SCSU Huskies Rebuild with Skilled Recruits in 2016-17

It was a watermark season in 2015-16 for the SCSU Huskies as they racked up 31 wins tying a program record and making their 12th NCAA appearance. However, this success did not come without a toll as the Huskies lost seven seniors to graduation and two premier underclassmen to early signings with the NHL. The net result from an offensive standpoint was the loss of 257 points ( 92 goals and 165 assists) and a great deal of senior leadership. Defensively, the hit was nearly as severe losing the NCHC Player of the Year, Defenseman of the Year and Offensive Defenseman of the Year in Ethan Prow and NCHC Goalie of the Year and the leagues win leader in Charlie Lindgren. Prow and Lindgren piled up additional post-season awards including finalist for the Mike Richter Award and All Conference 1st Team (Lindgren) and top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker and First Team All-American (Prow).

Underclassmen, Lindgren and forward Patrick Russell opted to sign NHL contracts following the 2015-16 campaign with Lindgren signing an entry level deal with the Montreal Canadiens and Russell an entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Both, obviously would have been key components of the 2016-17 squad with Lindgren returning as the top goaltender and Russell looking to build on his 20 goals (2nd on the team) and 41 points (3rd on the team).

Glaring holes were left in the goaltender position and the scoring department as the Huskies head into the 2016-17 season. As a result, the SCSU coaching staff has added nine first-year players in an attempt to rebuild the offense and to solidify the netminder position. In addition, SCSU has added elite talent to the defense with the addition of a first-round NHL draft choice and the United States Hockey League’s Defensive Player of the Year. This could perhaps be college hockey’s deepest squad of defensemen and certainly the most depth ever on an SCSU squad.

Here’s a run-down of the Huskies first-year players for the 2016-17 season:

Jack Ahcan – 5’8″ 184 Defense (Savage, MN) 

A classic overachiever, Ahcan’s size has done little to limit his ability to become one of the top defenseman at every level he has played at. He committed to the Huskies in October of 2014 without a lot of fanfare and was drafted in the 8th round of the 2013 USHL Phase 1 draft …again, without a lot of fanfare. However, after three successful years showcasing his skating and offensive skills at Burnsville (MN) high school compiling 59 points in 48 games and 16 points in 20 games in the Minnesota HS Elite League he began to turn some heads. And, although he was recruited by UMD, MSU-Mankato,Ohio State and Vermont he may have been overlooked by others due to his smallish size at the rear guard position.Obviously, this was not a concern for SCSU assistant coach, Garrett Raboin who coached Ahcan in the Select 15’s and was himself a “smallish” defenseman but pound for pound one of the hardest hitters in the WCHA. Again, proving size does not matter. Expected to play for Cedar Rapids of the USHL for two years, Ahcan made a huge impact his first season with the Roughriders scoring 14 goals and adding 30 assists for 44 points in 56 games placing him second among all USHL defensemen. His offensive numbers included 7 power play goals and 6 game-winning goals. His efforts were key to the Roughriders winning the USHL’s Anderson Cup awarded to the team finishing the regular season with the most standings points. Individually, the frosting on the cake was being named USHL Defenseman of the Year and All-USHL First Team. Coach Mark Carlson was quoted “He played well on both sides of the puck, offensively and defensively. He is a fierce competitor (and) is physical. He was a tremendous leader for us by example. Wire to wire he was very good.” With a good opportunity to be named to this years World Junior roster Ahcan should be one of the top first-year defensemen in all of college hockey. So, what should we expect from Ahcan? On offense, he’s a dynamic skater with good speed and lateral movement. He’s strong and confident on the puck and literally begs for the puck to move it up ice. And, in Bob Motzko’s attacking style of offense, he’s just what the doctor ordered. Defensively, you merely need to read what assistant coach Doug Leaverton had to say to the St. Cloud Times. “He sticks his nose in the middle of (physical play) more than anybody on our team. He’s gritty, not afraid and won’t back down in the corners or in front of the net”. Expect to see ample ice-time and an exciting four-year player in Ahcan.

Dennis Cholowski – 6″2″ 185 Defense (Langely, BC) 

SCSU recruit Dennis Cholowski made Husky hockey history even before donning a St. Cloud State University sweater having been selected by the Detroit Red Wings as the 20th pick in the first-round of the 54th annual NHL Entry Draft. The highest drafted SCSU player previously was Matt Cullen who was selected as the 35th pick by Anaheim in the second round of the 1996 NHL Draft. After being projected as a 4th to 6th round pick in the CSS preliminary rankings, Cholowski was #48 in the January 2016 mid-term Central Scouting rankings and by April had rocketed to #23 in the final rankings making him a possible late first-round or early second-round NHL draft choice. To date, the highest drafted SCSU defenseman was Josh DeWolf who was picked 41st in the second round of the 1996 draft by the New Jersey Devils. Defenseman, Brian Gaffaney was drafted 44th by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round in 1997.The 6’1″ 185 pound smooth-skating left-handed defenseman from Langley, BC played for Chilliwack of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League in 2015-16. With room to grow, Cholowski has the frame, skating ability and hockey sense that NHL teams covet. Following the selection, Detroit GM Ken Holland was pleased to be getting a “great skater” and “love that he can really skate and we can tuck him away in college for 3-4 years”. Director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright noted “We think he’s just kind of hitting the tip of the iceberg. He’s a young kid that’s still growing, could be one of the best-skating defenseman in this draft. So we’re really intrigued by size, skating ability, puck-moving ability. We think that he’s still got a lot of room to grow. He was 5-8, 5-9 a couple years ago and he’s just really kind of taken off,” Wright said. “He’s a beautiful skater. He is an effortless skater. You can’t have enough smart, good puck-moving defensemen on your hockey club. He’s a very driven kid,” Wright said. “It almost sounds boring a little bit but he is committed in what he wants to do in his life. I think that’s impressive for a kid at this age to have those beliefs. He’s got a long summer in the weight room, he needs to get physically stronger, he understands that. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to put the time and effort in.”“St. Cloud’s a good program,” Wright said. “However long it’s going to take him depends on him.According to Cholowski (I’m) More of a two-way defenseman now, having the ability to jump in the rush and generate points that kind of thing, as well as being sound in my own zone, breaking the puck out and making a good first pass,” Cholowski said. “Just getting a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger and engaging in battles in the corners and in front of the net, just being a little bit harder to play against in general.”  Cholowski finished the 2015-16 campaign carrying Chilliwack to the second round of the BCHL playoffs producing 16 goals and 35 assists for 51 points in 64 games (incl playoffs). His efforts earned him second team BCHL All-Star status. One of the top young talents in college hockey, the 18 year-old Cholowski will need to adjust to the much stronger and speedier competition of the NCHC. There will be a learning curve defensively but as he gains strength, size and experience he’ll become one of the top defensemen in college hockey.

 

Zach Driscoll 6’0″ 175 Goaltender (Apple Valley, MN) 

The Huskies have added an athletic and promising goaltender to their squad with the Addition of Zach Driscoll. Driscoll competed for the PentictonVees of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League in 2015-16 playing for former SCSU coach Fred Harbinson. In 2012-13 Driscoll led his Eastview H.S. team to the Minnesota State High School Tourney and in the process earned all-conference, all-metro and all-state honors. In 2014-15 he split time between the Austin Bruins of the NAHL (2.19 GAA | .921 SV% in 14 games) and the Omaha Lancers of the USHL (2.86 GAA | .897 in 18 games). Driscoll joined Fred Harbinson and the PentictonVees for the 2015-16 season and split time with Anthony Brodeur, a 7th round draft choice of the New Jersey Devils. His outstanding play at Penticton saw him lead the league in GAA at 1.90 and SV% at .933 and winning 21 of his 26 starts in goal. He was named BCHL Goaltender of the Year and with Brodeur, BCHL Goalie Tandem of the Year. An athletic goaltender with good reflexes, Driscoll relies on his mobility and athleticism as opposed to his size to be effective in goal. Driscoll will be given every opportunity to win the starting position in goal but initially will most likely share goaltending duties with the Huskies other first-year recruit Jeff Smith (see below).        

Garrett Forster – 5’10” 170 Forward (Delta, BC) 

After losing six forwards and 219 points of offense, the Huskies needed to rebuild depth and experience at the forward position. They took a step in that direction with the addition of Junior hockey and BCHL veteran Garrett Forster.The 21 year-old  5’10” 176 pound right-handed forward from Delta, BC is a four-year BCHL veteran having played in 246 regular season games and 50 playoff games. Most recently he was a  member of the RBC Cup Champion West Kelowna Warriors but also saw stints with Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Surrey and Victoria of the BC League. He also had a cup of coffee with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Over the past two seasons with Kelowna, Forster played in 124 games (including playoffs) scoring 49 goals and  adding 70 assists for 119 points. A reliable and hard-working forward, head coach Rylan Ferster commented ” Garrett has been a heart and soul guy all year. He plays the game the right way and never takes shifts off”. Forster brings with him good skating and stick skills and the ability to score in the slot. Most of all, he’s an experienced player who will add much-needed depth to the Huskies lineup.Forster originally committed to D III power St. Norbert but changed his mind after receiving an opportunity to join the Huskies of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. He committed to the Huskies on short notice late in the spring without an official visit to campus.

Jack Poehling 6’0″ 180 Forward (Lakeville, MN)

Part of a package deal, Jack Poehling joined twin brother Nick (see below) and younger brother Ryan (see below) committing to the Huskies in February of 2014. Born eight minutes earlier than Nick, both have had complimentary hockey careers that mirror each other to date. Jack was a three-year member of a Lakeville High School hockey club that competed in two consecutive Minnesota State High School championship games including an undefeated season and state title in 2014-15. Poehling racked up 133 points in 86 games for the Panthers including 45 points in 25 games in 2013-14 and 57 points in 25 games in 2014-15 after opting to remain with his high school team for his senior year. He joined the Green Bay Gamblers for the 2015-16 season and found immediate success in the USHL compiling 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 58 games while skating on a line with brother Nick. He also added two points in four playoff games. A durable, skilled and hard-working player, Poehling competed the entire 2013-14 high school season with a torn labrum in his shoulder yet still had 30 goals and 55 points in 33 games. High school coach Trent Eigner stated ” Their (Jack and Nick)  work ethic and intensity are contagious. If you are to pick the two guys who are working the hardest every day in practice it’s these two. Their consistency is a great thing.” Undrafted, Jack was ranked #186 by NHL Central Scouting for the 2015 NHL entry draft and he was a finalist for Minnesota Mr. Hockey in 2015. Described as more of a shooter than brother Nick, he has a good nose for the net and a reputation as a hard-working player. Expect to see all three Poehling brothers skating on the same line for the Huskies and a successful four-year collegiate career for Jack.

Nick Poehling 5’11” 176 Forward (Lakeville, MN)

First-year recruit Nick Poehling will have to wait a bit before hitting the ice for the Huskies. Currently rehabbing a left knee injured late in the 2015-16 USHL season, it doesn’t appear he’ll be released until November. That’ll shake up a line combination with his brother Jack that’s been in place forever. They skated as linemates all three years at Lakeville North High School and for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League in 2015-16. Another prolific high school scorer, Poehling amassed 128 points over three years at Lakeville North High School helping lead the squad to two consecutive MSHSL state championship games including the state title and undefeated season in 2014-15. In 2014-15 he had 53 points in 25 regular season games averaging over 2 points per game. He also added 10 points on six goals and four assists in three playoff games. Moving on to Green Bay in 2015-16 he again found offensive success in a highly defensive league with 15 goals and 28 assists for 43 points in 58 games. Also undrafted, Poehling was ranked #191 as a North American skater for the 2015 NHL entry draft. He was a 2015 Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist and was named the St. Paul Pioneer Press East Metro Boys Hockey Player of the Year. High school coach Trent Eigner stated ” He brings a level of intensity to practice and games that is few and far between”. Intensely competitive Poehling described ” Work ethic is the biggest thing for me. There are guys who might have a better skill level than me but they have no work ethic. I’ve always had to work at it.” A slightly different style of player than brother Jack, he is more of a puck distributor than shooter and thus his tendency to put up more assists than goals. Once back on the ice, expect Nick to join brothers Jack and Ryan on a line for the Huskies. This is another player who should see a great deal of success as a four-year player for SCSU.

Ryan Poehling 6’2″ 185 Forward (Lakeville, MN)

The youngest brother and third member of the Poehling family, Ryan opted to complete his high school studies and by-pass his senior season at Lakeville North High School to join his brothers at SCSU for the 2016-17 season. With the Poehling brothers a very close-knit group, a combination of factors made the timing right for all three to join the Huskies at the same time. Unfortunately for Lakeville North High School, they lose a certain Mr. Hockey finalist and for the Lincoln Stars who drafted Poehling #1 in the 2015 USHL Phase 1 Draft, a top end player who could be a first round draft choice in the 2017 NHL entry draft. Poehlings’ high school numbers were impressive producing 38 points in 25 games as a sophomore in helping lead the Panthers to an undefeated 31-0 season and a State Class AA Championship. Brothers Jack, Nick and Ryan combined for 8 points in the 4-1 win over Duluth East in earning the state title. This past season, Poehling again was one of the top offensive performers for the Panthers with 20 goals, 34 assists and 54 points in 25 regular season games and 8 points in the playoffs. Following the high school season, Poehling found further success with the Lincoln Stars with 2 goals and 2 assists in nine games and +4. Lincoln Stars GM Jon Hull described Poehling as a “big and talented elite skater who distributes the puck well and plays fast.” He further commented “to be able to play college hockey at age 17 speaks volumes about Ryan’s ability and character…during his time in Lincoln we witnessed a kid far beyond his years.” Poehling will enroll at SCSU as a 17 year-old and will turn 18 about three months into the season. This is unusual but not unprecedented as current Husky, Robby Jackson had turned 18 about a month prior to the 2015-16 season. In August, Poehling was one of the standout players of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament leading Team USA to the championship game vs the Czech Republic. Poehling had 4 goals and 2 assists in 4 games for Team USA. He also competed on September 22 in the CCM All American Prospects game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. This game featured 42 of the top young USA born prospects expected to be future NHLers. Poehling is best described as a power forward with elite skill and strength and certainly in his element battling down low for the puck. He’s a good skater with an excellent shot and solid work ethic. Some have compared Poehlings style to that of former SCSU Husky and NHLer Matt Cullen. A prototype NHL prospect it’s likely Poehling could go in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Strong chemistry with brothers Jack and Nick will make this an exciting and productive line for the Huskies.

Jeff Smith 6’2″ 200 Goaltender (Maple Ridge, BC)

The Huskies have added an experienced goaltender in Jeff Smith for the 2016-17 season. Smith left the UMass-Lowell hockey program in June of 2015 after one season with the River Hawks. He had committed to UMass-Lowell after a stellar 2013-14 campaign with Powell River compiling a 19-9-1 record and a 2.24 GAA and .923 SV%.  His stock with the NHL Central Scouting Services took off and he was ranked as the 19th top North American goaltender in their final ranking in 2014. Smith appeared to be on his way as the heir apparent to top goaltender Connor Hellebuyck joining the squad perhaps a year earlier than originally thought. Smith ended up playing in eight games recording a 3.02 GAA and .885 SV% and found himself the backup to Kevin Boyle, last seasons starter for the River Hawks.Smith returned to Powell River for the 2015-16 season and put together a solid season logging a .927 SV% and 2.48 GAA with a 25-12-0 record for the BCHL team. The 6’2″ 190 pound Smith is described as having good size with good athleticism and good composure. Smith told the St. Cloud Times ” I track the puck well and I’m a big body. I think I’m a good positional goalie and I battle hard and have good hands.” Coach Kent Lewis told the Times ” I’m happy for him and St. Cloud has a very good player coming to its program. He has presence in net and is athletic and strong.”  He’ll enter SCSU as a sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining. Smith joins sophomore goaltender David Zevnik and first-year netminder Zach Driscoll on the 2016-17 season roster. A contrast in style to Zach Driscoll, Smith is more of a positional blocker while Driscoll may be more mobile and athletic. Look for both to compete for the starting position while they share duties early on in the season.

Jake Wahlin 5’10” Forward (St. Paul, MN) 

The Huskies have added more speed and skill to their forward position with the addition of Jake Wahlin. Wahlin originally committed to the University of Massachusetts but changed his mind opting to be closer to home subsequently committing to SCSU a year and a half ago. Wahlin was a prolific high school scorer compiling 89 goals and 100 assists for 189 points in 81 games for White Bear Lake High School from 2011 through 2014. In 2014 he finished second overall in Minnesota Class AA scoring with 39 goals and 31 assists for 70 points. As a result, he was named to the 2014 All Metro First Team along with North Dakota star forward Brock Boesser and was named the 2014 Pioneer Press Boys Hockey Player of the Year. His coach Tim Sager called him ” the most creative player I’ve had in 29 years of coaching.” Moving on to the United States Hockey League, Wahlin picked up 15 goals and 27 assists in 2014-15 and 19 goals and 35 assists including 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points in 11 playoff games. He also skated for Team USA in the Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2013-14 and joined SCSU first-year player Jack Ahcan at the World Junior A Challenge in Canada this past season scoring one goal in five games. Wahlin is a dynamic forward particularly if he uses his speed to his advantage. Certainly the larger ice surface of the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center will be to his advantage. Expect Wahlin to crack the Huskies lineup and earn ample playing time during the 2016-17 season.

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