Penn State Hockey: Way Too Early Roster And Line Projections Heading Into 2019-20 Season
July 12, 2019 8:00 AM
by Ben Jones
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With Penn State hockey making it into July without any premature roster departures, the Nittany Lions find themselves well-equipped and prepared for a third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.

First though, the roster has to settle, and any lingering additions have to sign on the dotted line to make their contributions official.

As of Wednesday night, Penn State appears to be on the brink of landing Minnesota Golden Gopher defenseman transfer and third-round Penguins' pick Clayton Phillips. Northeastern transfer forward Bobby Hampton also recently announced his commitment to Penn State but the delayed announcement might indicate some eligibility issues. Penn State could also be trying to work towards immediate eligibility for Phillips or Hampton, if both and/or either are committed.

Neither player will be eligible to play in 2019 per NCAA transfer rules unless they were to apply for a hardship waiver. There is no indication at this time either player plans on doing that, and Phillips has yet to personally announce his intentions. Wednesday's news came during his participation at a pro-am event, listing Phillips as a Penn State player. The Nittany Lions had previously been one of Phillips' transfer preferences.

While Phillips' and Hampton's potential contributions won't impact the upcoming season, it does help to inform how the rest of the roster might shake out by the end of July.

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What we know so far:

Penn State has 11 returning forwards: Evan Barratt, Alex Limoges, Sam Sternschein, Max Sauve, Aarne Talvitie, Brandon Biro, Liam Folkes, Blake Gober, Nikita Pavlychev, Denis Smirnov, Nate Sucese.

7 returning defensemen  Evan Bell, Cole Hults, Adam Pilewicz, Alex Stevens, Paul DeNaples, James Gobetz, Kris Myllari.

2 returning goalies: Peyton Jones, Oskar Autio

4 signed freshmen: Connor McMenamin, Tyler Gratton, Kevin Wall, and Mason Snell

Committed by unsigned: Matthew Barnaby Jr, Chase McClane, Hunter Carrick, Christian Berger, Jimmy Dowd, Steven Agriogianis, Connor MacEachern.

Not Incoming Yet: Liam Souliere

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In total this gives Penn State 24 players signed and ready to play this season, the NCAA has no cap on the total number of players allowed but only 18 scholarships to divide amongst the roster. Goalie Liam Souliere will reportedly wait until the 2020 season to enroll, delaying his appearance in the Blue and White. Penn State will likely add a club goalie as its third option behind Jones and Autio to round out that group.

Projected Forward Lines

Reserves (returners in bold): Tyler Gratton, Conner McMenamin, Blake Gober, Max Sauve.

This could shake out a few ways, but Talvitie (once fully healthy and cleared to skate) and Sucese moving to center would allow for the most favorable lineup choices. Freshman and Carolina Hurricanes' draft choice Kevin Wall on the right side with Talvitie would make for a solid third line option with left wing jobs open on the "bottom" two lines. 

While he has yet to sign, Penn State picked up a verbal commitment from Conner MacEachern in late June which would work in one of those spots with a left-handed shot. Penn State has never been short on forwards under Guy Gadowsky so those final two spots could go to anyone. Blake Gober might get an early nod simply because of his veteran status, but how long that holds also remains to be seen.

Defensive Pairings: 

Reserves (returners in bold): Mason Snell, Pilewicz (or) Gobetz

Despite the somewhat up-and-down returns this overall group gave Penn State last year, the returning pairing of Cole Hults and Paul DeNaples is one of the best in the Big Ten. Kris Myllari has been reliable much of his career while the rest have played their fair share of hockey. 

Freshman Mason Snell is the only new face officially signed and in the mix for time, but that could change in the next few weeks.

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Potential Signees: Connor MacEachern (F) Matthew Barnaby Jr (F), Chase McClane (F), Hunter Carrick (D), Christian Berger (D), Jimmy Dowd (D), Steven Agriogianis (F) and [Clayton Phillips (D), Bobby Hampton (F) must sit out year per NCAA transfer rules]

It will be interesting to see how Penn State handles the remaining group of commitments in the coming weeks. The Nittany Lions could likely use another left-handed shot on the defensive unit and long-time commit Jimmy Dowd would fill that role. The (potential) additions of Phillips and Hampton take up two roster spots but no roles on the ice in 2019. If Penn State were to take both players, Dowd and a club goalie that would bring the roster total to 29 players, the highest Penn State has had in recent years.

It's also entirely possible that Penn State will see the polite departure of a player or two that is otherwise the odd man out.

In the interest of transparency, much of this is informed conjecture. College hockey's unique ability to effectively stash commits in semi-pro leagues prior to enrollment gives programs vastly more flexibility on the recruiting trail. In essence, it would be the same as Penn State football being allowed to keep Saquon Barkley in high school for an extra year. Between that and no roster cap, the sometimes obvious choices that can be found in other sports are far more murky for onlookers of college hockey. 

The good news: recent rule modifications that limit contact with young prospects should end the sport's long tradition of grabbing commitments of young prospects a half decade before they ever enroll, streamlining things a bit and offering more clarity for roster moves in the future.

One thing is for certain though, the Nittany Lions ought to be very good in 2019, and a second trip to the Allentown Regional, or beyond, is not out of the question, no matter who is or isn't joining the team in a few weeks.

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