After coming within a goal of the 2014 Big Ten Hockey Championship, Ohio State hockey is looking to rebound this season despite the losses of the team's two highest scoring forwards, First Team All-American Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick, to the NHL.
Despite these losses, all hope is not lost for the Buckeyes. Christian Frey, the freshman who joined OSU midseason and promptly put up a .929 SV% and led the team to within an overtime of a Big Ten Tournament win after wins over Michigan State and league power Minnesota, will be here for a whole season. If he can provide anything close to that performance again, life without Dzingel and McCormick will be a lot easier to stomach.
Senior captain Tanner Fritz, who put up 8 goals and 24 assists in 32 games, returns as does the team's fourth-leading scorer, senior Nick Oddo. Nick Schilkey, the freshman standout, also returns. He scored 13 goals and 13 assists in his freshman campaign.
Fellow sophomore Drew Brevig comes back to lead the defense. He lead the defense in scoring with 3 goals and 14 assists last season. Returning with him on the back end are alternate captain Sam Jardine and the hulking Justin DaSilva.
Frey is really the lynchpin and star of the team now, however. He came out of nowhere and put up the sixth-highest SV% in the nation last season in his 16 games. If anything, he's going to be depended on even more with much of last season's team's scoring in Ottawa.
There are a few new players coming in, and if any of them can step up even to the degree Schilkey did last season, the burden on Frey and the defense will be lifted considerably.
Luke Stork, Matt Weis, Kevin Miller, Nick Jones and Christian Lampasso are coming in up front. I wouldn't expect the next Johnny Gaudreau to come from this group, however. None of their rights are owned by NHL teams, though Jones was probably unlucky to not be drafted.
Jones is coming in at only 18 years old, a semi-rarity for college hockey players (Frey came in at 20, for example), and is only 175 pounds, but the Alberta native did finish third in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in scoring last season with 72 points, and led the league in goals with 41. The coaching staff has to trust his ability to physically handle the older, more mature, players at 18 and with those scoring credentials, top-6 production isn't out of the question for Jones.
Jones is the most heralded of the forward group, but the rest aren't exactly hacks either. Matt Weis is a 19-year-old New Jersey native who scored 57 points in 54 games in the USHL last season for Green Bay, where he used to be a teammate of one Nick Schilkey. Hopefully that familiarity can transfer to the college level for the offense's sake.
Luke Stork is a slightly less offensively-gifted forward from Pittsburgh, with 27 points last season in the USHL. He'll probably play more of a bottom-6 role at OSU. Also concerning: his favorite player was Alexei Kovalev, so maybe only expect 40% effort from Luke while he's in Columbus.
Kevin Miller is another Alberta native out of the AJHL where he put up almost a point per game last season (54 points in 56 games). He grew up playing against Josh Healey, Nick Jones and Matt Tomkins, so hopefully that bred some chemistry.
Christian Lampasso is a preferred walk-on coming to OSU. He put up 40 points in 57 games in the USHL last season and is an alum of the Honeybaked program that bred Nick Schilkey. Apparently Schilkey must be giving recommendations. He also has dreads, so he immediately becomes the coolest player on the team.
On defense, a more diverse group is coming in. Victor Bjorkung and Janik Moser are coming in to help things on the back end.
Bjorkung is a 21-year-old freshman from Stockholm via the Chicago Steel. He didn't move to America to play hockey until 2012 and has spent his two seasons in North America in the USHL. His favorite food is also Swedish Meatballs. Way to be a walking Ikea, Victor.
Moser comes from Germany via the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. The 19-year-old has played in the World Junior Championship for Germany and didn't play his first season in North America until 2013-14. I hope he likes Ohio.
Things are definitely going to have to be "by committee" on offense for the Buckeyes this season. There doesn't seem to be another Ryan Dzingel coming out of this group of freshman and the Miguel Fidlers and Dakota Joshuas of the world who could potentially be that aren't coming until next year. Fritz and Schilkey and Oddo are going to have to pick up the slack in the meantime. Having consistently elite goaltending for an entire season would certainly ease that burden, but someone needs to step up to fill in.
Anthony Greco looks like a prime candidate to be able to put a few more into the net for OSU. He only shot at 5.6% last season, which can probably only be explained by a gross lack of talent or, more likely since he's a major college hockey player, bad luck. If that can even come up to an average number, he could put up the 8 or 9 goals Coach Rohlik is looking for.
Really, the only extremely high shooting percentage the team had last year belonged to Dzingel, so there shouldn't be too much of a regression for the players coming back. Tyler Lundley may pot a few more if he can raise his shooting percentage to the team forward average, as could seniors Matt Johnson and Chad Niddery.
The defense wasn't nearly as decimated as the forward group. Curtis Gedig is gone to Albany of the AHL, but for the most part, things are what they were for the Buckeyes on the back end. Brevig is leading the way with the steady Jardine and the large and skilled DaSilva by his side. Al McLean and Clark Cristofoli will provide senior leadership back there as well. Bjorkung, being older and experienced, could end up playing a big role. He won't be expected to contribute much offensively with pretty much all of the offense from last year being back; the new guys just have to be solid and help cover for the stay at home defense lost.
Frey is the star and should be the unquestioned starter. He was my pick for the MVP of the conference in my SBN College Hockey predictions and if he can find a way to improve on the .929 SV%, he should be the B1G player of the year if Adam Wilcox of Minnesota comes back down to earth at all.
Sophomore Matt Tomkins will likely be his primary backup. He put up a solid .911 SV% last season and could compete for playing time should Frey falter. But last season, he wasn't on Frey's planet and should remain behind him to start the season.
Third sophomore Logan Davis also returns. His .909 SV% in 5 games was solid and similar to Tomkins' but Tomkins has the better pedigree (he was a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick) and will likely be the first off the bench should anything happen to Frey.
I predict that the Buckeyes will once again come in 4th in the Big Ten regular season standings. A whole season of Frey should greatly help, but the losses of McCormick and Dzingel may just be too much to overcome up front before next season's more heralded class comes in. Another conference tournament run can't be out of the question if Frey provides the superb goaltending he did last year, but all things being equal, it shouldn't be expected.