore lefty Cole Hults is Penn State’s best puck-moving defenseman. He appeared in all 38 games and finished second only to Trevor Hamilton in terms of points by a defenseman with three goals and 17 assists last year.

The Los Angeles Kings draft pick spent most of last season on Penn State’s top defensive pair alongside Erik Autio. He had a torrid start to his NCAA career in terms of scoring, but his production slowed down later in the season. Still, expect Hults to be one of the Nittany Lions’ most important pieces on the blue line this season.

Hults’ passing ability will serve him well this season on power plays.

Junior blueliner James Gobetz has plenty of experience with Penn State, but last season was his first as a regular in Guy Gadowsky’s lineup. He appeared in 35 of Penn State’s 38 games, scoring a goal and adding eight assists. He also stepped up when Kevin Kerr was forced to sit out due to a broken wrist last season.

Kevin Kerr – Derian Hamilton

New alternate captain Kevin Kerr is probably Penn State’s best all-around defenseman this season and will be crucial to the Nittany Lions’ success.

Kerr’s biggest concern throughout his career has been his health, as he missed nearly half of last season due to a broken wrist. He played 25 games two seasons ago, but suffered a lower body injury that kept him out of the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten and NCAA tournament runs. When healthy, the Bensalem, PA native is effective on both ends of the ice. He should see plenty of ice time in all situations.

Kerr will wear an “A” on his sweater as one of the team’s alternate captains this season.

Senior Derian Hamilton is the most experienced right-shot defenseman on the roster, but has never been a full-timer in Guy Gadowsky’s lineup. He’s appeared in 59 games through his first three seasons in Hockey Valley, tallying a goal and nine assists.

The departures of Erik Autio and Trevor Hamilton (no relation) will likely thrust the senior into a bigger role for the first time in his career. Having a sound partner like Kerr should help the Canadian blueliner settle into his expanded role.

Kris Myllari – Paul DeNaples

Junior Kris Myllari has been steady as a stay-at-home defenseman with a big role on Penn State’s penalty kill throughout his first two seasons in Hockey Valley.

Most of Myllari’s offensive production — 13 goals and 18 assists in 76 games — can be attributed to his booming shot from the point, but he’ll earn his keep with his shot-blocking ability and role on special teams. The Nittany Lions’ penalty kill finished with an 81 percent success rate last season; only Ohio State and Notre Dame had better penalty killing units.

Myllari’s big slapshot from the point is a nice source of offense on top of his solid play in his own end.

There are three remaining right-shot defensemen left to fill this role as Myllari’s partner: Paul DeNaples and sophomores Alex Stevens and Adam Pilewicz. DeNaples — the newest member of Penn State’s blue line — makes the cut on my projected opening-night roster.

Stevens and Pilewicz combined to play in nine games last season, so why not give the freshman a shot on opening night? DeNaples served as the captain of the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede last season, scoring four points. He isn’t afraid to play physically, either, finishing the season with 43 penalty minutes.

Extras

Evan Bell is the most intriguing extra defenseman for Penn State entering the 2018-19 season. He won’t join the team until the second half of this season because he spent the first part of last season with Merrimack.

Bell played in just five games for the NCAA program before going back to the USHL’s Fargo Force for the remainder of the season. He played a big role for the Force as they won the Clark Cup as the league’s champions, and should step in and contribute once he joins the Nittany Lions in January.

Alex Stevens and Adam Pilewicz will provide depth as right-shot defensemen. Pilewicz in particular is a very versatile player, playing on the wing at times last year for the Nittany Lions.

Chris Funkey should once again serve as Peyton Jones’ backup, while freshman Oskar Autio will fill the third-string role left vacated by Matt Erlichman’s graduation.

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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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