Thursday, March 30, 2006

Final Assessments: Defense and Goaltending

It's that time of the year: Post-season grades for the Michigan hockey team. Note that these grades are weighted with respect to my expectations for a player, therefore a B for Jon Montville and a B for Jack Johnson don't mean quite the same thing. Got it? Let's begin:

#3 Jack Johnson: Jack was phenomenal right out of the gate, with he and defense partner Matt Hunwick putting up huge numbers in the early going. Somewhere, things went awry and the middle of the season wasn't nearly as strong for the NHL's #3 overall pick. A new-found commitment to defense late in the year led to Johnson playing some of his strongest hockey toward the end of the season, particularly in the playoff series against Ferris State.

If you remember what I said about him before the season, it should come as no surprise that he ended up breaking our single-season PIMs record, as well as our freshman defense scoring record. It also shouldn't be a surprise that he became public enemy #1 amongst Spartan fans, Miami fans, and the nation of Canada.

Overall he was outstanding offensively, outstanding at times defensively, maddeningly irresponsible defensively at other times, and was always good for the type of play that got Yost jumping, be it a big hit, an end-to-end rush, or a huge goal. And will anyone ever forget that shot in the BC game that knocked Corey Schneider's mask off?

He just announced that he's coming back for his sophomore season, and I can't wait to see what an improved Jack Johnson looks like. Watch out CCHA!

Final Grade: B, he was for sure an impact player at the college level—and is without a doubt the most talented defenseman we've had in my time around this program—but he has room to improve and needs to make better decisions about when to go for the big hit.

#4 Adam Dunlap: Barely played, didn't kill us when he did, but got beat out by another walk-on. I don't really expect to see him back next year. 2 defensemen coming in, 0 that we know of leaving. That makes 8 if they bring Montville back and leave Rohlfs at forward.

Final Grade: Inc.

#5 Jon Montville: One of the pleasant surprises of this season. He was a mainstay in the lineup for the second half of the season, and was solid enough to allow them to move David Rohlfs back up to forward, where he was needed. For a walk-on sixth defenseman, he really didn't hurt the team—he had his plays that made me hold my breath for sure, but overall was pretty solid, all things considered.

Final Grade: B-

#6 Matt Hunwick: Teamed with Johnson to make up a defense pairing that provided excitement (sometimes good, sometimes bad) every time they stepped on the ice. Like Johnson, he started the year in fantastic fashion, but quickly went downhill. Though Johnson got all the pub for taking bad penalties, Hunwick was worse in that regard in a lot of cases (e.g. at Bowling Green). Sprinkled in a few brilliant performances along the way and was still good enough to be up for CCHA Defensive Defenseman of the Year (though I don't agree with that one). Got beat to the outside far too many times for a guy of his ability and generally just looked a half-step too slow a lot of the time. Did he add too much weight in the offseason? Still ended the year second on the team in plus/minus and put in 30 points, so he must have been doing something right.

Final Grade: B-

#8 Jason Dest: Very quietly had a great season. He's a guy you don't notice all that often, and that's usually a good thing with a defenseman of his style. The +/- number wasn't what it has been in year's past, but I feel that he still had a pretty darn good year. For a decent part of the season, he was Michigan's most steady defenseman, particularly in the 1-1 tie at Munn. Though he's not going to put up huge offensive numbers, Dest did get into the offense at little bit more often, especially late in the year. He did go through a stretch (early in the season I believe) where I frequently wondered what the heck he was doing, but he got it together in time to still have a very good junior season.

Final Grade: B

#16 David Rohlfs will be covered as a forward...

#17 Mark Mitera: Mitera is the one defenseman that I don't feel should share in the blame for how poorly they played for a fair portion of the year. With the exception of a couple of games, he was rock steady the entire year and was pretty much the pure definition of a stay-at-home defenseman. Showed a great ability to block shots, and was physical enough without spending an excessive amount of time in the penalty box. I would have liked to have seen more of him paired with Johnson, as I felt like they were pretty good together and compliment each other's styles well. Pretty much exactly what I expected out of him in terms of performance except that I would've thought he would have chipped in a little more on the offensive end. He does have a good shot, he just doesn't get to unleash it very often. Maybe that's the step for next year. He's 40% of the way to Tim Cook territory in the not-scoring department.

Final Grade: A-

#25 Tim Cook: It's not fair to slap a grade on him and have it represent his entire season. Up until he scored a goal, the kid took a step back even from his disappointing sophomore year. After he scored though, he played with confidence, started hitting, was out of position less, and pretty much stopped looking like John Navarre on skates. He still had a Cook moment here and there but was by-and-large a completely different player. It was truly amazing to see what a goal could do for the confidence of a purely non-offensive defenseman. He was one of the few players that got better as the season went on, despite the struggles of the team. I'm actually kind of excited to see him back for his senior season--and to see what a whole year of a confident Tim Cook can do for this team. Mid-season I figured he wouldn't dress next year with Summers and Kampfer coming in. Now, I'm cautiously optomistic that he could be a key part of next year's team.

Pre-Goal Grade: D Post-Goal Grade: A- Final Grade: C+

#34 Noah Ruden: Who saw this coming 4 years ago? That Noah Ruden would be the guy to lead the Wolverines into the postseason at some point in his career? He and Billy Sauer passed the starting goaltending job back and forth like it was a hot potato this season. Once it appeared that Ruden had a firm grasp on it, he let it slip again with a piss-poor performance by all accounts at Nebraska-Omaha, opening to the door for Sauer to start on senior night at Yost. He faltered, and Ruden took the reigns for the rest of the year. He sparkled in his final game at Yost, closing out FSU and leaving to the cheers of "NO-AH RU-DEN". When NFL scouts refer to a player as "a guy" they could just as easily be talking about Rudy. He'd make the majority of the saves he was supposed to make, wouldn't make the saves he wasn't supposed to make, and was good for one bad goal a game. He had a few fine performances, a few horrible performances, and was pretty much Blah the rest of the time. It'd be easy to just slap a C on his performance, but since we're weighting based on expectations as well, he gets this:

Final Grade: B-

#36 Billy Sauer: After seeing his performance against BC and a couple of other games during the season, I was convinced that Red and Co. had struck gold once again with their choice of a goaltender. At one point during the year on the Yost Post, I stated that Sauer had earned the chance to go the rest of the way. Somewhere in there though, something went horribly wrong. The defense didn't defend, he got shelled, his confidence went in the sewer. He did show that he's an extremely talented goaltender though. He is very athletic and excels in finding the puck in traffic. He really could have used a year as a full-time starter in the USHL, as he only played about half the game last year and before that was playing high school JV hockey. He'll have some healthy competition from Steve Jakiel next year (who Billy Powers loves), and I expect it will bring out the best in both of them, rather than the goalies passing it back and forth due to poor play this year.

Final Grade: C+

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