Last season, Michigan’s top four scorers were all freshmen. Current sophomore forwards Thomas Bordeleau, Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson made immediate contributions in their rookie seasons, constantly lighting up the score sheet. It’s unrealistic to expect this type of production from every class, but the current freshmen have already made their mark.
Led by a duo of first-round picks in defenseman Luke Hughes and forward Mackie Samoskevich, the Wolverines certainly appear to have another talented class. The two have combined for one goal and two assists through their first two games. Their stats are solid but do not quite reflect the actual impact they’ve had. They already look comfortable on the ice and match up well against older and more experienced competition.
As Michigan heads to Duluth for their first real test, the young players will have to step up their games, something Michigan coach Mel Pearson recognizes.
“Another good learning lesson, especially for our young players,” Pearson said. “First time we have to go on the road, play in someone else’s rink with their fans. But, we have to just make sure first and foremost that we play better defensively.”
Over the weekend, the defense at times proved a bit suspect, particularly Saturday versus Lake Superior State. The Wolverines allowed four straight goals and lacked neutral zone discipline, continuously allowing easy entries. Still, there remains reason for optimism.
Hughes and fellow freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards are newcomers on the blue line. Both are New Jersey Devils draftees and based on their first few games, it is easy to see what the organization saw in them.
Hughes has already demonstrated extraordinary skating, stickhandling and one-on-one lockdown ability. On the other end of the ice, he patrols the second power play unit, a testament to his offensive capabilities.
“(He’s) just a phenomenal talent,” Pearson said. “He can skate himself out of trouble. Just his agility, good with the puck. He’s just got to get stronger and defend better.”
Edwards has seen time on the third pairing, but he’s not a typical fifth or sixth defenseman. His tenacious play makes him a problem for opposing forwards.
“Great skater, he’s got some bite to his game,” Pearson said. “He’s gonna be really good. He’s a hockey player, he just likes playing the game.”
For the freshmen forwards, they have influenced the game in a variety of ways. Samoskevich played alongside Johnson and Beniers on the first line and complimented them nicely. He’s a strong skater and an even stronger forechecker. He generated a multitude of opportunities and with Johnson and Beniers feeding him the puck, Samoskevich is a good candidate to produce some gaudy numbers this year.
“He’s a good hockey player,” Pearson said. “I didn’t get him on the ice as much as I would have liked on Friday, but, obviously, he scored a nice goal. You can see his offensive capabilities. He skates well, he’s strong.”
Considering the high-end talent of this class, it’s easy to forget about forwards Dylan Duke and Mark Estapa. And though they’re overshadowed, Duke and Estapa are no slouches.
Duke, a fourth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has played on a line with Bordeleau and Brisson. He has found early success with the sophomores and plays a complete game. Similar to Samoskevich, Duke should be a beneficiary of his linemates.
Estapa, the final member of this class, had played on a line with hard-hitting senior forwards Garrett Van Wyhe and Nolan Moyle. He has slotted in nicely and appears to be learning a lot from his veteran leaders. His physicality and energy are ideal for a middle-six forward.
“Estapa, big, strong, played against (Lake Superior State’s) top line all weekend,” Pearson said. “I thought he did a fabulous job. He’s not intimidated and he skates well. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there and play physical.”
This group has already impressed and as the season goes on, they should only grow more confident. For now, Pearson is content with their contributions.
“They’re all adding something to our team.”