Penn State University
NHL prospects: 2
The Nittany Lions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th at Canisius.
Penn State has steadily made great progress since their NCAA D1 debut four years ago. This season, the Nittany Lions are poised to continue the upward climb in the quest for their first Big Ten title.
The biggest offseason loss that Penn State suffered was that of top scorer Casey Bailey, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even without Bailey, the forward lines look to be an outstanding group featuring a nice mix of veterans of talented newcomers. However, the Nittany Lions will be without the services of redshirted senior Eric Scheid when the season opens. The Blaine, MN is expected to be out for six weeks due to injury. He enjoyed an excellent junior campaign where he finished with 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 31 games. Scheid has been one of Penn State’s most consistent players, so his early season absence will be missed.
Among the players that will be counted on to help pick up the slack is junior David Goodwin. The Des Peres, MO native returns as the team’s top scorer after posting 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) in 36 games last season. He also led Penn State with a +13 rating. After a somewhat slow start, Goodwin really picked things up last November and became one of the Nittany Lions’ clutch performers.
Among Penn State’s strengths this season is their defensive corps. It is a predominantly veteran group that includes junior Mike Williamson (VAN). The Leduc, AB native will be looking to get through his first full season and avoid the injury bug. He played in just 16 games as a sophomore, posting a goal and an assist. Despite his limited playing time so far, Williamson has made some strides in his development, most notably playing a smarter and more simplified game.
The Nittany Lions return two of their three goaltenders this season, including junior Eamon McAdam (NYI). The Perkasie, PA native posted a 5-4-1 record in 12 appearances this season. While Penn State has gotten good production out of McAdam as well as returning senior Matt Skoff, neither has been able to be the go-to guy between the pipes. The duo could potentially platoon again this season.
In addition to the returning veterans, the Nittany Lions welcome seven newcomers. The player to keep an eye on is Kevin Kerr. The Bensalem, PA native is an offensive defenseman who is noted for his hockey sense. Kerr, a 1996-born player, is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.
University of Wisconsin
NHL prospects: 5
The Badgers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Northern Michigan.
The 2014-15 season couldn’t end soon enough for Wisconsin as the Badgers endured the worst season in their illustrious history. While the new campaign holds some renewed optimism, it could also be another rebuilding year.
The most pressing issue facing Wisconsin is goaltending. Last season’s tandem of Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson have graduated. Making matters worse is the fact that highly-touted incoming freshman Luke Opilka (STL) opted instead to sign with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. As it is now, the Badgers netminding duties fall to senior Adam Miller and newcomer Matt Jurusik. Miller did not play last season. Jurusik, part of Wisconsin’s large 11-member freshman class, is a 6’2”, 193-pound goaltender noted for his excellent athleticism. He is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.
With the uncertainty in goal, Wisconsin will be relying on their outstanding but predominantly young defense. Anchoring the Badgers at defense is senior co-captain Eddie Wittchow (FLA). The Burnsville, MN native was limited to just 25 games due in part to an early season head injury. Wittchow has established himself as a punishing force on the blueline who is also very reliable in his own end. While he isn’t likely to score many goals, Wittchow can chip in offensively in other ways.
One notable area where Wisconsin struggled mightily last season was on offense. The Badgers ranked 56th nationally with an offense that averaged just 1.69 goals per game. The 59 total goals that the team accumulated were the second fewest in the NCAA. Only Princeton scored fewer.
This season, junior Grant Besse (ANA) and sophomore Cameron Hughes (BOS) lead Wisconsin up front. Besse led the Badgers with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 35 games last season. The Plymouth, MN native was the only player on Wisconsin’s roster to post 10 or more goals. Besse made considerable strides in his development last season, most notably in using his speed effectively to create plays.
Hughes was one of the most pleasant surprises to emerge from the Big Ten last season. After a rather slow start, he finished strong in the second half. The Edmonton, AB native posted 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 34 games and is poised to have a better showing this season.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF