Besides being ranked number one in the country by most (including SB Nation) a month into the season, one of the bigger surprises for Minnesota has been how fast the storyline has flipped when it comes to the team's freshmen.
Prior to the season, there was a lot of pressure for the freshmen to step into some big shoes. The Gophers lost four of its top five scorers and 43% of total scoring from a team that finished last year first in the country averaging 3.48 goals/game. That pressure expanded greatly during the preseason. Defenseman Tommy Vannelli left for the WHL prior to playing a game. Forward Gabe Guertler was suspended for the first month after being arrested in early September.
Things reached the point where even recruits left in September before stepping foot on campus.
Now that November is here and Guertler made his collegiate debut last weekend (he was scoreless in 2 games and played like someone catching up), it's a different story. There have only been eight games this season, but things have stayed the course for the 6-1-1 Gophers. Minnesota, first last year in offense, is averaging 4.38 goals/game right now. Only Boston College has a higher average. The team has tallied 3 or more goals in seven of eight games. Three freshmen forwards - Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata - are 3 of Minnesota's top 4 scorers.
If that isn't enough, all five goals in last Saturday's 5-4 win over Notre Dame were recorded by first-year players. Defensemen Jake Bischoff, who scored the game-winner Saturday, and Michael Brodzinski each have two goals. Vinni Lettieri and redshirt freshman Connor Reilly each have scored one.
Simply put, Minnesota's freshmen have not been sitting back and letting others do work.
Some credit goes to the coaching staff and upperclassmen for the youngsters acclimating with the team so early. There is pressure on both sides, as co-captain Nate Condon told me back in September.
"The big thing for (the freshmen) is it's on you. If anyone misses anything, if anyone is late for something it's the captain's responsibility," he said. "Kind of the extra weight for the captain - it's your problem."
This season's incoming class was one of the top in the country (even without Vannelli and a month of Guertler) and has shown that, but where does it compare to other Minnesota freshmen classes? That's a good question. Eight games do not tell the whole story. Things can change as witnessed by the Gophers giving up 8 goals last weekend and dropping from 2nd to 13th in team defense. (I won't start on Adam Wilcox's stats.)
However, eight games are normally between 20-25 percent of the season. Patterns do start to emerge. With that in mind, here is a look at how the Gopher freshmen forwards compare to those who came before them.
Freshmen forward point totals (since 2000*)
Few would be surprised to see Vanek and Kessel, two players currently among the NHL scoring elite, leading this chart. Vanek's total of 62 points in a season was only eclipsed during this time by two upperclassmen. Johnny Pohl scored 79 in 2001-02 and Ryan Potulny had 63 in 2005-06. These are the gold standards when it comes to Minnesota freshmen in the 21st Century.
A step below these two is Jordan Schroeder (45 points) and both current junior Kyle Rau and Kessel's replacement, Jay Barriball. Each scored 43 points as a freshman, however, the difference between the two was that Rau finished second in points behind Erik Haula. Barriball led the Gophers in points in 2006-07.
In fact, freshmen were the top-two scorers for Minnesota that season. Kyle Okposo was just behind Barriball with 40 points. That marked the only year since 2000 where 2 first-year players were among the top 4 scorers; let alone were first and second. Even the current senior class had only one player in the top six scorers their freshman season (although in fairness Nick Bjugstad - 3 points [1G-2A] in first 8 games - did have mono for part of the year).
Currently there are three freshmen in the top four. Junior Sam Warning has 14 points (5G-9A). Just behind him is Hudson Fasching with 11 points (5G-6A). Linemates Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata are on Fasching's heels with 10 and 9 points, respectively. The high number of points is a testament Minnesota's early high scoring output.
In fact, the three lead all Big Ten freshmen. Ohio State's Drew Brevig has the next most freshman points with 6 (1G-5A) in 10 games; two more games than the Gopher triumvirate.
9 points would lead four of the other five B1G teams. All except Wisconsin has played at least 8 games.
But the above chart is an entire season compared with just eight games. A lot can change. That's especially true for freshmen as players grow and become more confident. Subsequently, there are also injuries and chances for the long haul of the college hockey season to grind down players in the later months.
How did those same players look in their first eight games as freshman?
The three are near the top, but nowhere near conquering.
Again, it is no surprise that Kessel and Vanek are the two leading this list. Same goes for Rau (who unlike Kessel benefited from playing on Minnesota's top line) and Barriball. Part of scoring a lot of points has to do with getting off to a great start and both of those players did. Rau scored at least one point in 9 of his first 10 games. Barriball, meanwhile, had an 8 game point streak; the same as Fasching currently.
Fasching's 11 points (he nearly had a twelfth with an empty-netter on Saturday) shows the unpredictable nature of the rest of the season.
On one hand, the players above him all scored 40+ points as a freshman. The Los Angeles Kings 4th round draft pick has the same number of points as Schroeder in 2008-09. Schroeder, then in his draft-eligible season, continued scoring while the team cooled off that year (Minnesota went from #1 to out of the NCAA Tournament), finishing with 45 points. (He cooled off the next year too, finishing with 28.)
On the other hand, not everyone continues to score points in bunches. That is true with Erik Haula, who had 10 of his 28 points as a freshman in the first 8 games. Players who did score at a high clip, however, all had fast starts.
It should also be noted that two names at the top each had one early huge multi-point game. Kessel went off for 7 points against Alaska-Anchorage; including a 5 point game. Vanek had a hat trick (and 6 points total) against Alabama-Huntsville.
The closest any of the three compare in 2013-14 is Kloos and Cammarata both having a 3 point game.
Overall, the eight game mark doesn't make or break a collegiate career. Several players have made the most of their time wearing Maroon and Gold without bursting on the scene right away. Just look recently at Bjugstad, Nate Schmidt on defense or even Sam Warning (who had six points in his first 8 games for Minnesota) this season among others.
At the same time, Hudson Fasching's start and eight-game scoring streak isn't the best in recent history. His start isn't even the best opening eight-games by a freshman on his current line. That doesn't include plays which do not show up on the box score. (i.e. He started a game this season by taking a penalty behind the opposing goal.)
It's near the top, but several players have scored more goals and points.
Goals in first 8 games
Where Minnesota has been successful early is the number of first-year players leading the way. Although there is not a Phil Kessel or Thomas Vanek in this year's recruiting class, no other trio of freshmen forwards has gotten off to the same start in the same season that Fasching, Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata - all in the top-six - did through their first eight games for Minnesota.
Most classes don't even have two.
Three forwards being consistent in a 6-1-1 start is how this year's freshmen have been special compared to the rest.
Adding the fact that the only player who hasn't scored once this season played two games? Icing on the cake.
Finally, as an aside: If Fasching and Cammarata can continue at a point-per-game pace as 18 year-old true freshmen (no guarantee), the two would be in good company. Obviously this is the first season of Big Ten competition. There is no comparison. The players in the WCHA since 2002 who did, however, are no slouches.
|18 Year-Old Player**||Season||Team||Points|
|Zach Parise||2002-03||North Dakota||61|
|T.J. Oshie||2005-06||North Dakota||45|
|Jonathan Toews||2006-07||North Dakota||46|
|Jaden Schwartz||2010-11||Colorado College||47|
*The 2000 mark-off is partially due to changes in college hockey. Mostly it is due to stats being available that far back. Forwards listed either scored more than 20 points as a freshman for the Gophers or were among the scoring leaders during their time at Minnesota.
+Ryan Potulny injured his knee in Minnesota's 8th game and only played 15 games as a freshman.
**Technically Kyle Rau can be added to this list for his 43 point effort in 2011-12. He started as an 18 year-old yet turned 19 three weeks into his freshman season. Additionally, Jonathan Toews' PPG was as a sophomore. He nearly hit it as a 17 year-old freshman with 39 points in 42 games.
More from SBN College Hockey:
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- Eye on the Future: Austin Czarnik, Miami
- Maine Freshman Defenseman Eric Schurhamer Smoothly Transitions to College Game
- Robert Polesello Leaves Vermont to Sign with Kingston (OHL)