Now comes the first in my three-part series grading the forwards for this season.
#8 Aaron Palushaj
43 GP, 10-34--44, +10, 22 PIMs
Wow. We had heard a lot of good things about Palushaj in the offseason, but I don't think anyone expected him to come in and be top 15 nationally in scoring and second in assists. He had points in 29 of Michigan's 43 games and had 12 multi-point contests.
For the season as a whole, he finished third on the team in scoring and (barring something unforeseen) will be Michigan's top returning scorer next season.
He didn't play on the top line this year, but his shrewd passing ability on our top power play unit was a big reason that Michigan's power play was so effective for much of the season. Additionally, he was at his best when the lights were on. In Michigan's three NCAA Tournament games he tallied a goal and five assists, including three helpers against Notre Dame.
He became Michigan's first 40-point-scoring freshman since Hensick did it in 03-04, and he and Pacioretty were the first duo to each record 30 points as freshmen since Kosick and Langfeld. His 34 assists tied TJ Hensick for the second-most ever by a Michigan freshman.
All in all, it was a great season out of any forward, but particularly a freshman. If you're looking for a player with major potential to increase his goal total next season, look at this guy right here. Palushaj scored 10 goals on the season, but took just 98 shots. With Porter and Kolarik leaving, out goes more than 25% of the shots taken by the team as a whole. There will be a lot more pucks to go around and who better to shoot some of them than the guy who was rated as the #5 Goal Scorer in last year's draft by Max Giese.
Since 1999-2000, just three of Michigan's freshman forwards have reached 1 point per game: TJ Hensick, Jeff Tambellini, and Mike Comrie. So you've got a guy that should have won the Hobey, a guy who would've been the favorite to win the Hobey had he returned for his senior season, and a big-time scorer who has gone on to a nice NHL career. I'd say the expectations are going to be pretty high moving forward.
The one knock on his game coming in was that he wasn't great in his own end. His +10 rating was on the low-end of the scale for our forwards but I didn't ever really notice him lagging in our own end. And when you usually play with Hagelin and/or Rust, chances are that the back-checking is taken care of anyway in a lot of cases.
2007-08 Grade: A. When a freshman puts up the numbers he put up, what else could you give him?
#9 Travis Turnbull
43 GP, 15-12--27, +17, 48 PIMs
After 18 points as a freshman and 17 points as a sophomore, Turnbull had a breakout season offensively, piling up 27 points and finishing tied for third on the team in goals. Also, after taking 21 minor penalties in each of his first two seasons, he took just 14 this year.
I really think he should have a letter on his jersey next year. He's a kid that has improved during his time at Michigan and keeps getting better mainly due to hard work. Run a search on "Turnbull" in the search box at the top and see how many times I mentioned his "effort plays" that don't necessarily show up on a scoresheet but were crucial to us winning games. There were a lot. Sometimes, like on Caporusso's game-winner against LSSU, they did show up in the box score, but a lot of times they did not.
He also provided one of the most memorable moments of the season by tipping in a Scooter Vaughan shot to give Michigan the GLI Championship.
He's gritty, good defensively, and you can play him in any situation.
2007-08 Grade: A-. When a third-liner finishes third on the team in goals without the benefit of playing on the top power play unit, increases his point total by 10, and decreases his penalty minutes, I'd say that's a job well done. He was the leading scorer amongst players not on our top PP unit. I wouldn't have bet on that.
#10 Chris Fragner:
2 GP, 0-0--0, even, 0 PIMs
Only saw action during the GLI and didn't do anything to hurt us.
2007-08 Grade: Incomplete
#11 Kevin Porter:
43 GP, 33-30--63, +34, 18 PIMs, Hobey Baker Award Winner
He was ok this year.
Where to start? He captained the most unheralded Michigan team in recent memory to the Frozen Four, became just the second Wolverine to win the Hobey, finished second in goals, second in points, second in power play goals, sixth in assists, was the CCHA Player of the Year, was a West First-Team All American, was the Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA East Regional, set an NCAA Regional Record for goals in a game (4 against Niagara), was the first Michigan player to hit 30 goals since Bill Muckalt, played center on the most dangerous line in the country, was held off the score sheet just nine times in 43 games, was a "minus" on just three occasions the entire season, and truth be told probably should've won the CCHA Best Defensive Forward award since he can play defense without taking a penalty every single game.
The only bad thing I can say about him is that he sucks at faceoffs (42.4%) and, as our top-line center, he took a lot of them.
His performance this year will go down as one of the great ones in the history of Michigan hockey and he put himself in some great company by winning the Hobey Baker. It made me happy that I was able to see him in Denver and thank him for everything that he did for Michigan Hockey this season. I've followed the team religously since 2000-01 and this was probably the most fun I've had watching the Wolverines.
2007-08 Grade: A+. And I'm tempted to make like Ralphie's teacher in A Christmas Story and just keep adding plusses on there.
#12 Carl Hagelin:
41 GP, 11-11--22, +18, 28 PIMs
Off-ice, Hagelin earned a reputation as the hardest worker on the team and things were no different on the ice. His relentless forechecking, hard backchecking, strong penalty killing and top-notch speed made him a favorite of Yost Built. It seemed like any time I rewound the DVR to see who made that great defensive play while backchecking, it was always #12.
He deserves a lot of credit for the improved defensive play of the team. When you've got a forward that works as hard as he does, it can make the life a lot easier on the defensemen and goalie. His 20 blocked shots tied Rust and Fardig for second amongst forwards (Porter, 22).
Hagelin also had one of the prettiest goals of the year when he swept around the net and then roofed one up over Jared Kaufmann in the thrashing of UNO in the CCHA Playoffs.
One of the most intriguing thoughts as we head into the offseason is will Hagelin move to center? He played there in the aforementioned series against Omaha when Matt Rust was out with a broken leg and was fantastic. It seems that all his best qualities are amplified when he plays in the middle and he was our best faceoff man this season (53.8% of 184 draws). Michigan has a ton of options at center, but it wouldn't shock me a bit to see Hagelin centering our top line next season.
2007-08 Grade: A. Yes there are a lot of high grades, but when the team loses 6 games the entire year, these things happen. It's hard to not absolutely love Carl Hagelin's game and the thought of what he'll bring to the team in the future.