When Andrew Sturtz watches Evan Barratt play hockey, he sees a rather familiar style in Penn State’s freshman forward.
“Reminds me of myself a little bit,” the junior forward said earlier this week.
Penn State put together a scintillating 2016-17 season, capturing a Big Ten tournament title and advancing to the NCAA regional finals. Despite a number of losses from the roster, the dreams remain big — evidenced by a preseason No. 10 national ranking — because of the talent shown in this year’s freshman class, led by Barratt who started on the ice Sunday during the 4-3 overtime exhibition loss to the Canadian college program Ottawa.
He is the first Nittany Lion to have been a part of the U.S. National Team Developmental Program and to have skated with the national under-17 and -18 teams. In the World Junior Championships earlier this year, he had a goal and five assists in seven games to help Team USA win a gold medal.
His talent also caught the eye of the NHL: The Chicago Blackhawks picked him in the third round of the draft in June, 90th overall.
“With Evan, our expectations are he’s going to really raise hockey IQ, the quick-processing, of our team,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “Team speed in hockey isn’t necessarily how quickly your feet move, or how quickly you move the puck. It’s how quickly you make decisions to do both. His processing is as quick as I’ve seen.”
Because his life the last few years essentially revolved around hockey, training and travel, Barratt has had to deal with the changes that college brings: all the free time he didn’t have before.
“I’m loving it a lot so far,” said the native of Bristol, in Bucks County northeast of Philadelphia. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself some days.”
Barratt was thrown right into the fire Sunday. He was on the No. 1 line to begin the game at left wing with Chase Berger at center and Sturtz on the right wing.
Barratt almost got into the highlights early. Standing next to the goalpost a rebound danced to his skates, but the freshman could not settle the puck and tap it into the net, instead sliding his rushed shot across the crease.
Gadowsky opened with that combination because that trio also was part of a power-play unit and wanted them to work together as much as possible. The coach also likes Barratt’s versatility, his ability to play as both a center and wing, and isn’t sure which will be the best fit in college.
“The biggest thing is that him, like a lot of freshmen ... is to get that (first) game over with,” Gadowsky said Sunday. “As he gets more comfortable you’re going to see a lot more plays out of him.”
Barratt is eager to get started on the scoring for last season’s top Division I team in both goals and shots — a big draw when choosing a school.
“That’s how Penn State played last year and how they always play,” said Barratt, who tallied 56 points in 63 games with the national program last season. “As a forward, you want to score goals. You love it. It’s a no-brainer. With everything they’ve done here in the past six, seven years it’s hard to say no.”
He gets those points with a style that is a lot like Sturtz, who has 40 goals in two seasons. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Barratt is a bulldog, undeterred by any opponents in his way. “He’s a guy who likes to get the puck below the goal line and just wear guys down,” Sturtz said. “He’s a really hard-nosed player and he plays with his heart on his sleeve.”
The style was a draw for the Blackhawks in drafting him — one of four current or future Lions taken, which is the most in one year for the young program.
Penn State is no longer taking the college hockey world by surprise. Now, the Nittany Lions are expecting to compete with the Big Ten and nation’s best teams. They may not be underdogs much anymore, but getting to that point means talented players like Barratt start to show up on campus.
“I know what they’ve got going here is awesome so far,” Barratt said, “and building off what they did last year and going into this year the expectations are definitely higher.”