MICHIGAN DROPS THE PUCK on Sunday in an exhibition against Waterloo to kick off their 2013-2014 hockey campaign; things get real serious real fast after that as BC comes in for the season opener proper on Thursday the 10th. While I can't go into as much detail as I do with football, a conveniently-timed bye week provides a window in which to properly preview hockey, something I'm not sure I've ever done.
say hello to your next two-year captain, Andrew Copp
The following is a fanciful line chart that will be wrong from day one in many respects, and even more wrong when Red runs his line through a blender four times. But you've got to try:
|LEFT WING||YR||CENTER||YR||RIGHT WING||YR|
|Alex Guptill||Jr.||Andrew Copp||So.||Boo Nieves||So.|
|Phil Di Giuseppe||Jr.||JT Compher||Fr.||Derek DeBlois||Sr.|
|Tyler Motte||Fr.||Travis Lynch||Jr.||Luke Moffatt||Sr.|
|Evan Allen||Fr.||Justin Selman||So.||Zach Hyman||Jr.|
ALSO: Andrew Sinelli (Jr), Alex Kile (Fr), Max Shuart (Fr)
I call him mini-Copp
CENTER. The theory here is that a year after Michigan struggled with leadership everywhere they will prioritize guys who give maximum effort on every shift and build the team around a core of hard-ass centers. Andrew Copp is obvious. Copp was handed the reins of the top line halfway through the season and almost singlehandedly turned the attitude of the team around. Copp worked his ass off, inspired Alex Guptill to great heights, and finished the year with something of a scoring flourish. He's still developing after a career as a high school quarterback made hockey a part-time pastime, and his freshman year was good enough to draw the attention of the NHL after being passed over a year ago. If Michigan can make good on the promise of their late season run this year and for the next few, Copp will go down like Ortmeyer or Hagelin.
Meanwhile, every scouting report on incoming freshman JT Compher goes out of its way to praise Compher's compete level and two-way play:
Compher's NTDP coach Don Granato summed it up pretty well in Compher's hometown newspaper: ""Anything intangible, as far as an attribute, that I’ve mentioned, he’s a 10."
The phrase "two-way forward" is often the polite cliche for a player with not a lot of offensive talent, but in Compher's case, it's not used in a derogatory fashion. Compher is one of the rare skilled players that exhibits the same effort and enthusiasm without the puck that he does with the puck. He's a tenacious, sometimes nasty, defender that makes life difficult for opponents. His compete level all over the ice is among the best in the draft.
Despite not having awesome size or speed, Compher led the NTDP in PPG last year. He is ready for a lot of responsibility, probably right now. Billy Powers isn't even being coy about it:
J.T. is a guy who really has a lot of tools. He’s being talked about a lot as a defensive, third-line forward type but there’s some offensive potential there as well, and we think that will flourish in college. We see him as a power play, penalty kill player right from the start, and he’ll manage a line as a center in our top six.
If you thought one Copp was rather nice, two Copps will be like heaven after suffering through last year.
[After THE JUMP: actual rather a lot of depth.]
3/23/2012 – Michigan 2, Cornell 3 (OT) – 24-13-3, 15-9-4 CCHA, season over
Shawn Hunwick first stepped on the ice for a 18-16-1 Michigan team that had seen its at-large NCAA hopes evaporate during a dismal road sweep at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha.
No one wanted him out there, but at least it didn't much matter. This year's team was in danger of missing the tournament in November and recovered to finish second in the Pairwise. Two years ago they had missed it, period, until they lost their starting goalie and inserted a guy who came to Michigan with no illusions he'd play.
That was the catalyst for a change in Michigan's fortunes. Involuntarily pulling Bryan Hogan was another outlet for the dread everyone was feeling at the near-certainty that Michigan would break its tourney streak. Those in the stands reacted by assuming that every shot at or in the general vicinity of the net would either go straight in (in the case of shots that needed no assistance) or be deflected into the dead center of a wide open goal (in the case of shots that were not already on net).
The team felt the same way. They responded by swarming into the slot in a great mass to sweep away the fat, glistening rebounds Hunwick seemed to give up on every shot, no matter how harmless. Their certainty that Hunwick would be overrun led to a 4-0 shutout.
The next night they'd finish the regular season by giving up five goals in an untelevised road loss. Did they relax? I don't know.
Michigan entered the playoffs the next weekend and went on a rampage. They continued to patrol their own slot with feverish intensity, and this translated into the "jump" hockey coaches and commentators are always using to define that ineffable quality a hockey team has when its passes are going tape to tape and the opponents keep finding inconveniently located defenders.
The jump lasted three games. They swept Lake State out of Yost, then bombed Michigan State 5-1 at Munn. The second night they leapt out to a two-goal lead and then bled it back. The first goal was just one of those things. Tristin Llewellyn took an insane elbowing penalty to put Michigan down two men and MSU passed it around until they got a slam dunk.
The second and third goals were the end of the ride. They were both power play goals—Llewellyn would watch State score from the box three times in three minutes—but they were pillowy soft ones. This was the moment at which it all came screeching to a halt and Hunwick was revealed as the walk-on he was. Michigan went to the locker room down 3-2 after one, certain that anything they let on net was going in. The jump had left Michigan's step.
Michigan State got one shot in the second period. It did not go in. That period was twenty minutes of battering a door until it hung by the barest sliver of a hinge. Three minutes into the the third, it gave way.
State managed 22 shots for the game but no more would get past Hunwick; Michigan tilted the ice decisively in the second, tied it, and finished the job in the third. The next weekend at the Joe, Michigan allowed 22 shots to Miami and 18 to Northern Michigan as they secured a streak-extending bid with the most rousing CCHA playoff run they'd had since the days when Michigan was looking up at the Lake States of the world.
They played like banshees. They died like Vikings. They did so because they didn't know what the hell was going to happen when someone threw a puck at the net.
Two years later, Shawn Hunwick is possibly the best Michigan goalie of all time and it's overtime because Michigan had a goal disallowed because Michigan always has a goal disallowed.
Michigan wins a faceoff and gets a shot off that is saved and caroms to Cornell. Cornell turns the play back against a third line of Luke Moffatt, Derek Deblois, and Travis Lynch. Moffatt is there to provide a third man back against the rush.
The defenders can't handle the rush that well and end up giving up a scary shot from a Cornell forward cutting left to right in front of the net. Hunwick's way out of the blue ice, because he's always way out of the blue ice because he's 5'6". He gets his right pad on the shot. He's 5'6". He has limited options when it comes to leg angles that kick pucks places. His choice here is between letting the thing into the net and kicking his leg as straight as he can so that there's no angle for the thing to go in. He's got a save percentage above .930. He's a Hobey Baker finalist. He kicks it out into the slot, like he did against Notre Dame, over and over again.
Moffatt's there, but in a bad position. His check is crappy, he doesn't tie the guy's stick up sufficiently, the guy puts it in the net, and Hunwick is over. All that's left for him to do is take the puck that was in the slot and is now in the net and hand it to Cornell. Deblois and Lynch are cruising into the defensive zone still. They don't look much like banshees, and they're not there in the slot. They're sophomores—juniors now—and don't remember what it was like when Shawn Hunwick was a 5'6" walk-on and not a Hobey Baker finalist.
The Horrible Horrible Power Play
For the third straight year Michigan's season ends 3-2 in overtime thanks in part to a disallowed goal. The rage factor on this one is lower than the other two because it came with 58 minutes to play, was not disallowed because the ref blew his whistle, and there's not enough rage to go around this year thanks to the power play.
Michigan's terrible awful power play entered the NCAA tournament 46th nationally and leaves it 48th, where they'll stay since everyone else around them is done for the year. Michigan spent half the
third second period up a man, almost three minutes of that time up two, and achieved a –1 goal differential in that time. That was the game right there. Michigan finished 0/7 on the power play, gave up a power play goal on one of Cornell's three opportunities, and conceded a shorthanded goal for the first time all year.
It's clear there's something wrong with the power play that can't be explained away by pointing to a lack of talent. Michigan hasn't had a power play you could actually call good in four years despite consistently putting up a lot of offense:
|YEAR||PP RK||Goals per G||Goal RK|
You can say '09-'10 is slightly above average, but that's all. Meanwhile Michigan continues to finish around the top ten in scoring despite not getting much production out of their power play. If their ability with a man advantage roughly corresponded with their 5x5 scoring this year* Michigan would have put up 13 extra power play goals and leapt into the top five in scoring.
It's hard to take the argument that Michigan just doesn't have the talent seriously when outfits like Bemidji State, Western Michigan, Northern Michigan, and Ferris State all finish 20+ spots ahead. Zero of those teams have NHL draft picks littering the roster, let alone a set of offensive defensemen like Merrill, Moffie, and Bennett.
This is a coaching issue. Watching Michigan cluelessly bat it back and forth from one covered guy to the other one on the five-on-three should make that clear. No one moves, no one has a plan, and the most common thing to do is fling a point shot into a defender's pads. Red is the king of all he perceives but this is a major problem that doesn't look like it's going away.
*[The #10 power play, North Dakota, converted at a 22% rate compared to Michigan's 14.6.]
The disallowed goal. I don't think Moffatt's impact changed the outcome of that play. The goalie was already sliding away from the puck and had no idea where it was. That said, Moffatt did impact the goalie in the crease, and it didn't look like his defender had anything to do with it. I don't think it's an outrageous injustice. It's very frustrating, of course, but if the ref screwed that up he more than made up for it with the avalanche of Cornell penalties Michigan could do nothing with.
The penalty shot was a terrible call, but at that point I think I preferred it to the alternative since Michigan was down, had a power play, and was playing a team without a ton of offensive skill.
Merrill: WTF? Also Moffie. The biggest reason Michigan lost other than its power play was the Merrill-Moffie pairing. Moffie initiated the sequence that led to the shorthanded goal with a suicide pass to Merrill; Merrill screwed it up at the line and the two-on-one started. Then Merrill took a swipe at the Cornell saucer pass with his stick instead of getting his body into the passing lane, leading to a slam dunk.
On the winner it was Merrill and Moffie who combined to let that rush turn into a dangerous shot; Merrill got too far outside and again out of the passing lane. Moffie also added a stupid crosschecking penalty seconds into Cornell's dubious major; it was Merrill who ended up giving up the (admittedly ludicrous) penalty shot.
Merrill has not played well over the last month. He was responsible for goals against Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, and Cornell and hasn't been as superb with the puck as he usually is. I'm not sure what's going on there but he doesn't seem focused.
CCHA: not so much. The conference got almost half its membership into the tournament this year but saw four of its five teams flame out in the first round. Ferris State got past injury-riddled Denver and Cornell to make its first Frozen Four, and congrats to them.
Everyone else went out in game one. Takeaways from this:
- A conference where no one can score that was won by a team without an NHL draft pick on it is not that good at hockey.
- Non-conference games are hugely important because they are so sparse and provide the basis of comparisons between conferences.
That latter issue should evaporate after next year. Western college hockey will reform itself into three conferences from two and Michigan will have 14 nonconference games instead of six. Hopefully those aren't all home series against Bentley during football season.
A glance at next year. It's hard to predict without knowing the results of the NHL draft and whether Michigan will suffer early departures. A hypothetical no-defection defense corps looks pretty good:
That's light on sandpaper but should have no problems moving the puck. The only problem is that Michigan could lose the first three guys listed above. Bennett came in saying outright that he would not be a four-year player, Trouba is good enough to be signed immediately by an NHL club, and who knows what Merrill's attitude will be towards a hypothetical junior season after the rollercoaster he went through. Losing one guy is survivable. Two is worrying.
Michigan really needs a big leap forward from Serville. He's a lot younger than Chiasson, has a decent NHL draft pedigree, and seemed to be moving forward late in the year. If he can develop into a solid second-pairing type it'll be okay.
At forward, Red will put them through the blender but one man's rough guess:
- Moffatt-T. Lynch-PDG
- Random assortment including Rohrkemper, Sparks, Other Lynch, and freshmen Daniel Mile and Justin Selman
It's possible Nieves comes in and forces himself onto the top two lines but I'm guessing Red will go with a defense-oriented player over the freshman. Defections here are also possible, of course: Guptill, PDG, and Brown are all potential departures. People keep talking about PDG leaving but I'd be surprised if an NHL team is eager to sign him just now. His 26 points are good for a freshman but not Pacioretty good. The kind of guys who have left after one year have driven play more than PDG did.
The biggest change will be in net, where NTDP goalie Jared Rutledge replaces Hunwick with Junior A vagabond Steve Racine backing him up. Rutledge's Pointstreak page is a little scary—a drop in games and performance from year to year—but the embarrassingly primitive spreadsheet the NTDP uses to track its stats shows that over the course of the year Rutledge has a .902 versus teammate (and Ohio State commit) Collin Olson's .893. NTDP save percentages can be pretty ugly since a big chunk of their games are against college teams, so that's fine. Rutledge is a small, aggressive, technically-sound goalie who sounds a lot like Hunwick.
BONUS SPREADSHEETIN': Michigan's 3 NTDP U17 commits are #1, #4, and #5 in scoring on their team. JT Compher is the guy at #1 and has played 7-8 fewer games than the rest of the team. He's the only guy with a PPG. Tyler Motte is neck and neck with Miami commit Anthony Louis and UNH commit Tyler Kelleher for #2; Evan Allen is a half-dozen points back of that group. With those three guys and Bryson Cianfrone, a Canadian Junior A player who was projected as a first round OHL draft pick before committing to Michigan, Michigan looks like they'll have a dynamite 2013 class. Pending defections, of course, Always pending defections.
Sometimes you start typing up a UV bit and then you hit 600 words and break it out into a post you had not intended to write.
So: hockey. It's been playing. They spent the first couple weeks wandering about looking pretty bad, then annihilated St. Lawrence to be an incredibly underserving #1. One Hunwick game misconduct later they came back from Northern with just two points in their CCHA opener and that ranking was gone.
Ferris rolled into town last night with a 6-0 record and sweep of Miami to their credit; Michigan came away with a validating 5-2 win. I have a habit of watching Ferris early in the year, thinking they're really good, and then watching them go .500, but I mean it this time: I think this is a really good Ferris team. This time I'm on steadier ground what with their record.
I'm still getting a handle on the team since it is hugely different than last year's outfit, but I think it's going to be more fun to watch than last year's edition. That's not to say it will be better—they won the league and got to overtime in the national title game—but they've already scored more pretty goals than they did all of last year.
That's thanks in part to Lindsay Sparks going from oft-scratched to the team's leading scorer. I won't question Red Berenson in case he decides to look at me with disappointment, thereby turning me into dust, but… I don't get it, man. The last couple years it seemed clear he was more of a threat than several second-liners, let alone the Rohrkempers of the world. This year he's looking like an all-conference player. He's already got 11 points, many of them featuring top-level skill.
Freshman takes in order of eeee:
- Phil DiGuiseppe. As I tweeted yesterday, guy can play. Slick passer, good jump, good size, good hands. Sometimes you pull these guys out of Junior A (not B, as I erroneously tweeted) and it turns out they can't make the transition. No such problems for DiGuiseppe, and he just turned 18. Star potential.
- Zach Hyman. Hyman hasn't leapt off the page as much as DiGuiseppe but he'll get there. He's good good balance and hands and he's been an effective part of the Sparks line.
- Mike Chiasson. Steady, conservative defensive defenseman. Will be a four year player; should quietly hold down a second pairing for most of his career.
- Brennan Serville. Has not been as noticeable but seems to have a regular spot. Don't know much about his game yet.
- Travis Lynch. Slotted into a spot with Wohlberg and Glendening and has 3-3-6 already. Had a sweet deflection last night on a Bennett point shot. Not sure if he can keep this up but he's been on a tear since about two seconds after he committed.
- Alex Guptill. Getting a generic-big-guy vibe from him. He'll slouch around the third line most of his career before suddenly getting really good as a senior, like Rohlfs or Lebler.
Szuma and Sinelli got in one game; they get incompletes. They are the new generation of healthy scratches.
Random other items:
- Greg Pateryn is a long-limbed rock. Tough to get enough space to get a good chance when he's on the ice. He will screw up too often to be truly great but if they come through this period without Merrill okay it will be because he held down the fort against top lines.
- Kevin Clare is unbelievably slow. I think he's the guy who sees his playing time decline when Merrill gets back.
- Derek Deblois looks like he's taken a step forward this year. Ditto Brown.
- I guess I can't complain when David Wohlberg is above a PPG but I don't like having him on the same line as Lynch (freshman edition) and Glendening. I'd like to see what a Sparks-DiGuiseppe-Wohlberg line could accomplish, and let the Lynches and Glendening anchor a checking line.
- The official scorer at Yost is padding opponent shot totals like a mother. Anything that gently rolls to a stop two feet in front of the goal is counted. I'm of a mind to look at Hunwick's home/away splits last year to see if there's a big difference in save percentage.
Michigan's streak of picking up an NTDP goalie has hit a third straight year with the commitment of 2012 G Jared Rutledge. Hurray. You're worried.
You're right to be, but Michigan's streak of having that goalie blanch at the prospect of competing with Shawn Hunwick and bolt to the OHL should end at two since Hunwick will be gone after this year. Rutledge, like Trouba, waited a long time to figure out what he was going to do so he wouldn't end up breaking his word:
"I told Red I didn't want to be their hat trick," Rutledge said with a smile. "I told them all along that when I made my decision, I was going to be 100% sure I was coming there. I couldn't be happier and I'm really excited."
Tell us what we've won, me.
Rutledge is a smallish goalie reputed to have excellent anticipation, rebound control, and positioning:
Rutledge is technically and positionally very sound, is excellent at controlling rebounds, handles the puck well, competes hard, has a good glove, doesn’t get phased on the rare occasion he does let in a bad goal, and is extremely good at anticipating the play. Though he isn’t overly big, he challenges exceptionally well, and makes life miserable for shooters. If you don’t beat him on the first shot, chances are you won’t get another opportunity.
Sounds like a less-tiny Hunwick who isn't constantly kicking pucks out into the slot. (No offense intended to Tiny Jesus.) He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 OHL draft by Saginaw and is kicking around draft lists as a "B"—mid-round—prospect. His stats are pretty solid—he's averaged between .910 and .920 save percentage splitting time between the U17 and U18 teams, generally outperforming his competition in the same situation.
Hockey recruiting class: complete? Michigan might add a walk-on piece here and there, but this looks like it's about it for next year (question marks denote kids Heisenberg has listed as 2012 or 2013:
- Forwards: Boo Nieves, Daniel Milne, Justin Selman, Max Shuart(?)
- Defensemen: Jacob Trouba, Connor Carrick, Spencer Hyman(?)
- Goalie: Rutledge
If Merrill makes it through his current suspension I'm guessing he will be around next year as well. It seems like someone who was going to leave after this year anyway would book it given the severity of the punishment. If so they may or may not add Hyman. Right now they're scheduled to bring back everyone save Pateryn and I'm not seeing a ton of departure threats. Maybe Bennett. Hyman would be the seventh defenseman at best in that situation because Michigan would be insanely loaded on D: Merrill, Bennett, Trouba, Moffie, Carrick, Chiasson, Serville, and Clare plus Szuma and possibly Hyman. If Merrill and Bennett both take off then there'd obviously be room.
I wish there was a little more depth in the forward corps—I haven't seen any buzz about Milne and Selman being draftable—but a quality goalie plus two first-round types is a big haul to go with what's looking like a promising freshman class.
The scoreboard is hypothetically awesome but they're still trying to figure out how to use it. Goal replays are erratic; highlight packages sometimes don't appear at all in intermissions, and penalties never get replays. If they're willing to put the Wohlberg goal up last night as it was being reviewed I don't think that's a controversy thing. I get that there's only one camera but at least some of the penalties are on the puck.
As for Yost… man, it has been off. I think moving the seniors close to the band was a mistake. When they were in the middle of the ice the chants had a smaller maximum distance; now the two sections furthest away from the band are mostly empty and totally lame. Are ticket prices too high? Michigan ran that Groupon special and packed the empty endzone seats; once that stopped we were again treated to nearly-empty sections in both endzones. I sit amongst the old fuddies now and they're not around either.
Another possibility: odd starting times have thrown people off after decades of Friday, Saturday, 7:30, see you in two weeks.
Whatever the explanation, I'm not feeling the same sort of excitement in the building that there was even a couple years ago. We're seeing the same sort of apathy infect the student section at football games. I think it's time to start taking attendance and offering people nice perks for showing up on time, like better seats next year. The AD's solitary focus on money is making the product worse.
It's a hockey kind of day today. Prompted by paywalled info at The Wolverine, I pinged my contact with the Cedar Rapids USHL team and he confirmed that Derek Deblois will enroll at Michigan this fall. Deblois was "not included in the discussion" of the Roughriders' upcoming USHL draft protected list because he's on his way to Ann Arbor.
As to what kind of player Deblois is, here's that scouting report referenced earlier:
Derek Deblois F 5’10” 177
Deblois projects as an offensive player and point producer. He has quick hands and is able to handle the puck in traffic. Deblois is equally adept at giving and receiving passes on his backhand. He is also very calm with the puck and will make the quick pass if needed or he can hold the puck and wait for the play to develop. Deblois has all shot types in his arsenal. I can’t say that he has a hard shot but he is able to get it on net with a good release. Deblois really impressed with his toughness and willingness to pay the price in front of the net. He has a knack for getting open but when a defenseman played the body, Deblois battled for position and got his stick free for deflections. Deblois was very disciplined and never rattled on those occasions. He continued to go about his business with a workman-like resolve.
Deblois weaknesses are that he lacked speed and explosiveness. He showed a willingness to backcheck but couldn’t get back quickly enough after some of the battles in front. His puck skills in traffic are a nice attribute but his inability to separate himself from defenders might inhibit him at the next level. Also, as much as he showed a willingness to take punishment in front, he was knocked off balance enough to notice that he could improve his lower body strength. Deblois will have to gain some muscle at Michigan but I’m not sure if that will improve his balance and quickness or slow him down.
Older scouting reports consistently cite soft hands but conflict with the above when it comes to his willingness to play in traffic; sounds like he may have added a dimension to his game over the past year. Deblois had an 11-23-34 line in 55 games with Cedar Rapids; he was +17 and had three goals in five playoff games.
Sounds like a guy who will start his career in the bottom six and move his way up in a year or two; power play time could be immediate. For more on Deblois, check out Yost Built's commit post, this site's version of the same, or the extensive take from James Stachowiak from the Always Next Year post from last week. His team's site also has a four-minute interview with the kid.
Sophomore Robbie Czarnik, sort of. Czarnik signed with Plymouth approximately a third of the way through the season. In the twelve games he played he had a 3-3-6 and was +1. Michigan was actually just 5-7 with him; they were 21-11-1 without him.
Senior Brian Lebler. Lebler (playing daddy right) was the latest in Michigan's parade of seniors who improved radically in their final year at Michigan, racking up 14-10-24 in 42 games while providing the proverbial physical presence. He combined with freshmen AJ Treais and Chris Brown during the second half of the year on an effective third line.
Senior Anthony Ciraulo. Walk-on Ciraulo skated in seven games, picking up one assist.
Various Flight Risks. Now begins Michigan's annual watch for NHL departures silly or justified. First, allow me to pick up a clover as I pound every bit of furniture in the vicinity. Ah, there. Now: Michigan shouldn't lose anyone this offseason. Kevin Lynch, David Wohlberg, and Ben Winnett haven't played at a level that would see an NHL team jump on them. Chris Brown is a Coyotes draft pick; the 'Yotes have let their last three Michigan prospects play four years. They're also owned by the league and cheap. If they can let Brown develop free of charge, they will.
Then there are the three juniors. Carl Hagelin is an academic All-American from Sweden. He's likely to want his degree. Matt Rust and Louie Caporusso. Louie Caporusso was a third round pick of the Senators and may be a guy an NHL team would look to sign after his blazing finish, but Mike Spath of the Wolverine was asserting that Caporusso was likely to stay even before the Senators swooped in on UNH free agent Bobby Butler, another smallish offensive forward and one the Senators have put directly on their NHL roster. This makes it more unlikely Ottawa will press hard for Caporusso to sign and reduces their ability to sell a potential NHL opening.
All three flight risk juniors have unambiguously stated they will be back, so… yeah. Michigan Hockey Summer happened midseason this year.
Moffatt's rise and fall has been documented on this blog in a series of increasingly puzzled steps as he plummeted from the #2 overall pick in the WHL draft and a certain NHL first-round pick to 95th in the latest CSB rankings. What happened? You've got me. Some hints can be found on this USHL scouting blog:
Behind Zucker, Moffatt was the most visible offensive threat among the 2010 eligibles. Moffatt had the knack of being in the right spots and had several opportunities to create offense. However, once he had the puck, he did not always make the right play. He forced a few bad angle shots from the boards that were easily turned aside and transitioned by Ohio State. On those occasions, Moffatt had more time to survey the play and wait for support. Moffatt is a kid who will benefit from the coaching at Michigan and should play out his eligibility.
Insert Dean Lombardi joke here.
There's not much to say in Moffatt's favor, unfortunately. He's been healthy. He's been heavily scouted. He had a couple of okay years with the NTDP, but did not play anything like the star he was supposed to be. At the latest U18 World Championships, Moffatt finished with one goal and one assist on a USA team that won the title and scored buckets of goals along the way. No one even mentioned him as a disappointment.
All that said, we're talking about a fall from uber-hype to moderate hype. Moffatt is not Tristin Llewellyn, who committed to Michigan incredibly early as a potential first-rounder and didn't even get drafted. He'll go somewhere in the second to fourth rounds of the draft; Michigan's had plenty of stars who have fared worse. Carl Hagelin, for one, was a sixth-rounder. Moffatt will come in battle-tested and should have a shot at earning a spot on a scoring line.
Jacob Fallon, Indiana Ice/USNTDP.
Fallon's also been falling, but for reasons other than his talent level after getting booted from the NTDP midseason for the ever-popular undisclosed violation of team rules. He'd been serving a suspension that almost got him kicked off the team before that—rumored to be a drinking incident, FWIW—and had only six games to his name before he moved to the USHL's Indiana Ice. In 24 games since the move, Fallon has a 1-8-9 line and is minus six. He's done nothing on the ice this year; off the ice he's raised a bunch of questions.
So… yeah, it's a little weird that Fallon was invited to the NHL combine (Moffatt wasn't), was 50th in the Central Scouting midterm ratings (he fell a bit in the final edition, but not much) and is picking up positive scouting reports as recently as April 1st:
First off, Fallon is quick. He can burn defensemen outside, and if he has a teammate with him, the chances are, they're going to score. Fallon has great hands with which he can make crisp, tape-to-tape passes that set up his teammates with great chances to score. His speed, mixed with his ability to make great passes, draws comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane. So, he is definitely highly regarded in the NHL community. Fallon doesn't have the best shot, which can bring his value down, and his below average size, 5'10"/180, also brings his draft value down a bit also. But you really can't argue with his raw ability, it's just that he has developing to do as he gets older and plays in college. He will be a great player someday, he just needs to develop his great potential and he'll be in the NHL someday.
Here's a February report from a different source:
Fallon seems to play and look bigger than 5’10 180. He’s a powerful skater with good balance and he uses his edges well. He is also very strong on the puck whether he is handling it in traffic or if he needs to make a hard pass or dump-in. Fallon played well without the puck and was a very responsible player in all 3 zones as well as a physical presence. At times, he seemed tentative in getting to open ice in the neutral zone….possibly a result of becoming acclimated to his new team. When he had the puck, Fallon possessed another gear and was able to take the puck hard into the zone while protecting it. Fallon certainly looks like a hockey player and stands out with strong techniques in all facets of his game and a player who does the little things well. Whether or not his offensive skills develop will dictate Fallon’s role as a second liner or third liner in college and beyond.
On the other hand, Fallon falls to 37th on College Hockey 247's top 50 list—not bad, but a big dip from being the 50th best skater in North America to the 36th best* headed to college—and WCH trashed Fallon's midterm CSB ranking, declaring he'd be lucky to get drafted at all.
Fallon did have a productive year with the U17s in 2008-09, scoring 15-23-38 in 55 games. He'll probably kick around the second and third lines as a freshman.
*(One goalie, Cornell-bound Andy Iles, is ranked ahead of Fallon.)
Hypothetical 2011 Accelerant. Michigan has three forwards committed for the class of 2011: Lucas Lessio, Derek Deblois, and Alex Guptill. With Czarnik's departure there is a potential opening for one of those guys to end up in the class of 2010. Given the depth chart it's not a necessity; it is a possibility. If it's anyone it will likely be Guptill. There's no buzz around Deblois leaving early. Cedar Rapids play-by-play guy James Stachowiak provides an inside look:
There has not been any talk around here lately about his plans for next year. The way that he has been used it seems as though he is being groomed as a team leader for Cedar Rapids next year. He and Mac Bennett are the only first year guys that the RoughRiders coach has included on his "leadership group".
He has also spent the majority of the season playing on the Riders top line. This line happens to have the teams two leading scoring forwards and many of Derek's points have come either feeding them or cleaning up rebound goals. Derek has not been used much on the powerplay during the second half of the season but has become a very valuable asset on the penalty kill. He has very good speed as most RoughRider forwards do and plays very smart on the kill.
As I said, there has not been much talk about plans for next year with the team getting ready for the playoffs, one thing that may or may not sway a decision is that DeBlois and Bennett are very good friends and have been for a long time, in fact, i believe they have always been on the same team growing up and now in Cedar Rapids, if there's a chance to do that at Michigan next year, it might be enough to convince Derek to move on, however, that is just speculation. I think that he would benefit from another season in the USHL where he is a top scoring option.
Lessio is a 2011 draftee and seems content at St. Mike's. Guptill, on the other hand, is a guy who will get drafted this year, has good size guy, and is currently toiling in Canadian Junior A. If anyone comes early, it will be him.
The left wing here is a guess. The top line is Hagelin, Rust, random assortment of wingers who will change at Red's whim and possibly stop rotating wildly the second half of the season. If Luke Moffatt had torn up the USHL like his hype suggested he would, I would have guessed he goes here by sheer dint of talent. If it turns out he's Brett Hull with crappy linemates he'll probably end up on Hagelin's wing, cackling.
That does not seem in the cards. The tentative guess here is that Chris Brown improves enough from year one to year two to displace Kevin Lynch from his spot on the top line. Brown didn't actually score much more than Lynch at even strength (six and five goals, respectively) but Brown brings a physical element that should help Rust and Hagelin's dangerous cycling and provide either or both targets for goalmouth passes.
Just like the first line, you can pencil in Caporusso and Wohlberg as inviolable components of the second line and pick a name out of a hat when it comes to the third guy. My tentative guess is that whatever faults exist in Moffatt's game he's still likely to be a decently high pick in this year's NHL draft and that talent will translate quickly enough for him to find a place here.
Or something? The bottom six forwards are up in the air. With the addition of Fallon there will be at least one extra body next year, which will push the 49 total games from Ciraulo, Sparks, and Rohrkemper into the press box. The six players left are:
- AJ Treais, a tiny skilled center who needs more strength and speed to become an impact player.
- Fallon, who was discussed above.
- Kevin Lynch, who spent a large chunk of last year as the other guy on the Hagelin-Rust line and was a second-round pick.
- Luke Glendening, who was the other guy on the Wohlberg-Caporusso line and wore an A as a sophomore.
- Ben Winnett, a senior who was the point guy on the PP last year.
Only Scooter is a lock to be a fourth-liner. He established himself a reliable forechecker and penalty killer but with a 2-4-6 in 35 games and a 4.5% shooting percentage he is unlikely to work his way onto a scoring line. The other guys could end up anywhere from the top line to the fourth. As you can see above, I'm guessing the offensive talent of Fallon and Treais will outweigh the seniority of the fourth line.
Winnett was the fourth-liner who Red had the most faith in. Until Glendening took his spot, he moonlighted on the second and third lines; he also spent most of the year driving me crazy on the point on the power play. Hopefully Michigan manages to find someone else at that spot. Winnett still brings a modicum of skill and size the other guys hovering around the end of the roster don't.
Glendening spent most of last year on the second line after Czarnik left and Winnett failed to make a leap forward; dropping him to the fourth line might be excessively harsh but it's hard to see how he doesn't fall out of the top six with Moffatt and Fallon arriving.
Rotating Cast Of Scratches
There's actually an interesting guy at the tail end of the roster: Lindsay Sparks. Sparks lost his role on the fourth line to Jeff Rohrkemper at the end of the year, but for a brief stretch in the middle of the season when Michigan was really struggling he brought a little pop to the lineup. Once he stopped getting on the scoresheet his deficiencies in size and defense couldn't justify his place in the lineup, but he ended with a 4-4-8 in 23 games without much playing time. During his time on the ice he showed better dangles than anyone else on the roster; he's got way higher upside than any of the other guys around here and will be a guy to watch early next season. He might have the skill to play himself into the lineup.
Rohrkemper didn't do much in his 19 games; he's a guy at the end of the lineup who will draw in when injury or the World Juniors deplete the roster.
Will a previously obscure player have a Lebler-like breakout? Over the past few years, Michigan's seen a number of players make significant leaps forward after two or three years in the program. Brian Lebler went from 8 to 16 to 24 points. Travis Turnbull went from 17 points as a sophomore to 27 and 28 as a senior. David Rohlfs spent a productive season on TJ Hensick's wing, going from 2-10-12 to 17-17-34. Jed Ortmeyer went from 24 and 21 points as to 38 and 34.
These leaps tend to come from big, grinding forwards who get to hang out on the wing of Michigan Offensive Star Du Jour. (Lebler's advancement is all the more impressive for being almost entirely self-generated.) Michigan doesn't have a Hensick or Cammalleri next year—Caporusso needs more help to generate his offense than any of those guys—but Carl Hagelin threatens to become a Hobey candidate and led the team with 31 assists. Hagelin ended the year on a playmaking tear with 16 assists in his last 18 games, Michigan could decide to lift Kevin Lynch, who had just 6-10-16 as a freshman and endured a 7.6% shooting percentage, for a player more likely to convert the opportunities a rampant Hagelin leaves in his wake.
The two guys who could potentially benefit from this are not exactly obscure. The player on the roster with the closest resemblance to a coke machine is Chris Brown, whose freshman year ended with a 13-15-28 line and seven power play goals, most of them on deflections and dirty crease mucking. If he can improve his skating enough to stay in the same zone as Hagelin and Rust, he could make a PPG-or-better living on tap-ins. The lumbering senior on the roster is Ben Winnett, who came to Michigan as one of those guys who lit up the BCHL but hasn't gotten off checking lines in three years at M. Red likes to put promising kids in high pressure positions, so I'm guessing we'll see Brown get the call on the Wing of Free Points.
Which Caporusso? Louie Caporusso spent the first half of his junior season on a tear. Over the next year he played like a nondescript third-liner, not a upperclass third-round pick. Then he blew up again. Which one is it? If Michigan's going to continue playing like they did during their run to the NCAA tournament Caporusso is going to have to produce. Not at the level he has during either of his tears—Michigan's forward corps should be way better since they only lose Lebler and add two potential top six guys plus a year of experience for everyone on the team—but he can't revert to the form he showed in his lost year.
Will a skilled midget make a leap? No one is going to mistake AJ Treais or Lindsay Sparks for Mike Comrie, but both flea-sized freshmen had their moments last year. As they adjust to bigger, stronger competition one or the other could turn into a solid playmaking center. In Sparks' case that wouldn't have much impact five on five but he showed enough last year to suggest he might be a useful power play specialist.
Treais, on the other hand, is likely to be the third-line center and could have some skilled wingers like Moffatt, Fallon, and possibly Glendening or Lynch. A dropoff from one of the top two lines could be covered by the third line emerging into the sort of unit that obliterates iffy third pairings in the CCHA.
How awesome is Carl Hagelin going to be? So awesome.
lolfans. I don't mean to take a shot at Ohio State fans in this specific instance, but I did find this shocking development in the Jamaal Berry case funny:
Much was also made of the fact that Berry was listed at 5-8 in his arrest report, though Ohio State lists the incoming recruit at 5-11. While it’s true that height numbers are routinely inflated during both recruiting and college ball, it’s worth pointing out that Berry’s height (and weight) information may have came from his (two year-old) driver’s license and he’s grown the two to three inches since then.
"Oh no! Our star-studded RB recruit might not make it to campus!" was quickly replaced with "oh no! he might be way smaller than reputed!" Which, honestly, would be exactly my reaction if Rodriguez didn't appear to prefer his running backs bite-sized.
Drama. The Big 33 game—an all-star affair between Pennsylvania and Ohio—took place over the weekend, with Ohio winning on a one-yard dive by an offensive lineman. Fitzgerald Toussaint participated and scored twice on a 46 yard swing pass and a six-yard pitch sweep. You can see them for yourself (sort of) at 1:20 and 4:30 in this dramatic highlight video:
Needs more lightning bolts. That first touchdown was impossible to make out, so a couple of descriptions follow. One:
Akron quarterback recruit Patrick Nicely tossed a pass to Toussaint in the left flat where he cut back to the middle and outran the defense for a 46-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 5:01 left in the first quarter.
The same kind of thing worked big for Ohio on its next try, three wideouts going deep to clear out the secondary and Nicely finding Fitzgerald Toussaint (Michigan) in the flat and Toussaint making open-field things happen for a 46-yard touchdown.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: where open field things happen.
I forget to spell you again. Every time I go a week or two without spelling "Smotrycz" I forget how to do it and end up typing all sorts of weird stuff in a vain attempt to figure it out, but Smotrycz is endeavoring to come up often enough to forestall this, which I appreciate. The latest events in Smotrycz's slow-motion summer explosion were the Rumble in the Bronx, at which this…
Evan Smotrcyz (6′8″ Jr. SF, Reading (MA) New Hampton Prep) This weekend, he showed again that he’s really come into his own as he continues to play well. He shot the ball well from long range and managed to be aggressive without forcing something that isn’t there. Besides his three-point shots, he scored on jumpers off the dribble and found openings to drive to score as well. The Michigan commit has had a solid spring.
(Note that he's shrunk a couple inches here.) …and the NBAPA, at which this…
The Michigan commit is not that athletic and his game isn’t necessarily aesthetically pleasing. Smotrycz, however, produces. He can score at all three levels and has to the tune of 13 points per game. He can also find the open man and has a penchant for coming up with 50/50 balls. He is not a prospect who everyone is going to love, but it is evident why coach John Beilein thinks highly of him.
…which actually seemed a little negative, as Smotrycz was voted to the camp's 20-man all star team (there were 80 prospects in attendance) and finished around tenth in scoring. It was a busy week for Brandan Kearney and Trey Zeigler, too.
Drafting. The NHL draft approaches and should see as many as six future Wolverines taken, though two of them won't arrive on campus this year. Both future-future Wolverines play on the same team: Rhode Island native Mac Bennett is a member of Michigan's loaded 2010 class, and forward Derek Deblois is currently scheduled to come in for 2011(!), pending early departures. The Providence Journal has an article breaking down their prospects. RLR's Kyle Woodlief on Bennett:
"Someone’s going to like him enough to step up and take him in the second round,'' probably from 45 to 50. 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.’’
Woodlief suggests, apropos of nothing, that Bennett should go to major junior. Thanks for nothing, Kyle. Deblois, meanwhile, is projected as a sixth or seventh rounder. Woodlief, again, provides the most bluntly interesting assessment:
“He really has soft hands. He knows where the back of the net is. Doesn’t really like to play in traffic, from what I’ve seen. His skating is slightly above average.’’
A Kings scout also chips in:
"He is a very good skater, carries the puck with much jump and deception. Works the boards, corners, goes hard to the net, has real nice hands, puck carrying, puck handling and passing skills, creative offensively, distributes the puck very well. Has to be a little bit more consistent game to game."
The article consists entirely of scouting reports, so there's plenty more at the above link. (HT: Michigan Hockey Net.)