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Minnesota Duluth 2014-2015 Season Preview

Matt Christians

The original draft of this Minnesota Duluth season preview ended up turning into a rant about how UMD was a pretty good team with pretty bad goaltending last year, which eventually became this post. So if you're interested in this, you're likely interested in that. Give it a read and consider it your introduction to why I think this team will surprise people.

Projected Line-up

Minnesota-Duluth
Austin Farley, JR Dom Toninato, SO Alex Iafallo, SO
Kyle Osterberg, SO Tony Cameranesi, JR Justin Crandall, SR
Jared Thomas, FR Cal Decowski, JR Karson Kuhlman, FR
Brett Boehm, FR Adam Krause, SR Sammy Spurrell, SO
Extras Austyn Young, JR Blake Young, FR Charlie Sampair, JR
Andy Welinski, JR Carson Soucy, SO
Derik Johnson, SR Willie Raskob, SO
Willie Corrin, JR Dan Molenaar, SO
Extras Brenden Kotyk, SO Nick McCormack, FR
G
Kasimir Kaskisuo, FR Matt McNeely, JR Alex Fons, SR

NHL Draft picks: Toninato(TOR), Cameranesi(TOR), Welinski(ANA), Soucy(MIN)

Potential Free Agent targets: Osterberg, Farley, Iafallo

Forward

UMD's offensive numbers were fairly pedestrian last year--104 goals in 36 games for 2.89 goals/game, 5th in the conference 28th nationally. But underneath those numbers, there were a lot of very talented underclassmen that, now a year older, could be poised for breakout seasons.

The best of that young group was Kyle Osterberg, who tallied 27 points and was a tenacious two-way player. Osterberg is an NTDP alum that was overlooked a bit because of his size, but he makes up for that with tremendous speed and aggressive play. Tony Cameranesi has elite-level speed. Alex Iafallo and Austin Farley both bring offensive skill and are pests. And Dom Toninato is likely the best pro prospect of the group. A big physical center with legit playmaking ability.

All those guys scored in the 15-25 point range as underclassmen last year, and if even two or three of them make the jump to the 30+ range, they'll have a really strong offense. I don't think there's another team in the league with a top two lines this strong.

Defense

The top pairing of Andy Welinski and Carson Soucy expect to log a lot of ice time for the Bulldogs. Both are maybe a half-step too slow to be considered really elite, but they're both big, strong, and smart hockey players.

Willie Raskob had a really good season last year as a true freshman. He's got the tools to develop into one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.

The wildcard in the group is 6'5" sophomore Brenden Kotyk, who sat out last season after transferring to UMD from D-3 St. Scholastica. Kotyk averaged about a point-per-game from the blue line in last two years of junior hockey in Manitoba, and was impressive enough at St. Scholastica to earn a spot at UMD. If Kotyk is able to handle the pace of Division I hockey, while bringing a 6'5" frame and offensive abilities, that's a huge bonus for UMD.

Goalie

As I mentioned in the opener, we already went pretty in-depth with the fact that it's Kaskisuo or bust for the Bulldogs. That's maybe a bit unfair to Matt McNeely who, despite being a junior, is only a few months older than Kaskisuo. There's the chance that he develops into a more consistent goalie, but Kaskisuo still seems like the safer bet.

Prediction

Did you know Scott Sandelin's career coaching record is 95-50-21(.630) when Jack Connolly is on his team, and 152-195-46(.445) when Connolly is not? That seems like something I should mention because sources have indicated that Connolly will not play for UMD this year.

And yet, I really like the way this team looks. For the third time now, it all depends on a freshman goalie coming in and playing well, but Kaskisuo is an older freshman and NAHL goalies have a strong track record at the NCAA level in recent years. But I think they're going to be one of the better offenses in the league, and the defense is solid. They might not quite be ready to compete for the regular season title this year, but they should be good enough to earn home ice in the playoffs.

They've got a tough non-conference with 3.5 games against Minnesota and 2.5 games against Minnesota State forming the bulk of their non-conference schedule, but the Bulldogs performed well against both programs last year, and those could end up being boosting their national ranking. That, along with a solid conference performance should be good enough to get the Bulldogs back into the NCAA tournament.