Even before Greg Cronin left, there was reason to be worried about this upcoming season. Where would the goals come from? After losing their entire top line, plus a promising freshman scorer, it seemed obvious that offense would be the issue for the 2011-2012 Huskies.
So far, that hasn’t been the case. And I don’t think it will be. Vinny Saponari will provide a boost. And guys like Justin Daniels who disappointed last year should see improvements this season. The goals will be there.
The issue will be (as its been the first 2 games) defense. This team lost 2 defensemen from last year. Mike Hewkin graduated, but you’d struggle to find someone who misses him. And then there is Jamie Oleksiak. Oleksiak was selected 14th overall this summer in the NHL draft and was the Huskies’ first ever 1st round pick. But with all of the change and uncertainty, he and the Stars, decided it was best for him to continue his development in the OHL.
His loss has been the biggest for NU as it has forced them to play 2 freshman defenseman in addition to 2 sophomores and 2 juniors (though 1 is new to playing defense).
Anthony Bitetto and Luke Eibler, the sophomores, are the starters, as they were at the end of last season. But like last year, they have gotten off to a shaky start. You would expect them to turn it around because they proved last year they are more than capable. And the Huskies need them to do it and do it quickly.
Drew Daniels and Drew Ellement, the juniors are the second pair. Daniels is a converted forward who has handled the change admirably. Ellement is an average defender. They served as the third pair last season and did well. But now they have been bumped up and they must find a way to elevate their play. Had Oleksiak stayed, they’d likely be the third pair still with Oleksiak and a freshman serving as the 2nd pair.
The third pair is the freshman. Its been Ben Oskroba and Josh Manson so far. But Dan Cornell and Jake Hoeffler could possibly see time as well. You can’t expect too much from freshman at this level, but with the hole left by Oleksiak, these guys are being given a trial by fire. It may help in the long term, but right now the D as a whole is struggling.
This defensive unit wasn’t outstanding last year, but overall it was pretty solid. Now they must find a way to cope without Oleksiak. And that, not the scoring or the goaltending, will be the question that determines how far the Huskies go this season.