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Minnesota Hockey: 2020 Gopher Hockey Season Preview—Defensemen

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Minnesota returns a young blue line group and adds two immediate impact freshmen

Jackson LaCombe will play a large role for Minnesota as a sophomore
Bruce Kluckhohn—Gophersports.com

We are back with part two of our three part season preview. This time we take a look at the ten defensemen on the Minnesota Golden Gophers roster for the 2020-21 season. Minnesota has two spots to fill in the every day lineup with the graduations of Tyler Nanne and Ryan Zuhlsdorf. While only six or seven can dress each game, all ten could see ice time at some point this season. But the core group of seven is pretty much set and is young with two juniors, three sophomores and two freshman who will look to make an immediate impact.

Ben Brinkman—Junior—Edina, MN

Brinkman returns for his third season on the Gopher blue line in 2020. He played in all but one game last season for Minnesota and recorded three points and set a personal high with 51 blocked shots. Brinkman is your typical defensive-minded defenseman who won’t wow you with his offensive skills but will provide some veteran leadership to a young group.

Robbie Stucker—Junior—St. Paul, MN

Stucker enters the 2020-21 season as the most likely choice to be the #7 defenseman. Stucker played in 35 of 37 games last year as a sophomore and was the quarterback at the top of the umbrella on the Minnesota power play. He scored a career high eight points including two goals last season and all were scored on the power play. Stucker only blocked six shots last season and is much more of an offensive threat than a true shutdown defenseman—hense why he is often used as the extra skater and primarily only on the power play. He can probably see a return to that role this season, but may get pushed out by some newer blood.

Jackson LaCombe—Sophomore—Eden Prairie, MN

LaCombe played in all 37 games for the Gophers as a freshman and made an immediate impact. His thirteen points including three goals were second best in conference freshman defenseman. He led the group with 61 blocked shots and those together were enough to get him named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team after last season.

Lacombe was named to the second team All-Big Ten preseason roster earlier this fall and will be an every day presence as both an offensive table setter and shut down defender for the Gophers. He has a very good chance to be named to the US World Juniors Team in December.

Ryan Johnson—Sophomore—Irvine, California

Johnson returns for his sophomore year looking to build on a late-blooming freshman campaign. The son of former Gopher forward Craig Johnson, Ryan needed a bit longer to adapt to the college game then his fellow freshman LaCombe but once he got things figured out he came on strong in the second half of the season. Johnson played in all 37 games as a freshman and recorded eight assists. He also blocked 54 shots. Like LaCombe he is a combo defenseman—able to be an offensive threat but able to be a true lock down defender as well. He will be looking for his first career goal this season. He also is a potential candidate for the US World Juniors squad.

Matt Staudacher—Sophomore—Fenton, Michigan

Staudacher is the third member of the sophomore class to make an immediate impacts as a freshman a year ago. While the least heralded of the trio, he was the first to get on the score sheet recording his first career assist in the season opener in 2019. Staudacher would play in all 37 games a year ago and ended up with six points including one goal in the second game of the season. While not flashy he is a solid every day defenseman and should safely have a spot in the Gophers top six this season.

Brock Faber—Freshman—Maple Grove, MN

Faber is one of two freshman who are expected to make an immediate impact on the Gophers roster this season. The second round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings played the past two seasons for the US Development Team in Michigan where he recorded 12 points in 46 games. It is to be seen how fast Faber can adapt to the college game, but he is expected to develop into an all-around defenseman who can play top two pair minutes and should be immediately a major player on the Gopher blue line this season.

Mike Koster—Freshman—Chaska, MN

The second of Minnesota’s highly touted freshmen on the blue line Ksoter is also expected to play an immediate role for the Gophers. Koster was the 2019 recipient of the Reed Larson Award, presented to the top senior boys’ high school hockey defenseman in Minnesota. He also played significant time for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL for parts of three seasons and recorded 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 73 career USHL regular-season games. Koster is more of an offensive defenseman that the big shut down type, and Minnesota hopes he will develop into a type of a player who can run the Gopher power play over time.

Sam Rossini—Senior—Burnsville, MN

Rossini is the lone senior on the Minnesota blue line. He played in just two games a year ago as a junior after playing in 28 games his sophomore season. Rossini most likely will not see significant action unless Minnesota runs into injury or COVID issues.

Matt Denman—Junior—Prior Lake, MN

Denman returns for his third year as a Gopher. He played in 14 games as a freshman but did not see the ice as a sophomore a year ago. He most likely will not play a large role this season as well unless Minnesota runs into some severe injury/COVID issues.

Carl Fish—Freshman—St. Paul, MN

Fish is a wildcard in the Gopher lineup. The freshman joins the Gophers after two seasons of junior hockey with the Bismarck Bobcats in the NAHL where he lead the defensemen in scoring with 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) in 39 games. Fish is a graduate of St. Paul Johnson high school where he was the named East Metro Player of the Year by the Pioneer Press in 2018. Fish was thought to be more of a depth pick up, but it’s possible he could find his way into the lineup if someone struggles or if Motzko thinks he deserves a chance.