Before we get into one of the returning forwards, Brian Lebler, let's talk about yet another example of how God hates this hockey team.
Bryan Hogan, freshman goaltender who will be previewed in a couple of weeks, has apparently come down with mono. I swore. A lot.
It was bad enough when Mike Cammalleri contracted the disease during the stretch run of a season where we were on the tournament bubble. It was amazing when Andy Burnes came down with it when we were already struggling with depth on defense back in 2002. When David Rohlfs and Mike Brown came down with it at roughly the same time, part of me was amused. But Hogan? Shit. I don't even know how good this kid is, but he's getting a 10 out of 10 in "Level of Necessity" because he represents hope.
The good news is that he's still got 2 weeks before the puck drops and symptoms typically go away after about a month. The bad news is that it can take some time after the symptoms go away to be ready to play again. When Cammalleri had it, he missed ten games and started skating around Valentines Day, but didn't dress until March 1.
If the diagnosis is confirmed, it's a huge blow to a kid who had an excellent chance of stealing the starting job away from incumbent Billy Sauer, or at worst splitting time. Not to say he won't get that chance when he returns, but these two weeks of practice could have been huge.
Now onto the main subject of this post, Brian Lebler.
Last Season: Lebler came in as a decently regarded freshman--he had a Wisconsin offer and was listed as a "B Level" player from NHL Central Scouting. He didn't end up getting drafted, but he playing pretty decently as a freshman. He scoring 7 goals and had 4 assists for 11 points in 37 games. He was worst on the team amongst the scholarship players in +/-, but was still +2 on the year and had 34 PIMs.
He started the year paired with Andrew Cogliano and Chad Kolarik, which obviously didn't suit him. He's not fast enough to keep up with those guys and is much better suited for a role banging away on the checking line. After they moved him to a line with Turnbull and Bailey, he started to play better. His offensive game took a downward turn after the GLI. He scored just 1-1--2 over the 2007 portion of the season. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was seeing time with Cogliano and Kolarik again.
Unfortunately, the biggest memory that I have of Lebler from last year was Jim O'Brien skating away from him on a breakaway. It's quite possible that I've never seen someone skate that slowly in my entire life. Maybe he was at the end of a shift, but yeah....slow.
Fun random stat: He's second on the team amongst the returning players in shooting percentage. He scored on about 15% of his shots on goal last year.
Fun random stat #2: He somehow managed to not be on the ice for any of the 13 goals scored in the NCAA Tournament Game against North Dakota.
Expectations: It's pretty clear from last year that Lebler's game isn't to put the puck in the net. He scored some in Juniors, but he was playing in the BCHL, so that may be the hockey equivalent of Derek Anderson throwing 5 TD passes in a game.
He's much better suited to be on a checking line where he can put his size to good use. He's the biggest guy on the roster apart from Eric Emblad and Mark Mitera. He might actually find himself in a battle for ice time, though, if all the freshmen earn shifts. Right now, I would say that there are 9 forwards guaranteed to be in the lineup: Palushaj, Turnbull, Porter, Winnett, Miller, Rust, Kolarik, Caporusso, and Pacioretty. That leaves three spots open. From the sounds of it, they really like Hagelin. That leaves Lebler, Naurato, Fardig, Fragner and Ciraulo fighting for the last two spots. I imagine they'll go to Lebler and Naurato on most nights, but it really wouldn't shock me to see Danny Fardig get in there on some occasions. So it's possible that Lebler will really be fighting with Naurato to be an "every night" forward.
If he's in, I see more of the same from last year. Solid checking line player, who they sometimes try as a power forward on a scoring line. I don't think he sees as much time on the power play as last year (he had 3 PPGs) because of the skilled forwards coming in. As a wild-ass guess, I'll say he plays closer to 30 games than 40 games and has offensive numbers similar to last year, which accounts for improvement, but less ice time.
Level of Necessity: 5.5 out of 10.
Our forward depth is enough that if Lebler goes out, you're looking at plugging in a guy with quite a bit of experience, like Fardig or Naurato. One thing that Lebler does provide us with is that big body. If his offense has improved and he can show that he's able to play as a power forward on a scoring line and not look out of place, this number goes up a point or so because we only have so many guys that have his size. His freshman year wasn't so different from Jason Ryznar's (7-4--11 vs. 9-7--16). Ryznar never really upped his point totals all that much (but he also had trouble staying healthy). He did improve as a player over his four years, though. I think Lebler's upside is to end up being a Jason Ryznar type. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Other Stuff: Checking In with Chad Langlais has been posted at MGoBlue.
The basketball blog at MGoBlue has an unfortunate name. Really? It's a good read, but they need to change that name... (HT: Michigan Sports Center)