The Penn State hockey team officially announced the recruiting class of 2016/2017 on Tuesday. The team will add seven players, including one goalie, one defender and five forwards. The group will join the team at the conclusion of the spring semester.
Following the current season the team will lose five forwards, two defensemen and one goalie to graduation. The symmetry of the players entering and leaving the program marks a significant point for the program. The ebb and flow of players coming and going has now become predictable enough that coach Gadowsky can begin to anticipate the needs of the team years in advance.
The only question mark at this point will be whether junior goalie and New York Islander draft pick Eamon McAdam will return for his senior season. The netminder is off to a tremendous start, owning a 7-1 record including a Big Ten-leading 2.01 goals against average and .933 save percentage. There is a chance that the Islanders will make McAdam an offer that he cannot refuse following the season, leaving Penn State with only two goalies on the roster for 2016-17. If this were to happen it would be likely for Gadowsky to add another goalie.
The program has subsisted on a mixture of former club players, transfers from other NCAA programs and lesser-regarded recruits in the first few seasons it has competed at the Division one level. At the end of the season the final remaining player from the team's club hockey days, Tommy Olczyk, will depart. So too will the last transfer, Eric Scheid, who played one season at Alaska-Anchorage before coming to Hockey Valley. Curtis Loik, David Glen, Conor Varley, Kenny Brooks, Matt Skoff, and Luke Juha have developed into very effective Division one hockey players. The group came to Penn State with very little fanfare and without having been recruited heavily at the NCAA level.
Two years ago the first true Division one-caliber recruiting class came to State College. With the arrival of Scott Conway, James Robinson and Erik Autio, it was apparent that the talent level coming into the program far exceeded the talent leaving to graduation. This season's batch of fresh players accentuates that point even more so. Matt Mendelson and Derian Hamilton have proven to be solid additions to the team, appearing in half of the games and showing flashes of talent. Kevin Kerr and Vince Pedrie have appeared in all but one game this year and have already become solid additions on the blue line. Forwards Chase Berger, Alec Marsh and Andrew Sturtz have combined for 23 goals and 17 assists through sixteen games. The boost the three have provided in scoring has been as important as any other factor to the early success of the team.
There is reason to believe that the group of players entering the program in 2016-17 will be the best class of recruits in program history. Let's take a look at the group.
Peyton Jones- Goalie, 6' 4", 210. He will be 20 years old at the start of the season. Jones plays in the USHL for the Lincoln Stars. With a 2.29 goals against average and .923 save percentage Jones has become one of the top goal-tenders in the USHL. He was recently chosen to play in the Top Prospect game on Jan. 12. The game features the forty highest rated players according to the USHL and NHL Central Scouting. Jones is from Langhorne, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia, the hometown of PSU football coach James Franklin.
Here is Jones explaining why he chose to come to Penn State:
I chose Penn State because of the outstanding classroom experiences, the rich traditions of success and to learn from the expertise of Coach Gadowsky and the rest of the coaching staff.
Here's a picture of Jones in Times Square earlier this week:
Kris Myllari- Defense. 6'2" 190. He will be 19 at the start of next season. Myllari hasn't shown much in terms of scoring early in his career but his size and skill are apparent. He has the frame of a solid college hockey defenseman and it isn't always easy to quantify the value of a young defenseman using statistics. This is how coach Gadowsky describes Myllari:
Kris Myllari is an exceptionally smart hockey player. He is solid defensively, he sees the ice well and distributes the puck both efficiently and effectively, and his offensive game continues to evolve. His defensive recognition is extremely high and his ability to transition pucks quickly will fit great into our program.
Here's an interview with Myllari:
Liam Folkes- Forward. 5'8" 167. He will be 20 years old at the start of the next season. Folkes scored 58 goals in 98 games in the past two years in the Central Canadian Hockey League. Folkes is small but plays bigger than his listed height and weight. To paraphrase the words of another Liam (Neeson), Folkes does not have much size, but what he does have is a very particular set of offensive skills, skills that he has acquired over his career, skills that make him a nightmare for opposing goalies. His speed is an advantage that he inherited from his father Carl, who competed as a sprinter for Canada in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Here's what coach Gadowsky had to say about him:
Liam Folkes is a skilled forward with very good offensive instincts. He has dynamic speed and he is more than willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals.
Here's an interview with Folkes last season:
Nate Sucese- Forward. 5'8" 174. He will be 20 years old at the start of next season. Sucese scored 46 points in 74 games while playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints over the past two seasons. His skills are similar to current PSU captain David Glen. He is a complete player that does the less-glamorous things like digging the puck out of the corner. His offensive statistics do not illustrate his value to the team due to the fact that he plays hard all over the ice. He is an alternate captain this season in Dubuque.
Here is Sucese's explanation for why he chose to come to Penn State:
I chose Penn State because the minute I stepped on campus and into the Pegula Ice Area I knew I wanted to call this place home for the next four years.
Here's an interview with Sucese from earlier in the month. The interview starts at the 3 minute mark after highlights of the game.
Sean Kohler- Forward. 5'9" 175. Kohler drew the attention of coach Gadowsky for his play as a defensive-minded forward. This year the Oakville, Ontario native is having a breakout year scoring goals. After scoring 37 points over the previous two seasons in 91 games, Kohler has opened the faucet, sinking 11 goals and 9 assists in just 32 games this season. He has played in the Ontario Junior Hockey League for the past three seasons and was honored with the Humanitarian Award last season.
Kohler had this to say about Penn State:
"I fell in love with Penn State the first time I visited Happy Valley. The energy on campus is contagious, the hockey facilities are the best I've seen at the college level, and the Big Ten Conference is full of high-end talent. There is something very special about this school and this program. I feel extremely fortunate to be a Nittany Lion.
Nikita Pavlychev- Forward. 6'7" 212. Pavlychev was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015. His size makes him a prospect at the next level but he may take a season or two to develop to his full potential at PSU. He may be considered a slightly taller Zach Saar. Saar (6'6 225) has only seven goals through two and a half years at PSU, but is just now becoming a serious threat at the point in the power play lineup. Pavlychev has only 9 goals and 16 assists through 70 games in the USHL but when his production takes off, his ceiling is limitless. He has a rare dexterity and feel for the game for such a large player. While Saar utilizes his powerful shot and aggressive checking, Pavlychev is more likely to use his skill, reach, and instincts to his advantage while at Penn State.
Pavlychev was born in Russia, hailing from Yaroslavl, but moved to Pennsylvania during his teen years. He played in Wilkes-Barre at the age of 15 and 16 and then joined to the USHL.
Here is an interview at the 2015 NHL draft:
Denis Smirnov- Forward 5'10 185. Smirnov came to the United States from Russia at the same time as Nikita Pavlychev. He made his hockey debut in 2012 playing alongside Pavlychev in Wilkes-Barre. Playing in the USHL for the past three seasons, Smirnov has averaged roughly a point per game. While his scoring power is clear it's his overall feel for the game that makes him arguably the highest-touted Penn State recruit in program history. Smirnov was originally slated to join the Lions this season. This spring Gadowsky and Smirnov decided to hold his arrival back a year in order to allow him to grow stronger. He would have been the youngest player in NCAA hockey had he enrolled for this season.
Smirnov was a part of the USHL Champion Indiana Ice in 2014 and played on the same line as former Lion Scott Conway. While his statistics and pedigree are enough to separate Smirnov from his contemporaries, there's more to his game. He has 'it'. Awareness and aptitude in every facet of the game, an ability to draw attention to himself and away from his teammates, he is the type of player that elevates the entire team. He's been sprinkled with a magic dust that isn't easy to describe but everyone can see it.
Here is what Gadowsky had to say about Denis:
Denis is an extremely intelligent hockey player who plays with a lot of instinct: His offensive IQ is elite but he also uses his talents to be reliable on the defensive side of the puck as well. He will be a very entertaining player to watch.
Here is an interview with Denis from earlier this year:
Recruits for 2017
There are currently four players slated to join the team in 2017-18. Matt Jakubowski is the youngest, a center out of Lancaster, New York. Jakubowski is 6'0" 180. He scores roughly a point per game and is known more as a set-up guy, looking for an assist first and goal second.
Brandon Biro is a forward that has garnered attention including recently being named to the Canadian WJAC roster. Prior to this year no other Penn State recruit has been given this honor.
Joining Biro on the Canadian WJAC roster is the highest-rated recruit for 2017-18, Brett Murray. Murray is a forward that currently plays for Carleton Place, Andrew Sturtz's former team. In addition to playing in the WJAC, Murray currently sits at No.87 on ESPN's top NHL hockey prospect list. It's the first time any player associated with Penn State hockey has made ESPN's list.
While there is a lot that can happen in two years, the start that Guy Gadowsky has in assembling the recruiting class of 2017 makes it likely that it will be the best group in program history when finalized.