MUSKEGON – One glance at the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ 2022-23 training camp roster provides some pretty exciting news:

The Jacks are very likely to score a ton of goals this season, which begins in a month.

Three names jump off the page right away – forwards Owen Mehlenbacher, Jake Richard and Luke Buss.

Two of those names are very familiar to Lumberjacks fans.

Mehlenbacher is a third-year Lumberjack who could have started his NCAA career this season at the University of Wisconsin, but decided to come back to Muskegon for one more year of preparation. He had 17 goals and 25 assists last year and is expected to become a major offensive force this season.

Forward Owen Mehlenbacher in action last season.

Mehlenbacher got a lot of attention over the summer when he was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the seventh round of the NHL draft.

“I anticipate him being one of the best players in the league,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton, whose team will hit the ice for the first full workout of training camp on Thursday. “He looks great, very strong. His job over the next five years is to get ready to sign a deal with the Red Wings, and I think he’s going to dominate this season.”

Richard was a wildly talented but rather green rookie last year who caught fire over the last half of the season. After playing sparingly over the first few months and not scoring at all, he erupted for 18 goals and 30 assists down the stretch.

He could easily double that goal-scoring total this season.

“He really took off in the second half of the year and we’re thrilled that he’s back,” Hamilton said. “He decided he wanted another year to work on his skating and be the man. We’re expecting huge things out of him.”

Lumberjacks forward Jake Richard

Then there’s Buss, who scored 16 goals last season with the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey league, which is similar in stature to the USHL.

Nobody expected Buss to jump to the USHL this year, but the Lumberjacks decided to take a stab in the dark and use a draft pick to obtain his rights. It turned out to be a good move, because the talented forward from Columbus, Ohio will be in Muskegon this season.

“We took him with our last pick in the draft just to see if we could talk him into it,” Hamilton said. “If he had said he was coming to this league he would have been a first-round pick.”

The Lumberjacks have 11 regulars back from last season’s team, which put on an exciting show.

After getting off to a terrible start in late September and October, the Jacks became one of the better teams in the league, finishing in third place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference with a 33-23-6 regular season record.

Muskegon’s Tyler Dunbar gets ready to shoot from the point in a game last season.

Muskegon caught fire in the playoffs, beating Cedar Rapids in the first round and Dubuque in the second before falling to Madison 3 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference finals.

There were a lot of veteran players on that team who have moved on to college hockey, and in the past that would have led to a rebuilding year for the Lumberjacks.

That’s because the team, under previous management, used to trade off a lot of its talented younger players for veterans at the trade deadline to bulk up for the playoffs. The next season those veterans would be gone, and the Lumberjacks’ talent level would be thin.

But the Jacks did not go in that direction last year. They didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline, so all of their most promising youngsters are back to play lead roles this season.

“We want to be competitive year after year,” Hamilton said. “That’s the way we operate now.”

Because of that new keep-your-kids philosophy, the Lumberjacks also return several other forwards with tons of potential from last year’s team, including Tyler Hotson (7 goals, 20 assists last season), Ethan Whitcomb (8 goals, 8 assists), David Hymovitch (6 goals, 13 assists), Nicholas Peluso (3 goals, 6 assists) and Bennett Barnes.

Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton

All are talented guys who saw limited playing time last season, and all are ready to play bigger roles, according to Hamilton.

Another forward to watch will be 16-year-old rookie Sacha Boisvert, who exploded last year for 51 goals and 43 assists at Mount St. Charles Academy in Rhode Island. He was one of the Lumberjacks “tender” selections, which means they gave up a first-round draft pick to get him.

“We should be able to score some goals,” Hamilton said about his deep group of forwards. “We have lots of offensive talent, guys who have proven they can put the puck in the back of the net.”

The defense will also be packed with skilled returnees, including Tyler Dunbar, Nathan McBrayer, Gavin McCarthy and Jeremiah Slavin.

Hamilton is excited about all of them, particularly Dunbar, who had four goals and 21 assists last season.

“This is his year to own the blue line and dominate back there,” the coach said. “If he’s not the best defenseman in the league this season, we have some work to do as a staff.”

The goaltending situation will be more of a mystery, which has been kind of a tradition for the Lumberjacks in recent years.

Three goalies will be around at the start of camp to compete for roster spots – Brendan Holahan, Conor Callaghan and Noah Rupprecht.

“That will be really wide open,” Hamilton said about the goalie competition. “Callaghan and Holahan are two of our draft picks. We lost one goalie to college last week, so we just added Noah Rupprecht, who comes very highly-touted.”