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Offseason Outlook: Notre Dame

Bobby Nardella will play a big role on the blue line next year
Matt Dewkett

In their first season as members of the Big Ten, Notre Dame ran away with the conference regular season title in convincing fashion, won the league playoff title, and earned a trip to the Frozen Four, coming within a goal of winning the national title, for what was arguably the greatest hockey season in school history.

Matching that feat next season will be no easy task. The Irish have some big holes to fill in key spot in their line-up, and could potentially lose a few more key players to the NHL over the summer.

Here is a look at Notre Dame’s potential team for next season.

Key Departures: Jake Evans, Sr.(Signed by Montreal), Andrew Oglevie, Jr.(Signed by Buffalo), Jordan Gross, Sr.(Signed by Arizona), Dennis Gilbert, Jr.(Signed by Chicago) Justin Wade, Sr., Dawson Cook, Sr., Bo Brauer, Sr.

There aren’t too many losses for Notre Dame, but boy, are they big ones. Losing their top two centers in Evans and Oglevie leaves a gigantic hole in the middle of their line-up. A lot was made of Notre Dame having to replace the offensive production of Anders Bjork coming into this season, but both Evans and Oglevie were 10 and 11 points back of Bjork respectively last season. Notre Dame’s top returning scorer next year, Cal Burke, was 20 points behind Evans this past season.

The scoring might not even be the biggest loss with those two. They were excellent in all three zones, and Notre Dame doesn’t have many true centers that can step in and create for teammates the way that Evans could with his passing ability, and Oglevie could with his ability to win pucks with his strength and speed.

The defense lost three regulars from their very strong group. Gross was the offensive leader on the blue line, scoring 30 points in 40 games. He might be the most replaceable of the three though, just based on what Notre Dame already has, and what they have coming in. Gilbert and Wade were both tough, physical defensive defensemen that played a big role in making Notre Dame the tough defensive team that they were.

They might not be done with losses either. There’s still no word on sophomore defenseman Andrew Peeke or sophomore goalie Cale Morris, who could both potentially go pro this summer. Peeke is a big-time prospect that had a solid World Juniors tournament. He’s big and an excellent skater; he’s likely ready for the next level. Morris is less of a surefire pro prospect, but goaltending can be a fickle thing, and with Notre Dame replacing at least half of their defense next year, it makes a lot of sense for him to strike while the iron is hot if he gets a reasonable offer, because it might not be there in future years. Obviously, both decisions have a pretty major impact on Notre Dame’s chances next season.

Key Returners: Cale Morris, Jr., Andrew Peeke, Jr, .Cal Burke, Jr., Bobby Nardella, Sr., Cam Morrison, Jr., Dylan Malmquist, Sr., Colin Theisen, So.

I touched on Morris and Peeke above. If they come back, they’ll be leaders on this team. Morris is the reigning Richter Award champ. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat performance of his insane numbers if he returns, just because he’ll be facing more tough shots next year, but he’s a very talented goalie. If Morris isn’t back, Dylan St. Cyr was decent in limited action early in the year, and comes with a strong pedigree as a former NTDP goalie. Worst case scenario, they’ll probably be decent in goal.

They’ve got the big gaping hole up the middle, but they’ve got a lot of wings that can really shoot the puck and be dangerous offensive threats. Cal Burke and Cam Morrison are both poised to make big jumps as upperclassmen. If they can find a distributor to get them the puck, they could be in for a big year. Dylan Malmquist has some nice scoring ability as well. Colin Theisen established himself as a big, grinding winger that did a lot of dirty work for Notre Dame’s top line.

On the blue line, there are three regular spots to fill, maybe four if Peeke leaves, though the Irish played seven D regularly last year, so there’s technically one less spot to fill if they go back to the regular six.

If Peeke is back, he’s the clear #1 and probably eats enough minutes that they’ll only need to replace 2.5 spots. Rising junior Bobby Nardella got a lot of power play time this year, and is likely the heir apparent to Gross as the offensive catalyst. He’s not quite as dynamic as Gross offensively, but probably a little better defensively. Matt Hellickson saw some second unit PP time this year and while he plays a fairly conservative game, he’s an above average passer that could contribute a little offense as well. Tory Dello is a big defensive defenseman whose skating is a little rough. He’s probably not a replacement for Peeke should Peeke leave early, but should fill the role left by Justin Wade adequately.

Key Newcomers: Jake Pivonka(‘00 NTDP), Graham Slaggert(‘99 USHL), Trevor Janicke(‘00 NTDP), Nicky Leivermann(‘98 BCHL, 7th rd NHL), Alex Steeves(‘99 USHL), Nate Clurman(‘98 USHL, 6th rd NHL) Max Ellis(‘00 USHL), Cam Burke(‘99 USHL), Spencer Stastney(‘00 NTDP) Jesse Lansdell(‘98 BCHL), Jack MacNab(‘98 BCHL)

There’s a lot of names here. I went with everybody that has signed a Letter of Intent with the school, though basic arithmetic suggests a couple of these guys will be deferred a year.

The one true centerman in this group is Jake Pivonka. Pivonka was supposed to be the gem of this class when he committed to Notre Dame at a young age as one of the top players in the country. But since then, he hasn’t developed at the rate of some of his peers. He’s a fourth line center for the NTDP and a fringe NHL Draft pick. He’s still a very solid player, but evidence points to him being more of an early developer. He’ll contribute to the Irish, but odds are that he won’t jump right into a top two-line center position and immediately replace an Evans or Oglevie.

Graham Slaggert is the son of Notre Dame assistant coach Andy Slaggert. Graham spent two years at the NTDP and this past year in the USHL. He’s not flashy, but is an extremely smart, sound player. He should be an immediate contributor in a second or third line-type of role.

The defense sets up nicely with two NHL draft picks coming in that fill needs. Nicky Leivermann is very comparable to Jordan Gross. He’s a smallish playmaking defenseman that is an excellent passer. It may be a year apprenticing behind Nardella, but he’s a future PP quarterback for the Irish. Nate Clurman is a bigger defensive defenseman with decent mobility. He doesn’t come in quite as highly-touted as Dennis Gilbert was, but he’ll be a decent replacement. Spencer Stastney is probably more of a depth add at this point.

As for whichever of the rest of the forwards they bring in, there are a lot of tough, speedy wingers in the group that are going to fit in well with Notre Dame’s defensive-first style of play.

Overall

I’m slow to say the Irish are going to take a huge step backwards next year without Evans and Oglevie because I was one of the many that predicted they would take a huge step back this year without Anders Bjork and Cal Petersen. Though I don’t think it would have been reasonable to expect Notre Dame having a .940 save percentage this season, and had they had a team save percentage closer to average, they would not have been ranked nearly as high, since they were winning a lot of one-goal games.

I could see Morrison, Burke, and Malmquist all potentially stepping up their scoring enough to cover the loss, but I still that’s presuming they can find someone in the middle of the ice to get them the puck in good situations often enough.

I still really like the defense, especially if Andrew Peeke returns, and if Cale Morris returns in goal, they’ll be solid there too. Regardless, Notre Dame is always going to be a team that plays excellent, disciplined defense and is hard to score on.

With some caveats for summer departures, I could see Notre Dame competing near the top of the Big Ten and the top nationally again next season. Like this year, I don’t think they’ll blow out too many teams due to superior talent, but they’ll be strong enough that they’ll win a lot of close games.