Prior to the Ohio State men’s hockey team’s Big Ten opener at Minnesota on Dec. 2, team equipment manager Tim Adams offered a congratulations to freshman forward Tanner Laczynski for something he was unaware of. Laczynski had just been named to the preliminary U.S. Junior National team roster.
No. 9 OSU went on to beat the No. 10 Gophers 8-3 in Minneapolis the next night, a game in which Laczynski had four points on one goal and three assists. Coach Steve Rohlik announced to the team after the game that the freshman had been given a great opportunity with Team USA. The locker room erupted.
“Pretty special to have all of my teammates there and be proud of me,” he said. “I just got to go there and represent the organization well and Ohio State.”
In his first year with the program, all Laczynski has done is represent the program well. He currently leads the team in assists and points with 16 and 22, respectively. He has delivered game-winning goals in a shootout against Miami (OH) and in the third period against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
What Laczynski has done to this point is nothing short of remarkable, but it’s not shocking. To many on this OSU team, including senior captain forward Nick Schilkey, the work ethic and maturity had been present in Laczynski since the first day of practice and even before he stepped on the ice in Columbus.
The freshman from Shorewood, Illinois, has been on the national hockey prospect radar for the better part of two years. But if it weren’t for one failed stint in the United States Hockey League, Laczynski said he wouldn’t be where he is today.
In 2013-14, his first year of junior hockey, Laczynski was cut by the USHL’s Chicago Steel. While no one could deny his offensive skill set, the defensive side of the game is where Laczynski struggled the most. That summer, he said he tirelessly worked on getting bigger, faster and stronger with the puck. He soon reaped the rewards.
Laczynski came back the following year and made the Chicago Steel, scoring 18 goals and 28 assists in 56 games, which earned him a spot in the USHL/NHL top prospects game. His season with the Steel came on the heels of a bronze medal with Team USA at the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, his first time overseas. The next season, Dan Muse took over the Chicago Steel program as head coach and quickly saw potential in Laczynski.
He had a sit down with Laczynski to discuss his play on both ends of the ice, not just on offense. Laczynski said he took the discussion to heart and he then went on to have his best year in juniors and began receiving offers from several colleges, including OSU, as well as some looks from NHL organizations.
“He could’ve gotten away with not pushing himself defensively and still been a top player in the league. But he wanted to improve himself,” Muse said. “Tanner is a guy that wants to be a top player. I know he doesn’t want to be a good player in college hockey, he wants to be a great one.”
He finished the 2015-16 USHL season with 24 goals and 39 assists between Chicago and the Lincoln Stars, which earned him second-team All-USHL honors. Laczynski played in the World Junior A Challenge for Team USA in 2015, was once again invited to the USHL/NHL prospects game and participated in the 2016 USA National Junior Evaluation Camp.
Laczynski will attempt to live one of his dreams of joining Team USA when training camp begins on Dec. 16 through Dec. 20. Two exhibition games will be played on Dec. 21 and Dec. 23 in Ontario, Canada. The World Junior championships take place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Before he arrived on campus, Laczynski was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round of the NHL draft in his second year of eligibility for the draft. He said he remembers waking up to the roar of his family watching the draft, followed by his mother, sister and brother running upstairs to hug him. Laczynski said that with a set route in place, the development process is more important to him than ever.
“The real work started when I got drafted,” he said. “When I feel like I’m ready and they feel like I’m ready, it’ll be the right fit. But until then, I’m a Buckeye and I have to take care of business here.”
Laczynski has certainly been accepted for his play that’s deserving of praise, but even in the summer before officially joining the program, his cell phone rang and on the other line was Schilkey talking about his excitement for Laczynski to join the program.
Schilkey wanted to be the one to call the incoming freshman because he knew he would likely be playing on the same line as him come October. The two talked for 15 to 20 minutes. After he hung up, Schilkey said he knew Laczynski’s maturity level was above normal for a freshman.
“The things he said about his prior team and that he wanted to win, he wanted to get to the finals — there were times where he didn’t know the whole team was on board,” Schilkey said. “I just knew that he was driven. He wanted to do well. He wanted the whole team to do well.”
As a senior, Schilkey approached coach Rohlik on some occasions to tell him to put Laczynski on his line. The two lead the team in points and are a large reason why the Buckeyes are sitting in the top ten at the halfway break in the season.
Muse said Laczynski’s plus-15 rating is the most telling stat of how far he has come as a player.
“He’s stepped in and right off the bat he’s contributed to this team in positions where we needed him to fill those roles. He’s been the perfect fit,” Schilkey said. “The way he plays and the way he’s fit in, walking right into the lineup and contributing, it doesn’t seem like he’s this freshman phenom. He seems like a guy who belongs here.”