Sunday, August 20, 2006

Is It Panic Time for Michigan?

I try not to show too much bias in my coverage here, but in all honesty, I probably wouldn't be writing a post like for a school like Western Michigan or Alaska-Anchorage. But I thought this was pretty interesting and worth discussing. I've mentioned before that Michigan could be thin on defense for the 2007-2008 season, but I decided to take a little closer look at it.

This upcoming season, Michigan should have one of their strongest defenses in years. They will have seven defenseman ranging from excellent to pretty good. Those defenseman will be Matt Hunwick, Jack Johnson, Mark Mitera, Chris Summers, Jason Dest, Steve Kampfer, and Tim Cook. That's a pretty formidable backline.

But the following season, they will lose Hunwick, Dest, and Cook to graduation, bringing the total down to four defenseman. Jack Johnson will be arguably the best player not signed to an NHL contract next season, so it's unlikely that he'll return for his junior season. Three defenseman. There have been rumors that Mark Mitera, who was a first round pick of Anaheim, will play one more season at Michigan before bolting to the pros. Mitera told "As of right now, I committed to going back to school next year. Down the road, you know, we'll see how the cards fall and what's going to happen." In any case, Michigan can't count on him being back for 2007. Two defenseman. Chris Summers was also a first round draft pick in this summer's NHL draft, and while it's probably not likely that he'll sign a pro contract, there are no guarantees, especially when it comes to Michigan players signing pro contracts. That means that in a worst case scenario, Steve Kampfer could be the only regular returning to the blueline for Michigan in 2007. It is very likely that Michigan will have to replace at 4 or 5 defenseman for the 2007 team.

There are a few options already on Michigan's roster. Jon Montville got called up from the Club Hockey Team in December while Johnson and Mitera participated in the World Junior Championships, and ended up dressing in 20 games in the second half of the season, but only saw a handful of shifts per game. Forward Danny Fardig also played some defense while with the NTDP program, and could make the move back if necessary. But both players would probably never see a regular shift at defense, and likely couldn't be used in late game situations.

That means the majority of Michigan's defenseman for 2007 will have to be recruits. So far Michigan has recruited USHL defenseman Tristin Llewellyn, who is considered one of the better players for his age group, and Chad Langlais, a smaller defenseman who was excellent in his first season in the USHL. That is a good start for Michigan, but they'll likely need to add at least two more defenseman for 2007 to make sure they have the depth necessary. It may seem like Michigan has time to correct this, considering the 2007 class of freshmen won't report to campus for another 12+ months, but the clock is ticking, and there is actually less time than one might think.

Michigan has found themselves in a similar position before. Michigan needed three defenseman for their 2003 recruiting class. They took care of one of those spots early on when they got a commitment from elite NTDP defenseman Matt Hunwick in January of 2002. But they didn't get another commitment until August of 2002, when they got a commitment from USHL defenseman Jason Dest. They then got Tim Cook out of the USHL in October of 2002.

Granted, there are dozens of circumstances at play here, but did not getting more elite level prospects early on, and instead taking two USHL defenseman later hurt Michigan? Dest and Cook haven't been terrible for Michigan, and they have yet to play their senior season, where they should be their most dependable, but up to this point, depth on defense has been a huge weakness for Michigan in their three years.

In their freshmen season, Michigan lost a 2-1 lead to Boston College in the third period, after rotating four defenseman basically the whole game. BC scored the winner in overtime off a face-off after a four minute stretch without a whistle. Michigan was forced to put out their third defensive pairing after the long stretch without a whistle, and BC was able to take advantage.

The next year, Michigan built a 3-0 lead against top seed Colorado College, but their defense could not hold onto the lead and Michigan eventually lost the game 4-3.

Last season, Michigan struggled with late game defensive breakdowns, which caused them to have their worst season in over a decade.

That's not to say that Dest and Cook have been terrible, nor that they deserve all the blame for the past three seasons. They've both been serviceable defenseman, but not quite what Michigan needed to push them over the top in the NCAA tournament. One has to wonder, with the talented teams Michigan should field in the future, if a similar lack of depth on defense could cost them an opportunity to get back to the Frozen Four, and possibly win a 10th national title.


Anonymous said...

JJ could still bolt before this fall. His no-show at the U-20 tryouts could mean he has had enough of the politics of amatuer hockey, and he has never liked being second fiddle to Phil Kessel.
Michigan is in rebuild mold, and maybe he sees the writing on the .....boards. he may go if the situation is right. The fans would miss his dancing dad between the 2nd a and 3rd!

redwing77 said...

Or, like Brian Lee and Erik Johnson, JJ skipped the tryouts because he was a lock to make the team?

And the second fiddle to Phil Kessel thing is starting to develop holes. Like, it seems like most of the idiocy surrounding Kessel comes from Mom and Dad Kessel and not Phil himself.

JJ will be wearing the "M" this year, trust me.

Anonymous said...

Someone please tell me what JJ gains by playing another year at M?
Honor\commitment? come on this all means nothing down the road.

He has everything to loose by doing so. He should sign make the team and take the money baby.

You and I will work 30 years to make what he makes in 1-2 years. Hello George Mcfly!

He will never complete his degree at Michigan anyway.

He is soooo gone!

His dad will be dancing in the

Anonymous said...

To skip U20's camp is big! No one has a lock on that team. 2 years in a row arrogant JJ has let his mates and coaches down. His parents are just as bad a Kessels, and his grandpa saved his bacon for "M". that may keep him there, but U20 team???????????????

Anonymous said...

if Michigan is left with Kampfer as their top defenseman in a couple years, they are in a LOT of trouble.

Anonymous said...

Michigan has made a mistake of thinking they had Michigan kids in their pocket and chased others. Now those Michigan kids have been lured away elsewhere. Having seen the result of this recruiting in the 2007 class of Michigan players they didn't get, they came out and chased early some Michigan players for future classes way ahead of what they did in the past.. though at a risk. They have already been burned. The key now is to find the right character and talent of a player who intends to stay for four years if you want a championship college team. Look out for the CCHA teams that figured this out sooner. Miami of Ohio and Notre Dame may soon be the top dogs in the CCHA give it a year or two.

Chris said...

I'm pretty sure the "Michigan kid" you're referring to is Ian Cole from Ann Arbor. In his case, I don't think it was a question of Michigan assuming he was in their pocket. It was more an issue of Michigan having some scholarship offers out to players they like mored and felt they had a better chance of getting.

And at that time, there were still a fair number of people that weren't confident about how good Cole was. I think Notre Dame took a bit of a chance committing to him so early, but it looks to have paid off.

Obviously once Kevin Shattenkirk went to BU and Cole continued to develop into a solid player, Michigan ended up looking bad, but I think they played it as well as they could have.

blueice said...

I would agree with you Chris. Don't you think though with all these college players leaving early especially from the big name hockey schools,academics is going to come into play more? Seems to me that when recruiting now coaches are going to be looking for that kid that vaules a four year degree and shows good grades. So that would open the door for more academic, smaller college hockey programs to excell. There aren't enough Kessel's,and Johnson's around to pull in every year to counteract players staying only one or two years. It should be interesting to see how the future plays out. Great blogg with interesting thoughts. Keep it up Chris.

Chris said...

I think regardless of how much a player values a four year degree, if that player is an elite college hockey player, that means he has a decent chance of making it in pro hockey, and likely, he will get an offer that is too good to pass up.

For example, Colorado College is a smaller, more academic school, but they lost defenseman Brian Salcido this summer to the pros.

You are correct though that there won't be enough high-end players for teams to reload every single year, and maybe that will help Michigan in some respects. The higher turnover also means that more players will get the opportunity to play college hockey which I think is a great thing.

Packer487 said...

BTW, I thought I heard something about Jack's dad having surgery this offseason, so I don't know that he'll be dancing this year :-(