Just a few months ago there was no shortage of optimism surrounding the program. The team had just been eliminated from postseason contention for the third straight year, but the nation's highest scoring offense was poised to return four of their top five scorers and welcome in a highly touted recruiting class.
It didn't take long for the sky to fall. Andrew Copp signed with Winnipeg, followed by super freshman Dylan Larkin and just like that the Wolverines found themselves with more questions than answers.
With the departures of Copp, Larkin and Travis Lynch, Berenson and staff must replace three of their four centers. It's no small task but there's potential here.
JT Compher played the #1 center role as a freshman on his way to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors before a move to wing as a sophomore. He'll be back at center as a junior and is expected to carry the load as the top line guy offensively, while Compher also gives Berenson the best option defensively and will most likely slot in as the first unit penalty killer.
Senior Boo Nieves has had a career of highs and lows. Nieves flashed top line potential throughout his three years at Michigan but struggled with consistency, moving between center and wing. With the roster is short on proven centers, the #2 spot will be Nieves' job.
The bottom six center spots are up for grabs. No returning players on the roster have experience at center at the college level and their incoming recruits are wings. Whether it's a player who is fighting to stay off the scratch list or a freshman, someone will be changing positions.
That could be Evan Allen, a prized recruit who has been in and out of the lineup or Alex Talcott, a sophomore who looks to be the odd man out as a winger.
Freshman Cooper Marody and Brendan Warren could try their hand at the position as well.
Michigan lost super senior Zach Hyman and the dependable Andrew Sinelli to graduation, but the wing spots largely remain the same.
Alex Kile returns after a breakout sophomore season; Kile burst onto the scene netting thirteen goals, seven on the power play, and emerged as a player who could create offensive opportunities for himself. With the departure of Zach Hyman, Kile will be counted on to carry the scoring load as a top line winger.
Senior Justin Selman also returns after a breakout junior season. Selman flashed big play ability early in his career but was buried on the line chart for the better part of two and a half seasons. He's a gritty, relentless player who isn't shy getting to the net.
Junior Tyler Motte has been a dependable contributor his first two seasons and is the leading returning scorer from last season. Motte isn't flashy, but he's gets the job done at both ends of the ice.
The bottom six returns three of their four wings. Max Shuart provided a solid offensive output a year ago netting three goals and tallying ten helpers. He has speed to burn and contributes as a valuable forechecker.
Dexter Dancs ended last season on a high note after a rough start; early on Dancs struggled to walk the line between being a strong net-front presence and a guy who ran into the goalie too much, but after being sent to Red Berenson's doghouse Dancs worked his way out and turned into a pretty solid bottom six winger.
The third returning bottom six winger is Tony Calderone, who appeared in most of their games last year and added three goals.
Kyle Connor headlines a highly anticipated group of freshman forwards who will wear the maize and blue this year. Connor shattered USHL scoring records and left the league as one of the most prolific scorers in it's history before being selected 17th overall in the NHL draft.
Besides being an outstanding scorer, Connor has made great improvements as a forechecker and a penalty killer. He will slot into a Top-6 spot right away, most likely at wing.
Cooper Marody joins the program a year early after two seasons in the USHL earned him a 6th round selection by the Flyers. A high compete winger with scoring touch, Marody will battle for a wing spot on the third line.
The third forward in the class is Brendan Warren who comes from the USNTDP program and was a 3rd round selection by Arizona. Warren is a speedy winger who plays a smart game; he gets to scoring areas and plays a tough game but doesn't have high end finishing ability. Look for Warren and Marody to battle out for that 3rd line spot.
I'm a big Evan Allen fan. Allen is a pure goal scorer, who hasn't had the opportunity to play a goal scorers role. So far he has bounced between the bottom six and the scratch list, but after two years in the program this is his opportunity to establish a foothold in the lineup.
This year's team is going to look much different than they did a year ago. Losing a combined 51 goals from just three players isn't something they're going to overcome by their first game; there will be growing pains while primary scorers emerge and success or failure will largely be determined by the four centers, but by the second half of the season Michigan can have a Top-20 scoring offense.