Despite playing two more games than the 06-07 Wolverines, this year's team gave up thirty fewer goals. A big reason for the difference was the improvement between the pipes. Just as important, however, was the play of our group of defensemen, who allowed 26.4 shots on goal per game (compared to 29.1 a year ago) and drastically cut down the number of quality scoring chances (I don't have a stat on this one, but trust me, kay?).
As a reminder, expectations are factored into the grades and the player's name is linked to my preseason expectations.
#3 Scooter Vaughan
33 GP, 0-4--4, +9, 27 PIMs
Vaughan began the season as part of the "Play 2 every 3" rotation with Tristin Llewellyn and the defenseman formerly known as Kevin Quick. Once Quick was booted from the team, he became a fixture in the lineup and performed at a high level pretty much the entire season.
The best compliment you can give a defensive defenseman--particularly a freshman--is that he was rarely noticeable, and that was the case with Vaughan. He rarely made mistakes, he didn't turn the puck over all that often, and a hitting-from-behind major against Miami was the only penalty he took in the last 20 games of the season.
He proved to be much better than I expected at the start of the season. I didn't say anything particularly dumb in that piece (or particularly smart), but suffice it to say, I didn't expect him to be a top-pairing defenseman for much of the year.
He was a "minus" in eight games, but was worse than a -1 just twice. If you're looking for a big reason we won the GLI, you can point at Scooter Vaughan. He blocked ten shots over the two games, including 6 against Michigan Tech, and took the shot that Travis Turnbull tipped in for the tournament-winning goal.
He also gets points for playing with a broken jaw, after an off-ice wrestling incident.
2007-08 Grade: B+. A player that I didn't expect to play nearly as consistently as he did ended up being a top-pairing defenseman and rarely hurt us. Very solid season out of Vaughan.
#4 Chris Summers
41 GP, 2-11--13, +27, 65 PIMs
Solid and steady. Perfect words to describe one of the most underrated players in all of college hockey. It appeared that Red Berenson had enough confidence in his freshmen defenders to think about moving Summers back to forward (as he did a year ago to great success). Summers skated up front for a weekend against BGSU and scored a game-winning goal. Then he left to go the GLI, Kevin Quick ended up getting kicked off the team, and Summers never saw time at forward again.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Summers proved to be Michigan's second-best defenseman this season, and arguably its most consistent. He didn't approach the offensive numbers that I expected (I predicted 20 points, possibly approaching the 27 Hunwick had a year ago; he ended up with 13) but they never really gave him the green light to freelance offensively as I had expected.
But for a player that didn't put up huge offensive numbers, his +/- was incredible. He finished the season +27. He was a minus in seven games, but was never more than -1. He was third on the team in blocked shots with 49 and set a career high with 11 assists.
The thought of him moving to forward is probably never going to escape from Wolverine fans' minds, as he's clearly showed that he has the talent to be a very good winger. As it is though, even if he doesn't pile up Jack Johnson numbers back on the blueline, he's still a very good defenseman.
Provided he returns for his junior season, he'll more than likely be an alternate captain. I suppose he could even be the team's captain if Mark Mitera turns pro.
2007-08 Grade: A-. I'd like to see him cut down the penalties a little bit. 65 minutes really isn't an unreasonable amount (especially considering almost a quarter of them came on one play) but there are a few too many two or three penalty games in there. I also wish his offensive abilities would shine through a little more when he's on the blueline. Mitera and Kampfer aren't offensive dynamos by any stretch and he was behind both of them in points. Since expectations count, I feel I have to have him behind Kampfer in terms of his grade. I thought long and hard about making this a B+, but he was so solid overall he deserve to be in the A range even if there's a couple of small things I'd like to see him improve on.
#5 Steve Kampfer
42 GP, 2-15--17, +27, 36 PIMs
Were it not from a (nearly) complete transformation in Billy Sauer's game, Steve Kampfer probably would've been in line for the Most Improved Player award. After a fairly unremarkable freshman campaign plagued by numerous turnovers in his own end, Kampfer grew into a solid defenseman capable of chipping in on the offensive end.
He, like Chris Summers, probably doesn't get enough credit for how good he was this season. I called Summers arguably our most consistent defenseman, but Kampfer could stake a claim as well.
Kampfer was a minus just four times this season (two times worse than -1). In the middle of the season, however, he went 18 games without being on the minus side. Pretty impressive. He committed multiple penalties in a game on just two occasions and was second on the team in blocked shots with 55.
I wanted to see him in the middle of the pack in +/- (he was +3 last year, second-worst on the team amongst guys who played and didn't Bail--see what I did there?--midseason) and with double-digit points. Mission accomplished as he nearly hit 20 points and was tied for 5th in +/-.
He was noticeably excellent against Niagara and put up a ridiculous +6 mark in Game One against Nebraska-Omaha. He was also very strong in the Showcase. He had a rough game in the 5-5 tie against Miami, despite ending up with an "even" rating. That stat doesn't always tell the whole story (and I do realize that, despite the amount of times I've brought it up).
2007-08 Grade: A. I'm surprised too. He's probably more of an A-/B+ type player, but expectations count and Kampfer drastically exceeded mine.
#7 Chad Langlais
43 GP, 0-19--19, +22, 50 PIMs
Thank you, Chris Chelios! Michigan unearthed this gem partially due to a recommendation out of the legendary defenseman and Langlais was another very pleasant surprise on a team full of them. While I expected Langlais to be a pretty good player out of the shoot (USHL All-Star, older freshman), I don't think anyone expected him to be as effective as he was.
He was one of just six Wolverines to play every game (Mitera was the only other defenseman) and made his mark early, with nine points in his first eleven games (including a six game assist streak). Langlais came in with the reputation as an Eric Werner-type, which was great if we were talking about senior year Eric Werner and not so good if we were talking about freshman year Eric Werner. Thankfully, it was the former. He had a few bad turnovers early in the year (Minnesota in the Icebreaker was a fairly bad outing) and took a few bad penalties, but by and large he was pretty fantastic.
He quarterbacked a Michigan power play that was three percent better than a year ago, but was a very significant seven percent better when you factor in short-handed goals allowed.
He was a minus on just three occasions and was named as an Honorable Mention on the CCHA's All-Rookie Team. He wasn't on the minus side in Michigan's last 15 games of the season and was one of our best players in the season-ending loss to Notre Dame.
While he cooled off offensively in the second half (at the halfway point he was on pace for 27 assists and ended up with 19) I feel that he was much-improved defensively. Gone were the bad turnovers and he was quite possibly our best defenseman at keeping the puck in the zone. Despite his offensive "struggles", he still ended up fourth on Michigan's all-time freshman defenseman assists list.
He was really strong against the Redhawks in the series down in Oxford, particularly Saturday night.
2007-08 Grade: A-. When a freshman defender billed as the next Eric Werner comes in and is a minus in just three games and darn-near sets the freshman defenseman assists record, he's getting a good grade. I expect him to be a very solid defenseman for us over the next three years. Langlais is like the perfect recruit. He's great out of the shoot. He's going to likely be even better his next three years. And the chances of him leaving to turn pro are fairly minimal.
#17 Mark Mitera
43 GP, 2-21--23, +30, 60 PIMs
With the departures of four defensemen from last year's team, Mitera took over as the #1 dman and the heart of the defense corps. He was given an "A" once it became clear that Tim Miller was struggling in the role and will be the captain of the team next year if he returns.
He ended the season third on the team in +/-, first in blocked shots with 65, first in points and assists amongst blueliners. INCH named him their defenseman of the year, and he was Second Team All-CCHA.
The most impressive stat is that Mitera was not a minus until the 27th game of the season. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the first game after his defense partner was kicked off the team. For the season, he ended up on the minus side three times. The only time he was worse than -1 was against Notre Dame in the National Semifinals, unfortunately.
For a defenseman that plays as many minutes as he does and hits like he does, taking 25 minor penalties ain't bad at all. There was just one occasion in the last 22 games where he took more than one minor in a contest.
I think it is fair to point out, however, that over the second half of the season his play was fairly erratic. Against Notre Dame at Yost, he had one of his worst periods of the season. He was -3 in the most important game of the year. Overall, he was still very good in the second half, but he wasn't the robot that we saw on the ice early in the year. There was a point where I would've considered him a lock for not only First Team All CCHA, but also All-American honors and the CCHA Best Defensive Defenseman Award. It has to be considered somewhat of a disappointment that he wasn't First Team All CCHA.
One thing that did show up in the second half, however, was an impressive offensive game. Mitera posted 14 of his 23 points in the last ten games of the season. There was a great stretch beginning with our win over Michigan State where Mitera had 12 points and was +13 over a six game span. Eww.
I hope he comes back for his senior season. He might not have a ton left to prove in college, but there's something to be said for being the captain of the Michigan hockey team and having a chance to win a national title. MGoBlog had some thoughts today on if he'll be back.
2007-08 Grade: A-. I'm tempted to make this a B+ due to the inconsistency in his play toward the end of the season, but I can't justify it. He was still a minus on just three occasions, upped his point total, kept his penalties consistent, and did it despite playing against the other team's top line, seeing 25+ minutes a night, playing with different defense partners, being the only upperclassman on defense, and having to take on the added responsibility as a captain mid-season.
#20 Eric Elmblad
3 GP, 0-0--0, even, 2 PIMs
He was thrown into the fire when Kevin Quick was kicked off the team and Scooter Vaughan was injured. He played in just three games, but they were all in the postseason. He performed admirably. He didn't hurt us out there and that's all you can really ask out of a walk-on that had never played.
2007-08 Grade: Incomplete
#27 Kevin Quick
21 GP, 2-2--4, +8, 12 PIMs, 3 felonies
Despite question marks about how he would adjust to the college game, Quick came in and was a pretty good player for Michigan. He looked pretty good alongside Mark Mitera and started to chip in offensively with a couple of goals against Western Michigan. After a few very solid games, Quick was abysmal against Michigan State (I would imagine something was weighing on his mind) and was kicked off the team shortly thereafter.
His actions left Michigan short a defenseman, killed any thoughts of Summers moving up to forward again this season, and threw away a chance to be a good player on a contender.
2007-08 Grade: As a player, he probably gets a B. Pretty obvious what he gets as his overall grade though.
#34 Tristin Llewellyn
35 GP, 0-5--5, +8, 36 PIMs
Tristin was another who was in the freshman defensive rotation before becoming an every day player after you-know-who did you-know-what. He took some bad penalties early in the year, but seemed to curtail it as time went on (He had 20 PIMs in his first 15 games, 16 in the last 20...and the level of bad penalties went down). A penalty every other game really isn't bad as long as they aren't dumb penalties.
He had just one bad game in the minus category (-3 at MSU, five games as a minus overall) and generally was even. Not surprising as he didn't provide much on the offensive end.
After falling out of favor with the coaching staff somewhat and being scratched for three games in early January, he responded with a wonderful weekend against MSU and played pretty good hockey for the most part the rest of the way.
2007-08 Grade: B-. He was the "worst" of our regular defensemen, but he was still pretty solid for a freshman. He improved throughout the season and even took some skating lessons to help in that area of his game. I think he's a pretty good player but I fully expect him to be in a battle for ice-time next year. It's just a question of if he'll be battling Vaughan and Pateryn for two slots or one (in the latter scenario, it's possible that Pateryn doesn't come in). Burlon is playing regardless.
Overall, it's hard to not be thrilled with the defense corps this season. I would have a hard time saying that any of the players consistently hurt us out there, and that hasn't been the case in seasons past. All of three of the remaining freshmen can play, we know all the upperclassmen are good-to-great players, Burlon is a potential first round pick (Red Line just talked about him again this week actually), and Pateryn was a USHL all-star. I'd prefer to see everyone back next year, but I think we could withstand one defection on the blueline and still have a very good group with some depth. Two defections and we've got trouble.
Are my grades too high? We've got A's for Summers, Kampfer, Langlais, Mitera and B's for Vaughan, Llewellyn, and Quick. I think that's pretty reasonable given the expectations headed into the season and the way this team played defensively. Feel free to chime in with your own grades!