- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 19, 2012
Now that junior defenseman Jon Merrill has affirmed his decision to remain with the Michigan hockey team for another season, it’s safe take a look at how the roster should shape out for the start of this year.
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Starting with the defense, the Wolverines look poised to be increasingly solid in their own zone. Combined with Merrill’s return, incoming freshman Jacob Trouba’s long-awaited arrival in Ann Arbor should put Michigan’s defensive corps among the best in college hockey.
The pairs surely have not been set in stone. As we saw last season, Michigan coach Red Berenson has no problem tinkering with the pairings long into the season’s second half. Here’s how they could potentially look to start the season.
Merrill - Trouba
The need to replace Greg Pateryn on the Michigan blue line is a frightening one for Wolverine fans. But seeing these two names together at the top of the pairings should help put minds at ease. Trouba spoke at length at June’s NHL Draft — where he was selected No. 9 overall by the Winnipeg Jets — about the physical nature of his game.
Pateryn had an inch or so on Trouba, as well as a stronger lower body that gave him much of the force he had as one of the most-feared defenseman in the CCHA. But Trouba mentioned that he hopes he has another inch or two left to grow, and he’ll undoubtedly get stronger in the Wolverines’ strength program. However long Trouba stays at Michigan, his physicality will be welcomed with open arms.
As for Merrill, there are still some question marks, or at least as many question marks as the top prospect in the New Jersey Devils’ organization can have. Primarily, it must be noted that Merrill needs to avoid any off-ice issues, like the violation of team rules that led to a suspension for the first half of last season. But once he returned, he seemed like a new player — one that teammates could see as a leader. If Merrill is, in fact, paired with the freshman Trouba, he’ll need to be just that.
But leadership and behavioral problems aren’t the only issues facing Merrill. Both of the past two seasons, his play has dropped off in the season’s final weeks. His ability to put together an entire season of high-caliber play will be a big factor in Michigan’s success. He can’t disappear when the Wolverines need him the most as he has in the past.
Lee Moffie - Mac Bennett
If this turns out to be Michigan’s second pair, then CCHA beware. Moffie, a senior, and Bennett, a junior, would comprise the top pairing at nearly every other school in the country. Both will need to play an increased role this season, especially in their new roles as alternate captains.
Moffie has been viewed as one of the team’s leaders for some time now. Last season, he led the team with 25 assists and finished third in points. In Merrill’s absence in the first half of last season, Moffie helped fill that hole with his ability to send pucks accurately on goal, many of which ended up in the net.
Bennett was arguably the team’s most improved player from October to March last season, though it was Moffie who actually won Michigan’s most-improved award. He will need to absorb a significant amount of the hit the Wolverines suffered when they lost his former partner, Pateryn, to graduation. Much of Bennett’s upside comes from his skating, which is particularly impressive when he has the puck. Bennett surprises people with his physicality because he is smaller than most other defensemen of his caliber.
Mike Chiasson - Kevin Clare - Brennan Serville - Mike Szuma
I list the remaining four Michigan defensemen here because Berenson will likely give each member of this quartet ample ice time.
Clare, a junior, is the most familiar of these three to Wolverine fans because of his Great Lakes Invitational championship-clinching goal over Michigan State in overtime last December. Sophomore defenseman Chiasson had flashes of aptitude throughout the season.
Serville, also a sophomore, struggled to make the most of his limited action in 2011-12. Szuma played in only two games last season, a far cry from the amount of ice time he received when he was first-team all-Michigan at Detroit Catholic Central.