The Ohio State Men's hockey team didn't have the best season in 2014-15. After coming within a goal of winning the Big Ten Tournament in 2014, the Buckeyes fell in the second round of the tourney to Minnesota despite a hot stretch at the end of the season. Things should rebound next year as 2014 draft picks Tyler Nanne, Dakota Joshua and Miguel Fidler join the squad for the upcoming season. And what about those upcoming 2015 draft picks? You've gotta be excited!
Well, there probably won't be any at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, FL as the draft concludes today. If you look at the USCHO 2015 NHL Entry Draft list of players who are currently in college or are committed to a college hockey program who are listed on the NHL's Central Scouting rankings, you'll find a key two word phrase missing from the space next to anyone's name: "Ohio State".
That's right. Despite Coach Steve Rohlik gaining more experience on the job and having players like Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick having great success under his watch, no elite or even very good NHL prospects want to come to Columbus. This isn't like college basketball with only the elite of the elite getting selected in the draft; a good number of players selected in the NHL Draft are marginal prospects and some, enforcers, get drafted without any discernible hockey playing skills at all.
And yet, Rohlik couldn't get one of those players listed on the Central Scouting list to come to the Buckeyes. Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State and even Wisconsin, who was 4-26-5 overall last season, have recruits or players on that list. Michigan State doesn't, however, so at least the Buckeyes aren't alone.
There's always the possibility that some Buckeye like Matt Weis who wasn't drafted last season could be drafted this season out of nowhere in the seventh round. It's theoretically possible as many of those sixth and seventh round picks are just shots in the dark anyway.
There's also the hope that what Rohlik accomplished last year with a gaggle of young players can continue. The team had a dropoff with its two best players departing, but unheralded and undrafted freshmen like Weis, Christian Lampasso and Luke Stork contributed greatly, sending veterans like Chad Niddery to the fourth line in the conference tournament. And there's, of course, Christian Frey, the team's best player, who came out of nowhere to almost get the team the conference title in 2014. Nick Schilkey wasn't drafted coming in and neither was departed captain Tanner Fritz.
But, as with college football, the higher the caliber of recruit brought in, the higher the likelihood that they'll succeed at the college level. Sure, people tend to remember the hits in the lower recruits (Schilkey and Weis, for example) as well as the busts of higher rated recruits (hey, Matt Tomkins), but the fact of the matter is that the more highly regarded you are, while not a guarantee, the more likely you are to succeed.
So, odds are that Nanne, Fidler and Joshua, despite (especially the latter two) having possible holes in their games, will have a better chance of succeeding than someone like Freddy Gerard. Gerard could be a dynamo and the three draftees could turn out to be hot garbage, but it's just not likely or anywhere near probable.
Rohlik clearly has a good record with unheralded players like Weis, Schilkey and Frey, but the biggest impact of this lack of high end recruiting is that the pressure to win is turned up that much higher. When fans asked me why the team was worse last season and if things could get better, I could always reassure them with the upcoming arrival of the three drafted players who would represent a big talent improvement and lift the team. But this year, I won't be able to do that if things go poorly.
Jack Eichel v2.0 isn't coming into Columbus. Rohlik even lost a ranked player who was in the Ohio Blue Jackets system, so how will he pull that off? Rohlik's best chance to increase the talent level is to win with what he has. It's arguable whether he can gain enough pull with recruits this way, but if he can show what he can do for young players, more will presumably be attracted to OSU.
The fact of the matter is that Rohlik needs to win this year with his best recruiting class coming in. If he doesn't, he'll lose the seniors with lesser talents coming in to replace them in all likelihood.
The point is that Rohlik didn't buy himself any time with this recruiting class. There's no future to wait for anymore as there was with Nanne, Fidler and Joshua. There's just the now and Rohlik better win or Gene Smith will have a decision to make.