A Michigan skater is trying to start the breakout from their defensive zone and I don’t know whether he misreads what’s up-ice or just flubs the pass, but he ends up turning the puck over. Gruber picks it off in the neutral zone and skates it in.
Gruber is understandably under a lot of pressure as soon as he enters the zone since this is a quick offense-defense transition off a breakout. Luke Martin lifts his stick off the ice a bit, and it’s just enough for Gruber to get the pass off. The pass then happens to go under Norris’ stick and arrives on a line for Walker.
Walker rips a wrist shot and beats Lavigne…over the glove? I mean, probably over the glove. That’s what it looks like, and that’s what Lavigne’s body language indicates what with the raised shoulder, but I honestly haven’t been able to slow it down with enough clarity to make the call. Either way, it’s a dubious start for Lavigne.
A shot gets through Luke Martin and Lavigne makes the toe save, but the byproduct is a puck kicked out to his left. Warren has a chance to snag the rebound and clear, but he overskates it. Hughes picks up the puck, spins, and fires. Lavigne stops it and steers the rebound to the corner, which is ideal if you’re allowing a rebound. Hughes is behind the net with no Michigan defender in position to get there before him.
Piazza was closest to getting to the puck, but he’s starting from a flat-footed position in front of the net and coming out to cover Weissbach. As Piazza chases, a huge passing lane opens. Norris, who’s currently patrolling the slot, does quickly turn his head to check for unmarked skaters. That head turn, though, doesn’t pick up anything that isn’t at least in line with Norris’ shoulder (see blue line below). Frederic is off the radar, Wiessbach notices this, and naturally he passes through the highway-sized gap.
Norris isn’t gapped up and he isn’t going to even able to take a step forward because of the speed of the pass and Frederic’s lack of hesitancy. I don’t want to guess at what Lavigne can see here, as he seems to have a fairly good chance to track the shot but there are two teammates in front of him that might have been screening him; the speed of the snap shot is also a consideration in casting blame (or lack thereof) for this goal.
[After THE JUMP: an up-and-down weekend when they could least afford it]
Becker picks up the puck behind the net and passes up the boards for Norris. He then heads for the front of the net as Slaker loops around and gets into position to receive a pass on the red line. Michigan’s power play has just expired (see the still-present chyron at the top of the screen cap) but they’re still looking to isolate and exploit one defender’s coverage.
Norris holds the puck long enough to get the high defender to commit to shutting down the passing lane back to the point, which leaves him a clear pass to Slaker with one defender having to temper his aggressiveness since he’s playing a 2-on-1.
Norris starts to skate for the front of the net after he passes, then he curls around to get in position for a pass from Slaker. Meanwhile, Slaker skates up to where Norris was; Hults circles and sticks with Slaker, leaving Norris for someone else to check. No one does, though, as Biro pursues Norris and then breaks off his path to get back to the top corner of the now-unnecessary box for…reasons. This leaves Norris wiiiiide open.
Norris has a clear shot but also has an option since Becker has gotten great position in front of the net, rotating to open himself up so that he could take a pass. The defender on Becker has definitely not gotten great position, instead going around Becker and leaving himself walled off by the guy he’s supposed to be covering.
Norris’ shot goes off the back of Becker’s blade and in before Autio can even think about getting his stick around Becker. I think he went over the top of Becker to potentially play the lane between Norris and Becker and was way too late to even finish getting to that part of the ice.
[After THE JUMP: no more cycling but some unreal passing]
With a renewed sense of hope I decided to check out the incoming class to see what's on deck for Michigan hockey. The answer is surprisingly pleasant given the long period of uncertainty that preceded Mel Pearson's hire. Then I kept going, but that's another post.
… tough competitor that is willing to engage physically to win puck battles…strong skater that isn’t easily pushed off the puck. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s a good enough four-direction skater that he’s capable of playing the center position at the next level. … competes hard on the defensive end and plays a responsible game. … lot of his offense comes from driving hard to the net and winning battles for loose pucks, and creating opportunities by chasing the play. …. ability to handle the puck is fine, but it’s not an area of strength.
He'll play both ways and pile up points because of his physical ability, effort, and reasonable skill level. That skill level might be a bit higher than the above take, depending on who you listen to. His NTDP coach:
“He can hammer a puck. He can skate. He’s got a great first step. He competes, and he’s coachable. He’s got a lot going for him. I think he’s got a great deal of God-given talent. He is a heck of a kid and extremely coachable. Those items right there lead up to a player who has some ability and a bright future.”
Given the dearth of center talent on the roster Norris is likely to slot in on the top line from day one; he and Will Lockwood are Compher and Motte in search of Connor. (Connor is not on this roster.)
Side note: Norris's father Dwayne starred for Michigan State back in the day. Completing this odd circle of betrayal: MSU has a commitment from Mike Knuble's kid, Cam Knuble, for 2018.
*[He tied Grant Mismash with 61 points but took four fewer games to get there.]
Berenson projected Hughes as an “elite-skating, offensive-minded defenseman” at the college level and also called him one of the “top young defensemen” of his class.
“He’s really a special player, and we’re excited about the fact that he’ll bring an element to our defense that maybe we don’t have right now,” Berenson said. “He could definitely add to our power play. His smarts, his vision and his skating ability really separate him from a lot of players.”
Hughes is highly likely to slot into Michigan's first team power play from the drop and chase Eric Werner for the title of MGoDiminutiveDefensemanFaveRave.
There were some OHL rumors about Hughes that seem to have petered out after his brother also went the NTDP route. More about him in another post; he's a 2019 kid.
The non-headliner but maybe-guy-to-watch is Mike Pastujov. Back in the day when the Pastujov brothers committed, Nick (who is coming off a freshman year in which he had three points in 28 games) was much more modestly regarded than his younger brother. Fast forward a few years and Nick is one who got drafted, albeit in the seventh round. Mike went from potentially being the #1 pick in the OHL draft to undrafted after a few seasons of injuries and struggle. Scouting from way back when:
1. Michael Pastujov(#11 Black) 6-0/186 Honeybaked U16 (Michigan) - A strong and powerful skater who committed to the Wolverines along with his brother Nick, a '98, less than a week after the camp ended. He's a flight risk to the OHL, but he's a strong skater who drives the net well. He made plays happen from all over the ice, really dishes the puck well to his linemates and he wins one-on-one battles. He's a complete package offensively.
Clearly things have gone awry. The primary issue is his inability to stay on the ice. Injuries cost him almost all of his sophomore and junior years; he also missed about a dozen games with the U18s. He still played in 55 and could only put up a 9-15-24 line. Michigan will hope his indifferent final year with the NTDP is more about the injuries than his talent level. If he can repair this…
Slow first step
Pastjuov’s biggest issue this past season was his skating. His first step was really slow, which meant he lost a lot of races to loose pucks, and had trouble creating much when he did have the puck.
…then maybe Michigan will get a third headliner in the class.
Pastujov did get healthy enough to catch the eye again at the World U18s, scoring a PPG over a seven-game span as the US took the tourney title. Various scouting services, including the NHL's CSB, moved him from off their lists into the top 100—usually good enough to get drafted in the fourth or fifth round. He was nonetheless passed over.
The other three guys in the class are all overagers. All are 97s. Jack Becker was Pearson's first commit; unsurprisingly he was a flip from Tech. He was a Wisconsin commit in the long long ago. He'll be 21 in January and was only even somewhat productive in the USHL in his final season, when he put up a 16-12-28 line. Bizarrely for a guy with his profile, he was a 7th round pick of the Bruins in 2015. Becker is a very large person at 6'4", so he might have a shot to be a Ben Winnett sort.
Dakota Raabe could be a little fast dude who ends up on a scoring line or peter out into a checking line guy and penalty killer. He's a few months younger than Becker. While he steadily increased his production in the BCHL, a PPG as an overager in that offense-mad league is not always enough to translate to NCAA productivity. Incredibly, Raabe was only eighth(!) on his team in PPG. (He was 25th in the league.) This is not BCHL slam dunk territory. It's BCHL maybe territory.
FWIW, MSU's Taro Hirose was almost the exact same size and age coming out of the BCHL a year ago; he had a 6-18-24 line as a freshman. That might not sound like much but he was second on his moribund team in scoring and looked like their most dangerous forward when Michigan played them. Unfortunately this isn't a direct comparison; Hirose was a much better BCHL point-acquirer. He had 71 points in 58 games—a cut above Raabe, especially since he was his team's leading scorer by 15 points.
“Being on the ice every day has helped me so much,” Raabe said. “My shot has gotten harder and I’ve gotten faster. I’d say my hockey IQ has improved as well because I’m learning how to play the game at a faster level.”
“I’m told Dakota is a high-end skater,” Berenson said. “He’d be one of our fastest skaters. ... It looks like he’s going to be a real good addition to our forward group, and the big thing is because of his speed and work ethic.”
He'll probably have an indifferent freshman year and then his second year will tell the tale. He's a good gamble for a team needing to fill roster spots during a transition period. He is very much a gamble.
Finally, Gustaf Westlund is a Parisian Swede who committed little over a year ago. He had enough about him to warrant an NHL draft profile from SBN:
…intriguing prospect as this was his first season playing in North America. …The left-shot center is a true athlete who oozes potential. .. 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. …makes good passes, has above average vision and has a soft touch. … an athletic player with above average tools.
…effortless skater who gets himself to smart areas of the ice to get a shot on net. …good athletic frame, but is thin and could stand to add some considerable strength to his legs, core and upper body. …handles the puck well with soft hands and creative moves, weaving his way through traffic with a surprisingly long reach. …shot will become a real weapon as he adds strength and puts more velocity behind it. … has much room to develop.
“We think he’ll add a little bit of everything,” Berenson said. “He’ll be similar to (Adam) Winborg in that he’s good with the puck, good without the puck, he plays physical, he plays hard.”
He put up 8-27-35 in 59 games in the USHL a year ago; not great but he was on a team that struggled to score. He was third on the team in points.
Westlund's move from overseas to prep to the USHL to the NCAA is a challenging route; like Raabe he's a guy who might not show much in year one but has the potential to evolve into a scoring line player over the course of his career. While he's a 97 like the other two guys, he was born in December—he's almost a year younger than Becker.
Norris and Hughes are going to be college stars, and Michigan will seek to get two scoring line upperclassmen out of Raabe/Westlund/Pastujov. Becker looks to be a project who will do well to get past the third line. Given the fact that everyone in this class knew they wouldn't be finishing their careers under Red Berenson, it's as good of a group as is reasonable to expect and should patch a couple of last year's biggest holes—a two-way #1 center and a power play quarterback.