time to make another huge Swedish flag
Michigan is now waiting on JT Compher's decision, which he says he'll make after the World Championships—USA Hockey took CCM lock stock and barrel. I'm guessing he joins his linemates in the NHL. Either way the spate of departures has answered questions about which recruits will actually be on next year's roster: all of 'em.
Bork 2.0. Michigan in fact just added draft-eligible, Paris-born Swede Gustaf Westlund:
Winning a prep 'ship, Westlund (MI) was a consistent offensive look, using speed/creativity. Screams a high ceiling w/ the puck in open ice.
— Over The Boards (@OverTheBoards) April 12, 2016
[UPDATE: Westlund's father emailed to say that Westlund is a 2017 recruit.]
The late-rising Westlund was stuck playing low-level midget for longer than a draftable prospect generally does, so he was one of the few kids who end up taking their recruitment this late. He broke out in December, in fact:
The Gunnery #23 - 5'11" 160 - LC - 12/12/97
After playing Tier II Midget during the fall season, the Swedish native made his first real impression on the myriad of NHL scouts and college coaches in attendance for Monday's Berkshire Jamboree. Playing center, he showed off his wheels. He's a tremendous skater who has a good first step and can really move around the sheet. It will be interesting to see how he continues to adjust to the style of play over here, but he's an athletic, raw talent that should be watched closely. A few NHL scouts were very high on him after seeing yesterday's games against Kent and Northwood.
Like Andrew Copp, Westlund is under the radar because of his participation in another sport. In his case it's soccer. Copp turned out to be underrated. Hopefuly Westlund is as well, but probably not this underrated:
It’s absurd to compare anyone to Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel, but there are similarities in his skill set to that of the former BU Terrier. Westlund is a very good skater. He has a long, smooth stride that appears effortless. He can really get going quickly and seems to have that extra gear.
He has a long reach for a player that isn’t very tall. He does a good job pulling the puck back before quickly releasing a hard wrist shot on net.
Westlund is ranked #116 by the CSB and should be a mid-round pick. That is an excellent late addition, and one that Michigan needs. If JT Compher does sign Michigan will have lost five forwards; Westlund helps stanch that cut. Heisenberg shows Michigan with a couple of forwards beyond the NTDP guys but they seem like fourth-liners. Michigan will have a ton of defensemen next year even without Werenski and Downing, so a more or less permanent move forward is likely for someone. Cutler Martin moved up for a few games last year.
Meanwhile, the final CSB rankings came out. Michigan recruits on the list all fell significantly:
- #70 Griffin Luce (down from 54)
- #108 Will Lockwood (down from 69)
- #112 Nick Pastujov (down from 100)
- #117 Ken Johnson (down from 97)
- #146 James Sanchez (down from 135)
D Luke Martin is 2017 eligible and supposedly a first-round pick; Johnson may or may not arrive this fall. Other than him it's a bunch of guys like Marody or Kile: mid-rounders who might become nice players but are not going to replace Kyle Connor's production immediately. That Lockwood drop is a surprise since Kyle Woodlief recently named him a late riser.
The distant future, the birth year 2000. F Blade Jenkins and D Mattias Samuelsson made the NTDP. While that's an unusually low number for Michigan, three guys in the 2018 class—G Dylan St. Cyr, D Quinn Hughes, and F Joshua Norris—were already with the NTDP this year. (Although that may change. I'm going by the Chris Heisenberg list and he has just two skaters in the 2017 class. Kile, Shuart, De Jong, Allen, and Lohan will all depart next year. Very possible a couple guys are either misclassified or get bumped up.)
Jenkins was a shock selection in the OHL draft, going fourth overall to Saginaw. Usually that means that the player in question has an under-the-table deal already, but in the aftermath Todd Jenkins, the father, confirmed that Blade would play for the NTDP. Saginaw's GM was like "whatevs, man":
"Is it going to be easy to get them here?" Drinkill said. "No, it's not."
Saginaw is not a team that's particularly good at turning guys—Brandon Saad's college commitment was widely regarded as fictional long before he defected. But there will (probably) be a new coach so there's the potential for some wobble. FWIW, Jenkins's dad played at Maine.
Drinkill did give us a scouting report:
"Blade is the best player in the draft, and that's the consensus of the hockey world," Drinkill said. "He's got elite skills, but he's also the player who wants to be on the ice at all times. He will do anything to play."
Michigan hasn't had to worry about the OHL coming after commits for a half a decade; here's hoping Jenkins doesn't break the mold.
On the roundtable this week:
- Craig's back!
- Spring football revelations and omens
- What to do with pending basketball coaching openings
- Red returns: y/n?
THE USUAL LINKS
The band, it is no longer together:
Breaking: Red Berenson has told me Tyler Motte will forgo his senior season and sign with the Chicago Blackhawks
— Jason Rubinstein (@jrubinstein4) April 6, 2016
That's particularly bad since Motte was widely regarded as the least likely CCM line member to leave. Berenson did tell The Michigan Insider that he was "betting" on a Compher return, but Compher and Motte have been joined at the hip for years now—this news could impact his status.
Motte's lightning release and mind-meld with Compher led to a point explosion as a junior. Last year he recorded a 32-24-56 line in 38 games. He banged home the OT winner against Notre Dame in the tournament. He'll be acutely missed on next year's team.
So pumped for the Don Brown era. Half because of his defense, and half because dude is on Harbaugh's level when it comes to photos:
— Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) March 30, 2016
Don Brown's seen some things. Some things better left buried. But the law doesn't work like that. The law just keeps bringing things back, like a cat with a hairball.
Basketball roster not exactly set yet. Michigan has lost Spike Albrecht and Ricky Doyle, bringing their 2013 roster to 13. But they don't appear entirely settled with their roster yet:
Michigan, California, Syracuse and Hawaii are among the schools that have contacted Columbia grad transfer Grant Mullins.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2016
Mullins, a combo-guard, was super-efficient in the Ivy League last year (36th nationally in ORTG, 44% from three, lots of FTs at 83%) on a team that looks a lot like Michigan, statistically. Michigan also reached out to Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, though it doesn't look like anything is coming of that.
What's the deal with that as regards Spike, then? I don't know. Maybe Spike isn't likely to be the same player, or Xavier Simpson was going to take his minutes. Or Michigan is just keeping options open in case someone who has not decided to transfer does so in the future.
Red status not set either. Red's offered some quotes to news organizations about his impending decision, which seems honestly yet to be determined:
“I’m going to talk to [Manuel]…I don’t want to make an emotional decision because I’m mad at somebody or something, I want to make a decision that’s good for the program,” Berenson said.
Who or what he would be mad at is unknown. This in the Free Press doesn't really sound like a guy who was planning to come back but wanted to anyway:
“There’s no question ... the start of the year, I was pretty much resigned to the fact this would be the last year,” Berenson said. “But as the year went on, it got better and better. I thought it made more sense and it was working.
“I don’t want to be in the way, that’s the other thing. If I’m going to coach, I want to coach.”
The relative success of the team might extend his desire to coach. So… yeah. I said my bit on what should happen already.
Not bad. Wisconsin hired Tony Granato as their new head coach. Granato is a former NHL head coach who is a Wisconsin alum who had a prolific NHL career; he was a Wings assistant. He's bringing his brother Don, the NTDP head coach, and former OSU coach Mark Osiecki with him. Osiecki was doing a not-bad job with OSU when his tenure was suddenly and inexplicably terminated just three years in.
That is a lot of coaching firepower for one program. Wisconsin is going to bounce back just fine. With the addition of Notre Dame this early blip in Big Ten hockey is going to look like just that—a blip. The league has four historical powerhouses; those programs don't just stay down.
Well, most of them…
Not good. Meanwhile in erstwhile Big Ten hockey powers, Tom Anastos still has a job because apparently Sunil Gulati is running MSU's athletic department now. Mark Hollis is making statements that are downright delusional:
“I feel really good about where we’re at,” Hollis said. “…I’m also an AD that has to look at, ‘OK, what’s the next five years going to look like, based upon the past five years?’ And from all the assessments I’ve put into this and all the folks I’ve talked to, I’m very confident we’re going to have success here next year and in the immediate future.”
That is the most insane thing I've heard an athletic director say, and I was exposed to years of Dave Brandon. Anastos's teams have gotten worse every year, and this is year five. You can no longer say these things in year five:
Comley left the program bare, though Anastos has been careful not be be overly critical publicly. Most of the players he inherited were not highly recruited.
And guess what… most of the players Anastos is recruiting are not highly recruited. Their recruiting class is bulked up with 20-year-olds like MSU is Merrimack or something, and the guy they seem the most hyped about coming in next year is an overage forward out of the BCHL named Taro Hirose.
Hirose does have a nice line (15-56-71 in 58 games). It probably won't translate. Dexter Dancs came out of that league two years ago with 67 points in 56 games and has mostly been a fourth-liner at Michigan. Before him, Ben Winnett had 58 points in just 39 games; his career high in four years at Michigan was 14 points.
Meanwhile Anastos will not have the services of leading scorer MacKenzie MacEachern, former third round pick and the most Scottish thing not in a bottle. His lone returning draftee at F was –30 last year. I mean… what does it take to fire this guy?
I look forward to having the "Tom Anastos still has a job?" conversation again next year after Wisconsin gets instantly better with their new staff. I'm sorry I'm a broken record about this but keeping Anastos is brutal for the league and what used to be my favorite rivalry in sports.
NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Semifinal
Friday, March 25, 2016
Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2 (OT)
SELMAN GOAL, MICHIGAN
UM 1 ND 0 EV 10:31 Assists: Kile & Downing
Nieves wins the draw back to Downing. The wingers go in motion off the draw, with Kile going from right to left. This picks up the attention of the defender in front of the net, who takes a few steps with him. Meanwhile, Selman is skating through the faceoff circle, now left unoccupied thanks to the defender being drawn out toward Downing.
Two defenders are watching Kile as he receives the pass from Downing. Nieves has locked up the defender nearest Selman in the high slot; he did so immediately off the draw, and this is just where they ended up. Selman is blitheringly open, though ND goaltender Cal Petersen is square to Kile. Selman's shot catches him off guard, and he isn't able to move across and re-square before the puck's behind him.
[You already know the OT winner is after THE JUMP why have you not clicked yet]
3/25/2016 – Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2 (OT) – 25-7-5
3/26/2016 – Michigan 2, North Dakota 5 – 25-8-5, season over
When things went badly for Michigan this year, they tended to go bad in bunches. An inability to get a clean zone exit against certain hyperactive teams led to periods where Michigan got bombarded in its own end. Until the tournament these periods weren't even against good teams, since there weren't any on the schedule.
Half the time Michigan would fight back out of these holes, sometimes wielding puck-loaded tommy guns. (Literally: before the North Dakota game Michigan was 4-4-4 going into the third period down.) While the Notre Dame game wasn't quite as explosive as various Big Ten comebacks, they did rebound from a horrendous second period on Friday to get a grip on the game, one they would eventually use to win the game on a gorgeous behind-the-back pass from JT Compher.
That was something. Through two periods that game felt like nothing so much as the last time Notre Dame and Michigan played. That CCHA championship game was Michigan's last ditch attempt to salvage their tourney streak. Michigan grabbed an early lead in the kind of game that feels over as soon as the opposition ties it; Notre Dame tied it. There was a flicker there of something different. If only someone else, something else loomed.
There was no similar respite against North Dakota, and that's the problem.
Michigan and North Dakota are, or at least were, mirror images of each other. They recruit speed and skill directly after high school. They're piled high with NHL draft picks. They win a ton of games and get shot down in the tournament by bloody, goofy fate. But these last two meetings, spread out as they are over five years, demonstrate that the programs have diverged.
The first was the Tiny Jesus game. Michigan got outshot 2 to 1, gave up a blizzard of grade A scoring chances, and saw Shawn Hunwick stone every last one of them. I thought about that game on Saturday; North Dakota fans thought about that game on Saturday. Neither of us were happy to think about that game. Never has a team absolutely crushing their opponent without having anything to show for it on the scoreboard induced so much despair in their own fans as I imagine North Dakota did during that first period. At one point shots were 15-3, and all underthings were in danger of soiling.
That state of affairs took an irrationally long time to resolve itself, because single elimination playoff hockey is barely weighted plinko. You know this; you saw Michigan bomb Air Force's goalie over and over to no effect. The "hot goalie" thing has always seemed to be a bad way to think about the fact that hockey is pretty random.
Anyway, this is what I meant when I said the plinko was in our favor this year: Michigan wasn't in North Dakota's class except on the scoreboard. By the end of the game Michigan had once again been outshot 2 to 1. They gave up nearly 50 shots.
In the years bookended by these games, North Dakota has been slashed down in the Frozen Four twice and at this stage twice. Michigan saw entire four-year careers come and go without a tourney bid. Last year's team had the NHL rookie of the year, another guy who played 70 games right out of college, and Hobey finalist Zach Hyman and couldn't make the tourney. A team with Jacob Trouba on it missed the tourney. This team features a top line of future NHLers, one of whom was so rampant he will win the Hobey himself, and Racine's performance is the only thing disguising the fact they got run off the ice by North Dakota.
The talent is there; has always been there. The team is not on an elite level anymore.
I guess trying hard and going down fighting to a vastly superior team is preferable to some of the alternatives we saw over the past few years. That assertion was featured in some pushback on Twitter after I said "it's over" for Red, as if Michigan—Michigan!—was some try-hard program that's just happy to be here. I guess some people are just happy to be here, these days.
I was one of them for most of the year because I'd resigned myself to the fact that Michigan hockey isn't what it once was. This is indisputably true. Michigan once was a team with a 22-year tourney streak. Michigan used to go out like North Dakota, shaking their fists after dominating attack time and possession. That hasn't happened for a long time, and it's hard to envision a Red team that will do that in the future.
So, no, Michigan Daily, Red should not return next year. This season is not a return to form. It is an extension of same against a terrible schedule with a transcendent one-and-done. If there wasn't a ready-made candidate waiting in the wings there might be a case. But there is, and it's time for Mel Pearson to get the job he's waited 30 years for. Only Red can make that call; here's hoping he does.
A thought for Steve Racine. For Racine to finish this season with a save percentage of .914 is a danged miracle. Even so he has to endure goofs like Dave Starman deriding him as Michigan's weak point despite the fact that there can't be another goalie on a decent team in the country who endured the same shot quality he did. He made some big mistakes at times—two goals came from outside the blueline this year—but he is clearly Michigan's best goalie since Shawn Hunwick.
The statistics will not reflect this assertion. The scatter charts will.
The Big Ten excuse doesn't fly. Have seen a number of assertions that Michigan was ill-prepared to play North Dakota because they are good and the Big Ten is not. Such assertions fail to deal with the fact that Michigan got run over by Ohio State just three weeks ago, that Michigan didn't even win the not good league, that Michigan had control over 14 nonconference games and came up with BU and nobody else within spitting distance of an at-large bid.
Michigan's defense was a travesty most of the year; there was plenty of opportunity to fix it, but it didn't get fixed, just like it didn't get fixed any of the last four years.
Looking towards next year. Mike Spath says that Werenski, Downing, and Connor are almost certainly out the door and that Motte and Compher will get pushed by NHL teams to sign.
Those two guys will have to decide between getting a jump on their entry level contracts or returning and having the flexibility Zach Hyman did after his senior year. Hyman forced a trade to the Leafs and is now in the NHL permanently since Mike Babcock loves him. I've also heard that Compher is in Ross and has a very high profile degree he can complete next year, which is motivation to return.
If Michigan gets Motte and Compher back their lines might look something like this:
Pastujov, Sanchez, and Lockwood should be mid-round picks in the upcoming draft.
- De Jong-C. Martin
- L. Martin-Luce
Luce will be a mid-round pick.
That's not bad but it lacks an out-and-out star on defense unless Luke Martin, who's eligible for the 2017 draft, is the top-15-pick various mock draft sites are projecting him as.
If Compher and Motte depart things start getting grim. The only forwards not listed above are Evan Allen, Niko Porikos, and incoming PWO Lukas Samuelsson.
Breakout failures. It was uncanny how North Dakota destroyed Michigan by attacking the second pass. Most of the time a D's pass up to a forward saw that F under immediate pressure, whereupon he either threw it up the ice blindly or turned it over right there. It reminded me of watching the USMNT play Germany in the most recent world cup. North Dakota's forecheck is a high press that destroyed Michigan's offensive rhythm for most of the game. Their goals were more or less both on the power play; at 5x5 they did not score.
5x5: all of it. Michigan had one full power play in 130 minutes of hockey and drew one other penalty. This was a disaster for the nation's top power play. It resulted from a combination of excellent discipline from opponents, Michigan's inability to possess the puck, and refs lacking the courage to blow the whistle.
This was particularly acute in the Saturday game. An obvious interference call as Motte attempted to dump and chase in the first five minutes of the North Dakota game went unpunished, and after that it was free-for-all for both teams. By the third period Michigan defensemen could get their stick slashed out of their hands repeatedly with no reaction from the referee.
North Dakota was the superior team and deserved to win the game, but I'm frustrated that the game tilted even further to them because the refs decided that playoff hockey has different rules than regular hockey.
A fitting end. Michael Downing's slashing penalty with two and half minutes left was the final nail in the coffin, and a fitting way for him to go out. It was a two-handed chop down on a guy's arm in a situation where you'd rather just let the guy take his shot. I can't remember a more frustrating player other than maybe the freshman version of Jack Johnson, and Johnson was incredible as a sophomore.
Meanwhile Downing never shook the violence and bad decisions that plagued his game at Michigan. Notre Dame's opening goal on Friday was an odd-man rush he ceded with an awful decision. He then compounded it by falling down as the play entered the defensive zone.
I don't think Michigan will miss a beat without him. They went 3-0 during his various suspensions this year.