Almost a month after his junior season at Penn State came to a sudden close, Cole Hults’ life changed forever.

The Stoughton native signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings on the morning of Saturday, April 11. He became the eighth Nittany Lion in program history and fourth this season to sign an NHL contract.

Several hours later, Hults and senior Nate Sucese became Penn State’s first-ever CCM/AHCA All-Americans. Both players landed on the Second-Team West and were the only honorees from the Big Ten Conference.

Hults will skip his senior season at Penn State to join the Kings, who drafted him in the fifth round (134th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Fast track to State College

Hults, 21, played youth hockey in Stoughton before spending three seasons with the United States Hockey League’s Madison Capitols.

The 2017 Stoughton High School graduate skated in 122 total games for Madison and recorded 32 points (six goals, 26 assists) in his final season with the team.

One of his older brothers, Mitch, played at Lake Superior State and signed a free-agent contract with the Anaheim Ducks following his junior season in 2017.

“I’ve learned over the years from him,” Cole Hults said. “We train in the offseason together and work hard. He’s been a big part of my development and success, and I’d like to think I had a little to do with his success.”

Growth, accolades come in college

Hults became a starter for the 2018-19 Penn State team that made the NCAA Tournament, earning all-Big Ten honorable mention notice as a sophomore.

The 6-foot-2, 195 pounder started his breakout junior campaign with a hat trick in the season opener against Sacred Heart University, becoming the first defenseman in program history to accomplish the feat.

Hults’ eight goals this season were a career high, a single-season school record among defenseman and first in the Big Ten by a blueliner. He led Big Ten defensemen in assists with 22, which also tied a career-best.

Hults’ 30 points ranked first among Big Ten blueliners and 10th nationally. He led the conference in plus/minus with a +23 rating – tied for sixth nationally and fourth among defenseman.

Consistent play and solid statistics led to Hults being named a finalist for both the Big Ten Player of the Year and NCAA Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Penn State won the Big Ten regular-season title and was scheduled to host Minnesota in the conference tournament opener on March 14, two days after the NCAA canceled all 2020 winter and spring championships due to concern over the coronavirus.

“It was really too bad the season ended early, but it was a great year,” Hults said. “We had a special group of guys. With me being an upperclassman, I stepped into a leadership role and had a good year numbers-wise. I knew it was the right time to take the next step.”

PSU legacy cemented, focus shifted

Hults did not miss a single game in his three years at Penn State. His +48 career rating over 111 games ranks third all-time in program history. He finished as the career record holder for points (78) and assists (61) by a defenseman, while his 17 goals placed him second all-time among blueliners.

Hults is back in Stoughton training for the first step in his professional career.

“I’m focusing on eating well and working on my mind and body,” he said. “My dad has plenty of equipment at home, so I’m working out five times a week.”

Hults could be fast-tracked to a young Kings team in the middle of a rebuild. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, but has just one playoff win over the last five seasons.

“They’ve told me I’ll have every opportunity to make the team,” Hults said. “Ultimately, it’s up to me. They haven’t told me whether I’m going to be in the NHL or the minors.”