After the success the Ohio State men’s hockey team saw last year, reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, a handful of players from the team received opportunities to skate for NHL teams during the summer.
Five players who are returning from last year’s team — forwards Mason Jobst, Tanner Laczynski, Dakota Joshua and John Wiitala and defender Wyatt Ege — and three players who graduated — forward Nick Schilkey, defender Josh Healey and goalie Matt Tomkins — were invited to development camps for NHL teams across the country.
These camps are meant to give teams a chance to check out prospects whom they already drafted, as well as give other young players a chance to gain experience with NHL coaches and staff.
“It was really fun,” said Wiitala, who skated with the Minnesota Wild. “My family has been season-ticket holders for [the Wild] for a long time so I’ve seen a lot of games there, but it was cool getting to meet players around the rink that I’ve been watching for a really long time.”
This was Wiitala’s first year attending the camp, as it was for Ege, who skated with the Vegas Golden Knights expansion team.
While this was a new experience for Ege and Wiitala, Laczynski and Joshua went to their second and third NHL camps this past summer, respectively.
Joshua was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and Laczynski was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Both players attended their respective teams’ development camps.
“I came in this year with a little bit more confidence, and it was more of a better experience overall, just enjoying my time there and not being so nervous, knowing most of the guys and coaching staff,” Laczynski said.
Making his third appearance to an NHL camp, Joshua said he feels more like a veteran, and the camps give him a taste of what he hopes to achieve.
“Going there as a young kid obviously I knew it was going to be a long time before I had a chance of making it somewhere in the organization, but now that I’m getting older, it’s getting closer and closer,” Joshua said.
Jobst, whose 55 points led the Big Ten a season ago, was the fifth returning player to attend a camp. He attended camps for both the Boston Bruins and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was pretty surreal to put the jersey on for the first time and just get to meet all of the coaches and the coaching staff, and seeing the Stanley Cup was an unbelievable feeling, and everyone was so great there,” Jobst said.
The Buckeyes have an exhibition game at home against Ryerson on Sept. 30, and then start the regular season on the road at Wisconsin on Oct. 6. Despite losing key contributors like Schilkey and goalie Christian Frey, the hockey team has continued to maintain lofty positions for this upcoming season.
“I think that every player has their individual goals, but I think what’s really important is the team goals, getting back to the tournament, and not just making it there, making a dent, and making a little run,” Witala said.
To make this run, new players will need to step up — the Buckeyes graduated two of their three leading scorers this offseason — but each player said there are things he learned in development camps, like the importance of nutrition and skating stride, that he can bring back to Columbus.
“The biggest thing is the work ethic,” Joshua said. “The ones that you see make it are working really hard, learning how to try and match that and bring that every day I think is a big thing for me to bring back here.”