Running a finger down the Michigan hockey team’s lineups, next to the majority of the players’ names will be the letter “F” — indicating their position, forward. Of the 27 players on the roster, 17 are forwards. Among the forwards, there’s a mix of returnees, rookies, even a graduate transfer.
Questions will arise about chemistry, experience or defensive capabilities. But the ability to score answers itself.
“Can he score?
Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Looking up and down the lineups, Mel Pearson expresses the utmost confidence.
“We have four lines,” Pearson said. “Four lines, that can play against anybody. Four lines who can score, and I really like that. I think that’s going to be the strength of our team, are our forwards.”
From the previous year, the only forwards to depart from the program were Josh Norris, who left to join the Ottawa Senators, and Brendan Warren, who left due to graduation. However, their contributions were limited. Norris was injured halfway through the season in World Juniors, cutting his season short with 19 points in 17 games. Warren only tallied three points over the course of the year.
“You take out Josh, and when you look at it, he only played half a year for us,” Pearson said. “And then, Brendan Warren, and that’s really it. We’ve added some real good depth there. And it’s going to be hard to fill out our lineup every night up front.”
The team moved on from both players quickly, replacing Norris with then-junior Nick Pastujov on the top line for half a year. Replacement for Warren’s production will be easy to come by.
“You can take one guy and plugging other one, another player in and I don’t think you’re going to see a big drop off or any real change,” Pearson said.
On the flip side, 13 players return — responsible for 180 points from the previous season. In addition, Michigan added freshmen draftees Johnny Beecher and Eric Ciccolini as well as graduate transfer Jacob Hayhurst. The problem went from who would replace the missing production to who all will step out on ice.
It’s the plethora of choices that Pearson thinks is beneficial for the team. Having too many talented forwards can only muster higher competition in practice. There are only 12 slots, not including the extra skater. So, a maximum of 13 forwards can be dressed for any one game, meaning there will be forwards forced to sit that can make an impact.
“But that’s what you want,” Pearson said. “You want these tough decisions.
“It’s going to be some really good players not playing, not dressing, let alone not playing and just not dressing.”
Senior defenseman Luke Martin shares the same sentiment as Pearson. The competition for the forward spots, he thinks, brings excitement in the rink each and every practice. All the players, having to defend against them in practice, are capable of winning a spot in his eyes.
“Right down the line,” Martin said. “It’s going to be tight. And it’s just going to make, like I said, it’s gonna make practice that much better.”
The strength of having four lines is invaluable. Whereas some teams will focus on having two strong “top lines” and stack the remaining lines with situational players, Pearson believes the course of action that best benefits the Wolverines is to have all four lines be capable of scoring, and that Michigan has the personnel to make that happen. No checking lines. No energy line. Just four lines that can play and score.
And four strong lines allows for wear-and-tear action. As Pearson points out, especially in professional hockey, the top six forwards will form two lines that strike after the third and fourth lines put pressure on the other team. The Wolverines believe they have four lines capable of keeping the pressure on for 60 minutes, which will result in higher-scoring games.
“I think we have four lines that not a lot of teams are going to be able to keep up with in a match, game in and game out,” Pastujov said. “ … Just watch us, hopefully, roll over teams with four lines.”