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?
Michigan lacks that one pure dirty scorer. There's no Cammalleri or Comrie or Hensick on this team, nor is there a senior duo like Kolarik and Porter. The best player on the team is probably Carl Hagelin, a guy who dumps in his share of goals but gets them via dint of hard work and speed more than stickhandling through a phone booth and roofing it in close. Caporusso (right) is probably going to end up being the top scorer, and while he's talented he seems a step down from the Hobey types mentioned above. His main skills are getting himself open in dangerous positions and a deadly accurate close-range wrister that allows him to take advantage of the opportunities he gets from there.
The best guys in terms of stickhandling might actually be a pair of defensemen. According to the Daily, Berenson would like to get his freewheeling defense corps more involved in the offense this year. Yost saw signs of that last weekend,with both Langlais and Burlon putting on the pirate hats and sallying forth into the offensive zone. Langlais's ability to zip through traffic and set up the power play was reminiscent of the last guy to wear #7—Hensick—at certain points, and he was clearly looking to yo-ho-ho into the offensive zone when the opportunity presented itself. I've probably made this comparison before, but Langlais is a near clone of Eric Werner, another undersized swashbuckling defenseman who thrilled Yost with his offensive abilities.
Burlon, meanwhile, isn't quite as flashy but is ultra-composed on the puck and has an excellent shot. With those two in the lineup, Michigan will probably deploy two defenders on the top power play unit for the first time in a very long while. BONUS: the offensive dropoff from those two to Kampfer and Summers isn't particularly steep, either. What Michigan lacks in pure death scoring from the forwards they can probably make up for with defensive contributions.
Freshmen. Bullets on the new kids:
- Everyone's been calling AJ Treais a less dynamic version of TJ Hensick and that was borne out. In Hensick's debut as a Michigan player he zipped all over the ice and lit a pair of exhibition opponents up for something like five points; Treais didn't quite get that and he wasn't as dynamic but displayed hints of that kind of ability. He'll probably be stuck on the third line this year, but second power-play unit time awaits and he could hit 20 points.
- Chris Brown is a big, physical dude who needs polish. He tried the old trick where you get position on the defender and then ride in front of him across the net for a scoring chance, but instead of going across the net he went directly into the back of it. He was a second-round pick, but that's way less exciting for the college team in question when you're 6'2"; NHL guys go for size over immediate impact with regularity. Brown was good about putting the body on folks and had some flashes of offensive competence; tough to tell this early but a Ryznar or a Nystrom might be a good comparable.
- Kevin Lynch didn't do much I observed. Judgement withheld.
- I didn't notice Lee Moffie much, either, except for a few instances where he showed good poise with the puck. Another Kampfer? He's a bit bigger. He'll probably see a fair amount of healthy scratches this year, as he's the seventh defenseman.
- The two walk-ons, Jeff Rohkemper and Lindsay Sparks, didn't do a whole lot. I liked Sparks better, he seems quick and eminently capable of being an annoyance on the forecheck. He had some pop in junior, too.
Lines? The official hockey twitter threw out the following lines for Sunday's game against Windsor:
- Wohlberg, Caporusso, Czarnik
- Lebler, Treais, Winnett
- Hagelin, Lynch, Brown
- Rohrkemper, Ciraulo, Vaughan
During the season, Rust will draw into the lineup somewhere, bumping someone on the top three lines onto the fourth. Before the weekend I would have assumed this was a lock to be Lebler, but Lebler looked surprisingly good for a guy who's mostly been an end-of-roster grinder thus far.
The fourth line will be whoever the top-nine refugee is plus a blender of Glendening, Ciraulo, Vaughn, Sparks, and Rohrkemper. I'm betting on Glendening to play most of the games and everyone else to rotate, drawing in when injuries and whatnot happen.
That is a lot of depth. The nominal second line here is really the third line; a top line like that above backed up with something like Hagelin/Rust/Brown and a third line of Winnett/Lynch/Treais is a lot of scoring depth, and that's not even considering the defense, which was scratching an NHL draft pick last year and is currently Summers-Kampfer-Langlais-Burlon-Llewellyn-Pateryn. I am confident in all of those guys, though I'm not a big fan of Llewellyn's tendency towards unnecessary roughing penalties, and then you've got a scholarship kid on the bench. In all places except goal, this is the deepest Michigan team in a while.
The Blues Brothers. Okay. Okay: seriously. Okay. Remember that one guy who was really, really into Kid A in college and whenever you'd go over to his room, Kid A would be on and at first it was cool and then eventually you just dreaded it because God who wants to listen to Kid A again? I, sadly, am at that point with "Can't Turn You Loose." Ever since Jack Johnson left and Superfan sold out and there was no alpha dancing dog, the second period dancing thing has been a chaotic mess**. Then at the end of the season two years ago the entire student section started dancing, which would have made for a really cool end-of-year tradition. Instead, it happens every second period and then the students demand more and the band is playing "Can't Turn You Loose" for like ten minutes straight.
Sure, everybody loves Kid A*. But sometimes it's a little too much, proto-emo kid. You make me want to go hang out with that guy who's always watching The Breakfast Club and mouthing the lines.
*(Except me. Never got the whole Radiohead thing.)
**(In the long long ago, there was just one guy who danced. Usually it was Superfan. When Superfan was not there it fell to either 1) guy in a ridiculous costume or 2) most humorously fat guy in the section. Then Jack Johnson came along and his dad did it to the delight of all other than Jack Johnson; after Johnson left about eight different people tried to take the mantle, one of whom was just a complete failure and would not listen to reason, thus causing the long descent into Unapproved Behavior. The unwritten law, now discarded, of Can't Turn You Loose is this order:
- Jack Johnson Sr
- Frankenberry costume or penguin costume guy.
- Other humorously attired student.
- Guys dressed up like Blues Brothers
- Biggest, most ungainly guy in the section is drafted.
At no point should anyone who has ever worked for WOLV dance. YES I TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY.)
Other band note. Major plus points for playing Temptation—all of Temptation—and Hawaiian War Chant in the first intermission. The You Can't Have One Without The Other duo is criminally underused across all Michigan sports and should be implemented whenever and wherever possible. Hopefully they continue that all season.
Minor ding: probably shouldn't play the Victors right before the team comes out, because then you're just going to have to play the Victors again.
2011 Recruitin'. High-end forward commit Lucas Lessio's playing at St. Mike's—the program that provided Cogliano, Caporusso, and Burlon to Michigan—in the OPJHL, but saw his OHL rights traded to another team that might have a better shot at him. The Wolverine's Bob Miller points out an interview with Lessio conducted after that trade. He's not headed for the OHL:
"I just love it there; I fell in love with it when I went to watch a game three years ago," said Lessio. "My heart's been set there probably ever since." …
"I try not to see these two seasons as an opportunity to relax knowing where I will be in two years," Lessio informed. "I always try to work hard at everything I do because if you work hard, even in practice, that's how you'll get better. Working hard should be your number one priority and then the rest of the things will fall into place so that's my number one priority when I go out there every game."
Rest of the article is worth a read; apparently Lessio just pulled out a version of this baby:
Miller also suggests that Austin Czarnik, the Michigan State decommit and last year's NTDP U-17 points leader, could be headed to an arena near you in the not particularly near future:
Heard this evening that a certain forward may who recently de-committed from wearing green and white may just wind up wearing maize and blue in the end. Cough...Austin Czarnik...cough. Info was second hand, but from a knowledgeable source.
Czarnik is one of those 5'8" puck wizards Michigan has a rich history of deploying to entertaining effect, and would be a great pickup to go with Lessio in the burgeoning 2011 class.