Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010 Michigan Hockey Season Preview: The Defensemen and Goalies

Forwards down, now it's time to take a look at the guys primarily responsible for keeping the puck out of the net: The defensemen and goalies.

While up front we only lost one major contributor, on the back end we lose a pair: Steve Kampfer and Chris Summers (along with Eric Elmblad). Summers may have been the captain and the most talented, but God was Steve Kampfer good last year. If you want to talk about a kid who got a lot better during his time here, look no further than our former #5. (Maybe it's a number thing. It happened with Brandon Rogers too. Wait, what's that? Jeff Jillson wore #5? Ahhh never mind then.) After scoring 34 points in his first three seasons combined, Kampfer exploded for 26 last year, and was a +18 to boot. He closed the year with 9 points in his last seven games, and had 2 assists in the game that should have put Michigan into the Frozen Four. He faced a lot of adversity as a junior and responded with a huge senior season. We're going to miss him.

Same with Summers. I think everyone had fantasies about him playing forward for an extended period at some point in his career, but bad things seemed to happen to fellow teammates whenever it would look like he was going to move up front. He was always a really solid blueliner who could chip in on the offensive end. While he didn't necessarily have his best year as a senior, he was a good player.

Replacing them are three noobs: Mac Bennett, Kevin Clare, and Jon Merrill. Bennett was a third round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 09 Draft and comes from a long line of hockey players. He skated for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL and was named to the All-Star team as well as the All-Rookie team. Hard to imagine that he's not an immediate contributor.

Clare was another one of those USA guys that were pretty highly touted and then didn't have a great year last year. He actually spent quite a bit of time down with the U-17s. That said, he's a big kid (6'1", 210) and from what I understand he's a pretty solid stay-at-home guy, which was can always use because we've got some talented offensive defensemen already. He'll be in a battle for ice time in this deep defense corps.

With Campbell deciding to play in the OHL, Merrill is the prize of the class. He was a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils and most people were surprised he didn't go a little earlier. He's huge (6'3", 209) but disciplined (only 14 PIMs in 47 games), offensively gifted (30 points), and stepped it up in big games (he was named one of the three best Americans at last year's Under 18 challenge). He's going to play a major role early (In The Wolverine Blog's interview with Mike Spath, Spath indicated that he's been practicing with Langlais on the top pairing). It seems like forever ago that he committed and it's nice to see that he finally made it to campus.

Greg Pateryn became a mainstay on the blueline toward the end of last season and started to play really well. He's another big body (6'3", 214!), and seems to have curtailed his penalty problems as he only took 9 last year. He has a nice shot, and was 4th on the team in blocked shots despite only playing 33 games.

Burlon had a bit of a sophomore slump last year. After a freshman season where he put up 15 points and was +17 in just 33 games, he didn't make the kind of leap you'd expect. He tallied just 14 points (in 45 games this time) and was +12. He was second to only Steve Kampfer in blocked shots and does a nice job of staying out of the box. I expect big things out of Burlon this year.

I've always liked Chad Langlais and it's hard for me to believe that he's a senior already. We didn't really know what we were getting when he came in as an overager, but he's been great since day one. Last year he put up 5-16--21. He does take penalties (second to only Wohlberg in PIMs and minor penalties), but he's a good power play quarterback and he does a fine job in his own end.

Lee Moffie is an interesting one. After being in and out of the lineup in the early part of the season, he became a regular and played in 13 straight games. After a blunder against Bowling Green, he fell out of favor and started sitting again. He still ended up with 4-8--12 in 29 games. He's definitely more of an offensive defenseman than someone that you're going to confuse for a stay-at-home guy. He was worst amongst our defensemen at +2. When we were struggling with offense last year, there were definitely people who suggested sliding him up front because of his offensive talents. He did end up getting picked by San Jose late in this year's draft.

Lastly, there's Tristin Llewellyn. Oh if he could just stay out of the box! He's a solid defenseman--yet another big body out there (6'2", 209). He plays a good, physical game, but he's prone to taking some of the dumbest penalties you'll ever see. He had 22 minors last year (second to Wohlberg's 23) and found himself out of the lineup on occasion because of it. When he's not taking penalties, though, he's a solid player. Hopefully maturity comes with age and he'll play with a little more control, without losing the edge that he plays with.

As you've probably noticed, that's 8 defensemen with only six slots. Langlais, Burlon, and Merrill are playing every night. Toward the bottom of the pairings, though, there's going to be some nice competition for ice time. I have to believe that Bennett is going to end up playing more often than not as well. That leaves two slots for Pateryn, Llewellyn, Clare, and Moffie. The first two out of those four will play more often than not as well--though Moffie's offensive game intrigues me. If he's learned to play some more defense he could be hard to keep out. It'll be interesting to see how the defense shakes out. Competition is definitely a very good thing.

In net, the coaches have been pretty clear that both guys are going to play. With the season Hogan was having last year, it wasn't pleasant thinking about the upcoming season with no Jack Campbell. But somewhere along the line, Shawn Hunwick went from third-stringer to the man who kept our NCAA streak alive.

In Hogan, you've got a guy who was very solid as a sophomore and might have been better than we were giving him credit for as a junior. His numbers were decent...well at least the 2.33 goals against was. The .901, not so much. But he had an unbelievably annoying tendency to give up soft goals. I don't think I'm overly exaggerating when I suggest it was upwards of one per game. Soft goals, goals at really bad times, goals after we peppered the opposing goalie for ten minutes. But I do think he's a good goalie. He certainly wasn't at his best for a lot of last season, but to be fair, neither was most of the team. They re-dedicated themselves to defense once Hogan got hurt and some of the forwards who hadn't done anything offensively all year woke up toward the end of the year.

Shawn Hunwick's story is very well known. He had hardly played, got thrown into the mix when Hogan went down, the team rallied around him and he played really well en route to the NCAA quarterfinals (going 8-3-0 with a 1.82/.918). Honest to God, if Kevin Lynch's goal counts, Hunwick goes to Detroit with a chance to become one of the greatest stories in the history of college sports. Fans went from wondering where that 2011 goalie commit was going to come from to discussing whether Hunwick would be able to take a redshirt season for 08-09 and come back.

It will be interesting to see if he just got on a roll late last year or if he really is as good as he showed. I suspect it's more the latter than the former, even if it's still hard to believe that he was "hiding" for that long. The coaches have named him the starter for Saturday's opener against Mercyhurst, and I have to believe he's going to get a long, loud ovation when he's announced.

We have some nice evidence in Hogan's favor as well. When he was competing with Billy Sauer for the starting job in 08-09, he was great. When he didn't have any competition last year, he really wasn't good. Maybe he's just one of those guys who needs to battle. As with the defense corps, competition is a very good thing. Hogan got "Sauered" a little bit last year, where maybe the team didn't play that great in front of him and hung him out to dry a lot. He's going to get his chance and I think we'll be solid in net this year. Not spectacular, but solid. Good enough to win the CCHA, and when you get to the tournament who knows.

I was in the Twin Cities last weekend and was thinking how great it would be to be back there again in April. I even went by the Red Roof Inn where I stayed back in 2002. Shangri-La! Hahaha! There are three people reading this who get that joke and they all started laughing hysterically, just for the record.

Two days til the puck drops.

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