A whole lot has changed for the Michigan hockey team since this time last season.
Starting with the obvious, Brandon Naurato has replaced Mel Pearson as head coach. But the composition of the roster looks entirely different too.
To start, the Wolverines only return one of their top seven point leaders from last year. In replacing those six, Michigan has plenty of holes to fill as it attempts to replicate the success of last year’s Frozen Four squad.
But with a massive crop of incoming freshmen — 12 in total — the Wolverines might just have the talent to fill those holes. This season’s outcome is hard to predict with such a young roster, but should those freshmen play to their potential, the sky’s the limit for this year’s team.
On that note, the Daily breaks down Michigan’s roster for the 2022-23 season.
The goaltending position is perhaps the only part of the Wolverines’ lineup that is set in stone. Coming off a season in which he started all 42 games for Michigan, junior goaltender Erik Portillo will once again handle the vast majority of minutes between the pipes. Portillo earned numerous honors for his play last year, including being a Big Ten Goaltender of the Year finalist, a Mike Richter award semifinalist and a member of the All-Big Ten second team. With Portillo holding down the fort once again, Michigan won’t have to worry too much about who’s in net.
Behind Portillo are junior Noah West and freshman Tyler Shea. While neither will likely see the ice too much, West is expected to handle the primary backup role to Portillo as he did last year. West will hope to build on his .917 save percentage in his limited minutes in the crease as he continues to develop behind Portillo.
Though the loss of now-Buffalo Sabre Owen Power certainly stings, the defense is in good hands with sophomore Luke Hughes at the helm. The 2021 fourth-overall pick in the NHL draft shined in his first year with the Wolverines, notching 39 points on 17 goals and 22 assists last season, good for third on the team. Hughes is recovering from an injury he suffered this summer, however, and after sitting out of Michigan’s season-opening exhibition against Windsor, his exact return to the lineup is unknown.
Behind Hughes, the Wolverines have plenty of experience to back him up. Junior Jacob Truscott should once again spend plenty of time on ice, coming off a season where he tallied 15 assists and blocked 44 shots. Sophomore Ethan Edwards and senior Keaton Pehrson will also look to reprise their roles from last year, having played in 36 and 27 games, respectively. However, Edwards did not play in Saturday’s exhibition game and likely will remain out.
On the other end of the injury spectrum, junior Steve Holtz is returning from an injury that kept him sidelined for the last four months of the 2021-22 season. Holtz previously served as a shutdown defenseman prior to his injury and has already demonstrated some scoring prowess with a goal against the Lancers.
Despite having a large group of capable returning defensemen, Michigan’s talented freshman class includes multiple defensemen that will likely see playing time right away — Luca Fantilli and Seamus Casey. Casey brings an electric skillset to the Wolverines as a former member of the U.S. NTDP U-18 team and a talented offensive defenseman with a dynamic shot. He has already proven his mettle when it comes to scoring, with two goals against Windsor as he stepped up to the first defensive pair in place of Hughes.
Michigan will have plenty of production on offense to replace after leading scorers Matty Beniers, Brendan Brisson, Thomas Bordeleau and Kent Johnson all left for the NHL. Much of that production will have to come from some of Michigan’s top returners, namely sophomores Mackie Samoskevich and Dylan Duke. Samoskevich is set to provide consistent scoring once again, leaning on his high hockey IQ and high-powered shot that helped him score 10 goals last season while playing all but two games.
Duke, who played in all but one game last season himself, will also step up into a larger role this season. Duke completely overhauled his skating in the offseason to become a quicker player who tires less easily, setting himself up to be a premier goal scorer for the Wolverines this season. Duke will consistently play in the dirty areas, screening the goalie and tipping in shots as he did on Saturday en route to scoring two goals.
As for the new forwards, all eyes are on freshman Adam Fantilli. In two seasons with the USHL Chicago Steel, Fantilli notched 110 points in 103 games. Since getting to Michigan, Fantilli has already drawn comparisons to Beniers, Brisson and Bordeleau, while being named to the preseason All-Big Ten second team before playing a single game. Fantilli is a dynamic two-way forward with excellent hands and an NHL-ready shot who will contribute right away.
But Fantilli is just one of many freshmen forwards who will see consistent ice time. Though slightly undersized, Gavin Brindley projects as a first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft on the merits of his shot and his speed. Frank Nazar III, the 13th pick in the 2022 Draft, has electric speed and talented hands, and will command plenty of minutes once he returns to the ice. Alongside those three, Jackson Hallum, TJ Hughes and Rutger McGroarty all project to spend plenty of time on the ice, with Kienan Draper fighting for a spot as well.
The Wolverines will mostly fill out the depth of their lines with returners. After suffering a lower body injury last season, senior Eric Ciccolini is healthy again for the start of the season. Senior Nick Granowicz, sophomore Mark Estapa and junior Philippe Lapointe will also likely slot into depth roles and seek to provide experience.
With such a young offense, graduate captain Nolan Moyle will be tasked with bringing the team together, while providing his own experience. Moyle will play in a grinder role, improving Michigan’s physicality and setting the tone for the rest of the forwards.
This year’s Wolverines’ squad lost tons of talent from last year, but their crop of young players gives them a good chance to fill the gaps. If Naurato can bring them together and they can adjust to the college level quickly, Michigan has the potential to replicate the success of last year’s group, and maybe even exceed it. If those adjustments take longer than expected, Naurato’s first year in charge may be a disappointing one.
Dylan Duke – Adam Fantilli – Mackie Samoskevich
Jackson Hallum – TJ Hughes – Eric Ciccolini
Rutger McGroarty – Frank Nazar III – Nolan Moyle
Mark Estapa – Gavin Brindley – Phillippe Lapointe
Jacob Truscott – Luke Hughes
Ethan Edwards – Steve Holtz
Seamus Casey – Keaton Pehrson