Saturday, May 03, 2008

Postseason Report Card: The Forwards (Part Three)

Time to take a look at the final batch of players:

#22 Brandon Naurato
34 GP, 7-11--18, +5, 22 PIMs

Honestly, this was just kind of a blah season. Nothing spectacular, nothing bad. His numbers dipped a bit from a year ago (5 fewer goals and points in 7 fewer games) but it was what you'd expect when he's playing in fewer games and maybe not seeing as much ice-time when he was in the lineup.

In 2006-07, he was held without a shot on goal on just two occasions and averaged three SOG per game. This year, he averaged two SOG per game and was held without a shot niiiiiiiiiiiiine tiiiiiiiiiiimes, including four straight in late January-early Feburary. He also had just three multi-point games after having seven the year before.

His points came in bunches. From December 8 until January 19, Naurato had a goal and six assists in a career-best six-game point streak. Then from February 23 to March 22, he had points in five out of seven games for a 5-1--6 line. The rest of the year? Five points. Fortunately those two streaks covered a big part of the second-half of the season and he was able to rebound from a slow start (3 points in his first 11 games) to finish the year 11th on the team in scoring (9th amongst forwards).

His biggest moment of the year was scoring the CCHA Championship-winning goal off a great feed from Tim Miller. He also one-touched the pass to Louie Caporusso for the game-winning goal against Notre Dame in that classic game at Yost.

I did notice him backchecking quite a bit more than I have in the past--and he did it well. He didn't have a great +/- (only Lebler, Fardig and Ciraulo were worse), but I do think he improved as a defensive player this season.

He wasn't just a shooter this year. He matched his career high in assists despite not playing nearly as much and as I said, I feel he improved defensively as well. And half a point a game from a third-line player is nothing to sneeze at.

2007-08 Grade: B-. Pretty much right in line with what I expected this year.

#24 Chad Kolarik
39 GP, 30-26--56, +28, 24 PIMs

Heart-and-Soul, Spirit-and-Guts. Fitting descriptions of our two seniors this season. Chad Kolarik wasn't in the Hobey Hat Trick. Wasn't even a Finalist. But in my book, he was probably the third-best forward in the country behind Porter and Gerbe.

He took to being a leader like no other player in recent memory (though I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple). After Red used the ole "Threaten to pull his scholarship" trick, Kolarik transformed himself into the ultimate team player. Could he have received more Hobey votes had he not pushed his support behind Kevin Porter? I don't doubt it. But he said his goal was to win Kevin Porter the Hobey, and damn if that duo didn't pull it off. I'm sure Porter would be the first to tell you that Chad Kolarik deserves a giant piece of that trophy.

He was huge when it mattered the most: 5 assists against Niagara, an assist against Clarkson, 2 goals in the Frozen Four (and was our best player), two points in the CCHA Semis against NMU, 6 points in the College Hockey Showcase. He also had a team-high seven game-winning goals.

Most shockingly, he became a top-notch defensive player. Porter was up for the CCHA's Best Defensive Forward award, but Kolarik was right there with him. In fact, I'd argue that Kolarik was probably our best penalty killer this season. Additionally, his previous career high in +/- was +13. This year he was +28. He took a career-low seven minor penalties the entire season despite being a top PKer and playing an absolute ton.

Kolarik was a minus in just three contests the entire season and had at least one SOG in every single game.

It's also worth pointing out that in his first three years, almost 50% of Kolarik's goals came with the man-advantage (23 out of 48). This year? Just 20% of his tallies came with Michigan on the power play (6 out of 30). Kolarik's 20 even-strength goals this season surpassed his career high for total goals in a year (he had just 22 even-strength goals in his first three years combined).

It was an absolute travesty that he wasn't a Hobey Finalist, but 2nd Team West All-America and 1st Team All-CCHA will have to do. He was an absolute joy to watch this season and became one of my favorites to ever put on a Michigan sweater.

He provided so many great memories that I can't pick just one, but if you need a lasting image of what he gave to this team, look no further than the game against LSSU when he got injured. Michigan was killing a 5 on 3 and Kolarik awkwardly stretched in an effort to block a pass. He hurt his hamstring and was clearly in severe pain. Play continued as LSSU retained possession, and Kolarik rolled around on the ice, trying to get in the way as best he could. Despite the injury, he broke up two passes, including one that would've led to a point-blank scoring opportunity.

I like to crack jokes about how he's a mirror image of how I play video game hockey--there's no such thing as a bad shot. I was hoping that this season he would cut down on a lot of the low-percentage shots that he would take and that his shooting percentage would be closer to the .158 that he had as a freshman than the .104 or .110 that he had in his next two years. Well, he shot, shot, and shot some more on his way to a career high (and incredible) 190 shots on goal this season. But! He also tacked 12 additional goals onto his previous career high. His final shooting percentage this season: .158. Identical to freshman year. Funny how that worked out.

2007-08 Grade: A+

#26 Danny Fardig
34 GP, 2-2--4, even, 20 PIMs

Like Naurato, Fardig's ice-time took a hit due to injury and the glut of freshman forwards making their way to Ann Arbor. He played a career-low 34 games this season, scored a career-low four points, and tied his career-low with an even +/- rating.

That's not to say he played poorly. He blocked 20 shots, which tied him for second amongst forwards. He took just ten minor penalties, including only two in the second half of the year.

He started the year off right with a goal in our season-opening win over the eventual National Champions. His line was outstanding--and he tallied two assists--in a win over LSSU. After that game (November 17) he had just one point the rest of the season. His line was pretty bad in the season-ending loss to Notre Dame. I still can't believe I had to type those last seven words...

I suppose it's not the worst thing in the world if your fourth-line checker who rarely scores is only a minus in five games. Still a strong penalty-killer.

2007-08 Grade: C+

#29 Louie Caporusso
33 GP, 12-9--21, +12, 18 PIMs

Caporusso is a good player. He was somewhat inconsistent this year but he did score some big goals. After scoring ten points in our first ten games, he cooled off somewhat, but still score more GWGs than anyone not named Kolarik or Porter despite missing a ton of time with an injury suffered in practice. Maybe not coincedentally he cooled off after he came back from the injury.

Still, he ended up tied for fifth in goals despite behind 12th in shots. His .218 shooting percentage was best on the team (aside from Ciraulo and his 2 goals on 9 shots) even though he also missed his fair share of golden opportunities. In Game 2 against UNO alone, I bet he had a half-dozen Grade A scoring chances that he failed to convert on. At this point, I'd say Caporusso is the favorite to center our top line next year. Between possibly moving to the first line, a year of experience, a chance to stay healthy, and hopefully burying more of his chances, I could see a relatively large jump in his numbers next year.

He was our best faceoff man amongst centers (Hagelin, Pacioretty, and Kolarik had higher percentages) having won 52.2% of his 490 draws.

Top moments of the season were his fluky game-winner against Boston College and his fantastic goal late in regulation to cap Michigan's comeback in their 3-2 win over Notre Dame.

In my season preview, I asked that he at least approach the 28 points Cogliano scored as a freshman. Caporusso scored 21, but also missed 10 games. That was .72 points per game for Cogliano and .64 for Caporusso. I'd say that's mission accomplished. Projected out over the 39 games Cogliano played as a freshman, that's 25 points. Right in the ballpark.

He's going to be a productive player for Michigan. He's good offensively, pretty solid defensively and a great faceoff guy. I expect great things in the future out of #29 if he can stay healthy and start having more of those close calls light the lamp (seriously, run a search on my blog for Caporusso and count the number of times he had near misses this season). I'm a big fan of this kid.

2007-08 Grade: B

#39 Max Pacioretty
37 GP, 15-24--39, +31, 59 PIMs

I hope everyone enjoyed seeing Pacioretty this year, because there's probably not going to be too much more of him in a Michigan jersey. Rumors have been going around about Montreal's desire to sign him, but the smart money is on him being back for one more season. I'd be shocked if we get more than that out of him.

And if this year ends up being the end, what a year it was! Take out the first couple weeks of the season when he was severly limited by a broken hand, and Pacioretty had points in all but six games (including a 9 game point streak immediately after he got healthy). His +31 is the third-highest total by a Michigan player in the last 10 years (Porter's +34 this year, and Rohlfs's +33 last year).

Pacioretty was a force on the top line. He could create space for our two unbelievable seniors, and late in the year he became quite the sniper from the slot on the top power play unit. He finished the year with 9 PPGs, second to Porter.

He had just 5 goals in his first 20 games, but scored 10 over the final 17. He won't be playing with Porter and Kolarik if he returns next year, but the potential is there for him to be one of the top players in the conference.

He was a minus on just two occasions, one of which was the first game of the season. Pretty impressive for a first-year player. He also was great on faceoffs, winning 53.8% of his 119 draws, tying him with Hagelin for the top spot on the team. With his passing ability and prowess on faceoffs, I don't think it would be the most shocking thing to see him at center next year. In his draft profile, he was cited as one of the best play-makers available. I would bank on either he or Carl Hagelin moving to center and I don't think we can go wrong either way. No matter who is playing center, I have to say I could really go for a Palushaj-Pacioretty-Hagelin line.

Aside from a couple of nagging injuries, the only downer to Pacioretty's season was the stupid decision to get into a fight during the second game of Michigan's series with Nebraska-Omaha. No matter what the situation, you have to be smarter than that and not let a complete and utter scrub goad you into taking yourself out for a potential Game 3 (or as it turned out, the CCHA Semifinals).

Patch was at his best during the huge series with the Miami Redhawks. He had 3 goals and an assist on the weekend and was one of the best players on the ice.

I really hope he doesn't change his mind and head to the pros, because I would love to see another season out of him at Michigan. He's an absolute beast and even without Kolarik and Porter, he could have a huge season next year.

2007-08 Grade: A

That does it for the Postseason Report Card (finally).

Other Stuff:
The Hockey News covered the Under 18 Championships and had some praise for incoming freshman Robbie Czarnik, who may have helped his stock:
The University of Michigan recruit was a plus-7 at the Under-18s, but more importantly had a hat trick and an assist in Team USA’s bronze medal win over Sweden. Draft eligible in 2008.
Czarnik finished the tournament with a line of 3-5--8 in seven games. His 8 points and +7 rating tied for the team lead. David Wohlberg had 3 goals and was +3.

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