Michigan Hockey Season Preview Pt. 2: Forwards

Gregory Shamus

The MnB 2013-14 Hockey Preview continues with a look at the forward crop.

Two things that, maddeningly, don't always come together for hockey players are talent and effort.  For whatever reason this always leads me to think about Russian skill forwards like Alex Semin and shot blocking guys like Jed Ortmeyer.  Sometimes, it's about grit.  Sometimes it's about talent.  A lot of times, scoring goals up front requires both.  The pretty goals come when you walk two defenders and beat a goalie clean and top-shelf a la Chris Brown against Miami of Ohio...

And then there are "ugly" goals whack-a-mole'd in by a forward with their head down and stick on the ice charging at the goalie...well, it counts for 1 the exact same.  The famous bank robber Willie Sutton allegedly said, when asked why he robbed banks, "That's where they keep the money."  The reason you get the puck and bodies to the net is because that's where they keep the goals.

What does this have to do with the Michigan forwards for the 2013-14 year?  Maybe a lot.  This will be a group that's going to score more from 2 ft than 20 ft.   This group will be focused on minimizing mistakes as opposed to taking risks to create scoring chances.  As hockey lines change from period to period and Michigan likes to generally roll 3 lines through with similar ice time (PP/PK notwithstanding), a line-by-line analysis is a wasted effort.  We'll just go through based on past performance and expectation.

The Horses.

These are supposed to be your point scoring, high usage, mostly top-6 forwards

Andrew Copp, So., Center (11 Goals, 10 Assists in 2012-13).

Copp is your classic late-blooming forward.  He floated around the bottom six for the first half of the year and just kept doing the little things right.  Then was promoted to the top line and seemed to blossom as your hard skating, hard working, grinding forward.  More proof of the delayed rise was that, although coming from the heavily scrutinized USNDTP in Ann Arbor, Copp went undrafted coming out of high school and then was taken in the fourth round, 104th overall, by the Winnipeg Jets.  Such was his lead-by-example way that the Copp was awarded the 'A' on his jersey for the upcoming year.  Expect a solid, hard working performance from Copp this year around 15 and 15 for 30.

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, So., Center/Wing (8 g, 21 a)

There were high hopes for Boo coming out of high school last year.  6'2" with plus wheels and a 2nd round pedigree to the NY Rangers was more in line with the Michigan mold.  High skill, early departure flight risk, could develop into a dynamic forward.

Hockey's Future was dead on.

Nieves is a skilled forward with good speed and deft playmaking skills.  Although he has the height, Nieves is still a bit on the skinny side and will need to bulk up to better handle the rigors of the pro game.  He'll also need to show that he can compete well at a higher level of competition, but most signs point to Nieves becoming a creative offensive player with top-six potential.

That is talking about pro potential.  So, the skills are there, but the size was not.  He had a rough time acclimating to college hockey, but he's got everything you need in the toolbox.  With a year and change in the weight room, look for somewhere around 15 and 20.

Alex Guptill.  Jr., Wing (16g, 20a)

Guptill is your big body scoring wing.  He's there to put the puck in the net and bang some bodies along the way.  He does a good job of it.  There may be some pending maturity issues that will keep him out for the opener against BC and kept him away from skating with the team in the preseason.  Last year, he was excellent in the second half.  Expect more goals, maybe with fewer assists.  (20g, 15a)

Phil di Giuseppe, Jr., Wing (9g, 19 a)

Last year was a little bit of a down year for PDG.  Taken 38th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes after a 26 pt freshman year.  He didn't blossom to be the star forward many anticipated after he flirted with the first round of the draft.  He's 6'1" and hovering around 200 lbs and turns 20, tod- hey, happy birthday Phil.    Here's another guy Michigan could really use a breakout season from.  It doesn't look like it's in the cards, after some serious Fr. to So. plateauing.  Especially if he's on the second PP unit and the second line.  Look for somewhere around 10 and 20 again.

JT Compher, Fr., Center (18g, 31a in 55 games with the USNTDP)

The crown jewel of Michigan's damn-good freshman recruiting class.  Compher was the captain of the US team at the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tourney and a team first guy with talent.  He's a guy you want coming into your program.    Our friends over at SB site Western College Hockey Blog have an extended preview that explains why he went 35th overall to the Sabres.

The phrase "two-way forward" is often the polite cliche for a player with not a lot of offensive talent, but in Compher's case, it's not used in a derogatory fashion. Compher is one of the rare skilled players that exhibits the same effort and enthusiasm without the puck that he does with the puck. He's a tenacious, sometimes nasty, defender that makes life difficult for opponents. His compete level all over the ice is among the best in the draft.

Thank you.  I'll take 12 of those.  How about some more?

Expectations will be high and Billy Powers, well, he likes him, too. He's going to play a lot in all situations and will be penciled in as the second line Center.  I think 10 and 15 would be a nice start.

The rest of the line chart.

There's more there besides the guys listed above. Derek Deblois got the well-someone-has-to-play-up-front time last year and secured 20 points.  He's got good wheels, but isn't particularly outstanding in any major area.  He also is an assistant captain.

Luke Moffatt has a big time shot, but hasn't seemed to put it together yet.  It's put up or shut up time for the Senior.

Zach Hyman comes back for his junior into after some rather lofty expectations as a freshmen.  That'll happen when you're named Canadian Junior A Player fo the year and are awarded teh RBC Canadian Junior Hockey League Player fo the Year after putting up 2.31 ppg.  I don't care where you're playing, you want those point totals to continue.  Last year he was a guy who made a lot of opportunities but was a little snake bit when it came to scoring touch.  He only put up 9 points.

Justin Selman and Travis Lynch are both going to center a line that isn't going to light anybody up, but isn't going to get lit up, either.  Anything in the +/- category here that isn't in the single digit positives will represent a significant deviation from the expected totals.

Tyler Motte, Evan Allen and Alex Kile are the freshmen you expect to contribute.  They'll make mistakes, figure it out, and hopefully turn into the cavalry to carry Michigan into the next epic NCAA tourney run.

So what do we have?

We have some mystery.  None of the names above are certainties or above reproach and each of them could greatly exceed or fall short of their expectations.  These are college kids, after all.  What they'll be is a hard team to play against with some offensive punch.  Don't expect a lot of 6 goal nights, but there will be responsibility and accountability with enough scoring punch to be effective, but not necessarily scary.

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