Most college hockey programs have one forward line capable of producing a high volume of offense whenever it hits the ice, but not many can boast three in the same lineup.
You can make the argument that No. 6 Penn State has three lines that would easily slot in as the top trio on nearly any other team at this level. The Nittany Lions’ most familiar weapon is the line of Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt, and Liam Folkes. The group has played plenty of hockey together and looks dangerous whenever they jump over the boards.
When that group needs a breather, Nate Sucese, Ludvig Larsson, and Brandon Biro can come over the boards and dominate possession of the puck. Larsson is the driving force behind this trio thanks to his dominance in the face-off dot and his all-around game, but Biro and Sucese are veterans who have operated near a point-per-game rate throughout their NCAA careers.
Next up, Denis Smirnov’s line with captain Chase Berger and Sam Sternschein is also capable of giving the Nittany Lions a big spark offensively. Smirnov is probably Penn State’s most skilled forward, Berger is five points away from reaching 100 in just 120 games of NCAA experience, and Sternschein has shown flashes of his high-level ability to score goals in a little more than a season as a Nittany Lion.
Penn State’s offensive depth is, to put it lightly, insane, and that’s without mentioning the line of Aarne Talvitie, Nikita Pavlychev, and Blake Gober. Talvitie — the headliner of the team’s 2018 recruiting class — has quietly scored a point in four straight games.
The wealth of talent at Guy Gadowsky’s disposal has led to one of the most balanced attacks in program history. Through five games, 11 of Penn State’s 13 forwards have scored at least a point, and nine of them have at least five.
Three players — Biro, Sucese, and Barratt — lead the charge with seven points, while Berger, Limoges, and Pavlychev each have six. Talvitie, Larsson, and Folkes round out the top nine with five points each, capping off one of the most balanced attacks in college hockey.
Penn State’s program hangs its hat on peppering opposing nets with shots, but Gadowsky usually doesn’t see this amount of balance in his forward groups.
“There’s no secret to it,” Gadowsky said. “It’s just a matter of trying, and we really try to do that. It’s an objective, but it doesn’t always happen. We feel we’re at our best when we play with a lot of pace and have scoring from everywhere.”
Only time will tell whether the Nittany Lions’ balance offensively is sustainable. If it is, however, Penn State should stay near the top of the USCHO rankings all season long, and it could also set the team up for deep runs in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
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