Midseason Review: Defensemen
After part one of the Penn State Hockey Midseason Review series broke down the Nittany Lion forwards, part two will take a closer look at the Nittany Lions blueliners.
For a guy that led all Nittany Lion defensemen in points last season, Varley has been seen, yet forgotten for most of this year. He did battle an injury earlier in the season that kept him out of the lineup for a few games, but since then he has been practically invisible.
He could be just consistently battling the same injury and it is affecting his game. Throughout the first half of the season, guys like Mike Willamson and David Thompson started taking the spots on the blueline that would have usually gone to Varley, because they have simply outplayed Varley. In addition, it seems as if Luke Juha has grabbed the role of top offensive defenseman away from Varley, now that he is healthy.
Other than Eric Scheid, Koudys is probably the only other guy that has stayed at a strong performance level. If you asked head coach Guy Gadowsky who his first half team MVP is, I would not be surprised if he chose Koudys, despite Scheid leading the team in points and goals. Gadowsky has mentioned that having a guy like Koudys not only on his blueline, but on the team, has brought a whole new element that was not present last season.
The guy that Gadowsky refers to as, “Dice” has been a force as a strong defensive defenseman. Koudys leads the Big Ten with 34 blocked shots and has been one of the cornerstones to the Nittany Lions penalty killing efforts along with Olczyk.
Gadowsky has also used many different adjectives to describe Koudys’ play including “beast, animal, a force, and outstanding.”
I think you get the picture about what Koudys has done.
Coming off an injury-shortened season, where he missed the final 18 games, it was difficult to really project what to expect of Luke Juha going forward. But the defenseman showed flashes of contributing offensively. Juha is smooth with his puck carrying through the zone and is also the main reason why the Nittany Lions are 14th in all of college hockey on the power play. Penn State is clicking at 21.67 percent (13-of-60); the best of any Big Ten team. Juha is also tied for first in all of Division I hockey in power play goals for defensemen with four. All four of his goals on the season have come on power play and he has made for a good power play quarterback.
Yanis’ problem is his lack of discipline. Like Saar, careless penalties have hurt the team on some occasions. He needs to learn how to hone his size and tenacity that he brings to his game, and use it to his advantage. When Yanis is not too worried about running rampant to blow up someone on the other team, he does have a heavy slap shot.
It is hard to grade out a guy that has only played in a small sample size of three games. But what I have seen out of Sweetland in that time is a guy that can be solid defensively and smart with the puck offensively.
Thompson is basically Koudys Lite. Speaking of those two, paired together they have made for a formidable shut down unit, that could be a tool against top lines during Big Ten play.
Thompson has been somewhat swept under the radar because of the play of other fellow defenseman Koudys and Juha. Gadowsky has brought up that he has been impressed with Thompson’s positional play and work down low. He is also third on the team in blocked shots with 23.
The guy has his name etched in Penn State hockey history with the first goal in Pegula Ice Arena history. Additionally, Jensen’s goal against Robert Morris in the Three Rivers Classic did earn him all-tournament team honors. He has brought leadership to this team and finds a way to get pucks to the net from the point when he is on the power play.
Maybe my expectations were a little higher for Williamson, considering the pedigree of getting drafted in the sixth round. Coming into his freshman season, you could see he was talented offensively based on his play with Spruce Grove of the AJHL and his numbers. He has a great shot from the point as evidenced by the power play goal he scored against Robert Morris on November 1. Sprinkle in his mobility and transition game like Juha and Jensen, with his added size, and he makes for a well-rounded defenseman that will be a key for the Nittany Lions blueline in the future.
Ross Insana is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.