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The spotlight often eludes Nick Blankenburg.

The junior defenseman is overlooked in Michigan’s star-studded defensive group. Freshman Owen Power is the potential number one overall pick in next year’s NHL draft. Sophomore Cam York captained the USA World Juniors team that won gold last month.

But despite the lack of recognition, Blankenburg still finds a way to thrive.

“I don’t think that bothers Nick at all,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “He just plays. There’s not much that rattles him, he’s just a hockey player.”

During his freshman year, Blankenburg had just two goals and eight assists but led the Wolverines in plus-minus at plus-11. Last season, he produced more offensively — putting up four goals and 12 assists — but his plus-minus was down significantly at plus-3. This year, he’s putting it all together.

Through 16 games, Blankenburg has four goals and seven assists, and those 11 points are good enough for third among all Big Ten defensemen. He also boasts a plus-minus of plus-12, the second best on the team. 

“He skates, adds offense, plays hard (and) physical,” Pearson said. “And he’s just engaged. I don’t know if I’ve ever had to tell him to pick it up.”

Blankenburg has become a workhorse for Michigan and developed into a two-way threat. He’s found a home on a line with Power and the pair complement each other well. They have boosted the Wolverines’ power play — each contributing two goals on the man advantage.

“I’ve really liked playing with him,” Power said on Nov. 24. “He’s such a good skater; so quick and so fast. We can both play tight, stay up on the forwards and have trust in each other where if one of us gets beat, we could help them.”

Throughout his career, Blankenburg has always carried a subtle confidence to his game. He never gets caught up with the distractions or complains about his role. He puts his head down and grinds. 

“He just loves playing the game,” Pearson said. “He just comes to the rink and does his job and plays hard every day. There’s no attitude, there’s no cockiness to him. And there’s no entitlement to him, he just comes in and plays and that’s what makes him so special.”

Those characteristics have made a lasting impression on his teammates and are why they voted him alternate captain this year. Adding Blankenburg to the leadership group has been important for keeping the team together as they navigate a season through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, if there’s one knock on Blankenburg’s game this season, it’s the amount of penalties he’s taken. In 35 games last year, he only committed seven penalties. This year, he’s already up to six. But Pearson isn’t deterred by Blankenburg spending more time in the box. He thinks that the penalties are more a by-product of Blankenburg’s highly competitive nature than a sign of undisciplined play. 

“I’ve had to tell him to relax and calm down a little bit because he goes after it so hard,” Pearson said. “Sometimes he gets wound up and he really gets into it.”

Blankenburg may never garner the attention or the awards that some of his teammates get. But his work ethic and the consistent effort he brings has earned the respect of his teammates and his coaches, and the team knows he’s vital to the Wolverines success. 

“(He’s) as tough — pound for pound — as anybody maybe in our league, maybe in college hockey,” Pearson said. “He might be our most valuable player.”

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