Tuesday, October 02, 2012

2012-2013 Season Preview: Focus Mainly on the Forwards

The run for #10 starts all over again a week from tonight with an exhibition against the University of Windsor. Two days later, RIT will come to town to officially kick off the 2012-13 season. Here's the first part of my season preview, covering mainly the forwards. I'll get to the defense and goaltending as well as my CCHA preseason rankings a little bit later in the week.

The Wolverines bring in seven freshmen (including high draft picks Jacob Trouba and Boo Nieves) to help replace Shawn Hunwick, David Wohlberg, Luke Glendening, Greg Pateryn, and Chris Brown. Michigan "only" lost five players, but those are five big players to lose. You're talking a Hobey Baker candidate goalie who accounted for 39 of the 41 decisions last year, a guy who was tied for the team lead in scoring, a player who wore a letter for two seasons and most of a third and contributed double-digit goals and 20+ points, probably your best defensive-defenseman and certainly your top shot-blocker, and a prototypical power forward who had just set a career-high in points.

In terms of scoring, well, it's not too ugly in terms of what needs to be replaced. 40 goals and 100 points go out the door, but Michigan returns 70% of their goal scoring and 72.7% of their points.

By comparison, last year Michigan had to attempt to replace greater than 41% of their goals and over half their assists. They also lost 50% and 46% of their goals in 08-09 and 07-08, respectively).

Now for the bad news: They don't have to replace that many goals, but they also didn't score very many goals to start with. The 132 goals Michigan scored last year was the lowest single-season total for the program since 1981-82 (i.e. the lowest total of my lifetime). That said, it seems like offense was down in college hockey as a whole last year, and their 3.22 goals per game still ranked 10th in the NCAA.

The previous season, 3.22 gpg would have ranked them 21st nationally and they would have been around 17th/18th the year before that. Last year no team hit the four goal per game mark or even came close. Minnesota led the nation with 3.60 goals per game. I went back over a decade and outside of last year, the lowest goals per game total by a team that led the nation in goal-scoring was BC with 3.93 in 08-09. Is that a sign of a talent pool depleted by a mass exodus to major junior or a one-year blip? I guess time will tell.

The happy side: Michigan's defense has tightened up in recent years as well. Of the past 45 seasons, Michigan has only been below 90 goals allowed three times and those have all come within the past five seasons. (Granted they likely don't hit that mark last year if they advance out of round one.)

What I'm getting at is that this isn't likely to be a Michigan team that is going to win games 5-4. The strength of this team is unquestionably the blueline as opposed to having blue-chip talent up front or a Hobey-candidate between the pipes.

They scored by committee last year and I expect more of the same this year. Wohlberg and Guptill tied for the team lead in points last year with identical 16-17--33 lines. That's an ungodly low total for Michigan (hell, when Porter won the Hobey, he had 33 points on goals alone!). Since 2000, the lowest point total for a player that led Michigan in scoring was Tambellini with 45 points in 02-03.

So where does that 40-50 goal improvement come from if Michigan is to get back into the 140s in goals scored? I think most of it is going to have to come from returning players. They'll get some help from the freshmen, but Nieves, Selman, and Milne all had ~2:1 (or higher in Nieves's case) assist-to-goal ratios last year and offense isn't really Copp's game.

Nieves was singled out by Red as someone who could contribute (in the video I linked yesterday), but I would still think that PDG's totals from last year (11-15--26) would be an absolute best-case scenario, and I feel like I wouldn't be at all disappointed in something like 8-13--21.

Who else then? Amongst the obvious targets, clearly you're hoping that Guptill and PDG improve on their freshman seasons and that Treais breaks out into the 45-50 point guy that he probably has the talent to be.

Guptill was a bit of a surprise last year, winning CCHA Rookie of the Year after leading the team in goals and points. He cooled off late in the year (6 points in his final 12 games) but was absolutely on fire in the middle part of the season when he went for 20 points in a 16-game stretch, including 11 points during a 7-game point streak.

Di Giuseppe had multiple points in 6 of Michigan's first 17 games, then went 14 games without a goal over 2 1/2 months. He did have points in 10 of Michigan's final 14 games, however, and that bodes well for his sophomore season. Also, keep in mind that as an October 1993 birthday, he's young for his class. Serville (June) was the only other 93 we brought in last year period, and Justin Selman is actually a week older than PDG. Most of the freshmen are early 94s. I don't think it's unreasonable that he could approach a point per game this year and be up in the high-30s, low 40s.

The captain, Treais, has improved by about 10 points every season he's been at Michigan, going from 13 to 22 to 32 last year. He had a breakout season last year with 15-17--32 and a +24 rating that actually led the team. Like PDG, he had a rough middle part of his year. He got off to a great start with 13 points before Thanksgiving, but after a DNP against Northeastern, had just two points over the next twelve games. He filled up the stat sheet late in the year, however, with points in 13 of Michigan's final 14 games. Again, I think he should be up around a point a game.

Outside of the top three forwards Moffatt (6-10--16), Kevin Lynch (8-5--13) and Zach Hyman (2-7--9) seem to be the most likely targets to emerge from the guys who didn't do a ton of scoring a year ago.

Moffatt has shown flashes of being a high-end offensive talent in his two seasons in Ann Arbor, but hasn't been able to string together a lot of results. He did set career highs in all the scoring categories last season and I would think he'll get more of a look on the power play, where he had a couple of goals last year. Red did cite him as someone that he's looking toward to help generate offense.

Kevin Lynch has always been someone that I've been waiting on to really break out. Not to go all Kevin Porter, but to be up around the team leaders in goals and kind of in that 25-point range. He seems to always come up big in big games (OT winner against UNO in the tournament, early goal against Cornell, the late goal to tie up the GLI final last year, the incorrectly waived-off overtime goal that would have sent Michigan past Miami into the Frozen Four) and I've been waiting on that to carry through a season. After 11 goals as a sophomore, I think he'd consider the 8-5--13 he had last year to be disappointing. He just never could seem to get untracked after a slow start.

Hyman is the third guy that I could see having a semi-large jump in numbers. He didn't have the kind of year offensively that anyone was expecting, but I thought he was good in his own end (much better than his team-worst +/- would indicate) and matched K. Lynch as the best face-off guy on the team at 54%. I honestly can't remember too many guys, though, who had worse puck-luck than Hyman did last year. I felt like he did a lot of good things in the offensive zone and just never got a break. Like. Ever. He went the final 16 games of the year without a point, but I keep going back to the fact that literally every single player who won the CJHL Player of the Year award and played college hockey (going back to Mike Comrie) went on to become a solid offensive player at some point in their career. All eleven of them posted at least 30 points in a year at some point. The guy who had the fewest goals out of all of them in his freshman year went on to win the Hobey (Lessard). I highly doubt that happens, but Hyman is going to score more than 9 points and if you're looking for a guy who could potentially make an 8-10 goal jump, maybe he's that guy.

There's also the enigma, Lindsay Sparks, who I have no clue what to think about at this point. Nothing would surprise me from him. Literally anything from "scratched 80% of the time" to a 40-point season, I swear to God I wouldn't bat an eyelash. Sparks had 13 points in Michigan's first 10 games (including 11 in the first 7) and then didn't record a point the rest of the season and was a scratch for 8- and 5-game stretches. Dude had 4 multi-point games in the first seven of the year and then wasn't able to get it going after that. He proved he can play at this level. He didn't just beat up on the weak sisters of the poor. He had multi-point games against Ferris State and Western, both of whom had great years. Ferris won the conference and made the National Championship game. So yeah. I have no clue.

Then you've still got Sinelli, DeBlois, Travis Lynch, and Jeff Rohrkemper. None of those guys are "supposed" to be scorers, but Lynch had 15 points as a freshman (which is nothing to sneeze at--hell, he outscored all of the guys that I mentioned in the last section) and DeBlois hit 14 last year as a sophomore. Either of them could step forward, and T. Lynch may be pretty far up the underrated list.

Rohrkemper and Sinelli aren't going to be scorers, but they're both good at what they do defensively. I thought Sinelli had some real nice games around the middle of the season.

Red thinks he has as many as 15 forwards who can play at this level. Competition is a good thing, and they've certainly got plenty of options for who could be the guy to step up and contribute in a big way.

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