Unlike last season, there are a ton of teams that could have made the preseason rankings this year. So, to appease everyone, let’s highlight four teams that are knocking on the door of the rankings (two today, two tomorrow). And again, you really could rank any of these teams as high as 12 and wouldn’t get any argument from me. I think that “next tier” of teams is really deep this year.
The Buckeyes made some noise last year, making the NCAA Tournament before being disposed by the eventual national champs. And they did so with one of the youngest teams in the country. They had some good wins, beating Denver in Denver, and earning sweeps with Miami, Notre Dame and Michigan, two #1 seeds and a national championship game participant. They also rattled off an 11 game winning streak, although their best win in said streak came against either Nebraska-Omaha or Northern Michigan. Still, this year they will have a chance to put up some high quality wins, with a return trip from Denver and a trip to Grand Forks to play the Sioux in the Subway Holliday Classic. They also get Frozen Four participant Bemidji State, so they can win a game that looks more impressive than it actually is.
There is no doubting that Ohio State has talent. Leading scorer Corey Elkins graduates, but four Juniors and a Sophomore provide a ton of offensive punch. The most talented is Sophomore Zac Dalpe. Dalpe is pretty raw, but he has already shown a knack for making his teammates better at Ohio State. As he finds himself more experienced, the goal totals of those around him should jump up. Three others who were in the top 20 in the CCHA in scoring (John Albert, Hunter Bishop and Peter Boyd) will provide more punch. A year older and more experienced, Ohio State won’t sneak up on anybody but they have enough talent where that doesn’t matter.
Let’s start with the bad news. Viktor Stalberg (24-22–46) and Peter Lenes (15-16–31) are gone. Anytime you lose the 5th leading scorer in your conference it’s going to be tough to come back the next season without a dropoff. But, Vermont has three very good defensemen to lean on who will help Sophomore goalie Rob Madore. Madore had a .912 save percentage last year and a 2.34 GAA. My player to watch this year is Freshman Chris McCarthy. I think he will be among the best Freshmen both in Hockey East and in the entire country.
Another interesting thing to watch in the northeast. Vermont got 18 goals from defensemen last year. Is that some type of trend, or an unsustainable trait? Personally I don’t think they’ll get that many this year. However, countering that could be Brayden Irwin, who had just 11 points last year but according the Vermont coaching staff has improved tremendously. I think he’s a 15 goal scorer or so, which will help make up some they’ll lose from the defensemen.