Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole stepped up the podium to address the media after a disappointing season that saw his team finish last in the conference. He’s been here before. In his five years as head coach, Michigan State has finished last in the Big Ten four times.
However, this conference feels different. Cole knows this program isn’t where it can be - or should be. This isn’t just another “trust the process” conference. Cole wants change, specifically on the roster — whether it be through the transfer portal or the incoming recruits.
“There’s gonna be some changes,” Cole said. “That’s with guys transferring in, that’s with the freshmen coming in. They’ll probably be at least seven, probably 10 or 11 different guys next year.”
In his sixth year with the program, Cole wants results. Fast.
Gavin Best is one of five recruits set to join the roster next season. With an impressive offensive toolkit and a desire to better himself and the program, Best could very well help bring the program some results.
Why Michigan State?
Best is a forward from the great hockey state of Minnesota. Instead of sticking to one of the multiple division one hockey programs in his home state, Best decided to take his talents to Michigan State.
There was a multitude of factors that dragged Best to MSU. From a college student’s standpoint, Best wanted a “Big Ten feel,” with a large community and a sprawling campus. From a hockey player’s standpoint, Michigan State’s resources provide ample opportunity for growth.
“With the staff, the resources and facilities they have, I think that that’s a huge advantage,” Best said. “They will allow me to reach my full potential more than any other place that I could’ve gone.”
Michigan State is a well-funded program with quality facilities and resources. While it might not have the draw of hockey powerhouses like Boston College and Michigan, MSU certainly has a winning history. From winning the National Championship to consistently contending in the CCHA, Michigan State was consistently one of the better programs in the nation. While most recruits were far too young to remember MSU as a top-tier hockey program, some, like Best, know the history and are eager to help spur on the rebuild.
“I can see that as (an) opportunity for me — give myself a chance to come in and really make a difference with the program,” Best said. “Let’s work to build this program back up.”
Based on his current level of production, Best is perhaps the most exciting offensive piece slotting into the roster next season. As it stands, he is averaging over a point per game with the Minnesota Magicians in the NAHL. In just 49 games, best has 19 goals and 33 assists.
Obviously, his bread and butter is in the o-zone.
“I would first start by saying playmaker. I think that’s kinda how I identify myself most,” Best said of his playstyle.
Best is a crafty forward, specializing in speed and a high hockey IQ. A somewhat similar comparison would be fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski — a forward not afraid to pass the puck, consistently sending the puck into high-danger situations. Playmaking is the name of the game for Best. However, don’t count out his shot or skill because he’s not afraid to use both.
Considering his skill set, there’s a good chance Best gets good minutes on the power play by the end of the year. Last season, Michigan State liked to set Lewandowski in the slot on the power play, where he could either distribute the puck or take a rip at the net. Best would fit in nicely to this scheme.
While he might not be the ideal candidate for a penalty kill, Best also has a solid 200-foot game.
“Something I do and try put an emphasis on is being reliable in all three zones,” Best said.
In Best, Cole and the MSU staff have a playmaking forward with high competency in the defensive zone. Traditionally, players with this style have faired well under coach Cole, like Taro Hirose, Lewandowski, etc.
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Impact on the team
Based on the year he’s having in the NAHL, Gavin Best could very well have an immediate impact on Michigan State hockey.
Worst case, Best is just another body on the team. Throughout the 2021-22 season, depth became a major issue. When players like junior forward Griffin Loughran and Lewandowski were sidelined, Michigan State had trouble finding replacements. In a conference like the Big Ten, thin rosters don’t typically fare well in the back half of the season. Best and the other recruits, at the very least, provide some depth for Michigan State.
Best case? Like freshman forward Jesse Tucker did this year, Best ends up leading the team in scoring by the end of the season. Tucker is another solid comp for Best — an offensively gifted forward that was very productive in the minors.
Michigan State’s offense was not good in 2021-22 as the Spartans averaged 2.11 goals per game on the season, which was the eighth-worst average among division one NCAA hockey. Best’s skillset can be effective immediately. Like Tucker, Best could quickly ascend the ranks and become one of the more effective forwards on the roster. Replacing Lewandowski’s offensive output is going to be tough next year, but Best can help fill some of the void.
There’s a good chance that Best’s freshman season is somewhere in the middle. Maybe he starts off the season quietly and slowly climbs up the ranks. Maybe he comes out of the gates firing but cools off near the end. Who knows — hockey prospects can be difficult to project.
However, one thing is for certain: 2022 will be a pivotal year for Michigan State. In his sixth year with the program, results are a must for Cole. Gavin Best is just one piece of an intricate puzzle. But given his skills, his production and his motivation, he just might be Cole’s missing piece.
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