Number of Players Lost: 8 (all due to graduation)
Number of Incoming Freshmen: 10
The spring of 2013-14 was a devastating one for head coach Steve Rohlik and his Ohio State squad. Losing Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Dzingel and point producer Max McCormick to Binghamton (AHL) proved to be a significant blow heading into the 2014-15 season. OSU's talent up front was diluted and injuries didn't help either.
This upcoming season the Buckeyes notice a hit of players too, graduating eight and losing a core group of guys. Of them, forwards like Matt Johnson and Nick Oddo, as well as defenseman Justin DaSilva, are tough to lose. The departure of team captain Tanner Fritz is the toughest to deal with. But, unlike last season, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. With some of the talent they have coming in, along with some veteran goaltending and a few point producers already on the team, OSU is making steps in the right direction as a program.
Let's have a look at Ohio State's incoming freshman class, leading up to the impact players at the end.
John Wiitala, Forward, Lakeville, Minn.
A former state semifinalist with Lakeville South High School and a Clark Cup Finalist with the Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL), Wiitala is a mixture of speed, shiftiness and has been known to keep defensemen on their toes if he's on the rush. In 60 games last season, he tallied 13 goals and 13 assists. His coach in Waterloo, P.K. O'Handley is adamant about his versatility, consistency and reliability, according to wcfcourier.com. Consistency is what the Buckeyes need more than anything, as injury issues stopped any forward progress that Ohio State made until the final two or three weeks of the season.
Interesting to note: John's father Marty spent four years as a defenseman and winger at Wisconsin from 1982-86. In 163 games, he posted 46 goals and 82 assists.
Michael Gillespie, Forward, New City, N.Y.
From all reports about him, Gillespie has a fantastic hockey sense. Given his 5'9, 165 lb stature, he uses his size and his vision to his advantage. The former New Jersey Rocket (EHL) posted 14 goals and 40 assists during the 2013-14 season, helping garner him EHL Rookie of the Year honors. His grit and determination strike me as impressive as well, given that he went from the New York Saints (MJHL) to the Rockets, to the Lincoln Stars (USHL). He scored 18 goals and had 16 assists last season in Lincoln, tying him for the team lead in points with Brown commit Biagio Lerario.
Brendon Kearney, Forward, Northville, Mich.
Anytime that Steve Rohlik and his staff are able to snag a Michigan native, you've got to give them some credit. Kearney spent his youth days in the Detroit Honeybaked program, spending brief moments with the USNTDP and the Langley Rivermen (BCHL) before ending up in Chicago with the Steel (USHL) for the better part of two seasons. He posted 18 goals and 14 assists last season in Chicago while serving as an alternate captain. He's got a solid frame to him, standing at 6'0, 185 lbs, and he'll without a doubt tack on to that weight-wise as he begins his collegiate development. He's not as highly touted as Dakota Joshua or Miguel Fidler, so I'd have a “wait and see” approach as to where he fits in on this Buckeye depth chart.
If you're looking for an extensive look at Kearney, check out an article on the chicagosteelhockeyteam.com site here.
Sasha Larocque, Defense, Calgary, Alberta
With the graduation of captain Tanner Fritz, it's only natural that Ohio State needs another Alberta-born player on the roster. Enter Sasha Larocque. Standing at 6'0, 202 lbs, Larocque comes to Columbus after spending last season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL). He's known for his physicality and toughness, but most importantly his leadership ability. Prior to his days in Dubuque, Larocque spent four seasons in the AJHL with the Okotoks Oilers and Grande Prairie Storm. He was captain of the Storm during the 2013-14 season and after starting last season with Dubuque as an alternate captain, he was given the “C” in February. In 192 games in the AJHL, he was in the sin bin for 368 minutes. He spent 97 minutes in there last season. I see Larocque as sort of a smaller version of Justin DaSilva in that he's known as a stay at home defenseman. While he's not expected to produce a ton of offense from the back end, he does all the other things such as blocking shots and moving bodies from in front of the net. However, if he can develop a quality offensive game, it's only to his and Ohio State's benefit as the two-way defenseman becomes more of a necessity in today's game.
Mason Jobst, Forward, Speedway, Ind.
It was a tough year for Mason Jobst. Set to take on the 2014-15 campaign – his fourth with the Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) and his second as captain – a season with so much promise was cut short after just 11 games due to a shoulder injury. He would end up coming back and playing in the Clark Cup Finals against Dakota Joshua's (more on him below) Sioux Falls Stampede, but the Lumberjacks were quickly swept 3-0. It's clear however, that the two major things that he's bringing with him to Columbus are his unquestioned determination and a major chip on his shoulder. Due to his 5'7, 159 lb frame, it's easy to see why a lot of college coaches might pass him over. Ohio State offered him a chance to prove himself so it'll be interesting to see how he reacts in the years to come. In 158 games for Muskegon, he provided 21 goals and 67 assists. I wouldn't plan on him having a major impact right away, but keep him in the back of your mind. He might be a hidden gem in the future.
Have a peek at this article by localsportsjournal.com and see why it's easy to get behind a guy like this.
Tommy Parran, Defense, Shaker Heights, Ohio
One of two former Cleveland Barons AAA players that will be joining Ohio State this season, Tommy Parran had three goals and 13 assists for a Youngstown Phantom (USHL) team that won the Eastern Conference regular season crown and set a USHL-record with 17 wins in a row. He will be joining his former teammate with the Phantoms in Luke Stork, who had five goals and five assists in his first year wearing the Scarlet and Gray. Parran, who originally committed to Brown, is solid, simple as that. Nothing fancy about his game. You won't see anything in particular that stands out. Will he see significant playing time next year? It's up in the air. I would see him as the type of player who gets better with maturity over his tenure in Columbus.
Freddy Gerard, Forward, Rocky River, Ohio
And now I introduce the other Cleveland Baron product, Freddy Gerard. Without a doubt, Gerard earned his way to where he is right now. After spending two seasons in Boston playing for the Bandits (EJHL/EHL), he had a stellar season with the Madison Capitols in 2014-15. Through 60 regular season games, he scored 18 goals and had 18 assists while being named the first captain in team history. He has speed, agility and a knack for finding a way to get the puck in the net. I see Gerard as a player that if he's able to contribute when Steve Rohlik spots him in the lineup this season, that's where he'll stay. That's just where Ohio State's offense is at the moment. He's 5'11, 161 lbs, which of course can alarm people, but Freddy is more than capable of adapting to the collegiate level. It's just a matter of time before he does.
Miguel Fidler, Forward, Edina, Minn.
We begin to dive into the “big three” of this OSU freshman class with two-time Minnesota state champion Miguel Fidler. A fifth round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2014, Fidler began his 2014-15 season in Lincoln with the Stars (USHL), scoring five goals and adding 16 assists in 45 games, before ending the year with Freddy Gerard in Madison. He scored two goals and had four assists in 15 games with the Capitols. He's got the big body, standing at 6'0, 192 lbs, to muck around with anyone in the Big Ten, and it's understandable given the reports about his style of play. I see him in a bottom six role to start, and only progressing as his development with Ohio State comes to fruition.
Interesting to note: Miguel's father Mike spent parts of eight seasons in the NHL with Cleveland, Minnesota, Hartford and Chicago. In 271 games played, he scored 84 goals and had 97 assists.
VIDEO BONUS: A solid little highlight video from last season.
Dakota Joshua, Forward, Dearborn, Mich.
If you're looking for someone with the potential to have an impact right away with this Buckeye team, especially with offensive production, look no further than Dakota Joshua. A healthy USHL career spent with Sioux Falls saw Joshua produce 40 goals and 45 assists in 114 games along with a 2015 Clark Cup title. The second of three incoming NHL draftees for the Bucks, Joshua was taken in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto. Another steal from the Detroit area, Joshua played with the prestigious Honeybaked AAA program at the youth level. His 6'3 height already has him tied for second on the team in terms of tallest player. I would imagine that Rohlik and his staff will use the early portion of the season to figure out the ideal position for him in a Buckeye uniform whether that be at center or wing. Regardless, he could be the Nick Schilkey or Matthew Weis with a breakout freshman season at OSU.
Here's a look at him shortly after he was drafted by Toronto.
VIDEO BONUS: A pretty goal if you ask me, even if he didn't mean it at the tail end. Hands like hot maple syrup.
Tyler Nanne, Defense, Edina, Minn.
I think it's safe to call Nanne Ohio State's defenseman of the future (a big “if” if he stays for four years). Like the previous two players, he was also drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, taken by the New York Rangers. He was teammates with Fidler for Edina's back-to-back state titles in 2013 and 2014. Nanne began his 2014-15 season with Joshua in Sioux Falls before he reunited with Fidler and was teammates with Gerard in Madison via a trade after 14 games. In those 43 games, he tallied eight goals and eight assists. He's a crafty, skilled two-way defenseman that loves to get involved in the rush. He's 6'0, 190 lbs and I think he'll gain even more muscle before his time in Columbus is done. I see him in the top six to start the season, and we'll see how he adjusts to the collegiate game.