ST. CLOUD — On a star-studded St. Cloud State hockey roster last season, Jimmy Schuldt stood out, the steady senior defenseman helping the Huskies to the nation’s No. 1 ranking for the bulk of the season and being selected as one of the three Hobey Baker Award hat trick finalists. Schuldt is off to pro hockey now, signing with the Vegas Golden Knights and earning a spot on the team’s opening night roster.
That doesn’t mean the Huskies necessarily have a huge void on the blue line. The presence of Jack Ahcan should make sure of that.
Ahcan, a senior from Savage, enters the 2019-20 season slotting into the captain’s role that Schuldt had last season. And he comes there with strong credentials and statistics. His 28 assists last season tied for the team lead, his plus-29 rating was second only to Patrick Newell’s plus-35 and he earned second-team All-America honors.
“I don’t think stats measure the best thing about him because he’s got heart and compete that people don’t take stats on,” Huskies coach Brett Larson said. “He’s going to lead on how hard he competes and how bad he wants to win. The skill level’s a nice bonus.”
Larson will count heavily on Ahcan’s leadership this season. While a veteran squad amassed 55 victories over the past two seasons, this year’s version of the Huskies features 10 freshmen. They’re talented but need to mature.
“With a big freshman group, it’s more about communication — explaining drills more, because last year everybody knew the drills,” Ahcan said. “This year, it’s more on the board, drawing up the drills.”
But he likes what he sees so far from a group that includes six forwards, two defensemen and two goalies.
“They’re all so skilled and all work so hard,” Ahcan said. “It’s a good sign early in the season because they have to know what it takes to be a college hockey player and not only that, but a Husky hockey player, which is fast-paced, puck-moving, battling, relentless.”
Those attributes describe Ahcan, too. At 5-8 and 185 pounds, he’s not the biggest defenseman in college hockey, but his all-around game speaks volumes. Along with his 34 points last season — only one fewer than Schuldt’s total — he blocked 55 shots and helped the Huskies kill 86.7% of their penalties, the fifth-best rate in the nation. He was paired with freshman Nick Perbix, a 6-4, 200-pounder who collected 20 points and blocked 52 shots.
“I really liked our Jack Ahcan-Nick Perbix [defensive] pair last year as kind of our second pair,” Larson said. “Now they have the opportunity to step up and be the top pair. They complement each other so well.”
Ahcan acknowledges St. Cloud State’s huge personnel losses from last season that include Schuldt with Vegas, Blake Lizotte with the Los Angeles Kings and Patrick Newell, Robby Jackson and Ryan Poehling with AHL teams. However, he sees opportunities for the next wave of Huskies that he’s responsible for leading. Easton Brodzinski, a junior, and sophomores Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are forwards likely to take on bigger offensive roles.
“Who’s going to step up in those roles because it’s going to have to happen this year with scoring? We can already tell,” he said. “Even our sophomore class, we can tell who’s going to make a big jump this year. … That trend is good to see. Yeah, we lost a lot of good players, but we gained 10 new ones.’’