Always Next Year: Goalie

Always Next Year: Goalie

Submitted by Brian on June 3rd, 2010 at 12:49 PM

Previewing Michigan's 2010-11 hockey team. Previously: The Forwards and Defense.

Goalie

041008MichiganNotreDameMP341 Athletics, Matt Trevor

After the defection of Jack Campbell and failure to acquire any other goalie target, no one is entering or leaving. We can skip right to the main event, then: Hogan or Hunwick? That question wasn't even feasible when Hunwick was a 5'6"-ish walk-on with zero meaningful game experience even when Hogan was languishing around the 30th percentile in save percentage during a disappointing junior year. Ten games later, Hunwick is a real option after going 8-2 and posting a .918 save percentage.

I still have the nagging fear that Hunwick's tendency to leave fat, glistening rebounds in the slot several times a period will come back to hurt him badly when Michigan attempts to platoon him next year, but late in his playoff push he went from a terrifying goal waiting to happen to an incredibly quick little bastard whose ability to go post-to-post in no time flat allowed him to make a wide array of Grade A stops.

On the other hand, I still get creeped out whenever he has to jump at a puck that might be on net, and there is a great raging debate about the validity of save percentage as a metric even amongst professional goalies logging 2000 save seasons—the sample size on Hunwick's .918 is so far from statistical significance that not even David Berri would pretend it has meaning.

Hogan has been an enigma. As a sophomore he posted a .914 save percentage en route to a 1.97 GAA, the second-best in Michigan history. Last year, however, his save percentage plummeted to .901. Since this is a save percentage that does not look like much, but the standard deviation in save percentage last year was .0125: Hogan lost essentially one SD in the most relevant goalie stat tracked in college. Until his injury forced Hunwick into the lineup, he had played every minute of Michigan's season—his numbers are as meaningful as any college goalie's can be.

The end result: Hogan finished 53rd of 76 qualifying goalies in save percentage last year. Hunwick did not qualify due to a lack of appearances, but if he had he would have finished tied for 12th with Air Force goalie Andrew Volkening, who you may still wake up shivering about late at night, ahead of Michigan State's fine Drew Palmisano.

So what's going to happen? Early in the year it will be a repeat of the 2008 season in which the established veteran has established that he's not good enough to be given the job free and clear, no questions, and the new face (relatively new, in Hunwick's case) is given the opportunity to win the job free and clear. Last time Hogan and Billy Sauer played about even, but Sauer had this incredible ability to suck the mojo out of Wolverine forwards and ended up on the wrong end of a number of 2-1 decisions. Meanwhile, Hogan got fantastic goal support and won a bunch of games; with Sauer's two vast tournament failures fresh in the minds of all, he was shelved and things went very well until the aforementioned Volkening showed up.

The parallel last year is eerie: Michigan was a sloppy team last year until the instant Hunwick drew into the lineup, at which point the team started backchecking furiously and plunging into their own slot to clear out the plentiful rebounds that gathered there. Does this have anything to do with the guy in net? Not really. Has it been proven as a factor the coaches consider? Absolutely. Is it real? Probably right away, sure, but the probability Must… Protect… HUNWICK is a feeling that lasts through an offseason and a period of what should be persistent success next year is low. At some point the guy stops being an adorable walk-on and is just your starting goalie.

I have no idea what will happen here. Hunwick could backslide as his rebound control betrays him, and Hogan could bounce back to his junior-year form. If you put a gun to my head I would say Hunwick claims the starting job around midseason, but that is a prediction with nothing but good memories from the playoff run behind it. I don't think anyone has a clue here, including the coaches.

Always Next Year: Defense

Always Next Year: Defense

Submitted by Brian on May 13th, 2010 at 1:24 PM

Previously tackled: the forwards.

Outgoing

chris-summers 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.

Incoming

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 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 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.

Possible Pairings

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:

Merrill-Llewellyn

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.

brandon-burlon

Burlon-Langlais

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-Bennett

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.

Moffie-Clare

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?

Questions

llewellyn-miami

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?

Always Next Year: Hockey Forwards

Always Next Year: Hockey Forwards

Submitted by Brian on April 30th, 2010 at 1:59 PM

Outgoing

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.

brian-lebler-michigan-state 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.

Incoming

luke-moffatt Luke Moffatt, USNTDP.

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.

swedish-chef Approximate Lines

Brown-Hagelin-Rust

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.

Moffatt-Caporusso-Wohlberg

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.

Fallon-Treais-Lynch

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.
  • Scooter.

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.

scooter-vaughn-vs-mich-tech

Vaughn-Winnett-Glendening

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.

Questions

Forwards Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin play for Michigan against the Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha on Friday, February 13, 2009. The Wolverines won 8-3. (ARIEL BOND/Daily)
Who wants free points?
 

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.