Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Michigan State hockey's trio of freshman provide hope for the future

February 11, 2022
<p>Spartan freshman left wing Jesse Tucker is separated from Redhawks sophomore defenseman Robby Drazner by a referee during the teams&#x27; match on Friday, Oct. 11, 2021. </p>

Spartan freshman left wing Jesse Tucker is separated from Redhawks sophomore defenseman Robby Drazner by a referee during the teams' match on Friday, Oct. 11, 2021.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

After a solid 11-8-1 start to the season, things have fallen apart for Michigan State. The Spartans are on an eight-game losing streak, and with the end of the season around the corner, an NCAA Tournament berth would take a miracle.

However, amidst the struggles of another disappointing season, Michigan State’s three freshmen are providing a bit of hope for the program’s future. 

Jesse Tucker

Forward Jesse Tucker is having an extremely impressive season for Michigan State. He doesn’t just lead the freshmen in points — he leads the entire team. Tucker has had just a couple of goals this season, but he’s collected 17 assists through 28 games.

Kicking off the year, the 21-year old forward was among the team’s bottom six, slowly transitioning his game from the USHL to the NCAA. With fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski injured and out of the lineup for a good chunk of the season, Michigan State desperately needed a forward to step up and lead the offense. Tucker has done just that.

With sophomore Jeremy Davidson and junior Erik Middendorf on the wings, MSU has a truly dangerous line centered by Tucker. The three forwards are all in the top four in team scoring as Davidson has 10 goals and eight assists, while Middendorf has nine goals and six assists.

The Davidson-Tucker-Middendorf line will almost certainly stick together heading into next year, and it will likely take on top-line minutes. Tucker has firmly entrenched himself as an important building block of Michigan State’s future.

David Gucciardi

At 19 years old, defenseman David Gucciardi is one of the youngest players on the roster. With a defensive core made up mostly of seniors, Gucciardi is not yet in a featured role with the team, but he has shown flashes of great promise. Through 28 games, he has four goals and six assists — the third-most points among the team’s defensemen.

A great skater and a sneaky-good handler of the puck, Gucciardi is a defenseman with plenty of upsides, especially offensively. In fact, a handful of projections had him going in the middle or lower rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft. Gucciardi is still eligible for the 2022 draft, and NHL.com has him ranks him as the 75th best North American skater available.

Next year should be a breakout year for Gucciardi. With a handful of seniors leaving the roster, Dennis Cesana and Christian and Cole Krygier, Gucciardi will see a major bump in ice time. He’s already splitting time with Cesana quarterbacking the power play, where his offensive toolkit shines. In a top-pairing role with sophomore defenseman Nash Nienhuis or a member of the 2022 recruiting class, Gucciardi will take up an essential position as an underclassman.

Fans have likely seen just the beginning of what Gucciardi can bring to the table. Michigan State has a player that can be a foundational piece moving forward.

Tanner Kelly

Glancing at the stat sheet, it seems as though forward Tanner Kelly is having just a mediocre season. He has three goals and zero assists in 26 games. However, Kelly seems to be ending the season on a high note.

Like Tucker, Kelly started off the year on the bottom six but quickly ascended to a more prominent role — partly due to injuries. He’s developing chemistry with junior forward Jagger Joshua and junior forward Josh Nodler, highlighted by his two-goal weekend against Ohio State.

Again, Kelly is not racking up many points, but he seems to be getting comfortable at the NCAA level. Some players just need a bit more time to adjust to different leagues — after all, he is just a 19-year-old freshman. Keep an eye on Kelly in the final few weeks of the season.

He still has plenty of development ahead, but Kelly’s recent play shows plenty of promise. Like Gucciardi and Tucker, Kelly could be an extremely important member of Michigan State’s 2022-23 squad.

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