Just two seasons ago, Ohio State hockey was within an overtime goal of winning the Big Ten Tournament and heading to the NCAA tournament. They haven't gotten nearly that close since and lost current NHL players Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick along the way. There hasn't been an influx of NHL caliber talent to replace them, so you'd think things were getting dire for Coach Steve Rohlik. You'd be wrong, however.
During the 2014-15 season, the team looked like a slightly emptier shell of the prior season's team, as they couldn't score well enough without Dzingel and McCormick. Tanner Fritz tried to carry the load but was the only player with over 25 points on the season. Anthony Greco emerged to put up 15 goals, but beyond that, it was an offensive wasteland that couldn't overcome Christian Frey's fairly mediocre .909 save percentage, nevermind Matt Tomkins' hilariously poor .876 job.
This season, however, things changed offensively. The team lost Fritz, along with key contributors like Matt Johnson and Nick Oddo, and would only have one NHL drafted talent, Dakota Joshua, really contributing this season, but the players developed. Freshmen came in and blew expectations out of the water.
Nick Schilkey went from 22 points total to 19 goals alone, combined with 22 assists. David Gust, who emerged as a game-changing dynamo late in 2015, increased his point total from eight to 36 points. He led the team in assists with 25, which would've been second on the team in 2014-15 in total points, let alone assists. Matt Weis increased his point total by 10, from 22 to 32. Greco only put up 12 goals this season, but registered the same total number of points with 23.
The real surprise, however, was little known freshman Mason Jobst, who came in out of nowhere to put up 30 points with a fairly sustainable 13.6 shooting percentage, meaning he could very well do this again. Josh Healey and Drew Brevig combined for 40 points on the backend after combining for just 16 the year before.
John Wiitala added 12 goals, but on a ridiculous 22.4 shooting percentage, so expect some regression out of him, but Joshua put up 17 points and once he got going toward the end of the season, became a force due to sheer mass alone, his ejection in the ultimate game against Minnesota notwithstanding.
Freddy Gerard contributed with 12 points while Sasha Larocque and Tommy Parran each broke into double digits on the backend as well. Players like Miguel Fidler, good enough to be drafted by Florida, and Nick Jones, with more ice time could find a way to break out next season as well.
The caveat, as always with these kinds of improvements, is that the team's shooting percentage overall rose from 8.8% to 10.7%. The former seems more sustainable than the latter, so I would expect some sort of regression in scoring next season despite nearly everyone on offense save Greco coming back (provided they aren't snapped up by NHL or AHL teams). Schilkey's shooting percentage rose by 3% this season, Gust's nearly doubled and somehow Josh Healey was in double digits in shooting percentage on the backend. Those numbers probably just aren't sustainable.
However, the team did put up 82 more shots total than the year before, lending some credence to the idea that they should score more overall next year regardless of comparative talent than they did in 2014-15. Whether the point totals will stay so ludicrously high is anyone's guess, but it sure looks like regression is coming. Even with regression, the scoring should still stay higher than it was two seasons ago.
But even with this increased scoring and hope for more development, you have to look at the team's record and see that the team was only 14-18-4 overall after going 14-19-3 the year before. The team improved by just one tie replacing one loss. Naturally, the first instinct is to realize that the team's goal differential shifted remarkably between the two years.
Last season, Ohio State scored 98 total goals while allowing 117. This season, they allowed 118 but scored 122. Whether that was due to a more aggressive style, more luck, more talent or some kind of combination of the three is anyone's educated guess, but overall, the stats show that they really were a better team this season, record be damned. The team's PDO this season was also exactly 100 which is kind of remarkable, showing there wasn't a huge amount of overachieving this season going on. Last year, they checked in at 98.2, which shows they were better than their record and counting stats showed.
So, using those stats and looking at maturing talent, you should seem some improvement from the Ohio State hockey team next season. They played better than their record this season, with all the overtime losses and improvement shown at the end of the year. There may be some regression in terms of shooting percentage, but opponents shot 10.3% on Ohio State this year, so maybe it won't be any. It may be some or it may be none, but the talent is clearly there based on this season.
The defense is where things get sort of dicey next year. Craig Dalrymple, one of the team's captains is leaving, along with Greco and Tyler Lundey. He was clearly utilized as the team's top shutdown defenseman this year. While shutdown types are generally well overvalued and guys like Larocque came out of nowhere to step in, there still has to be a little trepidation in promoting guys like him, Brevig or Healey into more defensive roles. They were more free to roam when paired with him, but now they need someone like Larocque or Parran to assume that defensive role to keep Healey and Brevig excelling offensively, which may be a lot to ask.
The goaltending doesn't look like it's going to change next year. Frey isn't NHL property and a perfectly okay season won't get him signed if he wasn't already. Matt Tomkins is Blackhawks property but with another sub-.900 save percentage season, probably isn't going to be replacing Corey Crawford any time soon. After Frey's glorious first season where he almost carried the Buckeyes to the conference title, he's pretty much shown what he is: about a .910 save percentage goalie, which is better than the goalie who won Big Ten goaltender of the year.
That's more than good enough if the team can keep its offensive production high and get a few more breaks next season. A positive goal differential in a weak conference should lead to a better record, and with Greco, Lundey and Dalrymple being the only losses, that trend should continue.
Joshua and Gerard were both shooting in the single digit percentages, so they could show big improvements next season in goal increases. Christian Lampasso can hopefully gain some of his ice time back and show the knack for assists he had his freshman season, provided he's gotten stronger on the puck. Miguel Fidler should get some more ice time on a scoring line with Greco departing and already produced at a decent clip with 7 points in 20 games.
Tyler Nanne, probably the most overall talented Ohio State defenseman should get a look next season if one of the more offensive defenseman is fitted into Dalrymple's role. Tommy Parran looks like he could be something special as his workload increased during the season. And Larcoque, who didn't look like a big scorer when he came in, showed more offensive poise than anticipated.
If Christian Frey can stay where he's been and the offense stays relatively similar to what it was this season, with no big loss from Dalrymple leaving, the team should increase its point totals next season.
I know this was supposed to function as a season review, but turned into a way to feel more optimism for next season. The team underachieved this season and should do much better next year. There's some hope here for the first time in a couple of years.