Michigan ought to recruit 10 freshmen every year! I was talking about this on the radio yesterday, and when you look at the double-digit freshman classes U-M has had -- 1998 (10 rookies), 2002 (11), 2006 (11) and 2008 (12), they've had some pretty decent success. National champs in 1998. Conference regular-season and tournament champs, and Frozen Four participant in 2002. 2006 ... eh not so much. Third place CCHA. First-round NCAA exit. But then in 2008, CCHA regular-season and tournament champs, Frozen Four participant (should-have-been national champion).
So there has been a lot of success when they've had these big classes, and here we are again with 10 rookies, and you can already tell that they're going to have a positive impact on this team because of their youthful enthusiasm. I saw it yesterday in the way they skated, but then I really saw it after they won and the team bounced off the bench and to goalie Steve Racine like they had won a playoff game. I know it was an "upset" over a top-five team, but I have never seen a Michigan team that excited after a regular-season win, especially the first one of the year.
So on these freshmen -- the two that stuck out to me the most were JT Compher and Alex Kile. I had heard so many good things about Compher and I can see why scouts love this kid. He did so many subtle things yesterday, like lifting sticks, using proper leverage to take a guy out of the play, picked up his man in the defensive zone, was strong cycling the puck and then had an unbelievable pass to senior Luke Moffatt for the first goal. He could have 30 points this year but he's going to be a kid that just makes a difference whether he's on the stat sheet or not.
Kile was the one that really grabbed my attention. I had seen the USA kids play, but had never seen Kile before. I had heard there were some folks down on him, thinking he might not amount to much at this level. But one game in, if he skates like that going forward, he's going to be a key player for the Wolverines. He's good sized (6-0, 190) and he played with a real chippiness to his game. He was lowering his shoulder, taking on anyone, and really fit in nicely with sophomore center Andrew Copp and senior right winger Derek DeBlois. He looked so good on that line actually that I don't know if they move him when junior Alex Guptill comes back Saturday. He reminded me of a poor-man's Max Pacioretty. He doesn't have the sheer skill of Max, but he played a similar style. Gritty. Tough in the corners. The kind of winger you need.
The other two freshman forwards -- Tyler Motte and Evan Allen -- both had their moments, but didn't overwhelm. I thought Motte was trying to do a little too much with the puck, and he was skating a little out of control so when he did make a pass it was a little rushed and he didn't often hit his intended target.
All three rookie defensemen played and about the best thing I can say is I didn't notice them much, except with Kevin Lohan sporting No. 24, I kept thinking Jon Merrill was on the ice (not in game, mind you, in number only). I do think the defense has to shape up considerably, and part of this is on the forwards. There were just way too many unaccounted for Eagles last night, and it probably should have burned Michigan. In fact, after the second period, I thought BC should have been up 5-2 or so, but Racine was making some big saves and there were a couple shots off the post. I'm sure when Red Berenson looks at the film, he'll look at the defensive zone coverage and get to work on that in practice next week (or today when they skate before heading to RIT).
I'm not going to say this is going to be Moffatt's best year (but it wouldn't be hard -- his career best is eight goals) but I will tell you this, a player like that, that was a scorer coming in but has never had the chance to really take off, and has had so many scoring slumps, well, when you score two in the opener, your confidence skyrockets and you watch how he plays these next few weeks. He was an animal last night on that Compher/Motte line, and played, in my opinion, the best game of his career because he was a force on both ends of the rink.
I thought the Copp-DeBlois-Kile line was the best of the night on either team, and the combination of Copp and DeBlois is special. Both harder workers. Both gritty, tough players that are willing to do whatever it takes, and they'll create offense because they work so hard. Copp already reminds me of Andrew Ebbett. A kid that wasn't super skilled but put up better numbers than you ever thought possible because of how hard he worked on every shift and because he had better puck skills than you thought.
I thought sophomore center Boo Nieves played well, but he didn't get much help on his line. Junior Phil Di Giuseppe is his left winger and I'm starting to think it's just not going to happen for him. Disappointing freshman and sophomore seasons, and when he skates, he just doesn't seem to be on the same page with anyone. He had a chemistry with Nieves last year that I think everyone hoped would be rekindled, but he made a pass last night to no one, would attack the zone and do his own thing, and just never had a feel for where his linemates were. It was tough to watch and it seems like it's been that way his entire career.
The other player that had a rough night in my opinion was junior defenseman Brennan Serville. He still seems like a player unsure of himself. He had a glorious chance in the offensive zone to rifle a shot that had come out to him with the goalie out of position and instead he collects it, shifts his angle and tosses the puck towards the net. It was a timid play, and spoke to his game all night. He just doesn't play with urgency. He's a big kid, with talent, but he has to start asserting himself. You'd expect a guy in his junior year to do that, but ...
Finally, on Racine. What a difference a year makes. Kid looked money yesterday. Never seemed rattled even when BC had point-blank chances. Came up big time and again to deny the Eagles. Yes, there were some off the post, but he made 5-7 saves that were the difference in the game for Michigan.
This post was edited on 10/11 11:27 AM by MichaelSpath