- 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. But he’s a quick skater who will certainly be used in the event of injuries, if he can’t crack the top six.
The top four of the Michigan defense will obviously take the majority of the playing time with Merrill likely skating for close to half the game with his special teams minutes. But these four will still need to make a larger impact.
Headed into the season, Michigan’s forwards pose the most questions. The lines are undoubtedly subject to major tinkering from Berenson throughout the season.
Phil Di Giuseppe - A.J. Treais - Luke Moffatt
Without Chris Brown, who left Michigan after signing an entry-level deal with the Phoenix Coyotes organization in March, the forward corps certainly looks a little depleted. This projected top line has Treais, the senior captain, flanked by two bigger skaters in Moffatt, a junior, and Di Giuseppe, a sophomore, to make up for Treais’ lack of size.
Di Giuseppe’s production dropped off last season after he established himself as a standout freshman early on. Will he be able to score with the prowess he did at the beginning of CCHA play last season? The answer to that question might very well determine how productive Michigan’s lines are early on as they try to make up for the loss of Brown’s often-acrobatic tallies. Moffatt, too, will need to score in bunches.
Treais might be the team’s most fiery player, which could’ve helped to earn him the captain role. But he’ll need to keep his emotions in check — after all, he has to fill the big shoes of last year’s captain, Luke Glendening.
Alex Guptill - Kevin Lynch - Zach Hyman
Senior center Kevin Lynch finally began to come into his own at the end of last season. Since he came to Ann Arbor, there’s been no mistaking his potential. But his time at Michigan is running out — his role needs to be expanded starting in the Oct. 11 season opener.
Guptill, a sophomore, might be the antithesis to Lynch. He came into his freshman year free from any burden of expectation, as nobody seemed sure of how much he would contribute. Michigan fans were pleasantly surprised at his uncanny ability to clean up around the net, and Guptill tied for the team lead in goals (16) and points (33) last year. There’s no reason not to expect more out of Guptill in 2012-13, and 20 goals hardly seems out of the question.
Hyman in the team’s top six might seem like a stretch. He recorded just nine points last season. His two-way nature might be enough to impress Berenson into giving the sophomore a spot on the second line, even temporarily.
Lindsay Sparks - Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves - Derek DeBlois
Sparks, a senior, couldn’t find a rhythm in 2011-12, and Berenson scratched him from the lineup frequently after he initially proved ineffective. He isn’t reliable enough in his own zone to be placed any higher than this right off the bat. But he is talented enough with the puck to make his last campaign a successful one. If Michigan succeeds, chances are Sparks will have turned things around and made significant contributions at both ends of the ice.
Nieves stands out, even as a freshman, as the fastest skater on a potential line composed of speedsters. Opposing teams will struggle to keep up. Though college hockey might be an adjustment for Nieves, scouting reports maintain that he is very intelligent with the puck.
Now that DeBlois has a full season’s worth of games under his belt, as he got during his sophomore year, he should be well adjusted. He’s another player that could steadily climb up the line chart as the season progresses, though a checking line might be best for his two-way style of play.
Jeff Rohrkemper-Travis Lynch-Andrew Copp
Like the defensemen, the scratches will probably change by week, or even by night. Rohrkemper’s games played have decreased since his freshman season, and he recorded just one point last season as a junior. He will surely want to perform at his best in his senior season, but he still doesn’t seem like an everyday player.
Travis Lynch exploded to a fast start last year, but quieted down and slumped at times. It remains to be seen what kind of role Berenson has for the sophomore this season. It’s tough to imagine him falling out of the lineup for any extended amount of time. He’s shown he can be a contributor.
Copp is a player that fits the Berenson mold. By all accounts, the freshman is sound in his own zone. Copp was a very late addition to the class, but one Wolverine fans will welcome. He most recently skated for the United States’ National Team Development Program’s U-18 team.
Andrew Sinelli - Daniel Milne - Justin Selman
Sinelli played sparingly last season as a freshman, but a year’s experience can go a long way with this forward corps. It’s probable that he’s a part of Berenson’s fourth-line plans for this season.
Milne demonstrated an aptitude for goal scoring during his time with the St. Michael's Buzzers. Though it’s hard to predict his freshman role, who knows? Maybe he’ll turn out to be another Guptill.
Selman is another solid two-way freshman. He's never put up brilliant scoring lines, but he certainly adds depth that will be needed come the home stretch. His size alone could be enough to earn minutes.
Michigan will carry four goaltenders this season for the first time since 1997. It appears that incoming freshman Jared Rutledge has the job at the season’s start. He’ll have the unfriendly task of replacing Shawn Hunwick, who captivated Michigan fans the past few seasons with his incredible tale. Now that he’s left the program, goaltending becomes an unknown for the Wolverines.
Freshman Steve Racine could compete with his classmate for time between the pipes. He’ll be 21 when the season starts, so he’s played more seasons than Rutledge. Before coming to Michigan, he bounced around the United States Hockey League.
Junior Adam Janecyk and sophomore Luke Dwyer also return for Michigan, but will likely sit third and fourth on the depth chart respectively.
Update: Freshman Justin Selman and sophomore Mike Szuma were added to complete the roster preview.