Sunday, February 25, 2024

Three players to keep an eye on during final month of Michigan State hockey's season

February 1, 2022
<p>Senior defenseman Christian Krygier (15) taps a fellow player during the game against Michigan on Nov. 5, 2021, at Yost Ice Arena.</p>

Senior defenseman Christian Krygier (15) taps a fellow player during the game against Michigan on Nov. 5, 2021, at Yost Ice Arena.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

Playing the last month without fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski and junior forward Griffin Loughran has not gone well for Michigan State.

And with no indication of when either might return to the lineup, the depth of the team has proved to be lacking. Putting multiple pucks in the net each night and consistent play for three periods has been few and far between as MSU finished January losing all six of its games.

Now fighting to dig out of the team’s second six-game losing streak in just less than a year, the Spartans are circling the Big Ten drain with danger of plunging in for the second year in a row. However, unlike last year, there is still a month’s time for Michigan State to avoid another seventh-place finish.

MSU was idle last week, allowing an opportunity for rest and recollection. It remains to be seen whether or not the bye week will help or hurt the team.

Here are three players I am keeping a particularly close eye on in the last month of the season:

Nicolas Müller

Müller was one player that I was especially excited to see in his third season at MSU. He didn’t produce many points in his freshman and sophomore seasons with just eight points in each, but the timing was impeccable — particularly last season.

Müller’s two goals in 2020-21 were both game-winners – an impressive mark for a team that won just seven games. The first was an overtime-winner versus Ohio State in the Big Ten-opener. The second was a late third period game-winner against Arizona State in mid-February, the team’s final win of the season. He also assisted on former MSU defenseman Tommy Miller’s overtime goal at Notre Dame.

As the offense has improved from last year, Müller’s output has not. Through 26 games, the same amount played last year, Müller has just five points: one goal and four assists. He is also tied with freshman defenseman David Gucciardi and senior defenseman Christian Krygier for a team-worst plus-minus.

Part of that likely can be attributed to Müller’s work as one of the team’s top penalty-killers. He and junior forward Jagger Joshua have formed a nice tandem on Michigan State’s penalty kill, which has been slightly above average on the national level.

Müller said he enjoys killing penalties with Joshua, who is his hotel roommate for road trips. Perhaps gaining some confidence on the PK unit can spur some offensive production from the always joyful Müller in the next month.

Christian Krygier

With Lewandowski and Loughran out of the lineup, the hope was that some of the veteran players would step-up. While new faces such as junior forward Erik Middendorf have elevated their game, there hasn’t been enough output from the tenured players.

Consistency has been the trouble for senior defenseman Christian Krygier. Too many times Krygier has been either solid or making grave mistakes. He and senior defenseman Dennis Cesana were both -3 when on the ice during Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Ohio State. That can’t be happening from your supposed top defensive pairing.

Then there are the penalties. Krygier led the Spartans in penalty minutes his sophomore and junior seasons. Again, he leads the team in penalty minutes this season with 45. His 17 penalties on the season make him good for one penalty every weekend.

Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole has downplayed penalties being a team issue, despite MSU surrendering the second most penalty minutes per game in the Big Ten, but the penalties make it really difficult to score for a team that already has struggles at even strength. For what it’s worth, Michigan State is the only Big Ten team yet to score a shorthanded goal too.

Krygier was a seventh-round NHL Draft selection by the New York Islanders. Something is there. It is now or never for Krygier to showcase that talent.

Tanner Kelly

While MSU anxiously waits for someone to step-up, this year’s freshman class has shown flashes of encouragement.

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Gucciardi started the trend, netting three goals in two games of the Great Lakes Invitational. Freshman forward Jesse Tucker has done some too, dishing six assists in the last five games. He’s been the most consistent of the three freshmen and leads the team with 16 assists.

Most recently, it was freshman forward Tanner Kelly, who scored two goals during the Ohio State series. Coming into the series with just one point on the season, a goal in December at Notre Dame, he now has a chance to build off that to end his freshman campaign on a high-note.

Kelly was recently placed on a line with Joshua and junior forward Josh Nodler – three players who were slouching offensively. Instead of continuing to slump, the trio played well together and could potentially be a line that Cole sticks together moving forward.

Time will tell if Kelly can keep the scoring going and catch some fire. For now, it is a small sample size, but worth keeping an eye on in February.

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