By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State freshman Cole Hults has always played hockey close to his hometown in Stoughton, Wisconsin. After three years of playing for the Madison Capitols in the USHL, Hults decided on a change of scenery for his college career, and what place better than Hockey Valley.
"For me, to get away was really good for my development," Hults said. "The facilities here are the best in all of college hockey and they give you every tool to be successful."
Hults posted quite an impressive career in the USHL, a league in which Nittany Lion head coach Guy Gadowksy praised as the "best college preparation league in North America." Hults capped off his most recent season with the Capitols registering a team-high 32 points on six goals and 26 assists, finishing sixth in the USHL for defensemen scoring. Across three seasons, Hults played in 122 games, closing out his campaign with 42 points, scoring six goals to go along with 36 assists.
"A lot of my points came from just moving that puck quick and getting it to the forwards," Hults said. "I know here they like to play fast, and that's what I'm really excited about because that's what I did back in Madison."
For Gadowsky, Hults is just what the Nittany Lions were looking for when it comes to replacing Vince Pedrie, who decided to forgo his last two years of eligibility with Penn State after last season to sign with the New York Rangers.
"To have a puck moving, very intelligent, left-hand shot defenseman is essential," Gadowsky said, "We think he will be the guy who has a chance to replace Vince Pedrie."
With big shoes to fill, Hults has looked to older teammates as mentors and who better than senior defenseman, Erik Autio, who Hults could very likely play alongside this season.
"They call him the horse because he never stops," Hults said. "It's been really influential on me, and I try to take after that now."
In addition to Autio, Hults also looks up to Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, the brother of his coach back in Madison, Garrett Suter.
"My coach Garrett always told me 'you don't want to be noticed out there,' and that's Ryan," Hults said. "You don't know he's there but he's really good at what he does."
Hults also comes into his rookie season having been recently drafted in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings in the fifth round. Even though it was a cool experience, it doesn't mean much, the lefty shooter said.
With aspirations to play at the next level, Hults isn't the only member of his family with eyes set on the NHL. Hults' older brother Mitch, who also played for the Madison Capitols, decided to forgo his last two years of eligibility at Lake Superior State University to sign a two-year entry-level deal with the Anaheim Ducks in late March of 2017."To see how far he's come and how much we pushed each other in the summer, he deserves it for sure," Hults said. "It's good to see things work out for him."