Last Season: Summers's freshman year was a mixed bag. He spent the first 30 games of the year on the blueline, and was pretty good for a freshman, but despite being fairly solid, he didn't flash any of the offensive skill that he was lauded for having (and that many of us witnessed at The Cube when he played for the NTDP). He scored a goal (which was an empty netter), had 5 assists, 44 PIMs, and was +11 (which ranked him 4th amongst Wolverine defenders). Then they moved him up to forward, where he showed the ability to be an impact player. Over the final 11 games of the season, he tallied 5 goals and 3 assists, including an outstanding effort against Michigan State.
For the season, he had a 6-8--14 line in 41 games, with 58 PIMs and was +13.
Expectations: It appears that for this coming year Summers--a first round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006--will be moving back to the blueline. It's understandable why. The Wolverines lost four defensemen from last year, including two big-time scorers in Hunwick and Johnson. With Summers's offensive gifts, he should be able to compensate for the back-end offense that we've lost.
And while I'd prefer to see him back at forward, where he was excellent, a fair compromise would be to turn him back into a defenseman, but give him the leeway to jump into the offensive end that Jack Johnson had. While Summers doesn't have the moves Johnson wowed us with, he flashed the ability that he has coming down the wing. Plus he's fast as hell, so he can rush the puck and still get back on defense. I imagine that he'll be counted on to be the offensive defenseman of the group (though Langlais and Quick should contribute as well). It's unreasonable to expect him to match Johnson's offensive output (16-23--39 in 36 games? Seriously?), but it wouldn't shock me a bit if Summers broke the 20 point plateau and approached the numbers that Hunwick put up (6-21--27).
If all four freshmen defenders can play, it wouldn't shock me to see Summers get some more time up front. It's hard to ignore his production up front, even if he's just skating the odd shift as a forward on the power play (or when someone is injured). If he was in NCAA Football, he'd be the recruit who you really want to play at WR, where he's an 87 overall. But based on the needs of your team, you almost have to move him to RB, despite his 78 ranking.
That being said, I don't think an All-Conference selection is out of the realm of possibility. Alec Martinez (Miami) is the only returning defender from the six named to last year's All CCHA Teams. The door is wide open to gain recognition.
Level of Necessity: 8 out of 10
This is a big year for Summers. With so many defensemen gone, he'll be given more ice time and likely more of a green light to show his offensive ability. While he didn't stand out on the blueline last year, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Especially with a freshman defender. He's adjusted to the college game now, and hopefully his natural ability will start shining through. He closed the year on a role, albeit at forward, and hopefully the strong finish to last season will carry over to this year.
We need someone to step up and grab some of those minutes that Johnson and Hunwick logged, as well as replace the points that we lost. Summers has the ability to do that. The idea of a slew of freshmen defenders playing in front of a shaky goaltender scares me. We need both of our first round draft pick defenders to have good seasons, eat up minutes, and contribute more offensively.
In my opinion, of all the players returning, Summers should make the biggest improvement from last year to this year. That's not to knock his play last year. He was pretty good. But he has the ability to be a great college hockey player, and with his skill and the increased ice time he should see, I fully expect an outstanding year out of this young man. No matter what position he's playing.