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UConn men’s hockey position preview: Forwards

The Huskies may have one of the deepest forward groups in the entire country.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

If you were to build an All-Star team of UConn men’s hockey’s best forwards since joining Hockey East, it probably wouldn’t be as strong a lineup as the Huskies will put out this season.

UConn is loaded with attacking talent up front after only losing a combined nine goals and 11 assists with the departures of Brian Rigali (graduation, transferred to AIC), Zac Robbins (graduation), Kale Howarth (turned pro), and Eric Linell (transferred to Bentley). To compensate, the Huskies brought in Yale transfer Kevin O’Neil along with two highly-touted freshmen in Chase Bradley and Sasha Teleguine.

On paper, it looks like a very strong, complete unit.

“We were talking about it in the office the other day. I’m not sure we have a fourth line. I don’t know who our fourth line is. I don’t know who our third line is,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “This was just yesterday: Vlad Firstov’s on one line, Jachym Kondelik’s on another line, Hudson Schandor’s on another line and Marc Gatcomb and Carter Turnbull are on another line. I mean, they’re all really good players.”

That doesn’t even include Jonny Evans, who became the program’s first Division I All-American last season, O’Neil, or sophomores like Nick Capone, Artem Shlaine, and Ryan Tverberg. The Huskies have as deep a forward group as any team in the nation.

Jonny Evans — Senior (14g, 15a in 23 games)

Evans is coming off the best season in program history, in which he became the first player in UConn’s Division I history to be named an All-American. His 14 goals and 28 points in the regular season led Hockey East and also made him the first Husky ever to earn First-Team All-Star honors.

While Evans’ offensive numbers get the most attention, Cavanaugh made sure to highlight his defensive contributions as well.

“One of the things that Jonny doesn’t get enough credit for is his defensive play,” he said. “He’s an excellent penalty killer, he’s really smart in our own zone and does a lot of little things that people don’t see in the defensive zone [like] having a stick in great position because those things lead to the transition.”

Marc Gatcomb — Senior (6g, 6a in 23 games)

Few players have come as far in three seasons as Gatcomb, going from one goal in 31 games as a freshman to 12 points in 23 games as a junior. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, his biggest contributions don’t show up on the stat sheet but he’ll still be one of UConn’s most valuable players this season.

Jachym Kondelik — Senior (4g, 18a in 23 games)

With six more assists, Kondelik will pass Max Letunov to claim the program’s Hockey East Era record for career helpers. Though he’s an excellent passer, he can sometimes be too pass-happy and Cavanaugh has long implored the 6-foot-6 center to take more shots.

“Jachym can shoot the puck,” the coach said. “I think the book on him in the league is that he’s gonna look to pass first so I think if he looks to shoot more, he’s going to keep players honest and that’ll actually open up his ability to find the open man at times.”

Kevin O’Neil — Senior (DNP last season)

After the Ivy League canceled all sports last year, O’Neil saw his senior season at Yale wiped out. Since fifth-year players aren’t allowed to play in the Ivy League, he transferred to UConn.

O’Neil is an experienced, reliable player. He won’t end up on SportsCenter’s Top 10 but he’ll make a lot of the right plays to help UConn win games.

Carter Turnbull — Senior (9g, 4a in 23 games)

When he’s on, Turnbull is one of UConn’s top forwards. In the 2019-20 season he tied for the team lead with 12 goals, but had a difficult run last year, recording just one goal and one assist over the final nine games. The hope in the program is that Turnbull can put all that behind him and bounce back in his senior year.

John Wojciechowski — Senior (0g, 0a in 1 game)

Wojciechowski has played just four games in three years during his UConn career, typically when the Huskies have been depleted by injuries. Though he’s never held an outsized role on the ice, Cavanaugh described Wojciechowski as the “heart and soul” of the team.

Vladislav Firstov — Junior (3g, 9a in 13 games)

Firstov missed significant time last season while away at World Juniors with Team Russia early in the year and with an injury later in the campaign. Though his own stats didn’t jump off the page, UConn’s offensive numbers and power play were substantially better with Firstov on the ice. His talent is immense and if he finally puts it all together, Firstov should be one of the best forwards in Hockey East.

Cassidy Bowes — Sophomore (1g, 2a in nine games)

Bowes typifies UConn’s steady ascension in Hockey East. A handful of years ago, he would’ve been a lock on one of the top three lines. Instead, he’s competing for one of the final spots on the lineup sheet because of the abundance of talent on the Huskies’ roster. Bowes looked good in his limited action last season and improved in the face-off circle over the offseason, giving him the versatility to play at center or on the wing. He’s competing with fellow sophomore Gavin Puskar and freshmen Chase Bradley and Sasha Teleguine for a place on the line sheet.

Nick Capone — Sophomore (1g, 4a in 20 games)

The biggest prospect UConn’s ever landed out of Connecticut, Capone had a solid freshman year even though production was limited. As a 6-foot-2, 220-pound power forward, Capone often set the tone with big hits and helped establish the Huskies’ identity as a hard-hitting, physical team. He’ll continue to be counted on for that as a sophomore with the hope that he can improve his offensive output as well.

Gavin Puskar — Sophomore (0g, 0a in 3 games)

As a freshman, Puskar was buried on the depth chart for much of the year. When he did play, he saw time on the power play and certainly didn’t look out of his depth. Puskar has the skill and skating ability to play at the collegiate level but needs to get stronger — both physically and in a hockey sense (i.e winning battles) — after coming straight from the prep ranks. If he can do that, Puskar has the tools to be an impact player.

Hudson Schandor — Sophomore (6g, 8a in 22 games)

The biggest surprise of the 2020-21 season, Schandor finished his freshman year as one of the team’s most important players. He saw action in every situation, excelled in the face-off circle (.506 win percentage), and finished third on the Huskies with 14 points. If he can build on his impressive rookie campaign, Schandor should be one of UConn’s most impactful players this season.

Artem Shlaine — Sophomore (1g, 8a in 23 games)

After coming to UConn as a true freshman out of hockey powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Shlaine consistently played well but struggled to find the back of the net. He spent the part of the summer in Storrs working with strength and conditioning coach Moe Butler to improve physically and is primed to take a big leap as a sophomore.

Ryan Tverberg — Sophomore (4g, 3a in 14 games)

One year ago, Tverberg was a Harvard commitment who wasn’t expected to come to college until the start of the 2021-22 season. Since then, he flipped to UConn, joined the Huskies after the end of the first semester, and now has 14 college games under his belt. Tverberg’s speed and shooting ability made him a handful for defenses and he proved to be a valuable addition to the roster last season. Now, with that experience combined with added strength, Tverberg is UConn’s top breakout candidate for the 2021-22 campaign.

Chase Bradley — Freshman

The most highly-touted player in UConn’s freshman class, Bradley was a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2020. He’s expected to be an immediate impact player as a hard-nosed power forward who Cavanaugh likened to Capone. Bradley is known for his competitiveness — so much so that in high school, he often needed to be separated from his brother during practice because they’d get into scrums with each other. He’ll add an edge to an already-physical UConn squad.

Sasha Teleguine — Freshman

Teleguine, in one way or another, represents each of UConn’s main recruiting areas. He’s a North Attleboro, Massachusetts native, played in the BCHL, and has Russian heritage. Teleguine is a tailor-made Husky.

In terms of hockey, the freshman is a speedster — potentially the fastest player on the roster — who is dangerous with the puck on his stick. From all accounts, Teleguine has played well in the preseason and is well-positioned to earn a spot on the line chart.