Niklas Folin, 17, Defenseman, 6-5, 176, Gothenburg, Sweden: Year two in a Lancers sweater should be much smoother for Folin as his transition from European to North American hockey continues. “He has taken a huge step from last year,” head coach Brian Kaufman said. “From day one he’s been very good. North American is a very in your face, aggressive style, and European more contained. Niklas has put on 10 pounds of muscle, and that strength has helped his game tremendously.”
Steven Johnson, 5, Defenseman, 6-0, 185, Excelsior, Minn.: A veteran of junior hockey, Johnson played in Aberdeen of the North American League last season and will be counted on early in the season to carry minutes while some of the younger defenders get adjusted. “He has come in and been very good and very mobile,” Kaufman said. “He has a great offensive and defensive stick and defends well, but also will be good on the power play.”
Connor Light, 2, Defenseman, 6-5, 200, Sudbury, Mass.: Light is a Union College recruit who is adapting quickly for his first season in the USHL. “He’s big and physical, a shutdown defenseman who shoots the puck very well,” Kaufman said. “He will just need to get used to the pace of the game. As that happens, we expect him to become a very good defenseman in this league.”
Tucker Poolman, 6, Defenseman, 6-3, 195, East Grand Forks, Minn.: The North Dakota commit who was drafted by Winnipeg last summer was named the Lancers captain earlier this week. Kaufman said Poolman is expected to be one of the best defensemen in the league. Last season he scored 28 points — 14 goals and 14 assists. “He’s an all-around great defenseman, good puck mover and very mobile,” Kaufman said.
Jimmy Schuldt, 22, Defenseman, 6-0, 200, Minnetonka, Minn.: Schuldt played six games with the Lancers last season as a call-up from the affiliates list after his high school season. Schuldt is a St. Cloud State recruit whose older brother plays for Sioux Falls and whose younger brother was chosen by the Stampede in the futures draft. “He’s a solid shutdown defenseman with some offensive upside,” Kaufman said. “He’s very strong and physical but moves very well.”
Brendan Smith, 16, Defenseman, 6-0, 200, Centennial, Colo.: Smith is the Lancers’ youngest defenseman and was added to the roster through the waiver process this summer. Kaufman said he expects Smith to improve as the season progresses. “Brendan is smart, puts himself in good spots and continues to work on his size, strength and speed,” Kaufman said.
Nash Worden, 3, Defenseman, 6-0, 200, Elsinore, Utah: Worden is a physical player who will see time both as a defenseman and forward. He was a spark in the locker room last season and is expected to do the same this year. “Nash is a very physical, energy guy,” Kaufman said. “He’s pretty mobile for a big and physical kid.”
Matt Nelson, 28, Defenseman, 6-0, 200, Edina, Minn.: Nelson was added to the Lancers’ roster Thursday from the Green Bay Gamblers for an undisclosed pick in the 2014 USHL draft. Nelson was a key element of Edina’s run to the 2013 Minnesota state high school tournament championship. “Matt is a solid two-way defenseman that we think will help our club this year,” Kaufman said.
Anthony Angello, 18, Forward, 6-5, 195, Manlius, N.Y.: The Cornell recruit is a big and physical power forward, another guy whom Kaufman says is “willing to do what it takes to get a job done.” Also known as an extremely hard worker, Kaufman said the staff expects Angello “to get better every day and become a pretty good player by the end of the year.”
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, 26, Forward, 6-1, 185, Balsta, Sweden: The native of Sweden has been showing signs during preseason camp that he will be making a quicker adjustment than most from the European finesse to North American physicality. “He has an elite skill set and skates very well,” Kaufman said. “Jakob is a well-rounded forward. As he continues to gain experience, he will become an elite player in this league.”
Luca Frigo, 52, Forward, 6-0, 187, Luserna San Giovanni, Italy: The most veteran of leaders, the 20-year-old Italian is a Minnesota State-Mankato recruit who has that European transition year in his rear-view mirror and is ready to be more offensive-minded. “He is great on the penalty kill, is a presence on the ice and is well respected by the guys,” Kaufman said. “He does every small thing right on the ice.”
Patrick Gazzillo, 24, Forward, 5-10, 180, Crown Point, Ind.: Gazzillo will begin the season on the injured reserve list with an upper body ailment. Kaufman said Gazzillo will be a fan favorite with his tough, 1970s and ’80s throwback style. “He is physical and willing to put his body on the line in order to get the job done,” Kaufman said.
Jake Henderson, 10, Forward, 6-2, 190, St. Louis: Henderson is the youngest player on the team, born in 1997. But he’s not intimidated by older players. Kaufman said Henderson is expected to be a very good player as the season progresses. “He’s physical and engaging on the ice. He’s aggressive and a very big kid for his age.”
Gage Hough, 12, Forward, 6-0, 210, Omaha: The Omaha native is one of three assistant captains and will continue to be an ambassador for the franchise and city in his third year in the league. Even better, Hough is a solid contributor in every area of the game. “He’s a good all-around forward, can play on the penalty kill, power play, 5-on-5,” Kaufman said. “He’s the type of kid who will do whatever you ask of him.”
Tyler Hynes, 25, Forward, 5-10, 190, Slingerlands, N.Y.: The Union College recruit is another solid leader with a terrific work ethic who joins Hough and Jake Randolph as an assistant captain. “We look for him to be a physical presence on the ice and chip in offensively,” Kaufman said. “Tyler will be a great energy guy for us, finishing checks, blocking shots and doing other small things right.”
Drew Melanson, 27, Forward, 5-11, 170, Paramus, N.J.: Already committed to play at RPI, Melanson is a second-year player who is expected to make good strides from last year, when he had 13 goals and 16 assists in 61 games. “Drew is extremely skilled, is a great skater and is expected to produce offensively as well right off the bat,” Kaufman said.
Austin Pooley, 61, Forward, 6-1, 180, Dublin, Ohio: Another young player ready to raise his contribution level steadily throughout the season, Pooley has a couple of areas where Kaufman says he is special. “He’s great on face-offs and is smart because he goes to good spots offensively and defensively,” Kaufman said. “He’s reliable, is a good center man and has a very good work ethic.
Jake Randolph, 13, Forward, 5-9, 180, Duluth, Minn.: The UNO recruit is Omaha’s leading returning scorer — 44 points with 13 goals and 31 assists in 64 games — who is very offensive minded and a smart hockey player (only 12 minutes in penalties in 2012-13). “Jake will be counted on early to produce offensively, both scoring and creating chances for others,” Kaufman said.
Alex Rauter, 9, Forward, 6-1, 185, Morristown, N.J.: Kaufman paid Rauter a compliment that fans and players love to hear — “Alex is a natural goal scorer.” That is expected to be the Cornell recruit’s primary role this season. Pretty good for a guy who was a goalie until he was 14. “He has learned over the last year to compete harder and has developed a better work ethic,” Kaufman said. “Switching to forward, he has a natural understanding of how to beat goaltenders.”
Louie Rowe, 11, Forward, 6-6, 212, East Lansing, Mich.: Known as “The Sheriff” because he wants to police the game, Kaufman said Rowe is “Big and tough and nasty and mean. He isn’t afraid to mix it up but also can certainly play the game of hockey.” The 19-year-old played last season for the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League and is intense as a leader with a good work ethic.
Ryan Tait, 21, Forward, 5-10, 180, Santa Clarita, Calif.: Tait scored three goals and dished out 15 assists for the Lancers last season. Back for his second season, the Providence recruit is still the third-youngest player on the roster. “We expect him to make a big jump from last year to this year,” Kaufman said. “He needs to continue to mature but is one of the best skating guys in the league. He’s very dynamic.”
Tyler Vesel, 23, Forward, 5-11, 170, Rochester, Minn.: Omaha’s other UNO recruit, Kaufman said Vesel will be counted on to provide offensive punch right away. Vesel comes to the Lancers from Shattuck (Minn.) St. Mary’s. “Even though this is his first year, Tyler is an older, smart player with a great skill set,” Kaufman said.
Brian Williams, 19, Forward, 5-10, 170, San Diego: Williams has one year of junior hockey experience and will grow and expand his skill set throughout the season. “He is another solid two-way forward who can produce offensively but also is reliable defensively,” Kaufman said. “He also has a great shot.”
Cole Bruns, 35, Goalie, 5-11, 185, Prairie Grove, Ill.: Bruns was impressive in every start and chance he had last year as the back-up goaltender to Alex Lyon, who begins his collegiate career next month at Yale. “He learned a lot from one of the best goalies in the league last year,” Kaufman said. “He’s very well respected in the locker room. He’s a leader and has a great work ethic.”
Hayden Hawkey, 1, Goalie, 6-2, 175, Parker, Colo.: Kaufman said one of the most surprising developments in preseason camp was how quickly Hawkey has caught on to the pace of play in the USHL. “He has been very good for us so far,” Kaufman said. In a preseason game against Des Moines, Kaufman said the Lancers’ defense was getting shelled, but Hawkey made three or four back-door saves to keep Omaha in the game.
Brian Kaufman, Head coach and general manager: At 29, Kaufman is the youngest head coach and general manager in the 16-team United States Hockey League. He became the 11th coach of the Lancers on May 31 after spending the 2012-13 season as an assistant to Lancers coach Mike Aikens, for whom he played three years of junior hockey. The previous year Kaufman was a graduate assistant at Miami (Ohio), where he was a captain for the RedHawks his junior and senior seasons. That senior campaign, 2008-09, Kaufman led the RedHawks to the NCAA championship game.