After three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Ohio State Buckeyes will need to lean on a large cast of seniors once again to stretch their streak to four.
Following the departure of eight seniors — all of whom skated in at least 30 games last season, save for goaltender Sean Romeo — the Buckeyes enter 2019-20 with another group of eight seniors.
All top four returning scorers are among that group, making for an experienced and dedicated core tasked with extending the window for a national championship.
.934 save percentage
Last season, the aforementioned departed senior Romeo was surpassed by sophomore Tommy Nappier in the crease. Nappier transitioned a small but strong 4-0 record freshman season backed by a .956 save percentage and 1.33 goals against average into a solid sophomore campaign.
As a sophomore in 2018-19, Nappier went 12-4-3 with a 1.86 GAA, four shutouts, and a .934 SV% that put him in a second-place tie among all NCAA goaltenders. His role is set to expand once again in 2019-20 and any comparable numbers will be welcome.
While Mason Jobst led the team with 17 goal and 36 points last season, his graduation leaves the team in the hands of Tanner Laczynski, whose 30 points now sit top for returning players.
It was a modest season for Laczynski following a 47-point (17 G, 30 A) sophomore season in 2017-18, but the recent losses are certain to offer him more ice time to return to his numbers of two seasons ago.
Another column goes to Laczynski, who was the top playmaker for the Buckeyes last year. His setup skills have seen him lead the team in assists in each of the last two seasons and he’ll likely play alongside top-returning goal scorer Ronnie Hein.
Hein, another senior, finished second only to Jobst for goals last season with 11. Hein had just nine career goals through his first two seasons at OSU and that kind of uncertainty for what his final season could bring leaves the Buckeyes with one big question.
Where will the offense come from? Laczynski is the only other returning double-digit goal scorer. Sophomores Gustaf Westlund and Quinn Preston will each receive significantly more playing time, and their ability to take the next step will be integral.
8 seniors lost
Along with Jobst and Romeo, forwards Dakota Joshua, Freddy Gerard, John Wiitala, and Brendon Kearney, as well as defensemen Sasha Larocque and Tommy Parran, make up the departed class of seniors.
Joshua and Gerard each eclipsed the 20-point plateau, while the rest of the group played the supporting cast. With Larocque and Parran making up the only lost defense, Nappier will benefit from four familiar bodies who coach Steve Rohlik will need to balance with new faces.
7th season of Steve Rohlik
No team earns three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths without winning, and Rohlik has done just that entering his seventh season in Columbus. With a 113-84-48 record, he’s fought consistent turnover and recruited well to help maintain a winning culture at OSU.
But 2019-20 might just be his hardest task to date with a lack of offensive firepower, at least on paper. The lack of goals is what inevitably sank the team in the opening round of the 2017 and 2019 NCAA Tournaments.
In the end, it feels like the offense — and thus the team — will only get as far as Laczynski can get them. The Philadelphia Flyers, who selected Laczynski in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, have taken a slow approach in developing the proficient forward.
His last season with OSU is almost certain to earn him a contract come season’s end, but he’ll have his work cut out for him until then as he looks to lead the team on the path that began his freshman season, a path toward a national championship.
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