Michigan announces seven-man 2016 recruiting class
With the conclusion of the early signing period, the Michigan hockey team has added seven players who will don the maize and blue sweater for the 2016-17 season.
During the past two campaigns, the Wolverines have brought in freshman classes that made immediate impacts on the ice.
In 2014, freshman forward Dylan Larkin was a catalyst behind a high-powered Michigan offense. He tallied 47 points, good for second on the team in scoring. On the opposite end of the ice, freshman defenseman Zach Werenski finished seventh in points and had the highest tally of any defenseman on the team. Werenski also finished plus-nine and quickly established himself as one of the young leaders in the Wolverines’ defensive zone.
This season, the freshman impact is even more impressive.
Forwards Cooper Marody, Kyle Connor and Brendan Warren are Michigan’s top three point scorers with 11, 10 and nine, respectively. And though freshmen defensemen Joseph Cecconi and Nicholas Boka’s statistics aren’t eye-popping, the pair has stepped up to play every game so far.
Now, Michigan coach Red Berenson has brought in seven skaters that could likely have the same influence in 2016.
The seven-man group includes five players from the United States National Team Development Program — forwards Will Lockwood, Nick Pastujov and James Sanchez, along with defensemen Griffin Luce and Luke Martin.
Lockwood, a Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, native, is the son of former Wolverine forward Joe Lockwood. The young forward has accumulated 13 points in 20 games with the U-18 squad. Though he may be considered undersized at 5-foot-11, 172 pounds, Lockwood is said to have good hands and an impressive hockey IQ.
Pastujov has accumulated just two goals and three assists through 20 games with the USNTDP this year, but his performance on the ice in 2014 is much more encouraging. The prospect from Bradenton, Florida, finished fourth in scoring last year after racking up 30 points in 45 games.
Rounding out the forwards from the USNTDP, Sanchez — an Illinois native — has notched two goals and two assists in 20 games this season.
The three forwards have all been classified as fourth- to sixth-round NHL Draft candidates on the NHL Central Scouting Preliminary 2016 Players to Watch list.
Martin and Luce, the defensemen, have each played every game of the season with the USNTDP and have tallied seven and three points, respectively.
Luce may be the most college-ready recruit in the class, as he was projected to be a potential second- or third-round pick by NHL Central Scouting.
The five skaters earned a silver medal together during the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, and the chemistry they established could be invaluable during their transition to Yost Ice Arena next year.
This season, every freshman played with at least one other player on the team — whether fellow rookies or Wolverine veterans — prior to arriving in Ann Arbor, and it appears to be paying dividends.
The final two recruits — defenseman Christian Meike and forward Steven Merl — share experience in the United States Hockey League.
Merl currently plays for the Bloomington Thunder, but also spent time with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2014. Through 15 games this year, Merl has lined up primarily at center, accumulating one goal and two assists. He hails from Bloomfield, making him one of two Michigan natives in the class.
Meike’s numbers have been the same as Merl’s after recovering from a significant injury in 2014. One concern is that he may be undersized for a defenseman at just 6-foot, 172 pounds. But his recovery from injury is encouraging, and he has scored one goal and notched two assists in 10 games this season for the Sioux City Musketeers.
While the 2016 class has big skates to fill after the production from freshmen in the last two seasons, Michigan associate head coach Billy Powers is confident in the group he has brought to Ann Arbor.
“You’re always recruiting based on your needs, and we feel strongly that we’ve added the right pieces and most importantly the right kind of kids,’’ Powers told MGoBlue.com. “Our current freshman class has stepped in and had an impact on our team, and a big part of it is their character. We feel like we’ve found a group to come in next year with similar qualities. You’re going to see the right kind of kids, and that is going to help our program.’’