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Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey Preseason 2014: Position Preview - Forwards

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The Gophers return almost all of their eligible forwards from the team that finished as national runners-up at the Frozen Four.

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So if you've been paying attention to anything I've written recently about Gophers hockey, you've probably heard me say that expectations are super-high for this coming season because every (eligible) player is coming back (with one exception).  Well, those are summer comments, and it's time to get serious.

The reason everyone is excited about so many returning players is very easy to quantify.  Last year, the Gophers had the sixth-best scoring offense in the country, scoring 3.49 goals per game.  What's better, the Gophers played a quantifiably tougher schedule (by KRACH) than the five teams that finished with a higher goals per game average (Boston College, Union college, Mercyhurst, St. Cloud State, and Quinnipiac).  Only Boston College's schedule was close to as tough as the Gophers.  The offense was potent.

It's been repeated over and over since Kyle Rau announced that he was returning to the University: everyone's coming back!  The only player with eligibility remaining that left school is would-be sophomore Gabe Guertler.  Personally, I was sad to see him go because I think he has a lot of potential, but he only tallied 2 goals and 3 assists in 24 appearances.  Nate Condon and Tom Serratore are the only two departures, both to graduation.  Condon had the eighth most points on the team last year (9 G, 16 A) including defensemen. Serratore was 17th on the roster with with seven points.  His main contribution last year was establishing a physical presence on the forecheck.

With so few departures, the Gophers return a huge majority of their scoring from last year.  Of 115 goals, 101 return (87.8%!!!).  Of 167 assists, 144 return (86.2%!!!!).  Overall, the roster returns 86.9% of its points from last year.  That percentage is darn near unheard of in recent Gopher history.

I think that's enough of the macro-level argument for why the Gophers should be a fearsome offensive team this year.  Let's get into the details.  Just in case it's not obvious, I'll cover the returning forwards in order from highest scorer to lowest.

Kyle Rau, Senior, 14 Goals, 26 assists

Last year, Rau led the team in both assists and total points.  He's a high motor player and the best playmaker on the team (easy to say about a guy who leads the team in assists [blogging!]).  It's no coincidence that the Gophers win something like 100% of all the games in which Rau scores a goal, he had six game-winners last year.  The next closest in that category was Seth Ambroz with four.  Rau is the team's leader, there's no question about it.

Sam Warning, Senior, 14 Goals, 20 Assists

Warning's 34 points were good for second best on the team.  His speed and soft hands combine to make him one of the most natural goal scorers on the team.  What I mean is this: when he scores, it just looks easy.  He's got a smooth shooting motion and the puck just seems to glide into the back of the net.

Justin Kloos, Sophomore, 16 Goals, 16 Assists

Kloos led the team in goal scoring.  Based on what I've written above, that's pretty impressive.  Add in that last season was his freshman year, and that feat is downright amazing.  Look for Kloos to improve in his sophomore season, a scary thought for other teams.

Travis Boyd, Senior, 9 Goals, 23 Assists

Boyd found his role in the offense on the power play last year.  He filled the void on the left side of the attack that Nick Bjudstad vacated.  The power play was better once he found that position, and he showed that he has a heavy slapshot.  However, the Gophers will also rely on him to distribute the puck; his 23 assists were second on the team last year.

Hudson Fasching, Sophomore, 14 Goals, 16 Assists

Perhaps no player on this roster is easier to visualize in an NHL uniform than Hudson Fasching.  He's got a perfect NHL frame, and as the season progressed, so did his ability to use that frame to his advantage.  Look for him to plant himself in front of the net and bury rebounds all season.  He had the second highest point total in a very talented freshman class.  If he can improve his finishing in situations where he's shooting from outside the slot, he'll be ready for the League sooner rather than later.

Taylor Cammarata, Sophomore, 10 Goals, 17 Assists

Another contributor to the success of freshman class, Cammarata is a seasoned scorer.  I've never seen a player look like he expects to score more than Taylor.  When the puck goes in the net, he shrugs his shoulders and goes back to the bench like he know it was going to happen the day before.  His seventeen helpers was a huge contribution last year.  His size is the only concern, at 5'7" and 156 lbs, he's not the biggest guy on the ice.  He'll benefit hugely from being around Kyle Rau and learning how to play with a smaller frame.

Seth Ambroz, Senior, 14 Goals, 9 Assists

Ambroz is an all-around forward who's proficient on both end of the ice.  He also tied for second on the team with 14 goals.  He was also CLUTCH for the Gophers last year.  His four game-winners were second only to Rau.  He also potted four empty net goals.  Before you go and start questioning a guy who scores 29% of his goals when the other team has no goalie, consider this: when the game was on the line, and the other team pulled their tender to press the attack, Seth Ambroz was on the ice every time, and he iced four games in that situation.  Don Lucia trusts Ambroz, and Ambroz delivered last year.

Connor Reilly, Sophomore, 6 Goals, 6 Assists

This is the point in the roster where the scoring begins to drop off.  Reilly still notched 12 points in 37 appearances, and he showed marked improvement over the course in his season.  He found his role as a physical forechecker, a role that will be all the more important with Serratore's graduation.

Vinni Lettieri, Sophomore, 2 Goals, 6 Assists

Lettieri did not find the score sheet quite as much as the other freshman.  Still, the coaches clearly had faith in his ability as he made 37 appearances.  Lettieri's role is a depth forward.  Any team that can say they have Lettieri as a depth forward is a lucky team.  Hopefully this season brings a little success on the score sheet.

Christian Isackson, Senior, 1 Goal, 3 Assists

Isackson might be the most talented dangler on the roster.  Though he saw limited action last year (19 games), he might be the best stick handler on the team.  He can be a threat to score from the third or fourth line, which is a nightmare for opposing coaches.

A.J. Michaelson, Junior, 1 Goal, 2 Assists

Michaelson also saw limited action last year and will also find himself battling to find the ice again this year.  As of right now, he's a depth forward who will have to find a way to be a defensive stalwart on the third or fourth line.

Ryan Reilly, Sophomore, no scoring stats

This Reilly only appeared in five games last year.  I'm sure he'd like to get more game experience this year.  He, Isackson, and Michaelson will have to outperform a couple of Swedish freshmen to get it.

That wraps up the forwards.  We'll cover the other positions later this week, and the freshmen too if we're feeling saucy.  We'll also get around to the other teams in the big ten, but don't expect them to get the same amount detail because why would I do that?  Go Gophers!