Arizona State hockey lost its top four scorers last year to graduation, but the Sun Devils don't plan on that slowing them down. They led the nation in goals per game last season, and instead of heavily recruiting offensive talent, coach Greg Powers decided to rely on the players he already had.
He recruited of course, bringing in three forwards to compete for playing time. But the plan is for weapons that will replace Kale Dolinski, Colin Hekle, Danny McAuliffe, Brian McGinty and the rest to be returners.
There are 15 forwards currently on the team- 12 returners and the three recruits. Powers could also add during tryouts, but for the sake of predictions, we'll use just the 15. Here is a look at how the Sun Devils could line up.
First line: Michael Cummings, Liam Norris, Ryan Ostertag
Powers has been mum on what he is planning for lines, but made clear he expects Norris and Ostertag on the top line. Why wouldn't he? Norris lined up on the top line as arguably the team's best faceoff artist and almost inarguably the team's best assist man. His vision on the ice is superb, and last year's line he anchored with Ostertag and Kale Dolinski was almost unfair.
If the ACHA had watch lists, Ostertag would be on the Player of the Year list. Not to say he started out slow (eight points in his first 10 games), but Thanksgiving week hit and he was virtually unstoppable. From Nov. 25 onward, he registered 24 points in 16 games, including six on Dec. 7 against Arizona. He even scored twice in the national title game. Norris to Ostertag is a combo Arizona State will see a lot next year, and it will give the latter a chance at scoring 30 goals.
But the third guy on that line could be an intriguing X-factor. Cummings could never quite figure out the right combination of players to skate with, and he could see his talents best utilized on the top line. He played in only in 19 games last year, but he did dress during the national tournament, and impressed, even if he didn't score. With Ostertag and Norris on the ice with, he could flourish and challenge for either of the all-WCHL teams.
Second line: Patrick Yudez, Sean Murphy, Eric Rivard
Murphy bounced around with his line combos last year, playing the wing to start the year, but settling into the faceoff circle at the end of the year with Rivard and Danny McAuliffe at his wings. Murphy and Rivard are similar in that they are both stockier players who can muck it front of the end. They vibed well off each other at nationals, and there seems to be no reason to split them up.
Yudez is the player on the team who saw his stock rise the most at last year's tournament. He played on the fourth line and stole the show alongside Troy Scott and Dave Jantzie. With his linemates gone to graduation, he needs two skaters to line up with, and Murphy and Rivard saw McAuliffe leave their line, leading to a natural transition.
It's not just the convenience, though. Yudez burst onto the scene in the four games in Delaware, animalistically using his big body to throw poor opponents around. He only notched 14 points last year, but finally reaching a comfort level in the ACHA, and pairing with Murphy (20 assists last season) and Rivard (13 in only 20 games), Yudez has serious breakout potential.
Third line: Jared Morris, Mak Barden, Faiz Khan
Here is where the new faces start showing up. Morris will put the puck in the net, and he will do it frequently. Morris comes to Tempe from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where in 2011-12 scored 29 goals and dished out 39 assists for 68 points in 60 games. For good measure, he also added eight goals and four assists in 12 playoff games that seaosn. He passed on multiple NCAA offers, and could be a big pickup who can contribute right away.
Not to take away from Barden's talent, but he came in to the program at an opportune time. Arizona State graduated Colin Hekle and Brian McGinty, leaving a whole where two elite centermen were. Barden will jump in and make an immediate impact, similar to what Murphy did last year.
Khan has been a strange case. He was incredible two years ago with Hekle and Dan Styrna, but just couldn't find that magic last year, also suffering through a few different injuries. He's a player that needs a shakeup, and the youth of Morris and Barden could gel nicely with Khan's experience.
Fourth line: Connor Mailey, Tommy Cooney, Chris Blessing
This could be the most entertaining line for the amount of potential that exists on it. Mailey comes in from Canada and was the first forward of the recruiting class for Powers this season. He was a captain in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and put up 46 points in 57 games there last year.
Powers has said even last year that Cooney was going to have a big 2014-15 season. Cooney is fast, maybe the fastest on the team, and with seven graduating forwards, he'll get his chance this year.
Blessing meanwhile has reportedly gotten himself into tremendous shape, and is ready to explode. He transferred to Arizona State last year, and only saw game action 19 times. Like Cooney, the potential for a breakout is there, and with slots open
Reserves: Chris Burkemper, Zack Holstrom, Kory Chisholm
The thing about Arizona State's depth is that Burkemper-Holstrom-Chisholm could be starters for a lot of ACHA teams. So deep in fact that any of these three could end up dressing to play for 40 games. Powers won't lose any sleep at night knowing if one of his top-12 forwards needs a break, any of the reserves can jump in and not miss a beat.