There are still six weeks until the start of the Michigan hockey team’s season, but plenty of players have been competing in the World Junior Championship this week. Their performances so far have revealed details about the Wolverines as the season draws nearer.
Here are three observations from the tournament’s preliminary round.
Luke Hughes looks ready for a Hobey run
It’s hard to imagine anyone topping a 39-point season as a defenseman, but sophomore Luke Hughes isn’t just anyone. He’s arguably the best offensive defenseman in the country coming off a prolific offseason of training.
That work showed during Team USA’s four preliminary round games, as Hughes starred as its No. 1 defenseman with critical roles at both ends of the ice. That role will likely continue in the elimination games, and also when he comes back to Ann Arbor.
With the departures of Nick Blankenburg and Owen Power, Hughes is going to be Michigan’s top defenseman, a go-to stalwart whenever his team needs him. If he can succeed so well against the world’s top youth players in this tournament, that bodes well for his ability to do the same this fall. His freshman year production — 17 goals and 22 assists — only reinforces that notion.
If it isn’t apparent already, Hughes should be a top contender for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best player in college hockey.
While awards aren’t given out in August, Hughes has put himself in position for a massive sophomore season. If he plays anything like he has for Team USA, he will cash in on all those offseason gains.
Bordeleau’s faceoffs reveal big loss
I’ve written about forward Thomas Bordeleau’s wizardry in the faceoff circle before, and this tournament makes it clear: He hasn’t lost his magic.
Bordeleau has been one of the best centers in the tournament, winning the lion’s share of draws he takes. In his most recent game against Sweden, he took 31 out of 63 total faceoffs — and won more than two-thirds of them. For those who watched him at Michigan, that stat isn’t that surprising. His performance in big games like the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments can only be described as dominant.
But Bordeleau left the Wolverines this offseason, signing professionally with the San Jose Sharks. Michigan won’t be able to rely on his prowess at the dot any longer, and just who will replace his production isn’t quite clear.
Right now, incoming freshmen Frank Nazar III, Adam Fantilli, Jackson Hallum, Rutger McGroarty and TJ Hughes stand out as potential centermen for the program. While all five were capable on draws in junior, they will need to adapt to the college level; immediate dominance like Bordeleau’s can’t be expected. Finding a solution to that problem will be a major storyline to follow, particularly at the beginning of the season. All five of the Wolverines’ centers last season graduated or signed pro, and new faces will fill roles down the middle. But no one can simply replace Bordeleau’s marquee talent.
Kent Johnson scored a Michigan
As the only Canadian participant from the Wolverines, forward Kent Johnson has certainly represented his alma mater well. He scored the “Michigan” goal against Czechia on Saturday.
Like Bordeleau, Johnson signed professionally this offseason and won’t return for his junior year. Related to his lacrosse goal coup, there’s a certain tragedy to that exit: Johnson never scored the “Michigan” at Michigan.
Maybe it’s for good reason. Maybe the universe would implode if Johnson Michigan-ed at Michigan. Who knows?
But at the end of the day, even with all his creativity and vision with the puck, and after all the spectacular plays he made across two seasons, Johnson never scored the Wolverines’ namesake goal. And if he can pull it off for the Columbus Blue Jackets, college will be the only level at which he never scored that goal.
Something about that just seems wrong.