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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

spring game stuff tomorrow.

Outgoing. Only two seniors depart but one of them was the Hobey Baker winner and the other should have been a finalist. Between them, Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter scored 63 goals -- that's more than an entire D-I team (Alabama-Huntsville) -- and comprised two-thirds of the top line in college hockey. They leave big shoes to fill both on and off the ice. We'll cover "on" later.

The "off" bit? Michigan has five seniors next year: Billy Sauer, Mark Mitera (maybe), Travis Turnbull, Tim Miller, and Danny Fardig. Mitera wore an A this year and is thus likely to get the C if he returns. If he goes? Uh... Turnbull is a hard worker and dedicated player who's got hockey bloodlines. He would almost definitely be the captain. Then you've got some fourth-liners and a goalie. Er.

Possibly Outgoing. We are entering one the dreaded Michigan Hockey Summer, during which strange and amazing things happen to submarine the team in the fall. Candidates for departure:

Mark Mitera, junior defenseman
Drafted:1st round (#19) in 2006 by Anaheim
Probability of departure:Berenson said he expects Anaheim to make a run at him this offseason, and they will. The only Michigan first-rounder to ever complete his eligibility was Eric Nystrom, who plateaued as a freshman and is a marginal NHLer, so the general expectation going into the year was he was a goner. Around midseason there was some chatter he would return... at this point it's 50-50, IMO.
Impact of departure:It's never good to lose a potential senior captain, but Michigan is prepared in case of a Mitera departure. They recruited St. Mike's Buzzer (St. Mike's also produced Andrew Cogliano and Louie Caporusso) and possible late-first-round pick Brandon Burlon to step into any potential holes on the blue line.

Burlon is coming in either way with Kevin Quick's departure, so the guy brought in to take Mitera's spot would be USHL defenseman Greg Pateryn. Pateryn was offered as a developmental prospect -- he could sign his LOI this fall because he's not getting a full ride; Burlon had to wait -- with an eye on bringing him in for 2009.

This sounds sketchy, but Pateryn blew up this year, scoring 30 points and ending up a -1 on a bad Ohio team, getting named to the USHL All-Star team, and being ranked higher by the CSB than incoming forward recruit David Wohlberg. He can play and Michigan's defense corps will be okay without Mitera.

Chris Summers, sophomore defenseman
Drafted:1st round (#29) in 2007 by Phoenix
Probability of departure:I haven't heard chatter either way about Summers, but a friend who works at a local newspaper interviewed him and got the impression he was sticking around. Phoenix was content to let Porter and Kolarik develop and was rewarded; hopefully they'll follow suit with Summers.
Impact of departure:See Mitera above for Michigan's potential response to a Summers departure. Michigan could probably deal with one of the two defenseman bolting without serious difficulty, but losing both would make Steve Kampfer the only upperclass defenseman and force Michigan to skate both freshmen with only walk-on Eric Elmblad behind them. Yick.

Max Pacioretty, freshman winger
Drafted:1st round (#22) in 2008 by Montreal
Probability of departure:Low, but it would be just like Michigan Hockey Player Stealing Hobgoblin to grab Pacioretty after his extremely promising freshman year. Montreal is likely to let a late first-round pick who isn't clearly dominant already stick around for development and cost control purposes.
Impact of departure:Pacioretty is going to be the anchor of the top line next year and there's no one to take his place if he goes. Losing him would be brutal.

Some Guy, freshman/sophomore/junior defenseman/forward/goalie
Drafted:Somewhere, or not at all.
Probability of departure:Though last season was relatively calm and frustration-free -- Jack Johnson was so gone no one even considered him an early departure and Andrew Cogliano went right into an NHL scoring line -- the general rule is that weird crap always goes down and costs Michigan a player or two. Hopefully the Quick fiasco fills their WTF departure quota for the year.
Impact of departure:Carl Hagelin's pissed off.

Incoming. Burlon and Pateryn were mentioned above, but a little more information on the former. (Should Pateryn info become 2008-relevant I'll provide the same for him, but there's not much out there.) According to the always opinionated, sometimes right Kyle Woodlief now has him a "solid" first rounder:
Right now, we've got Zach Dalpe (Penticton), Brandon Burlon (St. Mike's), and Joe Colborne (Camrose) solidly in our first round.
Woodlief had a scouting report earlier in the year:
Burlon is ultra-smooth and the prototypical two-way defender in the post-lockout NHL landscape. He defends beautifully in his own end, seemingly never making a mistake in either his puck movement decisions, coverage down low or play diagnosis. He's big enough and competitive enough to duel against the big boys in front of the net and mobile and savvy enough to sniff out and breakup plays and lead quick-strike transition attacks, turning defense to offense in a heartbeat.
The Hockey News has him at #20:
#20 – Brandon Burlon – LD; St. Mike’s Buzzers
Intriguing prospect who plays Junior-A for the same team that produced Andrew Cogliano and Red Wings prospect Brendan Smith. Had a tremendous World Junior-A Challenge and has impressive offensive skills that will be good at any level.
At forward, Robbie Czarnik and David Wohlberg are eerily similar to Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik as recruits. Like Porter and Kolarik, Czarnik and Wohlberg are teammates and (usually) linemates on the NDTP U-18 team. Both will go in the same middle-round range Porter and Kolarik did. If Phoenix grabs them I'll be freaked.

Czarnik is the Kolarik of the pair*:
Czarnik is a dynamic forward who can take over a game with his shifty moves and his long reach. He is able to get around defenders with his reach and has one of the quickest releases in midget major hockey. Czarnik just has that scoring touch that not many players are gifted with. He takes a lot of abuse on the ice, but he seems to handle it well and even shows some grit to his game when defenders challenge him.
That report is from a year ago.

I think Czarnik's stock has dropped a little since his tremendously early commitment to Michigan. He's going to go in the fifth round or so. He was fifth in scoring for the U-18 team this year, well behind BU commit Jordan Schroeder and (in PPG at least) high-first-rounder Jeremy Morin. To be fair, amongst players who played the entire NDTP season only Schroeder had significantly more points -- the three other guys ahead of him beat him by one or two. In something of a down year for the NTDP, you'd like to see your main guy do a little better.

Meanwhile, Wohlberg is the Porter analogue (same link as above):
[Wohlberg is the] Detroit Honeybaked Captain and leads by example on and off the ice. Has a great all-around skill-set and possesses a great mind for the game defensively. He is a great passer who uses his teammates and he can really create a lot of offense on the rush.
Mel Pearson:
I don't know if we've anybody like David Wohlberg for the last little bit. He's an intriguing player with good size and he plays with a real edge to him. He has good skill -- good hands. He's the type of guy you could probably project to play against a lot of other teams' top centers because he is very defensive conscious in the zone. He's good on faceoffs.
Wohlberg had 11-11-22 with the NTDP team.

*(Lest you doubt, Red Berenson approves this message, a little bit: "If you had to compare them in a general way, I could compare Czarnik a little bit to Chad Kolarik. And I could compare Wohlberg a little bit to Porter. That's a little bit."

Re-arrangement. Last year was a weirdly stable one for Michigan's lines. Pacioretty, Porter, and Kolarik always played together when injury or suspension didn't prevent it. The same went for Rust, Hagelin, and Palushaj. Louie Caporusso and Travis Turnbull were two thirds of the third line with Tim Miller, Brandon Naurato, or (late in the season) Ben Winnett the third. The biggest question about the lineup was which fourth-liner got scratched.

This stands in marked contrast to years previous, when Berenson would shove the lines in a blender whenever Michigan got sluggish or he was feeling especially frisky or Billy Powers dared him to. Without senior anchors the likes of Kolarik and Porter, the blender will be back in force this year and the following exercise is probably futile. But whatever:

First Line
LWMax PaciorettyCCarl HagelinRWAaron Palushaj
Patch is the lone returning member of the top line and is a lock. Palushaj is the team's leading scorer outside of the two seniors. And though Hagelin spent most of this year on the wing he took over at center when Matt Rust broke his leg and had an excellent weekend or two. Though Hagelin's scoring was considerably off the pace set by his projected linemates, he got very little power play time and is set for a breakout season if given increased responsibility and opportunity.
Second Line
LWBen WinnettCMatt RustRWTravis Turnbull
Winnett might be a reach. He was a disappointing nonentity for the first half of the year but began to come on towards the end of the season. He was a rampant scorer in the wild-west BCHL and a mid-round NHL draftee: he has talent. Berenson has always displayed a preference for the younger player when two guys are similar, which should give him the edge over Tim Miller.

Turnbull is a checker and lightning skater who popped in 15 goals last year on nothing more than grim determination; Rust seems like a bigger version of Dwight Helminen. This looks like an excellent defensive line to eat tough minutes against top lines across the league.
Third Line
LWRobbie CzarnikCLouie CaporussoRWDavid Wohlberg
If Hagelin does move to center as projected someone will have to move to wing or Michigan's going to have an excellent player getting limited minutes on the fourth line. The projection here is this will be freshman Wohlberg.

This line is small, young, and possibly dodgy defensively but as Michigan's third option could be an excellent outscoring line against soft competition.
Fourth Line
LWBrandon Naurato
CDanny FardigRWTim Miller
(Also: Lebler, Ciraulo.) Here are the limited but useful players, the same as they were last year.

I have no idea what will happen with the defensemen. Mitera is an obvious first-pairing guy if he returns and I think Summers will anchor the second pairing. Langlais, IMO, was Michigan's third best defenseman at year's end but will always be tiny and need sheltering from top lines. Burlon could jump directly onto the top pairing or shuffle around the second or third. First-round picks don't get scratched regularly, so if Mitera stays Vaughn and Llewellyn (and Kampfer, IMO) will battle it out to see who gets scratched.

The Looming Question. What do you do with a goalie that had the statistically-best season in the history of the program but melted down in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year?

Until Al Montoya signed with the Rangers, goaltender at Michigan was a simple thing: there was one guy who started for four years and that was it. No platooning, no controversy, just one guy. No more. Billy Sauer came in a year early and broke that trend. He lost his job to Noah Ruden as a freshman. As a sophomore he gave way to Steve Jakiel for a few games, during which Jakiel managed to look even worse than Sauer. And he just got pulled for Brian Hogan after the first period of a national semifinal.

Hogan's back for his sophomore year and the general expectation is he'll be given the opportunity to win the starting job. Unfortunately, the general indicators on Hogan are no better than they are on Sauer. In limited time this year -- about six games -- Hogan was 0.6 GAA worse than Sauer and had a save percentage of .903 compared to Sauer's .924. You could put this down to an unfortunately-timed case of mono and infrequent use, but Hogan's final USHL year and the .889 save percentage he posted during it remain a big red flag. Hogan's two years younger than Sauer, was not drafted, and has worse numbers. He's probably not as good.

So? It's hard to tell which of the Big Four teams are going to be hurt the most by their offseason losses but pretty easy to determine which will be hurt the least: Notre Dame. ND loses four players, two of them reliable defensemen, but no big names.

Ryan Jones and Nathan Davis are out the door for Miami, as is high-assist defenseman Mitch Ganzak and third liner Nino Musitelli. But Carter Camper, Justin Mercier, Andy Miele, and a bunch of other guys who helped Miami pound goals in are all back. The one problem: Jeff Zatkoff is off to the AHL early, and his backup was Hogan to Zatkoff's Sauer last year.

Michigan State loses Lerg (traitorous forward edition), Justin Abdelkader, Mike Ratchuk, and Chris Mueller along with two senior D. Tim Kennedy is widely expected to sign with Buffalo, too.

As noted, Michigan loses Hobey One and Hobey Two.

Advantage Notre Dame? NSFMF! Last year's goal differentials:

Michigan State+34+37
Notre Dame+17+36

Notre Dame gave up one fewer goal than MSU and one more than Miami in conference -- Michigan was five worse than ND -- so this isn't like a Ryan Miller MSU team where their goal differential might be only +30 but that's because they scored 30 to their opponents zero and were dominant. Notre Dame was a distant fourth in team quality and has a major leap to make to get up to the level Michigan and Miami were at this year.

A complicating factor: a potential rise from the Medium Four -- the four teams that finished within two games of .500. Northern Michigan loses one regular defenseman and one top liner, plus two guys with under ten points. The rest of the team, including a huge freshman class, returns. They project to be significantly better. Similarly, Ferris State loses one top line forward, one guy with four points, and what looks to be their bottom three defensemen from a team that finished the year strongly. They could make a push.

It will be a wide open year; the three teams with big goal differentials will probably fall back to the pack and if one of Ferris or Northern makes a leap it could be a wild free-for-all amongst as many as five teams. Michigan is probably the favorite pending Michigan Hockey Summer.