Four top-five draft picks — the most to ever be drafted from the same collegiate team.
Yeah, you could say this is the most anticipated roster Michigan ever.
The players come to Ann Arbor for different reasons. Some want to continue their development towards a professional career, others look to make strides in their education and a few want to live the normal college experience. But there’s one thing that brought them all to Michigan: the chance to win a national championship.
With everything lining up for them to make that run, The Daily breaks down each position group to see where the Wolverines’ greatest strengths lie for the 2021-22 season.
With former Michigan goaltender Strauss Mann signing a professional contract for Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), a starting spot has opened. Sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo looks to take that spot and build on last season. The 6-foot-6 Swedish goalie was selected 67th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL draft. Last year, Portillo played in seven games and made 144 saves. His highlights include 29 saves against Notre Dame and earning his first career assist. The Wolverines are in good hands with Portillo behind them.
The second-string goaltender will likely be sophomore Noah West. A transfer from Robert Morris, West earned Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team and Second-Team All-Atlantic Hockey during his freshman campaign, posting a .915 save percentage. Although his time between the sticks will be limited, he’ll have to adapt to a new team and learn from an NHL-caliber goaltender in Portillo.
Last season, the biggest name on the Wolverines’ was sophomore defenseman Owen Power. After being drafted number one overall, expectations for Power have only risen. His freshman season as a Wolverine shows why. Power played in all 26 games, tallying three goals, 13 assists and leading the team with 40 blocks. With former Michigan defenseman Cam York leaving this season for the NHL, the defense will rely even more on Power. He has the entire package to play at the next level: size, skating, offensive skill and physical play.
Power is joined by freshman defenseman Luke Hughes. He comes to Michigan with big expectations from his brother (former Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes signed with the Vancouver Canucks after his sophomore season). Spending the last two seasons with the prestigious U.S. National Team Development Program, Hughes posted 34 points in 38 games. His smooth stride and excellent edges always puts him a step above his opponent. Hughes’ elite passing and vision gives Michigan hockey fans something to look forward to.
Sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott is looking to build on his experience as a freshman. Playing in all 26 games, Truscott blocked 18 shots and tallied four assists last season. With Power and York taking up much of the time on defense, Truscott had to prove himself to get minutes. With York gone, Truscott has an opportunity to get more minutes.
With all the hype behind Hughes, it’s easy to forget a talent like freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards. A comfortable puck rusher, the Wolverines will lean towards Edwards to bring offensive flare and contribute in the final third of the ice. Junior Keaton Pehrson may go unnoticed with the superstar talent on the roster, but he will be a valuable role player for Michigan after earning five assists and 34 blocks while playing in all 26 games last year.
The youngsters will be led by senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg. Standing at 5-foot-9, he’s tied for the shortest on the team, but Blankenburg’s strong physical play gives him the edge. The captain has a wealth of experience to keep the team focused and make a national title run. Last season Blankenburg tallied five goals and nine assists. He looks to continue that form too, scoring a goal against Bowling Green in the Wolverines’ exhibition game on Saturday.
Michigan’s top three scorers — sophomore forwards Brendan Brisson, Kent Johnson and Matty Beniers — return for another season. Brisson comes off an impressive season scoring a team high 10 goals and 11 assists in 24 games. A lethal finisher on the ice, Brisson’s elite vision gives him the edge as he went 29th in the NHL Draft.
Johnson played in all 26 games last season, coming in second on the team for assists and goals with 18 and nine respectively. Johnson also has great defensive skill for a forward and positions himself well. He is dangerous with the puck, finding small gaps and creative ways to score.
When talking forwards, Beniers is at the top of the list. The second overall pick returns with all the hype befitting for such a high selection. Beniers tied Brisson with 10 goals last season. His energy on the ice is unmatched, and the Wolverines will rely on him heavily to drive the puck forward and create plays.
Sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau looks to continue his form from last year after finishing third in scoring with eight goals. As a freshman, he led the team in assists with 22. His silky puck handling helps him escape defenders and find the open man. Whether it’s a drop pass, lateral pass, or cross in front of the net, Bordeleau’s range of passes is a vital asset.
New talent in freshman Mackie Samoskevich offers Michigan even more of an offensive threat. Last season he tallied 13 goals and 24 assists in 36 games for USHL side Chicago Steel. Although his name is overshadowed by fellow freshman Hughes, Samoskevich has raw talent. His skill will let him play every game this season and be a key contributor on the ice. He’s always thinking one or two plays ahead of his opponent which will translate nicely into the college game.
The team will also look towards junior Eric Ciccolini and fifth-year senior Michael Pastujov for added depth and numbers in the box score. Both scored seven goals last season and provide experience to a team that will rely a lot on young talent. Senior forward Nolan Moyle and graduate student forward Luke Morgan will see action on the ice, providing Michigan with added offensive threat and points.
After Power, Beniers and Johnson decided to return to Michigan for another season, nothing but success is expected from the team. They have the experience in Blankenburg, the reliability from Portillo, and the flair from newcomer Hughes. The Wolverines will have immense pressure and outside noise following them into every game. If they can overcome that and play well with consistency, a Big Ten title and an appearance in the Frozen Four may be in their future.