Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament Semifinals vs. Ohio State, Folkes (26)

Liam Folkes (26) scores a goal against Ohio State goaltender Tommy Nappier (37) during the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament Semifinals against Ohio State at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Mar. 17, 2019. The No. 17 Nittany Lions defeated the No. 6 Buckeyes, 5-1. 

There are plenty of expectations surrounding this Penn State team.

A high ranking in both the USCHO poll and Big Ten coaches poll probably leaves Penn State pretty optimistic going into the season.

At this time next year, that optimism may not be there.

The Nittany Lions will most likely lose a large portion of their high-end talent following the season.

Here’s who is graduating this year: Liam Folkes, Brandon Biro, Nikita Pavlychev, Nate Sucese, Denis Smirnov, Peyton Jones, Kris Myllari, James Gobetz and Blake Gober.

That’s 44 percent of last year’s scoring.

Those are critical pieces to all facets of Penn State’s game. They're the faces of the program, helping lead Penn State to the success they have had.

And that might not be all that Penn State loses.

There is a real possibility that Evan Barratt, Alex Limoges, Cole Hults and Aarne Talvitie jump ship to professional hockey at season’s end.

Barratt, Hults and Talvitie were drafted by an NHL team before they got to Penn State, so they could easily get a call to join the big team.

Men's Hockey v. Michigan, Peyton Jones (31)

Goalie Peyton Jones (31) watches the puck go wide of the net during a game against Minnesota at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. Penn State won the game 7-2.

Barratt may have had that chance this past summer, but didn’t really consider it.

“I knew I wanted to come back,” Barratt said. “We have a really good group and who wouldn’t want to play with [Limoges and Folkes] again? I don’t know who would want to leave a place like this. It was an easy decision.”

He may get that option again in the summer, and with Folkes definitely leaving, that choice may get more difficult.

That goes for all of the other current juniors. With all of the talent that is graduating, these other players may consider that route.

With all of this turnover, the window for a championship is now, and Penn State knows that.

“We expect to be in the Frozen Four at the end of the year...,” Limoges said. “Hopefully in the end we can all share a ring together.”

If they don’t get it done this year, will they have an opportunity to get back into this position?

The powerhouse programs like St. Cloud State and Denver consistently compete, bringing in top recruiting class after top recruiting class.

Penn State has had a handful of top recruits come in in recent years, with Barratt, Hults, Talvitie and Kevin Wall, but going forward, can it get to a point where it gets enough recruits to compete every single year?

That’s not to say that Penn State won’t compete ever again. They’ll get recruits.

But at this point, it’s looking like next year could be a transition year.

Hockey recruiting is complicated, so who knows who’s going to take the ice at this time next year.

But one thing’s for sure, many of Penn State’s current standouts won’t be.

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