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Hockey Season Preview: Left Defense

The left side of the Michigan blueline gives the Wolverines depth they haven’t had in years.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Previous: Left Wing, Center, Right Wing, Right Defense

Departed

Mike Downing

Mike Downing departs after signing a pro contract with Florida. Losing a senior defenseman isn’t great but I think the Wolverines have the depth to replace Downing without much of a drop in production.

Returning

Sam Piazza

2015-2016 Team: Michigan

Stats: 16 GP, 1-5--6 scoring line, 0 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Class: 5'11, 195, Junior

Sam Piazza was more or less an afterthought heading into the 2015 season. As a freshman he appeared in ten games and was the kind of defenseman you never heard the name of during the game, in a good way, but not in the kind of way that earned ice time so as a sophomore Piazza took a seat as the extra guy behind surprise newcomer Cutler Martin.

Then the GLI rolled around and Mike Downing was suspended and Zach Werenski was playing at World Juniors so Red Berenson put Piazza as the #1 defenseman and he took off running. Piazza was named to the GLI All-Tournament Team and gave the Wolverine blueline an offensive quality that none of the other players outside of Werenski could provide.

Piazza has developed quite a bit of finesse with the puck on his stick and is by far the best puckhandler among the defensemen. He isn’t a masher or a big hitter by any stretch but that doesn’t matter. Defensemen who make good decisions with the puck and can outlet from their zone are much more valuable in today’s game.

Piazza is going to get a top four spot and should be the 1st unit power play quarterback. He will easily lead the defensemen in scoring.

Nolan De Jong

2015-2016 Team: Michigan

Stats: 38 GP, 0-11—11 scoring line, 14 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Class: 6’2, 203lbs, Senior

NHL: 7th rd, 197th overall by Minnesota

Nolan De Jong enters his senior season having played 3 nondescript seasons for the Wolverines. Consistency has been an issue; at times De Jong has shown flashes of potential as a top 4 pairing defenseman, other times he is just a guy.

Transition defense was a problem a year ago for De Jong that got better as the season went along. The hope is that De Jong can finally put it together as a senior to give the Wolverines four solid options on the blueline for the first time in quite a long time.

Cutler Martin

2015-2016 Team: Michigan

Stats: 35 GP, 2-11—13 scoring line, 35 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Class: 6’0, 212lbs, Junior

Cutler Martin burst onto the scene as a freshman after he scored 6 goals, 3 of them game winning goals, and gave the Wolverines a physical presence as a 3rd pairing defenseman. As a sophomore Martin wasn’t as impactful; his skating was exposed defensively and his shooting percentage dropped 14% before he eventually moved from defense to forward.

It’s hard to see where Martin fits into this lineup moving forward. His upside is limited at both ends of the ice because he isn’t a great skater and I don’t see Martin beating Griff Luce for the 3rd spot. More than likely Martin fills in as the extra defenseman and gets spot duty as a forward again.

Incoming

Griffin Luce

2015-2016 Team: US National Development Program

Stats: 64 GP, 3-8—11 scoring line, 82 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Age: 6’3, 215lbs, 18 years old

Joining the team from the United States National Development Program, Luce is a towering, tough as nails defenseman who takes care of business in the defensive zone. He makes smart decisions with the puck and skates well for his size, however, Luce doesn’t jump up into the rush or have elite puck skills so his offensive contributions are limited. He’ll remind fans a lot of former Wolverine Greg Pateryn.

Scouting services were split on Luce going into the 2016 draft; ISS Hockey and NHL Central scouting ranked him 89th and 70th among North American skaters, HockeyProspect.com had him at 173rd and Future Considerations ranked Luce the lowest of the four services at 210.

A 4th or 5th round selection would have been appropriate. Surprisingly, Luce went undrafted. Perhaps it was his lack of offensive upside or maybe he was just scouted too much and repeated viewings of a player who plays a “boring” game turned scouts off.

As a freshman the 3rd pair job belongs to Luce. He has top pairing potential as an upperclassmen.

Christian Meike

2015-2016 Team: Sioux City/Waterloo (USHL)

Stats: 54 GP, 2-9—11 scoring line, 10 penalty minutes

Height, Weight, Age: 6’0, 175lbs, 20 years old

The third defenseman in the class, Christian Meike has been committed to Michigan since March of 2013. Meike split the 2015 season between Sioux City and Waterloo in the USHL and was steady. He’s a nifty puck mover with good instincts who is not big at all.

Each side of the blueline has an extra skater and they’re both upperclassmen so a redshirt year seems likely.

Pairing Projection

1st Pairing: Sam Piazza

2nd Pairing: Nolan De Jong

3rd Pairing: Griffin Luce

Extra Skaters: Martin, Meike