Monday, October 06, 2008

2008-09 Season Preview: The Forwards

If you've got a keen eye, you may have noticed already that the site has moved to its new home:
My first post at the new site is going to be a long one. Here's a look at the forwards for the 2008-09 Wolverines.

Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, Max Pacioretty
Incoming Players: Chris Summers (from defense), Robbie Czarnik, David Wohlberg, Luke Glendening

2007-08 Postseason Report Card: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

I know. I know we lost our entire top line. I know we lost arguably 2 of the top 5 players in college hockey. (I'll never concede that Kolarik didn't belong very high up in the Hobey voting last year.) I know that we don't have a bonafide stud forward who is going to carry our team--at least not a proven one. And yet, somehow I remain incredibly optimistic with regard to our forwards this season.

Consider this:
In 2006-07, the Wolverines scored 174 goals. After the season, we lost 87 of those goals--exactly 50%--to graduation and to players who left school early. We lost TJ Hensick, should've-been-Hobey-winner, Andrew Cogliano, JMFJ, amongst others. That was a ton of goals to have to make up. Pretty much everyone, myself included, forecast a dip in scoring.

In 2007-08, the Wolverines scored 170 goals, and finished second nationally in offense. Granted we played two additional games, but we scored just four fewer goals than the season before. And Caporusso, Rust, Pacioretty, and Kolarik all had injury troubles.

This offseason, we lost 78 of those goals, accounting for 46% of the goal-scoring. That's still a significant amount, but between (assumed) improvement from the freshmen and the guys we're bringing in, I think we can make up a decent portion of the goals we've lost.

We get Summers as a forward full-time, Rust, Hagelin, Caporusso, and Palushaj are poised to have nice jumps in their goal totals, Czarnik can put the puck in the net, and Wohlberg is a solid all-around guy. I'll get to these guys individually in a little bit, but here's what I figure:

-Increases in 5 goals apiece by Rust (giving him 17), Caporusso (17), Palushaj (15), Winnett (11), and Hagelin (16)
-Czarnik scores 10
-Wohlberg scores 7
-Increase in 10 by Summers (he had 2 last year and he'll be playing forward on one of the top 2 lines)
-Increase of 3-5 by Miller (he had 4 last year and didn't score for 3/4 of the season)
-5 additional goals from our defense (giving them 12--our defensemen scored 8 last year but one came with Summers playing forward)

That accounts for 60-62 goals and I don't think any of those expectations are unreasonable (maybe Winnett scoring 11 is a little much, but I think at least one of Rust, Caporusso, Hagelin, or Palushaj hits twenty), considering improvement from freshman/sophomore season + increased ice time + increased power play time.

152 goals in 43 games would be 3.53 a game, which would have put Michigan 4th in the nation this past year (behind Miami, the 07-08 Wolverines, and Boston College). Even with a drop-off of 16 goals or so, we'd still be top 5 in the country in scoring. And that's plenty of offense.

Also, we lose 462 shots on goal between those three guys that left. Caporusso, Rust, Hagelin, and Turnbull should all see some more pucks. Caporusso's shooting percentage was better than Porter's (thanks largely in part to goalposts not counting as SOG). Rust's was better than Kolarik's. Turnbull's was better than Pacioretty's and Hagelin's was just .007 behind Pacioretty. Czarnik looks like a sniper. That's not to say that those guys are better than the outgoing players, but it does say that we've got guys that can put the puck in the net, and freeing up that many shots on goal means that the guys we've got are going to have more of a chance to make plays. Remember, Rust and Hagelin didn't see much PP time last year either, and Caporusso and Turnbull were playing on the second unit.

Random Stat That I Can't Believe I Just Spent 10 Minutes Figuring Out But It's Still Kinda Cool: If you removed every goal that Porter, Pacioretty and Kolarik scored last year (and didn't replace them with anything) we still would have gone 17-15-11. I know that doesn't take into account assists, and that really, that stat means nothing in the grand scheme, but I still thought it was fun.

Another Random Projection That May Or May Not Mean Anything: We should get possession of the puck about two extra times per game solely based on Kevin Porter not taking faceoffs (the difference between 42 and 52 percent on 650 faceoffs). It may mean something, it may not. But we're so good with the puck, standing a better chance to win faceoffs on the PP and PK can only help, right?

Alright onto the players:
We may not have that super-stud like Porter was last year, but Aaron Palushaj could be pretty darn close. The kid was 2nd in the nation in assists as a freshman that didn't play on the top line. Granted a good number of those points came while he was playing on the top PP unit, but it's a damn impressive total no matter where he was scoring. The shcoker was that he only put in ten goals. I expect a big jump from him in that department. He didn't have a great shooting percentage, but given his reputation coming into Michigan as a sniper, I have to believe he'll get a bump in that area as well. He's got a good shot, he just didn't take too many of them last year.

My two best bets for breakout seasons are Matt Rust and Louie Caporusso. Each of them scored just 12 goals last season but Caporusso missed ten games and Rust missed five (and played on a freaking broken leg for a couple of the ones he did play).

Caporusso's 12 goals came on just 55 shots. He was tied for 5th on the team in goals but took less shots than Mark Mitera (and was 12th on the team). And his total of 12 goals could have gone way up on those limited chances if he didn't have a tendancy to get robbed or to hit the goal post. Honest to God, he could've had 20 easily. Unfortunately, he rang one off the bar in the third period against USA. Picking up right where he left off. That said, he's going to play more. He's going to get a ton more shots on goal. And he had the best shooting percentage on the team amongst guys who actually played. I forecast 17 above, but 20+ wouldn't shock me a bit. If he can stay healthy, which has been a problem in his career, even before he arrived at Michigan.

As for Rust, he was quite possibly our best player against Notre Dame (if he wasn't, he was 2nd to Chad Kolarik). There's so much to like about his game. He can put the puck in the net (12 goals on 12 shots), he's a great penalty killer, he can kill people, he's physical, he'll block shots (only Porter blocked more amongst our forwards), he can skate like the wind (remember that 150 foot breakaway goal he had against BU?), and he's a tough sonofabitch. I think he has Future Captain written all over him. How would any player on the team slack off when he's playing on a broken leg? As with Caporusso, he's going to play more, he's going to see more pucks, and he's going to put more in the net. Plus I have to believe he'll be on the power play this year. That'll help the numbers as well. I don't know that he has quite the offensive upside that Kevin Porter eventually had--though who would've believed Porter's freshman year that he was an eventual Hobey-winner?--but Porter went from 11-13--24 as a freshman to 17-21--38 as a sophomore. Rust had 12-11--23 his freshman year. A similar jump in numbers is pretty darn likely, I'd say.

Then you've got Carl Hagelin. More offensive instincts than he's given credit for, Hagelin is also going to make a run at the CCHA Best Defensive Forward award, now that Abdelkader's undeserving ass is in the AHL. He may not make the jump that Caporusso, Palushaj, and Rust make, but I don't think 15+ is out of the question. He scored 11 last year and, again, more ice time, possibly some power play time. He's got a reputation as a workout-warrior, so I have no doubts that a year in the training program helped him as well. There aren't too many sights that are more enjoyable than watching him forecheck. Bork bork bork!

Ben Winnett struggled in the early-going last season, but he was a huge scorer in the BCHL (then again, so is everyone) and he showed a little bit more late in the season. Another guy who really struggled offensively before coming on a bit late in the year was Tim Miller. He went from 24 points down to 17, but he didn't score a goal until 3/4 of the way through the season. He's never going to be a huge scorer, but more production than last year is fairly likely.

Robbie Czarnik looks to be a sniper, if his goal against USA was any indication. He'll fit right in. Wohlberg is another one of those guys in the Porter-pre-becoming-the-best-player-in-the-nation mold that can do a little bit of everything. He'll fit in nicely on the third line.

Quick: Who is Michigan's leading returning goal scorer? Would you believe it's Travis Turnbull? He put in 15 last year. I think his offensive potential is probably tapped out, but he's really developed into a nice player. A team with all this offensive talent, all these future NHL players, and one of the undrafted guys had more goals last year than any of the returning players. Amazing huh?

We'll probably get a similar-to-the-status-quo season out of Brandon Naurato. He had 7-11--18 in 34 games last year, but his 4 PPGs is tops amongst returning players. I thought by and large last year he showed more effort in his backchecking (though maybe not so much in the Frozen Four).

After all that, I can't believe I almost forgot about the guy who might have more pure talent than anyone on the roster: Chris Summers. He was arguably our most consistent defenseman last season, but his skills as a forward have tantalized Michigan fans since he first experimented up front late in his freshman year. He only played the position for a couple of games last year before we ran into the World Juniors and Kevin Quick left the program, and all he did was knock in the GWG in his first game. Now he's a forward full-time, he'll be playing on one of the top two lines, and I have a feeling we're in for a treat.

What does Summers's versatility mean to this team? It means if we have a defenseman go down during the game, he could potentially slide back. It means if we have a couple of defensemen get hurt (or commit felonies), we're not friggin screwed like we almost were last year. It means we're basically going to have 3 defensemen out there on the penalty kill. It means we've got a trio of tenacious, fast-as-hell, and good-at-hitting forecheckers in Rust, Summers, and Hagelin. (I'm sure opposing defensemen are really going to be looking forward to that.) And, oh yeah, we've got a guy who has only had great success playing forward.

Here's what it boils down to: We gave up 89 goals last year. We didn't lose anyone on the blueline or between the pipes aside from Summers, who will be terrorizing the defensemen instead of playing in front of the net. If they can repeat last year's performance defensively, replacing even half of the goals we lost is going to be enough to win us a ton of games. But I see greater things from this team. Even if I am an optimist by nature, I don't think I'm being a massive homer here. I simply can't see where I'm being unreasonable with my goal improvements listed above. I think they score somewhere around 150-155 goals. We might not have any 30 goal scorers, but I could easily see Rust and Caporusso over 20. One guy isn't going to replace the great players we lost. They're going to have to do it by committee, but that's ok, because we have the horses to do it.

A Few Quick Thoughts Based on the 17 Minutes of Game Action I Caught This Weekend: I only saw (most of) the third period of the game against USA. It wasn't the best period of hockey I've ever seen, but I was really impressed with the defensive effort. They held the Americans to two shots on goal (15 for the game). This might not be the greatest team the NTDP has ever iced, but they're not bad by any means.

Czarnik sniped one (caught that on the highlights), and what a shocker, Rust was quite possibly our best player. Get used to that.

Another thing that you can get used to: Penalties. Lots of them if this game was any indication. This was the first foray into the two-referee system, and it was pretty obvious they were out there. The teams combined for 31 penalties and 17 power plays. (By the way, Michigan PK? 1 shot on goal allowed on 7 PPs?! More of that, please.) From the part of the game I saw, though, most of those calls were legit. A couple were slightly on the cheap side, but penalties nonetheless. It was just that there was an extra guy out there to see them.

Still, I wouldn't expect to see all that much of our fourth line this year. The benches are going to get shorter with so much emphasis on the special teams.

The last thing that crossed my mind during the third period of the USA game is that I think I'm really going to like Brandon Burlon. I can't point to an exact play, but he seemed to be comfortable out there and he seemed to have the right idea about when to pinch. He also seemed like he has a pretty nice shot.

Other takes on the games this weekend: MGoBlog, Bob Miller on the freshmen, Daily on the weekend (and the 2-ref system), as well as the defense. In the final article, Berenson indicated that both goalies will get a start next weekend against St. Lawrence and that the decision "may be week to week or it may be month to month". I still think it's Sauer's job to lose. He was too good last season to not get the majority of the starts if he keeps bringing performances like he did for 37 games and not like he did for the other 1/3rd of a game he played.

Lastly, Jim Carty has left the Ann Arbor News in pursuit of a law degree. And may I just say, on behalf of probably 97% of our fanbase, OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH CYA! Chump! Dick! Wuss! Douchebag! Asshole! Prick! Cheater! Bitch! Whooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrre! Sluuuuuut! Slimy-No-Journalistic-Integrity-Assclowwwwwwwwwwwn! You sure as hell better not take any blow-off classes at the University of Toledo, Jimmy. And I expect full reports about your grades for the world to see.

Also, from what I've heard, I wouldn't expect to see too much hockey coverage in his old newspaper this year. I actually think that's too bad. As much as I can't stand that paper because of some of the crap they pulled, I thought Pitts did a pretty decent job on feature stories--and it's never good to see less hockey coverage. The Daily (who did a great job last year) and The Wolverine (always awesome) have got us covered though.


Anonymous said...


Based on the lack of info on Carty's decision to leave (okay, so Law school isn't enough of a reason) I am thinking he knows the writing is on the wall at the AA News, especially when he is banned from just about every door on campus. Even his appearances on WTKA were edgy at best.

Pitts is reviled at just about every CCHA campus (including his own), so high school sports are right up his alley.

I did find it disturbing that the only sport on campus that has a chance to avoid any major program disruptance is not going to get any ink.

SyracuseWolvrine said...

"Pitts" and "decent" in the same sentence? The same Antoine Pitts that wrote a bajillion articles calling for a Big Ten Hockey Conference, and then wondered why people at schools like Ferris and Western didn't like him?

My favorite Antoine story that I've heard involved Lansing State Journal MSU beat reporter Neil Keopke at a UNO fan function, and the UNO fans asked HIM what's up with the long-lasting feud between Antoine and Jim Hunt.

Granted, I don't live in an Ann Arbor News circulation area anymore, and granted, the Orlando Sentinel's college hockey coverage is completely non-existent (not even box scores from the NCAA Championship), but I still like the idea of having someone other than Antoine cover the team.

Packer487 said...

Hey, I didn't say I liked it when he would editorialize--and I don't actually think he did much of that last year. I don't think he knows all that much about the game (though I'm sure there'd be people who would argue the same about me), but I do think he did a pretty decent job on the midweek feature stories.

If it was a case of someone other than Antoine covering the team, I'd be all for it. But I think it's more a case of do you want Antoine covering the team, or do you want no one covering the team? It seems the A2 News is leaning toward no one. It's hard to see how that's a positive.

It's not a Carty situation where if it's Carty vs. no one I'd take no one at every opportunity...