Tickets remain to be punched (or, since it's 2017, they are more likely to be scanned off of a smartphone) for this year's Frozen Four. With Minnesota's season over following yesterday's 3-2 upset loss to Notre Dame, attention turns away from the Northeast Regional and Chicago.
Instead, let's take a look to the 2017-18 season, which begins (and could end) in the Twin Cities. Minnesota sees plenty of turnover. A large senior class departs for the pros and real life. In their place, head coach Don Lucia brings in his best recruiting class on paper since 2010-11.
Six seniors leave the program with six banners: four Big Ten regular season titles, one conference tournament title, and a NCAA runner-up banner that should have gotten more of a celebration than being put up in the rafters before the season opener without a comment.
The group includes Minnesota's two-year captain (Kloos), and two-year alternates (Bischoff and Reilly), meaning that 2017-18 will be the second time in three seasons the Gophers replace its entire leadership core.
It's an issue Kloos, who spent much of his junior year learning the ropes, was aware. By the end of the season he was happy with how several of the juniors were adding to the leadership. Still, it's a process. Minnesota will miss the contributions on the ice of 2 of its top 3 goal scorers and 4 of its top 10 point getters just as much as off the ice.
None of the six seniors have signed pro deals yet of this writing. That will change. Only Bischoff (7th round in 2012) and Cammarata (3rd round in 2013) are drafted (coincidentally both by the Islanders). I expect an NHL team to quickly sign Kloos to an entry-level deal after he gets his pick. Same goes with Lettieri, whose play this season has earned him a look or two by teams needing another low-risk/high reward in the system.
-Tyler Sheehy, So. F
Potential Early Departures:
-Mike Szmatula, R-Jr. F
-Leon Bristedt, Jr. F
-Ryan Collins, Jr. D
Minnesota doesn't have anyone guaranteed to depart for the pros early. 2016-17 doesn't have a Bjugstad or a Brady Skjei or Hudson Fasching, who would be on the next plane to their drafted team.
While none of the above players are coveted in that way, there usually seems to be one surprise departure a season. Sometimes a deal is too good to pass up or a player believe they are ready for the next level. Mark Alt and Michael Brodzinski are two recent examples of the surprise departure.
The least surprising of the bunch would be Sheehy, an undrafted free agent, given his 53 point season and Hobey Baker top-ten nominee grabbed plenty of attention from NHL scouts.
At 5'10", 186 lbs, Sheehy is on the smaller side, but his speed and scoring touch make up for it. The Gophers haven't had an underclassmen leave for the pros since Nick Leddy did in 2010 after one year. At 21 years-old, Sheehy is an older sophomore and after the season he had could cash in with an NHL team in a weak free agent market. It takes one offer from one of 31 teams.
Other people on the list are Szmatula (four years of college and lived with the seniors), Bristedt (undrafted free agent), and Collins, whose NHL Draft rights are held by the Columbus Blue Jackets. A 2014 2nd round pick, Collins could opt for free agency after next season. The Blue Jackets lost a Gopher to that method already in Mike Reilly. I'd be a little surprised to see Collins leave, but understand if Columbus sweetened the pot to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.
-Tyler Nanne (transfer)
The marquee name of this year's recruiting needs no introduction. No incoming freshman since Nick Bjugstad or possibly going back past a #1 overall pick to the ultimate college puck expectations, Phil Kessel, has been anticipated more among Gopher fans than Casey Mittelstadt. The Eden Prairie native, who could have accelerated this season (and Minnesota would have been fine with him doing so) is a top-ten pick in most NHL mock drafts.
Mittelstadt is joined by three HS seniors who signed Letters of Intent last November: Forwards Brannon McManus (Chicago - USHL), Scott Reedy (US U-18) and defensemen Nate Knoepke (US U-18).
Forward Garrett Wait (Waterloo - USHL) signed a Letter of Intent in November 2015. The Edina, MN native does have junior eligibility remaining and, in theory, could play another year in the USHL. Both Joey Marooney and Luke Notermann are in-house options to take some of the playing time left by losing four of the top-12 forwards. That said, there's still room for Wait to be on the 2017-18 roster.
Robson, who plays this season for Penticton (BCHL), verbally committed to Minnesota after the early signing period ended. At 21 years old (today) he is out of junior eligibility after this season. The first Canadian commit in over a decade will enter as a sophomore due to NCAA eligibility issues and transferring from Clarkson. (For more info, here's a feature I wrote on Robson in December for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.)
Nanne, who practiced with the Gophers this past season, will be eligible in 2017-18. Like Robson, he should be entering as a sophomore.
With Minnesota currently only losing Bischoff among its eight defenders, the Gopher blue line is packed with little turnover. Nanne and Knoepke would make it nine defenders for six spots.
That's good news for another Gopher defender commit that hasn't signed a LOI, Sam Rossini, tore his ACL in Penticton's first preseason game. Rossini still has junior eligibility remaining and can use next as a do-over without being buried in Minnesota blue line depth.
Part 2 will go more in-depth about each of the incoming players.
Back healthy:-Tommy Novak, F
-Ryan Lindgren, D
Both players suffered season-ending lower body injuries yet are expected to be ready for the start 2017-18.
Lindgren's surgery and recovery is easier than Novak's. (I thought Connor Reilly gave him some good advice here on the challenges that come with rehabbing a severe injury.) Lindgren will also have the chance, if healthy, to participate in USA Hockey's camps for the World Juniors before Minnesota's season to get back up to speed. Expect the 19 year-old to return to the team for a chance at a second straight gold and it wouldn't be surprising to see Lindgren in a leadership position. He captained the US U-18 World Junior team in 2016.