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Hockey Season Preview: Left Wing

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The Wolverines are counting on their left wings to produce offensively but find themselves with more potential than proven scoring.

Jen Fuller/Getty Images

Previously: Right Wing, Center

Departed

Kyle Connor

Justin Selman

The Kyle Connor era has ended at Michigan after lasting just one glorious season. This program has had its share of great freshman; Dylan Larkin, Aaron Palushaj, Pacioretty, Hensick, Tambellini, Brian Wiseman. Those guys were great as a freshman. Kyle Connor transcended great. He was the greatest freshman in program history and in a snap he's gone.

To add insult to injury Justin Selman is gone as well. Selman was a fan favorite and a reliable goal scorer as an upperclassman who scored the same number of goals (13) as the returning left wings had last season combined.

48 goals and 102 points out the door. That production can't be replaced in one season and if the Wolverines have any hope of getting average production from their left wings all four players are going to have to step up and take bigger roles.

Returning

Brendan Warren

2015-2016 Team: Michigan

Stats: 38 GP, 5-12--17, 18 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Class: 6'1, 185lbs, Sophomore

NHL: 3rd rd, 81st overall by Arizona

As a freshman a year ago Brendan Warren came out of the gate looking every bit like a guy who could be a primary scorer for this team with nine points in his first nine games. His line of Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone had exploded on the scoresheet and was the trio grabbing the headlines before the vaunted CCM line came together. It was a grand old time.

The rest of the season, however, Warren faded away while everyone else was getting in on the scoring bonanza and he largely became an afterthought finishing second to last in scoring among forwards who played the entire season and last in goals. His 5.4 shooting percentage was the worst among all forwards on the team while his 92 shots were the 6th highest total among the forwards.

Warren came to Michigan as a player with great speed and a solid two-way game but needed to work on creating in the offensive end for himself and that reflected tenfold on the ice. With the Marody-Calderone duo working together like Starsky and Hutch, he never really developed the same cohesion with his linemates and his offensive production ground to a halt.

That's alright and quite reasonable for a freshman, however, entering the 2016 season only three players return who cracked double digits in the goal column and there isn't a Dylan Larkin or a Kyle Connor joining the program this season. The Wolverines are going to be looking at returning players to carry the scoring load and Warren has to be one of the guys.

Warren has the potential to be a 10-15 goal scorer as a sophomore. Playing with Cooper Marody and Alex Kile on the top line he can absolutely get there.

Dexter Dancs

2015-2016 Team: Michigan

Stats: 35 GP, 7-10--17 scoring line, 35 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Class: 6'2, 205lbs, Junior

Dancs is big, lanky skater who has had the grinder label stapled to his forehead since arriving on campus. Running the opposing goalie a bunch of times in your first 10 games and taking an unnecessary minor penalty in every game will earn that label, but as the game slowed down for Dancs and he worked on his stride Dancs has been able to showcase a pair of underrated hands and create offense with his skating as opposed to just playing the grind game.

Like Alex Kile and Justin Selman a year ago, Dancs put up respectable numbers that were overshadowed by the CCM line as well as his propensity to goon it up. Still, seven goals scored is pretty good considering that Dancs did it as a bottom six player without any power play time. His 16.7 shooting percentage on just 42 shots was particularly impressive.

Dancs is going to get a shot in the top six and he most certainly has the potential to be a contributor. Whether he takes a step forward as a 10+ goal scorer or gets relegated to the bottom six depends on how he handles the penalty situations that have put him in the doghouse for two straight seasons.

Niko Porikos

2015-2016 Team: Michigan

Stats: 17 GP, 1-2--3 scoring line, six penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Class: 6'3, 200lbs, junior

After not appearing in a game as a freshman, Porikos assumed the role of the extra forward entering the lineup at both wing positions on the 4th line and did a solid job. I liked what Porikos brought when he was in the game and it looks like he'll be playing the same role this season.

Incoming

Nick Pastujov

2015-2016 Team: US National Development Program

Stats: 60 GP, 13-8--21, 68 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Age: 6'0, 200lbs, 18 years old

NHL: 7th rd, 193rd overall by NYI

The most intriguing recruit among the skaters joining the team this season is Bradenton, Florida, native Nick Pastujov. Pastujov committed to Michigan two years ago after a wildly successful stretch playing for the nearby Detroit Honeybaked program and was tabbed as a super-scorer before heading off to join the USNTDP program in Ann Arbor/Plymouth.

While Pastujov saw his scoring dip in his U17 and U18 seasons he honed his two-way play and earned a reputation as a tenacious forechecker and as a player who isn't afraid to throw around his weight. In the offensive end Pastujov has all of the tools to be a serious point producer but that part of his game is still a work in progress. Give him a season or two to learn the college game while getting stronger in the weight room and his career is going to take off.

This season a third line role will be perfect for Pastujov. That will allow him to work as a forechecker and as a defensive player while contributing as a secondary scorer before taking on a larger role as a sophomore.

James Sanchez

2015-2016 Team: US National Development Program

Stats: 64 GP, 9-9--18 scoring line, 38 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Age: 6'1, 185lbs, 18 years old

The third forward recruit joining the program from the USNTDP, Sanchez is a raw power forward with a lanky stride, sweet hands and untapped potential through the roof. While he hasn't quite put it all together in the offensive end yet, given time to develop Sanchez has all the tools to be a contributor down the line.

As a freshman the Wolverines aren't going to look his way for scoring, that will give him the opportunity to adjust to the college game while honing his offensive skills.

Line Projections

1st Line: Brendan Warren

2nd Line: Dexter Dancs

3rd Line: Nick Pastujov

4th Line: James Sanchez

Extra Skater: Niko Porikos