Hockey Preview 2013: Forwards

Submitted by Brian on September 30th, 2013 at 3:27 PM

MICHIGAN DROPS THE PUCK on Sunday in an exhibition against Waterloo to kick off their 2013-2014 hockey campaign; things get real serious real fast after that as BC comes in for the season opener proper on Thursday the 10th. While I can't go into as much detail as I do with football, a conveniently-timed bye week provides a window in which to properly preview hockey, something I'm not sure I've ever done.


say hello to your next two-year captain, Andrew Copp


The following is a fanciful line chart that will be wrong from day one in many respects, and even more wrong when Red runs his line through a blender four times. But you've got to try:

Alex Guptill Jr. Andrew Copp So. Boo Nieves So.
Phil Di Giuseppe Jr. JT Compher Fr. Derek DeBlois Sr.
Tyler Motte Fr. Travis Lynch Jr. Luke Moffatt Sr.
Evan Allen Fr. Justin Selman So. Zach Hyman Jr.

ALSO: Andrew Sinelli (Jr), Alex Kile (Fr), Max Shuart (Fr)

Ishockey Ice hockey Sweden USA

I call him mini-Copp

CENTER. The theory here is that a year after Michigan struggled with leadership everywhere they will prioritize guys who give maximum effort on every shift and build the team around a core of hard-ass centers. Andrew Copp is obvious. Copp was handed the reins of the top line halfway through the season and almost singlehandedly turned the attitude of the team around. Copp worked his ass off, inspired Alex Guptill to great heights, and finished the year with something of a scoring flourish. He's still developing after a career as a high school quarterback made hockey a part-time pastime, and his freshman year was good enough to draw the attention of the NHL after being passed over a year ago. If Michigan can make good on the promise of their late season run this year and for the next few, Copp will go down like Ortmeyer or Hagelin.

Meanwhile, every scouting report on incoming freshman JT Compher goes out of its way to praise Compher's compete level and two-way play:

Compher's NTDP coach Don Granato summed it up pretty well in Compher's hometown newspaper: ""Anything intangible, as far as an attribute, that I’ve mentioned, he’s a 10."

The phrase "two-way forward" is often the polite cliche for a player with not a lot of offensive talent, but in Compher's case, it's not used in a derogatory fashion. Compher is one of the rare skilled players that exhibits the same effort and enthusiasm without the puck that he does with the puck. He's a tenacious, sometimes nasty, defender that makes life difficult for opponents. His compete level all over the ice is among the best in the draft.

Despite not having awesome size or speed, Compher led the NTDP in PPG last year. He is ready for a lot of responsibility, probably right now. Billy Powers isn't even being coy about it:

J.T. is a guy who really has a lot of tools. He’s being talked about a lot as a defensive, third-line forward type but there’s some offensive potential there as well, and we think that will flourish in college. We see him as a power play, penalty kill player right from the start, and he’ll manage a line as a center in our top six.

If you thought one Copp was rather nice, two Copps will be like heaven after suffering through last year.

[After THE JUMP: actual rather a lot of depth.]

In the bottom six, Justin Selman is a lock at one of the two center spots. He and Zach Hyman teamed to give Michigan a high-effort, cycling fourth line last year. They barely scored but were not frequently scored upon; at points last year you could have argued they were the core of the second-best line on particular nights.

The final center spot is probably Travis Lynch's. Lynch was Michigan's go-to faceoff guy a year ago, winning 55% of his nearly 550 attempts. Only AJ Treais approached that many faceoffs and he was the worst FO guy to get an appreciable number of attempts. Lynch is an unbelievably boring offensive player, but scraped his way to a +1 rating a year ago despite just eight points to his name—think about that on a team with Michigan's collective save percentage—and took vanishingly few penalties: three minors, a major, and a misconduct. He is the boringly reliable checking center from central casting.


Guptill and Nieves will probably flank Copp

WINGS. This is one big bucket to me since Michigan will scramble things around. I have Nieves and Allen on off wings, FWIW. For Allen that makes a lot of sense since his scouting report is Jeff Tambellini but slow. You may want to flip the projected top-line wingers if you think Nieves's game is more suited to the perimeter and Guptill is more of a plow, which yeah I hear you.

Here Michigan will look for a balance between scoring and defensive responsibility they didn't really get a year ago. Alex Guptill was a rumored malcontent playing so badly they left him at home when they went to Ferris State; then they put him next to Copp. 20 games later, Michigan looked like a hockey team again and Guptill had put up a PPG for half the season. Things started off poorly for him this year, as it sounds like he has not been skating for disciplinary reasons:

Tuesday, Berenson announced that junior forward Alex Guptill — last year’s leading scorer — hasn’t been skating so far. Berenson didn’t specify as to why, but said that he removed him “because of something that happened this fall.”

Berenson didn’t say how long Guptill would be off the ice, but said he would be back at some point.

It's not serious enough to cause Red to leave him off a list of guys they need to break out (Di Giuseppe and Bennett were his other two), at least. Guptill is a banger with soft hands and a quality skating stride for a big man; his motivation level has waxed and waned over his time at Michigan. Given his results with and without Copp last year I can't see any way in which he's not placed next to his talisman.

It seems clear that Phil Di Giuseppe, Boo Nieves, and Derek DeBlois comprise the rest of the scoring-line wingers. DeBlois was Red's choice last year to ride along with Guptill and Copp and may reprise that role; this preview projects that DeBlois will deputize Compher on the second line, but realistically all three guys mentioned in this paragraph will see time on the top line.


DeBlois finishes checks

DeBlois is a low-offense mucker who did well to acquire an 11-9-20 line a year ago. He's not much of a creator, either with slick passing or strength, but his high effort level leads him to productive areas of the ice. He managed a +4 a year ago, which tied him with Copp for the team lead amongst forwards; three of his 11 goals were shorthanded. Now wearing an A, he's your Glendening Memorial Third Liner Who Plays On The Second Line.

Di Giuseppe has been a frustrating player in his first two years at Michigan, capable of putting up a 9-19-28 line with more shots than anyone on the team save Guptill and Trouba but finishing with a crappy .082 shooting percentage, taking 16 minor penalties largely of the lack-of-effort variety, and finishing –10. He's one of the biggest swing players on the team if he can reverse his falling NHL stock and blow up, which does happen regularly. Now would be the time; Red called him out as a guy Michigan needs to step up.

Nieves is a talent who had a harsh adjustment period. He spent his high school career at a prep school out east, not the USHL, and he was clearly shellshocked by the rise in competition level for the first half of the season. His shot totals are still alarmingly low for a guy expected to be a top scorer: 63 attempts is barely better than Zach Hyman last year. In year two Michigan wants him to be more of a physical threat; his speed and deft passing are tantalizing aspects to pair with Guptill, who is a quality finisher just waiting for opportunities. Like Di Giuseppe, he's a major swing player.

THE BOTTOM SIX WILL BE A SEASON-LONG BLENDER with the probable exception of the Hyman/Selman pairing. Senior Luke Moffatt brings good scoring ability for a depth forward that he pairs with often-indifferent defense. He'll bounce between the third and fourth line and is likely the guy to move up in the event of injury or suspension to one of the top six.


Motte scored twice in the NTDP's first-ever win over M last fall

This preview projects incoming freshman Tyler Motte to be the other third-line winger. I'd always assumed he was another slick short guy who wasn't going to be TJ Hensick, but Motte sounds a lot like a smaller, slicker Compher:

“He's a bit of a bull," Doneghey said. "He’s scored at every level, but he brings an intensity that’s second to nobody. He’s a guy who is probably going to have more bruises and ice packs on him than points in a game. He’s a really good utility player who can play a lot of roles.”

Powers compared Motte to Kevin Porter(!) and Carl Hagelin(!!!) and projected a multifaceted role right from the start:

He’s a gifted all-around player who will be involved in special teams and be a key forward for us right from the start. He’s around 5-10, and to make another comparison, he could be like a Carl Hagelin type – he may not wow you with his physical gifts at 18 but in three or four years he could be special.

Having him on the third line would give Michigan a high-energy player on the ice at all times, and maybe give Motte some time to round into college hockey. He also performed well with the NTDP a year ago, putting up 26 goals—second on the team.

The aforementioned Hyman isn't going to be moving up the depth chart much after arriving as an overager and quickly proving that most of his junior success was being older than his opponents, but neither is he going to be moved off of it. He and Selman treaded water last year, and in context that's impressive.

The final spot is going to see a lot of rotation. At the top of the list is freshman Evan Allen, the third NTDP alum. He was passed over in the draft despite an impressive 21-26-47 line, which was third on the team. Seven of those tallies were on the power play, and that might earn him a fourth-line role as Michigan tries to find something other than "give it to Trouba" there. When he committed, Michigan Hockey Net caught up with his AAA coach and got that Tambellini-but-slow evaluation:

His skating is probably slightly above average.  He’s got an NHL shot.  I mean, he can absolutely fire the puck.  Good vision.  Sees the ice well.  He’s our main power play guy.  We kind of key our power play off of him and he’s phenomenal on the power play.

Anything resembling "phenomenal on the power play" is a ticket to this lineup.

Also an interesting prospect is Alex Kile, who blew up after he committed with a 30-30-60 in his final year in the USHL. That was tied for 15th in the league. Some cautions: he was only the third-leading scorer on his team, which often implies that he was a bit of a passenger as his other linemates did more of the heavy lifting, and that was an overage year. Like Hyman he may peter out into a guy who can't put up numbers in college, but a PPG in the USHL is generally a good sign for anyone, overage or not.

Projected bench players include Andrew Sinelli, who is JJ Swistak 2013, plus freshman Max Shuart. Shuart did not sign a LOI and had to move to the NAHL in the middle of the year last year to get more playing time; don't expect him to contribute much as a freshman.


Michigan Arrogance

September 30th, 2013 at 3:57 PM ^

I have a pair for this RIT game in a couple weeks. It will be interesting to see how they play on the road. I'm not sold on any parts of their game, but people say the talent at forward is among the top 5 teams in teh nation, FWIW


September 30th, 2013 at 6:21 PM ^

I am super bummed I can't attend the RIT game. (People have the audacity to get married on the days of fairly unimportant non-conference games. Some people...)

Will be interesting to see how we turn out this year. This is as under-the-radar Michigan hockey has been in 20+ years

Adam Schnepp

September 30th, 2013 at 10:41 PM ^

I may be crazy, but I love this set of forwards. With Copp and Compher in the middle you have two guys who, like Brian said, will both outwork their opponents and set up their wings. There's potential for point production from all four lines, and the overall unit should be better defensively than last year. I think the forwards will be a bright spot this season.


October 1st, 2013 at 1:43 AM ^

I like the depth.  I feel like Selman and Hyman are more well rounded than Lynch and Moffatt.  You're not going to see Hyman get lazy clearing the puck or losing too many battles on the boards, and Selman seems to play well in all 3 zones.  If Motte is as described those two would make a really formidable 3rd line with him.

I think Lynch is solid but Moffatt really doesn't work as hard as he needs to off the puck or in the defensive end.


October 1st, 2013 at 10:56 AM ^

I agree about addition by subtraction but I still count 3 wingers on that depth chart that can't be bothered to play defense or backcheck regularily so I still have my doubts.  The biggest difference is that they have 5 good centers (Hyman can play C too) and they are all very responsible.  Also, with Copp being so prominent I don't think they'll get into funks like they did last year and in 09-10.

Defense is what concerns me, there is no depth.  I have zero concerns about goaltending as Racine was very good last year.  People don't realize how bad they were defensively in the first half of the season, he was still solid then as well.  I think he's ready for the heavy load.

Wolverine Devotee

October 1st, 2013 at 7:53 AM ^

I think Michigan can win the conference and make a run, but I thought they were gonna win both the conference and playoff titles, preseason of last year.

Just don't know and can't make a projection until I see a few months of play.  



October 1st, 2013 at 9:11 AM ^

I'm glad that the explosion of the baskeball team and an extremely rare down year for the hockey team hasn't left M Hockey in the dust. They'll be back -- much better than last year, though not nearly the depth in-front of goal to do any real damage in the NCAA's, IMO. The forwards, I think, will be better than most expect. Compher and Motte will be huge additions. If we can get any consistency whatsoever from guys like DiGuiseppe and Guptill (whenever he comes back -- hopefully it's not another half season suspension), that corps will be just fine. Defense is so, so very green; unlike football though, freshman hockey players can really make a difference from day one. It will be interesting to see. As far as the net goes...who the hell knows? 


October 1st, 2013 at 11:32 AM ^

Very excited to see the scoring lines in whichever combination they use. If PDG can play to his ability every game and the freshman make the impact they should, our offense will be very scary. It'll take about a month for us to truly see which lines gel best and how the team will perform as a whole. Excited AND scared to read the defenseman preview.

ALSO, as you mentioned, I'm curious to see who steps up for Trouba on the powerplay. Huge loss there but it happens, how will we rebound? Man I love college hockey