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5 Big Ten Storylines To Follow In 2016-17

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Finland v USA Blue - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What can the new coaching staff do for you Wisconsin?

On the surface “Granato, Granato and Osiecki” sounds more like a law firm than a coaching staff. (“No hockey turnaround case is too small. We’ll have your team in the playoffs or your money back.”) Thankfully for the Badgers the new triumvirate - head coach Tony Granato and assistants Don Granato and Mark Osiecki - are the latter, coming in after Mike Eaves was let go following back-to-back last place finishes. The new coaches have already been hard at work stopping many of the issues with recruiting and fan apathy. They now face the task of turning around a hockey power that has been anything but as of late.

Wisconsin should improve from last season’s 8-19-8 record based on its major players returning and having another year of development. The question is, how much improvement in Year 1 of the Granato Era?

Penn State’s goaltending situation

A staple throughout the first three seasons of Big Ten play, Penn State enters 2016-17 without either member of its experienced goaltending platoon. Matt Skoff graduated while Eamon McAdam left a year early to sign with the New York Islanders.

In their place are another duo in sophomore Chris Funkey, who appeared in four games last season in mainly mop up duty, and freshman Peyton Jones. The 20 year-old Jones comes to State College after two seasons at Lincoln (USHL). Both will have to quickly get up to speed, but there is an opportunity for one or both to take charge of the crease.

How far does Tom Anastos’ “vote of confidence” go?

Spartans AD Mark Hollis has faith in Tom Anastos. As Michigan State’s head coach enters his fifth year with the Spartans having only once finished above .500, he received a vote of “full confidence” to continue the turnaround job he was hired to do.

To stave off the hot seat and be successful this year will require a lot of work. Anastos brings in a 10 person freshmen class to replace his first group of recruits. Several will have to step up into new roles early. MSU enters 2016-17 without its longtime goalie Jake HIldebrand and only two scorers last season who had more than 25 points. Of the six Big Ten schools, only Michigan State did not have a player drafted this summer.

The next player to step up offensively for Michigan

The Wolverines have made a habit of reloading offensively after losing players. From Carl Hagelin to Alex Guptill to Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin onward, head coach Red Berenson has been able to replace scoring. This year he might have his toughest test yet.

No team was better offensively last season than Michigan. The Wolverines led college hockey with 4.76 goals per game and now has to replace 63% of that scoring. All three members of last season’s high-powered “CCM line,” Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte, departed early, having signed pro contracts after all three finished in the top four in points nationally. Of those on the second line, only Alex Kile returns.

There will be opportunity for Kile and forwards like Cooper Marody, Dexter Dancs, Will Lockwood and Brendan Warren. Who becomes the next player like Hyman or Compher and Motte to step up into the top-six and score remains to be seen.

Will non-conference success elude teams once again?

Although conference play doesn’t begin until Thanksgiving, the first two months of the season play a major role in deciding how many teams make the NCAA Tournament. The Big Ten has only had one team represent each of the past two seasons.

Non-conference struggles has doomed past NCAA bids like Michigan (2015) and Minnesota (2016). Last season’s regular season champion Gophers went 5-10 against non-conference foes. Add in Ohio State and Wisconsin combining for 5 wins against non-Atlantic Hockey or independent teams and there is little room for error. The onus is on the Big Ten to do better in 2016-17.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --