The Michigan State forwards will be the most scrutinized group on the ice this season. After a season where the Spartans finished 54th out of 59 teams nationally in team offense (2.19 goals/game) and 41st on the power play (15.94%) the pressure is mounting on this unit. The lack of offensive production has plagued the Spartans for the last two seasons (55th and 52nd two years ago) drawing many to question whether fourth year head coach Tom Anastos can get production out of his forwards.
There is only one new forward on the team this season, with the addition of Dylan Pavelek from the United States National Team Development Program. Fellow forwards Cody Milan and Marcel Godbout, who were supposed to arrive on campus this fall, have returned to the USHL for another season of development before coming to East Lansing. So the Spartans will be relying on improvement from last years' group as they look for a more consistent scoring punch. It will be a difficult task as the top three scorers from last season all left due to graduation, but with a strong freshman group last season, there should still be improvement in the forwards this year.
The Top 6
Matt Berry (Sr. Wing)- It is likely that without injuries last season, Matt Berry would have been the Spartans leading scorer. After a 31 point campaign his sophomore season, which led the team, Berry put up 17 points in 23 games last season. The senior winger has a great scoring touch and isn't afraid to go to the front of the net and score ugly goals. Berry played wing on the first line with Michael Ferrantino and Villiam Haag in the Spartans exhibition game against University of Windsor. This season will be big for Berry who is undrafted and will be looking to garner some pro interest.
Michael Ferrantino (Jr. C, Captain)- Ferrantino, the unequivocal emotional leader of this team, will look to lead by example this season. He reminds me of a forward version of Torey Krug, emotional, small, loves to chirp and seems like a perfect leader of a college hockey team. This will be a change of pace from the more stoic captaincy of Greg Wolfe last season. Ferrantino doubled his point total from his freshman year, to 20 points last season and will look to get over the 30 hump this season. Ferrantino likely will be a facilitator on a line with more talented scorers, Berry and Villiam Haag which is a role that suits him well.
Villiam Haag (So. Wing)- Much to the excitement of my fiancé, the Swedish born Haag will be featured again this season for the Spartans. Haag had a hot and cold freshman campaign, going long stretches without scoring while getting 13 points. The late addition to the 2013 class, came from relative obscurity and moved his way up the line chart as the season moved on. He spent a lot of time on a freshman line with Mackenzie MacEachern and Thomas Ebbing but that changed towards the end of the year. Haag possesses a quick release on his wrist shot and should be given plenty of opportunities playing with Ferrantino at center.
Joe Cox (So. Wing)- Possibly even more surprising than Haag, Joe Cox played above expectations in his freshman campaign. After starting the season as a depth forward, Cox moved quickly up to the top six, eventually spending time on a line with Ferrantino and Berry. In the exhibition game Cox played on a line with MacEachern and Ebbing, but he may move around a little between the top two lines. Cox reported at 173 pounds this year, up from 167 last season and has a strong net front presence, which should be his role on any line he plays on.
Mackenzie MacEachern (So. Wing)- The prized recruit coming into last season, MacEachern had a little bit of a disappointing output last season. Four of the twelve points on the season for MacEachern came in one weekend series against Princeton. More consistent scoring from the St. Louis Blues' draft pick will be vital for the Spartans this season. MacEachern has incredible hands for his size and will be counted on to possess the puck down low and facilitate the offense on sustained pressure. Look for MacEachern to take a big leap forward in his sophomore season.
Thomas Ebbing (So. C)- Rounding out the top two lines, Ebbing is a high school and junior teammate of MacEachern's. The two were inseparable last season, playing together almost the entire campaign. Ebbing was touted pre-season by Tom Anastos last year and was slightly disappointing with scoring only two goals. Ebbing did appear in every game last season and as a center was extremely poised in his own defensive zone, especially for a freshman. Look for Ebbing to improve upon his 48% win rate on face-offs and continue to provide strong support for the Spartan defenseman.
Brent Darnell (Sr. Wing)- Put up 10 goals in his sophomore season but regressed to just two last year. Good third line player who played on the point with the second power play unit in the exhibition game.
Tanner Sorenson (Sr. Center)- Had a rough first half last season, after a suspension found difficulty getting in the lineup. Did score 13 goals his sophomore campaign and if he can find that touch again may move up the depth chart.
Dylan Pavelek (Fr. C)- Centered a line with Darnell and JT Steinglein in the exhibition game. Only freshman forward has been getting praise from Anastos. Will see top 6 minutes at some point this season.
Justin Hoomaian (RS Jr. Wing)- Plays with a real edge and provides a physical presence against bigger teams.
Matt DeBlouw (Jr. C)- After a 21 point freshman season, DeBlouw disappeared with only 4 assists last season. He didn't dress in the exhibition game, and the Calgary Flames draft pick will have to earn his way back into a consistent role.
JT Steinglein (Soph. Wing)- He's got size to throw his weight around. Only 1 goal last season.
David Bondra (RS. Soph, Wing)- Injury plagued last season, appearing in just five games. Will have to compete for bottom line minutes with the likes of DeBlouw, Hoomaian and Steinglein likely.
Connor Wood (RS. Sophomore)- Has yet to appear in a game for the Spartans. After redshirting his freshman year, he left midseason to play in the USHL last year.
Ryan Keller (Jr. Wing)- 2 time Goofus award winner for team humorist. Is in the group each week in practice trying to earn bottom six minutes.
The early slate of games is not going to allow the Spartans to ease into the season much at all. They open with eight games before opening B1G season on November 20 at Ohio State.
The season begins Friday with a series against UMass. A more in depth preview of the series is coming out this week but the Spartans were swept by the Minutemen last year in Amherst. The team then returns the favor of a home and home from last season by traveling to Massachusetts to take on Boston University and UMass-Lowell. BU is bringing in a highly touted freshman class and looks to improve upon last season's 9th place finish in Hockey East. The Riverhawks of UMass-Lowell were a top five team when the Spartans played them at Munn last season. They have lost three players to the NHL and will likely take a step back this season but will still be a difficult match-up for the Spartans.
Before taking on another Hockey East team in New Hampshire, the Spartans will return home to take on former CCHA rival Ferris State. The Bulldogs were one game away from their second Frozen Four appearance last season and are a top ten team this season. They started the campaign with a 4-3 win over Michigan at home on Saturday October 4. The Spartans will then trek back out east to take on a UNH team looking to get back into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats finished 4th last season in Hockey East but are picked 9th in the preseason SB Nation Hockey East Preview. Finally, before the trip to Columbus to begin the league season the Spartans will face off against the top 5 ranked Boston College Eagles. The Eagles lose plenty of firepower from last season but always are looking to reload and not rebuild.