The Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey team still has a ton of fire power offensively, but will try and find some offense from their blue line this season after losing Jake Bischoff and Ryan Collins to the professional ranks this summer. Bischoff was the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year last season and led all defensemen with 32 points and 88 blocked shots. He was the best two-way defenseman the Gophers had, and it will be tough to fill his hole. He will now play in the Vegas Golden Knights organization. Collins improved greatly last season before leaving after his junior season to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. While he only tallied nine points a year ago, his defense greatly improved and he will be missed.
The player who will really need to take another leap forward will be sophomore assistant captain Ryan Lindgren. The Boston Bruins prospect had a fairly good freshman season going before he injured his leg against Michigan State in February and missed the remainder of the season. Lindgren is a natural leader and is the only underclassman named to the Gopher leadership group this season. he is the closest thing to a replacement for Bischoff in that he truly can play both ways. He can be a stopper, but will provide you some needed offense as well.
Senior Steve Johnson will be looked upon to spur some offense as well. He recorded career highs last season in points with 14 and blocked shots with 49. His senior leadership will be key on a blue line that will trend younger.
Another senior Jack Glover will see his role in flux. He played in just 13 games a year ago for Minnesota and will need to fight to see the ice this year as well. However, if several of the incoming freshmen can’t seem to cut in early in the year, Don Lucia may have no choice but to go back to the players who have been there and done that.
Junior Jack Sadek moved into an everyday role last season after playing sparingly his freshman season. He really came on at the end of last season scoring two goals in the Big Ten clincher against Michigan State, and then scoring a goal in the Big Ten Tournament against Penn State. Sadek will see some time running the point along with Lindgren on the Gopher power play this season.
Sophomore Ryan Zuhlsdorf played in all 37 games a season ago as a freshman and will have an everyday spot in the lineup this season. He only scored five points a year ago, but Minnesota was 4-0 in the games where he did score.
Minnesota will see sophomore Tyler Nanne play for this first time this season. Nanne who is the last grandson of Lou to play college hockey will join his brother Louie who played at RPI and is cousin Vinni Lettieri who graduated from the U last spring. Nanne originally committed to Ohio State but had to sit out the 2015-16 season after developing a heart condition. He recovered and decided he wanted to come back closer to home and so he sat out last season as a transfer. No one really knows quite what to expect from Nanne who has not played competitively in two seasons, but could be a offensive boost for a team that could use a scoring threat from the blue line.
Minnesota will bring in two freshmen who will compete for playing time immediately. Nate Knoepke played the last two seasons with the US U-18 Development Team along with freshman forward Scott Reedy. Knoepke spent time in the top defensive pairing for the U-18 team and should be able to step in defensively immediately. His offense numbers may come along more slowly, but he is a good passer and should be able to help the Gophers move up the ice in transition.
The other freshman Sam Rossini comes in after playing with Mat Robson on the Penticton Vees in the BCHL last season. Rossini actually did not make his debut until the postseason tournament after he suffered a knee injury in a preseason exhibition game and missed the entire regular season. Rossini is a physical player with a bit of a temper, but that can be something a team needs.
To start the season, you should expect to see Lindgren, Johnson, Sadek, and Zuhlsdorf play every single game with Nanne and the two freshmen fighting for the last two spots. But all it takes is one game for someone to force their way into the lineup going forward.
Minnesota will need to work some young players in quickly, but should have enough talent to have a positive impact on the season.