Brendan Brisson leads a star-studded Michigan offense. Julia Schachinger/Daily. Buy this photo.

Mel Pearson faces a problem that most coaches dream about: he has too many good players.

His roster’s depth, versatility and talent are a blessing for the Michigan hockey coach but can make for difficult decisions. How does he handle sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott’s return with his already crowded backline? Who are the best centers for talented freshman wingers Mackie Samoskevich and Dylan Duke? For this team to reach its potential, it’s imperative that Pearson figures out the perfect combinations.  

So far, it’s safe to say that Pearson has done just that, particularly when putting sophomore Brendan Brisson on the first forward line.

As the second half of the season gets underway, the Wolverines sit as the fourth-ranked team in the country. They’re led by outstanding sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo, a stout defense anchored by sophomore defenseman Owen Power and an explosive offense that generates 3.87 goals per game. 

It’s a special collection of players, but no group has stood out more than the team’s three leading scorers.

Sophomore forwards Kent Johnson (five goals, 23 assists), Brisson (14 goals, 13 assists) and Matty Beniers (12 goals, 14 assists) have spearheaded the offense thus far. They each bring something different, with Johnson serving as the primary facilitator, Brisson as the sharp-shooter and Beniers with his stellar two-way game.

After last weekend’s sweep of Massachusetts, Pearson may have figured out his top forward line for good.

“I mean, they scored like seven of our eight goals,” freshman forward Mark Estapa said. “I don’t think that they’re changing it up anytime soon.”

On Saturday, Brisson recorded two goals and an assist, Johnson had a goal and two assists, and Beniers added two more assists. The next day, the trio was just as good — their line was responsible for the game’s opening two goals.

It’s not just their individual skill, though, it’s the way the three operate together and wreak havoc.

“I think a lot of our chances on the line came off a lot of turnovers,” Beniers said. “Forecheck and getting pucks back, retrieving pucks. That’s huge for our line because we’re great with the puck. Sometimes it’s harder for some skilled guys to get the puck back and I think we did that great this weekend.”

During even strength play, the Johnson, Beniers and Brisson line consistently dominated the Minutemen. They had easy zone entries, long possessions and accounted for five of the eight Michigan goals on the weekend. Of the three other goals scored, two came on an empty net.

The trio’s success is not limited to five-on-five play either. Beniers (7 goals) and Brisson (4 goals) have accounted for 11 of the Wolverines’ 21 power play tallies this season. With Johnson situated on the left hash sending feeds across the ice, it can be overwhelming for penalty killers. Beyond the numbers, there is a noticeable difference when the top line runs the power play. Teams approach them with a different level of caution, often times relying on a spectacular save or bouncing puck to clear the zone.

Despite their success, Pearson still wants more from his stars.

“Johnson, Beniers and Brisson over-handled the puck,” Pearson said. “They tried to make too many plays. There was a number of opportunities where they should have shot the puck. We could have even more volume if we just shoot it.”

Johnson and Beniers have played with each other all year, but Brisson has seen time on sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau’s line, too. When Bordeleau suits up again, will Brisson return to his old partner or stay on the first line?

Coaches can be wary of stacking one forward line because it leaves the rest out to dry. Most teams don’t have depth forwards that can play solid defense and produce offense. But, with guys like Samoskevich, Beecher, Duke and the eventual return of Bordeleau, Pearson has more than enough firepower to play with.