Previously tackled: the forwards.
Senior Chris Summers. Summers was the captain and played 40 games, but finished with just 16 points (four goals and eight assists) and could only manage a +5. Though he'll be missed—first round draft picks who see out their eligibility at Michigan are rare indeed—his level of impact wasn't such that some combination of touted incoming freshmen and development from returning players can't pick up the slack. I'm not sure you'd be able to tell who the first-round pick was on Michigan's defense last year if you didn't know already.
That said, Michigan's most veteran defensemen are now Tristin Llewellyn and Chad Langlais. Neither are exactly defensive stalwarts. Well, Llewellyn is except when he's really not being a defensive stalwart. As we'll see below there is some uncertainty about who gets put on the ice when the opponent's danger lines are out.
Senior Steve Kampfer. Statistically, Kampfer was the best defenseman on the team. He led Michigan defensemen in +/- (+18) and points (3-23-26) last year. Those are rudimentary stats for defenders, but I didn't get the same feeling that he should somehow play better as I did with Summers. Kampfer also loosed "THAT IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT" in the aftermath of ending Michigan State's season. That is what I am talking about.
Jon Merrill, USNTDP. Merrill's stock has dropped a little bit since his commitment at 15, but nowhere near as much as Moffatt's. Merrill's slid to a mid-to-late first rounder, but… hey… that's still pretty good. As a bonus, his game is highly cerebral and he should be able to step onto the second, or even first, pairing without much of a transition period:
"He's very intelligent on both sides of the puck, makes good decisions, and defensively is good about keeping himself in good position," USNTDP U-18 coach Kurt Kleinendorst said. "There are a lot of things to appreciate about his game, including his size (6-foot-3 1/4, 198 pounds) and his dedication in the weight room."
And I still remember the incredible back-and-forth cycling that drove Minnesota to national titles when Hobey winner Jordan Leopold was around, so I love this comparison:
"He plays the game a lot like Jordan Leopold," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who specializes in U.S. prospects. "He plays weaving and diving, sneaking and thinking, gaining the zone and moving the puck ahead and right on the tape to a guy. He's skilled and he's really come a long way in his development."
After Merrill was one of the best players on the USA U18 team that destroyed all comers except Sweden, who they still beat for the gold medal, he moved up from a fringe first-rounder to what sounds like will be a solid selection in the 10-15 range. The praise was rapturous:
Jon Merrill, LD -- USA Under 18
Regarded as one of the best defenseman prospects coming out of the US this year, Merrill looks to have leapfrogged his competition and could be debated as being one of the top three best defensive prospects in the entire draft. Merrill was simply dominant in Belarus and his ability to play in all situations, including running the power play, certainly makes him all the more valuable. Merrill is explosive, gets the puck on net and creates lanes all over the ice. He is effective and reliable defensively and proves to be very difficult to win space against. Scouts are salivating at the chance to add Merrill to their rosters, as he is already a dominant player but still has a lot of room for improvement. This kid is for real.
Merrill should step right into the lineup and could be the team's top blueliner by midseason. He's the most highly-touted D to enter the program since JMFJ.
Mac Bennett, USHL. Bennett, who was drafted in the third round by the Canadiens in '09, is the rare Michigan recruit who comes to Michigan a full year after the NHL got a crack at him. The last player to do it was Kevin Quick, who lasted a few months before he stole Carl Hagelin's credit card and shuffled off to the CHL. Before that he was pretty good.
Anyway. Bennett's rep is a slick puck-moving offensive defenseman. Here's a scouting report from James Stachowiak, the Official Cedar Rapids Contact of MGoBlog:
Bennett has been in the top defensive pairing for the RoughRiders all season and his play earned him a spot on the USHL All Star team. Bennett is typically paired up against the top scoring line for the opposing team, often logging the most minutes of any defenseman, and he still led Rider defensemen and finished 8th in the USHL with a +17 plus minus rating. He is a very good defensive defenseman with good ice awareness and vision on the offensive end. Numerous times this year he has hit a forward in stride with a blue line to blue line pass that lead to a breakaway.
For much of the second half of the season he has been captaining what has been referred to as the 1A powerplay unit and his presence on that unit gave it a real spark. On the powerplay, he has been good at taking advantage of opportunities to crash the net from the backside and score. Although he can lay the big hit, he also plays incredibly smart defense. He has only taken 34 penalty minutes on the season. He will be physical when called upon, but is not an enforcer.
He doesn't have the hardest shot either. In an impromptu hardest shot contest at practice where each player got three shots clocked on a radar gun, he hot 86, 88, and 84 MPH, five other Riders were able to crack 90 MPH.
Bennett does a good job of keeping everything in front of him and to the outside, has enough speed to get back into the play on the rare occasion when he turns it over, and has the makings of a very solid defenseman for Michigan.
Solid defense would be a major step forward for Bennett, who entered his NHL draft year with a reputation as a gunslinger. Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief:
Woodlief said that he does not like Bennett’s “lack of discipline in the defensive end. He’s more like a forward playing defense.’’
Bennett is a strong skater –– he has “jets,’’ Woodlief said. “He’s able to create odd-man rushes with his wheels,’’ he said, and “he can handle the puck at high speed.’’
Meanwhile, USHR praised his college upside even before his USHL year:
5’11”. 170 lb. Hotchkiss defenseman and Michigan recruit Mac Bennett is a smooth skater who reads plays smartly, and excels in the transition game. He’s going to be an excellent college player. Smallish for a pro defenseman, but rates highly in every other are, so he will be drafted.
He should be as ready to step into the lineup as Merrill. Slight downer: Bennett makes no bones about his desire to jump to the NHL as soon as its feasible. Two years is your over/under on his tenure at Michigan.
Kevin Clare, USNTDP. Clare's stock dropped significantly over the past year. He went from 132nd in the CSB midterm rankings to entirely omitted; by the end of the year he was the only NTDP defenseman not to make the U18 World Championships team. He's mostly been skating with the U17s. None of these are good indicators.
Though the ISS's January mention of him as a "falling" prospect concerns itself with the sexual harassment incident he was involved in (it got Jacob Fallon booted from the NTDP), they also mention his falling offensive productivity. Why that would be a big deal isn't clear, though. Clare's rep is a purely defensive defenseman.
On the other hand, Clare ended up 31st on College Hockey 24-7's top 50 list, ahead of Moffatt and Fallon, and the CSB plunge is probably excessive given that people were talking Clare up as a potential late first-round pick a year ago and one of the guys who pays close attention to the NTDP was still suggesting he'd be off the board in the third as late as January. There's also some increasingly old fluff from the New York Daily News and USA Hockey.
We'll get a much better read on Clare's stock and prospects for playing time this fall by the NHL draft. Third round = serious contender. Not drafted = redshirt.
With just two defensemen outgoing and three incoming, Michigan will have a roster crunch. I'm not sure if Lee Moffie is going to get a regular shift next year and I think Michigan might actually redshirt Clare. Michigan hasn't redshirted a guy since Riley Olson way back in the day.
Three potential pairings, none of which seem that much better or worse than any other:
The idea of Llewellyn still gives me hives but he did play really well at the Joe and in the NCAA tournament and will be entering his senior year. He brings a physical element—and the penalties that go with it—that no one else except maybe Pateryn does. Paired with Merrill, he might get away with some of his unwise decisions—and if Hagelin's out there his backchecking could neutralize those. I'd still be more comfortable with Llewellyn out there against grinders and whatnot; we'll see how it plays out. Given his inconsistency he could be anywhere from the (very nominally) top pairing to the press box.
Merrill is a version of JMFJ minus the deranged genius. Michigan will lean on him heavily.
This pairing actually existed most of last year and seemed to work out fine, though Burlon did not make the impact expected given his excellent freshman year and status as a second-round pick. He still finished with a 3-11-14 and +12. He played ever game, blocked more shots than anyone except Kampfer, and took fewer penalties per game than any Michigan defender. It wasn't a lost season by any means; it was just something short of the pure breakout that Burlon hinted at in '08-'09.
Langlais is Langlais at this point: small, dynamic with the puck, clever passer, fairly responsible. I suggested he could move to forward since he's the best puckhandler on the team, but Derek Deblois coming in early would seem to put the kibosh on that idea. Hopefully he'll be less penalty-prone as a senior.
Pateryn is pretty boring when he's not sweeping down from the point to score a game-winning goal. Since his JMFJ-like pillaging of Northern Michigan remains the only goal of his Michigan career, that's most of the time. He racked up 1-5-6 in 33 games last year, finishing +8. That boredom has its uses, though. Pateryn had just 18 penalty minutes, which is a third of Llewellyn's total. Both played 33 games.
I'd like to see Pateryn tried out on against some top lines here and there: all of his scratches took place in the first half of last year, and from there he was a more-reliable version of Llewellyn. He's got tremendous size and seems to be on an upward track. If his skating isn't a problem he could move up to be the sensible guy next to Merrill.
As for Bennett, see above. He's a version of Langlais with enough size to draw NHL notice. His post-draft year of junior is unusual for a Michigan player; as a result he should come in ready to play. Hopefully that will be enough to knock Winnett off the power play.
The leftovers. I can't believe I can't find a spot for a kid who had 4-8-12 in just 29 games as a freshman but Bennett is definitely going to play and Merrill is definitely going to play and Llewellyn appears to have finally earned the coaches' trust. Injury, Llewellyn's inevitable game or three where he does something unfortunate and gets pulled, and maybe some of the same from others will see Moffie draw into maybe half of the games. It could be more if he shores up the defensive issues that got him benched despite his scoring tear.
As for Clare, we'll see how much his stock has actually dropped at the draft. I'd think someone gets redshirted this year just because Michigan can do it. If Clare does not have serious NHL prospects any more it will probably be him. If he does you're not going to get five years out of him anyway so you might see Moffie put in mothballs. It seems a waste of eligibility to have one of them play five games or whatever. I bet Michigan did not expect to hold on to Burlon this long.
As for Clare: Michigan has the luxury of redshirting him. Will they actually use it?
Was Tristin Llewellyn Re-Education Camp Happy Time as effective as it appeared? I don't think so. We've seen three years of Llewellyn's play and he was making some pretty mind-boggling decisions as late as the Munn Takeover—remember the boarding call when Michigan was already killing a penalty?—so his last four games only push the needle slightly towards reliability. It was just about pegged on the wrong end of that scale; he will be frustrating as per usual. At least Michigan has a lot of options should his processor short out this year.
How quickly can the freshmen be really good? Very. Merrill just got done pwning the world and has spent the last one and a half years going up against college kids—he got dragged up to the U18s late in his U17 season. Sometimes defensemen get picked high because of what they will be someday; Merrill appears to be something already. He's not going to spin around kids in the neutral zone and get away with it but he's not going to totally abandon decorum, either.
Bennett, meanwhile, is going to be 19 when he hits campus and has just spent a year being heavily relied upon by a USHL team. He might need a little while to get his defense up to a collegiate standard; an instant impact is still likely on the power play and against third lines.
Can someone already on the team improve radically? Three candidates:
- Burlon, who is one of those guys you're just waiting to go "click" and turn into a machine.
- Pateryn, who has an NHL-type frame at a long-armed 6'3" and 210 pounds and developed into a reliable guy in his own zone during his sophomore year.
- Moffie, who just needs to learn how to play defense.
All of these guys are not going to take major leaps forward; one might. I've got my money on Pateryn, a guy who quietly erased anyone who attempted to rush him last year.
Worries? There's no one you can look at and think "this is Miami's top line, let's put X and Y out." Merrill might be one of those guys; Pateryn could be the other. If it's not it might be Llewellyn, which will lead to Bad Things from time to time. Wither Jay Vancik?
Hockey bits. Whatever doubt there was about Summers returning this weekend is just about evaporated. Berenson is "over 80 percent confident" he will be back:
"I thought he looked pretty good again [on Wednesday]," Berenson said. "He's such a free skater, and that's an advantage he has. And he's a senior. He's fit. He's worked hard in this whole rehab. If he gets through the next few days, he'll play."
As mentioned in the preview, I assume this means Lee Moffie gets sent to the press box. Hogan is still out.
I updated the preview with some extra television information, but if you missed it Saturday's game is now on Comcast so everyone should get it. Channels:
- Comcast: 900
- Dish: 432 and 436.
- DirecTV: 640 and 668.
The game is also on ESPN360 and will be on ESPNU on tape delay. Hypothetical Sunday game would be on ESPNU.
Rothstein has a piece on Fort Wayne's preparations for the NCAA tourney—he used to work at the paper there—and asks whether neutral sites really work for the NCAA hockey tournament. In my opinion, not really. It's goofy to have the most important games of the season played in sterile, largely empty buildings, and moving to home ice for top seeds would help make the tourney less of a random number generator. Playoffs should strive for a balance between unpredictability and a satisfactory champion. The NBA has too little unpredictability, MLB too much. College basketball is just right. Single-elimination hockey is on the MLB side of the scale.
Comley says MSU was the last team out of the NCAA tournament and if Michigan had not beaten Miami, then MSU would have replaced the Wolverines in the 16-team field. He is not for expanding the current 16-team format, although I am in favor of expanding it to 24 because a couple of teams with automatic bids, like Alabama Huntsville, are in the field with a losing record.
As Western College hockey points out, 24 teams would be 40% of college hockey. It would be all but one TUC. The tourney is more likely to contract back to twelve than expand further. Hockey is already over the 25% mark, the maximum amount of tournament participation advised by the NCAA. Also, Comley's wrong. Ferris State is the first team out of the tourney.
BONUS: Junior defenseman Jeff Petry is a holy lock to sign with Edmonton. I'm hoping Tropp heads out the door, too, so that karma delivering a fatality to him is the last thing that happens to him in college hockey, but it sounds like he's leaning towards a return.
So how's that working out for you, being ornery? Ever since the Free Press Jihad started there has been a wing of Michigan's internet fandom dedicated to the proposition that Michigan should pursue a scorched-earth policy with the paper. They imagine David Brandon revoking press passes and locking anyone from the paper with temerity to show up on campus in stocks on the Diag.
A popular sentiment amongst these folks in the aftermath of Urban Meyer going all no-you-di'in't…
…at the reporter who quoted Deonte Thompson saying he was glad to have a "real quarterback" was "that's how you handle the media."
This, of course, releases the hounds. (There's plenty more if you want it.) Two of those are from Bruce Feldman and Tony Barnhardt, adults capable of stringing together paragraphs. But the latter is from Mike Bianchi and is closer to certain local folks' speed. Prepare for the one-sentencing:
First Urban Meyer quits.
Then he comes back.
Then he takes a leave of absence.
Then he doesn’t take a leave of absence.
Now, incredibly, he is threatening reporters because one of his players was quoted … correctly?
Can you say Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?
Good grief, that Florida coaching job really is a pressure-cooker, isn’t it?
Urban Meyer has to care zero percent because he has a two-deep at crystal football, but it's an illustration of the cliche about not getting in arguments with people who buy ink by the barrel. It doesn't matter that according to people on the same beat think Urban was basically right about this guy…
other Florida beat reporters contend Thompson's quote was merely a poor, vastly overblown choice of words by a 21-year-old who will never be mistaken for Barack Obama as a public speaker, and I can tell you some of them think Fowler has had it coming for a long time.
…any time a reporter takes a shot from a coach, rightly or wrongly, it's time to close ranks and howl at the moon. Meyer didn't even raise his voice here; his "threat of violence" was phrased as a hypothetical from the start. And this reporter basically deserves his chewing out. But get pissed off at a guy and you'll never hear the end of it, no matter how righteous your wrath is.
So… yeah, Michigan's doing the right thing by sucking it up and smiling nice for the cameras. Sadly.
How's that working out for you, being a hypocritical weasel? Win at all costs is apparently a totally awesome strategy for John Calipari:
REFUSE TO LOSE. It sounds like such a simple, inspirational phrase for a team -- and it can be. But it also describes the man. He's a scrapper, and will weigh all of his options besides losing.
Calipari has done the most remarkable coaching job of this season, and nobody is close. Think about it: He convinced John Wall, Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins to come to Memphis, inserted clauses into their letters of intent so they could go somewhere else if Calipari left, convinced Memphis to keep its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA quiet for three months, took the Kentucky job before anybody knew about that notice, then convinced Wall and Cousins to join him in Lexington. That is refusing to lose.
Can you guess who wrote that? It's freakin' Mike Rosenberg, the guy who's spent the last two years ripping Rodriguez for recruiting one kid who got in trouble, slightly exceeding allotted NCAA practice time, and a bunch of other inconsequential or totally imaginary crap. I'm too busy slamming my head into the desk to analyze this, so I beg you to head over to Braves and Birds for righteous indignation.
Etc.: I really wanted the Tebow Wonderlic prayer thing to be true because I thought it was hilarious. Football players pray all the time. They pray before games. They pray during games. They pray when they score touchdowns. They pray when someone's injured. They pray all the time. So Tebow wandering in and saying "HAI GUYS LET'S PRAY" so often that football players were getting exasperated at him was an awesome mental lollercoaster yesterday. So of course it is 0% true.
Kenpom's doing very well through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, but don't tell my bracket that. [shakes fist at Kansas] [feels douchey for bringing up his bracket]. Wisconsin fans want to demand more out of Bo Ryan. This is because they are insane.
YEAH WE ARE VIRILE BY PROXY WOO
Stuck in. You know, Nick Sheridan's taken a lot of stick—some of it from this blog—for being the guy who was holding the hot potato when the quarterback carousel stopped and that's one hell of a mixed metaphor but there you go. And he's been discarded as a viable starting option this year by everyone—including this blog. Despite this, he keeps on working:
"Because I wasn't heavily recruited, because I wasn't given a scholarship out of high school, they assume I just stumbled into this opportunity," Sheridan said, his voice rising as he defended his position on the team. "People said that all the time, 'You just want to be a coach, right? So football isn't that important to you.'
"Being the quarterback here is the most important thing to me. Going through an experience here with the Michigan program will serve me well in the future, when I want to be a coach. It's not an ulterior motive for me to want to be on the team."
That's from an excellent Chengelis article on Sheridan that paints him as CJ Lee in pads.
(But, no, I still don't see him as a viable starting option.)
Yeah, nevermind that. Remember a few weeks ago when Leonardo Dicaprio sported a Michigan hat whilst courtside at a Lakers game? Did it mean anything? Is Dicaprio a Michigan fan? Does he even know he's wearing a Michigan hat?
No, no, and no, given the West Virginia hat he's sporting now and the… er… discontent between the two fanbases. Further evidence of Dicaprio's indifference: before the Michigan/West Virginia swing he was rocking an FAU Owls hat, which… really?
Also: yes, that's the lunkhead brother from My Name Is Earl.
It could be big. Manny Harris came away from the That Guy Dunks On LeBron Academy hauling a sack of effusive praise behind him. One evaluation:
One of the most athletic players in attendance, Manny Harris showed a lightning quick first step and terrific leaping ability. While Harris’ narrow frame and poor wingspan aren’t going to help him out much on the defensive side of the ball, he did show the ability to make tough shots, which he seems to settle for quite often. An extremely talented scorer regardless, Harris is likely to emerge as one of the top players in the Big 10 this year, even if his NBA potential is still a matter of debate.
-DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris both look really good this week. No doubt Michigan fans would like to see them look really good a little more consistently. Having seen their squad on both side of 20-point spreads against my Nittany Lions last year, I can vouch for the inconsistency.
If Zach Gibson can take the Graham Brown/Chris Young memorial Gumpy White Post Senior Leap and Darius Morris can provide a secondary threat to create and score, Michigan will be in business next year. Challenge for the Big Ten title business? Maybe if they're lucky and healthy.
Coyotes of the distant, distant future. Phoenix loves them some Michigan players, having drafted Chad Kolarik, Kevin Porter, Chris Summers, and incoming freshman Chris Brown and traded for goalie Al Montoya. They also love leaving their kids in school, which you go 'Yotes. They recently had a prospects camp attended by both Summers and Brown. The Coyotes' GM on Summers:
Maloney said he thinks at least six of the defensemen at the camp will reach the NHL some day, including Chris Summers, who will return to the University of Michigan for his senior season in the fall.
“He may be the best skating defenseman in college hockey and he plays with an edge,” Maloney said. “He’ll be with us at the end of this year for sure. He’s a guy that we’ll be excited to add.”
"With us"? As in "with us in Phoenix?" Eh… probably not unless the Coyotes are eliminated from playoff contention and just playing out the string. Nevertheless, commendation for his talent.
Maloney on Brown—the article is a profile so there's considerably more at the link:
“Chris comes to us as advertised,” Maloney said last week. “You know you watch him and when you first see him he looks a little rough skill-wise, but then you see him play and he’s very strong with the stick and has a heavy shot. What impresses me is he just goes to the net. He’s run over the goalies four or five times here and I think that’s just Chris. He charges the net and we really don’t have anybody like him in our prospect system, you know, a guy that just charges the net hard and then might stay around and have a conversation about it if anybody wants to talk about it… he’s still young and he’s evolving, but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen of Chris at this camp.”
Brown sounds like a fan favorite in the making, and a guy that opponents love to hate. Think Ryznar or Nystrom, but hopefully with a little more offensive pop.
Michigan Hockey Summers. (ZING!) Excellent Daily article discusses Chris Summers, named captain of next year's hockey team already, sort of buries the lead in the very last paragraph. Chris Summers sounds like a Berenson-bot in this reassuring quote:
“I think (Berenson) says it best: you’re preparing for a life after hockey,” Summers said Sunday. “There’s more to the world than just skating on the ice every day. It’s a game. It should be enjoyed. And I think that’s what a lot of players miss out on, that it should be fun.
“It’s unfortunate that it turns into a business once you get to the professional rankings, but that’s the way it is.”
That very much sounds like a guy who wants to stay. Some insider scuttlebutt confirms that but also says Summers is getting pressure from the Coyotes and is not a 100 percent lock. "80-20" was the number; I expect Summers to return.
The only time I'll ever say this. I wish this goofy Free Press error was a Drew Sharp column…
…because then its one sentence glory would be the best Sharp column ever. It's close to but not quite the best possible Sharp column. That's also one sentence, but the sentence is "I've been fired, put in a box, and shipped to Slovenia, where I will live out my days a simple goatherd."
Ways to feel old. Michigan has launched Twitter accounts for a dozen sports and plans to fill them with breaking news and stuff, which means they officially get the microblogging service better than I do. Here's the football feed.
Stop, please. Don Banks is running down NFL draft sleepers and Carson Butler features:
Only 21, the Wolverines junior opted for the draft in part because his role in Michigan's offense disappeared when head coach Rich Rodriguez brought the spread offense to Ann Arbor.
The spread offense might be 10% of the reason for Carson Butler's departure, with 90% being Carson Butler. At least Banks doesn't cite Butler's mad blocking skills, he just notes his tantalizing combination of size and speed. Too bad you can't put someone else's head on it.
(Also, the picture is of Charles Stewart, who shared #5 with Butler last year. I blame Getty, which occasionally mislabels things.)
Etc.: Michigan lands at #18 in Rivals' pre-pre-preseason basketball poll; don't know how you can even put a list together before the NBA draft deadline. Varsity Blue breaks down their basketball UFR numbers.