Veteran USHL defenseman and first-year recruit Jimmy Schuldt described this years recruiting class as a combination of “skilled forwards with size and toughness on defense”. Certainly that’s an accurate description as Coach Motzko and company added 4 forwards, 4 defenseman and 1 goaltender to the 2015-16 edition of the Huskies. On the surface, the depth is an undeniable luxury heading into the season but it comes with growing pains as this group includes an 18 year old defenseman, another 18 year old at forward and three 19 year olds to fill out the balance of the forward recruits. There’s no denying the talent in this group that includes a 4th round draft pick (92nd overall) of the Buffalo Sabres (Borgen), a former USHL Rookie of the Year (Jackson) and USHL/ BCHL league champion members (Newell/Eyssimont). But, in the highly skilled and physical NCHC, the leash needs to be tight as the coaching staff strategically pegs them into the lineup realizing that much of their success will surface in the second half of the rugged and demanding season. With that said, here’s a list of the SCSU Huskies first-year players for the 2015-16 season:
Jacob Benson (Forward) 5’11” 201 – Grand Forks, ND
The right-handed shooting Benson honed his skills and lifted weights at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks and now the Huskies are the recipients of his hard work. A highly touted high school player from Grand Forks Red River High School, Benson skated for Dubuque of the USHL the past two seasons. Gritty with size, Dubuque Coach Matt Shaw described Benson as having “Good size, really shoots the puck well and has good vision”. At Dubuque, he posted 24-34-58 in 104 games but was hampered by a high ankle sprain during the early part of the 2014-15 season. A clutch player, Benson really showed his worth in the USHL playoffs with 7 points in 7 games in 2013-14 and 9 points in 9 playoff games in the 2014-15 playoffs. Benson teamed up on the same forward line with fellow SCSU recruit Robby Jackson in Dubuque. Benson’s USHL experience has him prepared to compete immediately in the NCHC in 2015-16. The large ice surface of the Brooks Center will be an adjustment but like many other players before him will benefit his skating in the long run. Expect Benson to see ample ice-time this season.
Will Borgen (Defense) 6’2″ 180 – Moorhead, MN
Incoming St. Cloud State University Freshman defenseman Will Borgen saw a mighty jump in his stock as he was selected 92nd overall (first pick in round four) by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft on June 26. He was the third player chosen by the Sabres after #2 overall pick Jack Eichel of Boston University and #51 choice Brendan Guhle of Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League, another 6’2 defenseman. Borgen joins SCSU Sophomore Judd Peterson as Sabres draft choices. Borgen, who played through his senior season at Moorhead, MN H.S. was ranked as the 114th North American skater in the final Central Scouting projections prior to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The 18-year-old mobile defenseman with a solid 6’2″ frame had been eyed by the Sabres since last winter and he attended a workout session with the Sabres after the NHL combine. Nevertheless, he jumped mightily in the draft as the first pick of the fourth round. However, it was not a surprise to SCSU coach Bob Motzko who was quoted as saying ” He probably emerged a little more on the scene because there were more eyes on him. Last year, he was a guy to watch before the season started. I just think he was a year older, more mature”.The SCSU recruit is a right-handed shot who has some room to add to his 6’2″ 180 pound frame. He finished the 2014-15 season for Moorhead High School then added another 18 games with Omaha of the United States Hockey League putting up 1 goal and 5 assists. Coincidentally, his defensive partner was fellow recruit Jimmy Schuldt. Borgen compiled 18-54-72 with 131 PIM in 84 career games at Moorhead High School. He was also a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award following his 2014-15 season. No doubt the expectations and potential for this youngster are high. However, the coaching staff will move him along carefully as he acclimates himself to the NCHC. Omaha coach Brian Kaufman, commented ” His decision-making, his hockey sense and competitiveness are all strengths. He’s very mobile which allows him to get back on defense and up into the offensive rush”. Borgen will be a player to watch as he blossoms as a player at the next level.
Clark Kuster (Defense) 5′ 10″ – St. Louis, MO
According to SCSU coach Mike Gibbons, Kuster was on his way to becoming one of the top scoring defenseman in the USHL prior to an upper body injury sustained early in the 2014-15 season. Out of the lineup from January 1 to February 20th, the Cedar Rapids captain and leader finished the season with 17 points in 44 games and a +10 rating. In three years with Cedar Rapids of the USHL, Kuster compiled 20 goals, 42 assists and 62 points in 151 games. An intense competitor, he plays hard defensively, has good puck skills and possesses a very hard shot. His shot was legitimately measured at 101 mph in a team competition. A teammate of fellow SCSU players Nate Widman and Judd Peterson , the 20-year-old brings loads of experience and a solid work ethic in the weight room. Unfortunately, for Kuster, he sustained a left knee injury in his final regular season game of the 2014-15 season as a result of a collision with current first-year teammate, Jacob Benson. I spoke with him last week and he’s currently rehabbing the knee and spending a lot of time on the exercise bike. He should be cleared for on-ice skating soon. His goal is to return to the ice for the Huskies in 2015-16. A solid all-around player, Kuster no doubt would have commanded regular ice time with the Huskies this season. Who couldn’t use a 100 mph slap shot from the point?
Mikey Eyssimont (Forward) 6′ 0″ 192 – Littleton, CO
SCSU picked up a sure thing in 19-year-old left-handed forward pronounced ICE-EE-MAHNT. Eyssimont racked up 91 points in 40 games for the Colorado Thunderbirds Tier 1 team prior to heading to Fargo/Sioux Falls of the USHL. He continued his success in the USHL gaining a reputation as a playmaker and posting 79 points in 105 games including 36 goals. He added 16 points in 12 playoff games as well. After being traded from Fargo to Sioux Falls in 2014-15 Eyssimont was moved from center to wing and really produced with 5 goals and 8 assists in his last 14 games. He was THE key addition to the squad that led the Stampede to the 2014-15 Clark Cup. Former coach John Marks of Fargo commented ” He really can do things with the puck not a lot of players would even try”. Former Stampede coach Cary Eades remarked that Eyssimont is a “High-end offensive talent, controls the pucks in the corners, a playmaker and he has the intensity all the real good ones have. He can score goals from the outside, get to the dirty areas and get goals”. Expect Eyssimont to be an impact player in 2015-16 and with his size and skill to be one of the top young forwards in the league.
Robby Jackson (Forward) 5’10” 181 – Alameda, CA
One of two SCSU recruits from the state of California, Jackson burst onto the USHL scene in 2013-14 as a 16 year-old and scored on his first shot on goal of his second shift. He finished the season with 28-14-42 in 60 games and captured the league Tier 1 era (2001-present) record for goals by a 16 year-old. He went on to win USHL Rookie of the Year honors and was the youngest player ever to earn this honor. Slowed by injuries early in the 2014-15 campaign and having to adjust to a trade to Dubuque, Jackson dipped to 14-24-38 in 54 games. Described as a playmaker and natural scorer, former coach Scott McConnell noted “He has the ability to put pucks in places most players in the USHL can’t. With his hockey playing ability and humbleness, he has the world at his feet right now. He’s just going to get better and better as he grows older.” At 18 years old, Jackson is certainly one of the leagues youngest players and that will be a challenge despite his great hockey instincts and natural goal scoring talent. However, I’m betting Jackson should still defy odds and have success his first year in the league as he proved as a 16 year-old in the USHL. Jackson will benefit from a structured weight program and it’ll only help to add more muscle to his 5’10” 180 pound frame. This is another player that will have to be mentored along early in his career by the coaching staff as he faces players older and more experienced. With odds against him to succeed in a league of 20 year olds I wouldn’t be concerned if he gets off to a slow start. Ultimately, Jackson will become one of the NCHC’s and possibly college hockey’s most dynamic players.
Jon Lizotte (Defense) 6’0″ 215 – Grand Forks, ND
A late recruit, Lizotte comes from Minot of the North American Hockey league where he was team captain and one of the team’s leading scorers. He was a high school teammate of Jacob Benson at Grand Forks Red River High School and was also a linebacker in football. With good leadership abilities, Lizotte was team captain of his high school hockey squad for three years. Described as a very aggressive two-way player, he was on the first power play unit for the Minotaures and finished his career with 20-39-59 in 116 games. Minot coach Matt Murray stated “His skating is a little unorthodox but he gets around the rink real well and is a strong kid. He has strong leadership qualities and was a natural choice (for captain of Minot)”. Lizotte has a heavy shot and uses his size to control the puck and win battles. Despite his size, Lizotte is another player that will benefit from the structured weight program he’ll receive from the SCSU staff. He brings the size and toughness needed to be successful in the NCHC. Much like 2014-15 late recruit, Nate Widman, expect Lizotte to eventually become a fixture back on defense for the Huskies.
Patrick Newell (Forward) 5’10” 150 – Thousand Oaks, CA
The other half of the tandem from California is Patrick Newell, a diminutive forward who played for former SCSU assistant Fred Harbinson at Penticton in the BCHL last season. Despite his size, Newell has had nothing but success at every level of hockey he’s played at. And, according to Coach Motzko, he’s one of the early surprises in practice thus far. Newell skated for Indiana of the USHL in 2013-14 and as a 17 year-old found immediate success scoring 13 goals and adding 30 assists to his +24 rating and a USHL Clark Cup Championship. After Indiana suspended the franchise following the season Newell took his services to Penticton and duplicated his earlier season success with 16-31-47 in 56 games and a league championship in the BCHL as well. Coach Harbinson commented ” He’s got the skill and his vision and hockey sense are outstanding. He has deceptive speed and hands, and his creativity and ice vision are very high”. Newell is another natural scorer who possesses breakaway speed and has unlimited upside. He’ll only get better as he gets physically stronger and faster. Newell should be an outstanding four-year college hockey player and scorer.
Jimmy Schuldt (Defense) 6’0″ 202 – Minnetonka, MN
A two-year veteran of Omaha of the USHL, Schuldt spent 18 games at the end of last season mentoring fellow recruit Will Borgen as defensive linemates. Schuldt comes from a very athletic family as both his parents were athletes at SCSU. His father was an offensive lineman and captain of the SCSU football team. His older brother Joe plays Division I hockey for Michigan Tech University. Teammate Borgen described Schuldt as a “big, strong player who has a great shot and is an all-around great player”. USHL coach Bran Kaufman stated “He’s great on and off the ice and been our captain and leader. He works incredibly hard and is a tenacious competitor. A prototype two-way defender”. The extra year in the USHL allowed Schuldt to hone his offensive game finishing sixth among USHL defenseman in scoring with 13-26-39 in 59 games. His size and toughness led to 147 penalty minutes in his USHL career but also finished +38 over two seasons. Pencil Schuldt into the SCSU lineup to begin the season. It’s doubtful you’ll see him out of the lineup thereafter.
David Zevnik (Goaltender) 5’11” 158 – Lakeville, MN
Zevnik is another late recruit and adds depth to the goaltending position at SCSU. Zednik brings an impressive resume to SCSU including capturing three consecutive Class A MSHSL State Championships for St. Thomas Academy and the Frank Brimsek Award as the state’s top senior goaltender. He finished his high school career with a 60-10-3 record and a 1.48 GAA and .930 SV %. Zevnik was a member of Wichita of the NAHL for two seasons playing in 25 games in 2014-15 and compiling a .894 SV% and 2.87 GAA . In 2013-14 he had a .905 SV% and 2.46 GAA. His coach Paul Baxter commented ” He is a very solid person and athlete and will be a great NCAA Division I goalie in the future”. Zevnik will back up incumbent goaltenders Charlie Lindgren and Rasmus Rejola in 2015-16.