See also: 2017.
As we push further out with hockey recruiting things get fuzzier, and since a lot of these guys are at or near the top of their field now the only direction to go is down. Current projections, taken collectively, will almost certainly be optimistic as certain guys fail to keep pace with their competition.
i must break you
NTDP defenseman Mattias Samuelsson is the headliner. Mattias is the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, and like his dad (6'7"), he's a big dude at 6'5". He was ranked 7th and 3rd amongst available players for last year's OHL draft by HockeyProspect and The Scout.ca, respectively; a year later he's projected as a first round pick in the upcoming NHL draft. As of about a year ago, ISS had him in the top ten:
6. Mattias Samuelsson (RD) – USNTDP - USHL
The son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, Mattias is a tall, aggressive defenceman with a heavy shot and immense athletic ability. Standing at 6’5” and 228 lbs, he has a pro-ready frame and looks capable of stepping in immediately at the NHL level. Very difficult to play against when he is on his game; skates around with ease for such a big man and has shown the ability to simply take over games physically in the USHL. Plays with a real edge to his game and is happy to finish his checks hard, whilst still maintaining good reads and positioning in the D-zone.
One of The Scout's, er, scouts:
A defensive stalwart who is a lock for USA’s NTDP Under-17 program, Mattias Samuelsson is the top shutdown defenceman in the [OHL] draft. While Samuelsson displays good talent with the puck, he’s especially impressive with his rangy challenges – poking away pucks and getting in the shooting lanes of almost every opposing attack.
He's more or less maintained that status through the last year thanks to an impressive season with the U17s; he was called up to the U18s for ten games, more than any of his fellow defenders, and his PPG led U17 defensemen. With a full year of development in front of him he should arrive ready to step in as a top four D for M:
“I came in at 195 and I’m 215 now. I was skin and bones when I came in,” he explained. “Every day you are doing something. Your only day off is Sunday and it is much needed. Every day you are getting better, whether you are improving something or getting stronger. When you are on the ice, you are willing to do the little things, competing with the best players of your age every day. I don’t know where else you can get that, especially in the offseason.”
Samuelsson is a candidate to be the top D picked in the next draft.
[Side note: At one point Samuelsson's brother Lukas was also committed to Michigan for 2017 but he has not been announced as a signee. He could be a walk-on or plans may have changed. Hopefully his name does pop up on the roster; Samuelsson is the kind of guy OHL teams will be pursuing heavily after his NTDP tenure expires. Any little bit helps keep 'em down on the farm.]
Nobody else in the class looks like a surefire star, but they are tracking well.
Calen Kiefiuk signed a USHL tender with Bloomington and joined the league as a 16 year old. He struggled, putting up 11 points in 52 games, but that's what USHL tenders almost exclusively do—it's a brutal league for that age group. Kiefiuk is in fact the youngest player to ever suit up for Bloomington, and acquiring him through the tender system means they had to play him in at least 55% of their games—it's a major commitment. He had no problem scoring in his last year in midget, with a 36-44-80 line in 64 games.
Kiefiuk is a throwback to the Berenson teams of the 90s and aughts:
Calen Kiefiuk, #12 Grey/ Honeybaked, 5-7/181 – A ball of skill and energy. Constantly makes plays in all three zones. Hard on the puck, and relentless on the forecheck. Created passing options with little time and space. Protects the puck well. Mans the point on the PP. Scored two even-strength goals within three minutes in Sunday’s game. Left shot from Macomb, Michigan. (4-4-8)
He's a little dude who turns guys who check him into balls of hate. Jeff Cox:
He's an aggressive winger who plays hard. He's fast on pucks, gets after the points while killing penalties and disrupts opponents' flow. He had three shots on goal during one penalty kill against Red after stealing the puck away from one of Red's top defenders. He wins battles below the goal line. He sent out a nice pass into the slot from down low for a power play goal. His speed helped him blow by a defender in Tuesday's game against Gold.
Bloomington head coach Dennis Williams:
“…not only does he have a great knack for scoring goals and making plays but he plays the game right. He is a 200-foot player and has an edge. He competes every shift he’s out there and that’s what we look for. We want a great all-around player with high-end skill and that’s what Calen brings us."
Kiefiuk's size is likely to knock him down NHL draft boards—Chris Dilks put him in the "C" category for 2018—but that might be a positive for Michigan since a guy like Kiefiuk projects as a very useful college player. He could be a smaller, more ornery version of Andrew Cogliano.
Forward Jack Randl also signed a USHL tender, his with the Omaha Lancers. Like Kiefiuk he scuffled a bit last year with 9-10-19 in 59 games. He's also touted as a guy who flies around the ice doin' things:
“He’s a big, strong forward who skates well and has the ability to make plays with the puck. Every time our staff watched him he had a big impact on the game with and without the puck. His competitiveness and his desire to win are characteristics that we look for and want in our players.”
Cox had him second amongst forwards at the Select 16 camp:
He's a good skater who showed the ability to create offense from anywhere. He slows the game down and has excellent vision. He's strong on his feet and is hard to knock off pucks.
Like Kiefiuk, Randl is probably a mid-to-late round draft pick and long term productive college player.
Three more defensemen fill out the class… probably. Kenny Johnson, Jack's younger brother, has been on Michigan's commit list for three years already and is apparently set to take a second post-grad year, this one in the BCHL. That is highly unusual. 20 year olds who enter NCAA hockey generally emerge during their final season of junior and commit less than a year before they enroll. Sometimes kids know they may delay a year depending on how their team's roster shakes out; delaying two years can be a sign that the player in question isn't going to make it to campus for whatever reason.
Compounding my suspicion here: there are three other D in this class. Is Michigan really going to take four in one year? Maybe, if one of them is a healthy scratch PWO sort. Are they going to take four in a year when they lose just one guy to graduation? Is Johnson really down at that level now? I don't know. I did see Kenny and his father at Yost once this year, so there's clearly still contact between Johnson and the program.
Anyway: the outlines of his recruitment are weird and point towards Johnson as a bottom pairing sort. FWIW, he had ten points in 49 games in the BCHL last year, but he's always been regarded as a defensive defenseman.
Two other D are more certain to arrive.
Like Randl and Kiefiuk, Jacob Semik is coming off his first year in the USHL. He went 14th overall to Dubuque and played well enough to draw USA attention. Semik got called up to the U17s for the World U17 challenge to replace Samuelsson, who was injured, and put up a PPG over the five games of the tournament.
Semik is somewhere between Hughes and Samuelsson: he's a mid-sized puck mover who isn't quite the offensive dynamo Hughes is. He put up 33 points in 48 games in his last year of midget but slid to ten in his first USHL season. But he's definitely got offensive defenseman potential:
USHR ranked him just behind Samuelsson and fellow NTDP big timer Bode Wilde at the select 15s:
Poised, two-way defender. Excellent skater, plus shot, could be a powerplay QB at the next level.
Cox likes him as well, naming him the third best defender at the Select 16. One more difference between Semik and Hughes:
His athletic ability is his biggest asset at the moment. He has good feet and mobility, can get shots through from the point and can join the offense. He moves the puck well. If he can learn to think the game a little better, the Wolverines could have an elite college blue liner coming to Ann Arbor.
Hughes is reputed to think the game better than aonyone in his age group, and Semik isn't on that level yet. I've seen the odd assertion from randos on the Hockey's Future boards that Semik could sneak into the tail end of the first round; it seems more likely he'd be a second or third rounder.
Finally, Alec Regula is a rarity: a kid who emerged from Michigan high school hockey to be a major prospect. He moved to the USHL last year after being a second round pick and at 16 was a regular for the USHL champs. The Chicago Steel finished third in goals allowed; Regula had just five points in 53 games. He's very much a defensive defenseman.
Other indicators of his talent level: he was a fourth round pick by London in the OHL draft despite the fact that he attended Cranbrook (that's a private school!) before his USHL move. The idea he was going to skip out on college was fanciful at best:
“The OHL Draft happened so quickly. I hadn’t talked to a team all year then right before the draft I played in the OHL cup with TPH and played pretty well. After that tons of teams were calling seeing if I’d be interested in the OHL route. I told the teams I wanted to play college, but London really liked me and decided to take me early. It was a great feeling seeing my name called; I’ll never forget it.”
Regula is the most boom-or-bust of Michigan's 2018 recruits, but he appears to be leaning towards the boom end:
"He's a player who's still a little raw in his development, but he has big time potential, especially with his size. He's mobile for such a big guy. He has good reach and length to his game in his own zone. He got caught flat footed a couple of times, but once he learns the position more, he could be a legit pro prospect. The Wolverines scooped him up following camp.
USHR thought he was "big" and "raw" but similarly promising. The Scout:
…high-upside defender who landed firmly in our Top 75 after impressing with his high-impact game. He moves extremely well in a sturdy frame and shows the ability to distribute at an advanced level. He’s a name that isn’t receiving as much traction as he should but he should turn heads at the OHL Cup. Just remember that you heard his name here first.
His development over the next year will be more interesting than any of the other 2018s. Have to imagine he might get pushed back to 2019 given the roster.
Unless there's attrition that looks somewhat unlikely this class should slot in comfortably with Michigan's needs. The only forwards Michigan loses after this year are two healthy scratch sorts (Talcott and Porikos), Cutler Martin, Dexter Dancs, and Tony Calderone. Kiefiuk and Randl look to be long term college players and upgrades on the departures. They can fill in other holes with the kind of guys Pearson was picking up at Tech.
The D class is excellent. Michigan's certain attrition next year consists of just Sam Piazza, and there aren't any surefire early departures. Luke Martin and Joe Cecconi are both possibilities, I guess. Even if both go Michigan has plenty of cover. Unless there's the Michigan Hockey Summer to end all Michigan Hockey Summers the blueline is going to be capital-L Loaded in the near future.