The Michigan Tech Huskies enter the 2018-2019 season with their hopes resting on a group of forwards that stays mostly intact from last season. Coming off a national tournament appearance despite severe scoring issues for most of the season, they need the entire offense to elevate their game. More responsibility will be on the forwards now that elite goaltender Angus Redmond and stud defensemen like Shane Hanna, Cliff Watson and Matt Roy have departed. From the old guard to a few new guys, let’s look at MTU’s unit up front.
This is the position group at which Michigan Tech took the smallest hit with graduates and departures. Hopefully this means they will have more consistency offensively, but they will miss a couple of important guys. Reid Sturos and Tyler Heinonen stand out as hard to replace. The Huskies struggled to generate scoring chances so losing the team leader in shots – Heinonen – leaves a hole that must be filled. Sturos and Mike Neville were the team leaders in plus/minus and both had over twenty points. Chris Leibinger, the willing swingman who played both defense and forward in his career, is also a notable loss. Still, I think they are all somewhat replaceable. After all, can the offense possibly be less effective and less consistent that it was last year? I cannot see that happening. Things should be better this season.
I feel like a broken record after saying this an unspeakable number of times last year, but Joel L’Esperance needs to finally break out. Now a senior, he must be the leader of this offense. Always a highly-talented athlete and scorer, he started to put it together near the end of the year with points in all but two of the final eleven games. He needs to pace the offense and offer it the stability and consistency that it desperately needs. If MTU makes another run at the national tournament, it will be in large part because L’Esperance is a star.
The Huskies return two other double-digit goal scorers in sophomore Gavin Gould and junior Jake Lucchini. They impressed from time to time, establishing themselves as fixtures in the lineup especially down the stretch. Gould has the ability to beat any defensemen with his speed so he can create offense on his own. I expect him to break out in a big way, eclipsing 20 goals after potting 12 in only 33 games last season.
Look for leadership from seniors Alex Gillies and alternate captain Dylan Steman as they both are likely to see an uptick in both playing time and responsibility. With a great deal of graduates at all positions last year, this team will have a new personality that begins with this year’s captains and seniors.
The list of new forwards for Michigan Tech has to begin with Justin Misiak, the St. Claire Shores, Mich. native and product of the Austin Bruins (NAHL). With Austin last year he averaged a point per game (25-35-60 in 60 games) which naturally creates high expectations. Misiak will be counted on to make a difference immediately considering the lack of scoring that was pervasive across the roster in ’16-’17. His +19 rating suggests he plays a strong two-way game as well, especially considering the Bruins were the worst team in their division so that stat received no inflation. If he can establish himself on both ends of the ice, he will quickly become a fan and coach favorite.
The second new forward is Greyson Reitmeier from the Flin Flon Bombers (incredible name for a city) of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. A big guy, listed at 6’3”, he scored 28 goals and had 79 points in 58 games last season at Flin Flon. Whether he plays much remains to be seen, but he can clearly put the puck in the net when given the chance so keep an eye on the large Canadian this season.
Marcus Russell, a forward for the Topeka Roadrunners (NAHL) last season, is the third freshman forward on the roster. He picked up 25 points in 28 games with Topeka last year, which resulted in him getting the call to play 34 games with two teams in the USHL. He performance up there was nothing to write home about (8 points total), however. This suggests to me that he won’t be a regular in the lineup this season. Still, injuries happen and players come out of nowhere. With a small group of freshmen forwards and nearly a half dozen established forwards who graduated, anyone on the roster will get a chance to prove they should play.
Overall, there is a chance that this offensive group could be better than last year. They lost some key players, but with the debilitating inconsistency of last year’s unit, change could help everyone. Improvements from returning players and a potential star freshman both give me hope that there is much more upside offensively for the 2017-2018 season.