The Montreal Canadiens fired the first shot in the battle for Michigan defenseman Mike Komisarek. But they might have to bring in the heavy artillery to lure the All-American away from Ann Arbor.

Paul Wong
Mike Komisarek (left) has the Canadiens drooling over his physical style of play.

The Montreal Gazette, citing anonymous sources, reported during the NHL Entry Draft last weekend that Komisarek would forego his final two years at Michigan and sign with the Canadiens.

“(The Canadiens) know that Michael wants to be back here,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “They’re going to have to change his mind.”

Powers, who spoke with Komisarek this past Tuesday on the telephone, said the Wolverines’ top defenseman is “committed to being here.”

Powers said he suspects that it was “a little bit of wishful thinking” from the Canadiens and a way for them to begin pressuring Komisarek.

Michigan’s top goal-scorer and All-American Mike Cammalleri will also decide if he will forego his senior season to play for the Los Angeles Kings. In an interview four weeks ago, Cammalleri said that his plans haven’t changed and that he is still a Wolverine.

Komisarek, the Canadiens’ first-round selection in last year’s draft and the seventh pick overall, and Powers believes the defenseman would be happy to stay at Michigan if “he was left alone.” Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the junior is going to feel constant pressure from Montreal.

“Hockey is king up there, and I think they want to know what their first-rounders are doing,” Powers said. “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think they were talking about him this summer.

“It’s a dilemma for the kid. That’s the team that drafted you, and obviously your goal is to get an opportunity to play at that level, and they’re calling. If he can stay strong, I don’t think there’ll be any issues.”

Powers said that money will not be an issue for Komisarek because of the NHL’s rookie salary cap. Former Wolverine defenseman Jeff Jillson, who left after his junior season in 2001, had the chance to leave for San Jose after his sophomore season but stayed because he was going to receive the rookie salary cap from the Sharks. This year’s cap is set at $1,185,000 and will increase to $1,240,000 next year.

The Michigan coaches have warned Komisarek that he could spend next season in Hamilton, Ont. with the Canadiens’ minor league team if he signs. Montreal advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a strong defense leading the way.

“Would you rather be at Michigan getting a degree or playing in Hamilton,” Powers asked. “The odds are with the defense they had, it’s not going to be an easy thing for a 20-year-old to crack their lineup.”

Physically, there are no weaknesses for the Islip Terrace, N.Y. native. Komisarek’s 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame makes him a literal standout in college hockey. Although more players equal or exceed his stature in the NHL, he would have been the biggest player on the Canadiens this season.

But there are some improvements that Komisarek can make before he leaves Michigan. Powers addressed his decision-making with the puck, especially on the powerplay.

“He’s just starting to get comfortable as somewhat of an offensive defenseman,” Powers said. “His composure with the puck wasn’t where it should be. He has offensive skills, he just needs to play in (powerplay) situations to get more comfortable.”

Komisarek’s dominating presence also disappeared at times on the blueline, leaving netminder Josh Blackburn alone.

“I think his consistency is clearly something he wants to get better at,” Powers said. “There were certain nights where he wasn’t where he should be and where he played like he was our fifth-best defenseman.”

The Wolverines have been plagued recently by their stars leaving early. Mike Comrie (2000) and Andy Hilbert (2001), two of the most prolific scorers in all of college hockey, both left after their sophomore seasons. Comrie led the Edmonton Oilers in goals with 33 in just his second season. Hilbert struggled to make the Boston Bruins’ top four lines, playing in just six games and scoring one goal while spending most of the year in the minor leagues. Jillson scored five goals and 13 assists in his first season with the Sharks in what would have been his senior season at Michigan.

“We’ve gotten used to (players leaving early,” Powers said. “The kids fully understand the decisions that these kids are faced with. No one wishes them bad or thinks they’re going to make mistakes if they leave.”

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