The 2021-2022 Michigan hockey season ended prematurely with an overtime Frozen Four defeat to the eventual National Champion Denver Pioneers. Despite having the most talented team in the country, the Wolverines came up short.
Nine Michigan Wolverines have signed NHL contracts since the conclusion of the 2021-2022 hockey season. Johnny Beecher, Matty Beniers, Nick Blankenburg, Thomas Bordeleau, Brendan Brisson, Kent Johnson, Jimmy Lambert, Owen Power and Garrett Van Wyhe, all left their mark on the hockey program and left an even bigger void to be filled.
A few key returners (Luke Hughes, Erik Portillo, Mackie Samoskevich) will help mitigate this loss, but the burden will need to be shouldered in large part by the incoming freshman class.
The 2022 class is one of the most talented in the country and feels more like Michigan reloading, than rebuilding. Let’s get to know the future Wolverines.
Kienan Draper - Forward - 6’0/183 | Right | Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because it should. Kienan is the son of former Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper and Kienan was actually selected by Detroit in the seventh round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Draper is a physical player whose 200-foot game contributes equally on offense and defense. Initially, Draper’s best opportunity to gain ice time will be on the penalty-kill unit, but as he settles in, his blistering one-timer and style of play are ideal for Michigan’s fourth line.
Gavin Brindley - Forward - 5’9/175 | Right | Estero, Fla.
Gavin Brindley is an excellent skater with a diesel engine on the ice. Brindley’s team either possesses the puck or he is relentlessly trying to regain possession like the other team has no right to it.
Besides being a heat seeking missile in constantly in search of the puck, Brindley is a balanced offensive player who utilizes his skating talents to score or create for others. Despite his smaller stature, Brindley’s mindset of seek and destroy on defense overcomes the majority of his size concerns.
Brindley is the perfect locker room guy who will lead by example and always play hard.
Adam Fantilli - Forward - 6’2/188 | Left | Nobleton, Ontario
Adam Fantilli is one of the top three prospects of the 2023 NHL Draft class and has been compared to Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews. While comparisons to the 2022 Rocket Richard winner seem lofty, Fantilli’s game speaks for itself.
Offensively, Fantilli is a natural goal scorer and has no holes in his game. He is an excellent skater who can hit the jets as easily as grinding out possessions on the forecheck. Aside from his other elite traits (quick hands, shot angles), Fantilli plays with a high IQ and rarely forces a bad shot.
In early April while playing in the USHL, Fantilli had put 274 shots on net and only 26 (9.4%) came from above the face-off circles. And not to mention, this kid was destined to be a Wolverine after he pulled a ‘Michigan’ during a game this past season.
Fantilli will join his older brother Luca who is a defenseman, and also in this class. Adam does not turn 18 until October.
Jackson Hallum - Forward - 6’0/183 | Left | Eagan, Minn.
One of the most exciting players in this class, Jackson Hallum will quickly become a fan favorite with the Children of Yost. Hallum –a 2020 third round NHL Draft pick by the Las Vegas Golden Knights– is an electric skater with a knack for inciting odd-man rushes with his ability to pull away from defenders.
While his defensive game will need to develop at the college level, Hallum’s offensive skill set meshes perfectly with the pressure head coach Mel Pearson wants to put on opposing defenses.
Tyler Haskins - Forward - 6’1/185 | Left | Rochester, Minn.
Tyler Haskins is a big body player that excels close to the net. He will be a great third or fourth line depth player who can create for others as easily as finding his own shot.
Haskins is expected to be a middle round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in July.
Rutger McGroarty - Forward - 6’1/185 | Left | Northville, Mich.
One of the leaders in the class, Rutger McGroarty has won and captained at every level dating back to his U14 national playing days. McGroarty can score from anywhere on the ice, but his strength is that he can impact the game even when he isn’t the one shooting.
McGroarty is physical on the forecheck and backcheck, and his high IQ allows him to process, diagnose, and dissect opposing defenses exceptionally fast for a player of his age.
McGroarty is projected as a fringe first round prospect in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Frank Nazar - Forward - 5’9/175 | Right | Mount Clemens, Mich.
Frankie Nazar will be the fastest skater in the country next season. The kid can flat out fly and he weaponizes this massive advantage in all three zones.
Defensively, he can cover ground and cause absolute havoc on his backcheck. In the neutral zone, Nazar can turn any loose puck into a goal scoring opportunity. And offensively, his speed and skill combination is why he averaged more than a point-per-game in the USNTDP.
Nazar will be a first round draft pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Fin Williams - Forward - 6’0/183 | Right | North Vancouver, British Columbia
Fin Williams brings strong leadership traits, more than a point-per-game acumen (BCHL), and a quick, physical stick in the face-off circle. Williams is a team first player who might struggle with the rise in competition from the BCHL to the NCAA, but is the perfect glue guy for a team inundated with talent.
Once Williams adapts to the college game and carves out a steady role, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him develop into a team captain or assistant captain by his third year in Ann Arbor.
Hunter Brzustewicz - Defenseman - 5’11/180 | Right | Washington Township, Mich.
Hunter Brzustewicz is a difficult player to evaluate because he has spent the majority of the last two seasons banged up. When healthy, Brustewicz is one of the best under-18 defensemen in all of hockey. He has high-end offensive play-making abilities with excellent decision-making (despite his favorite celebrity being Jake Paul).
His defensive game could benefit from more patience, but again, he’s 17 and this is a criticism that will only weaken with sustained play. It’s hard to be patient when playing time is sparing.
Brzustewicz will not turn 18 until November and if healthy, could develop into a key rotational defensive piece.
Seamus Casey - Defenseman - 5’10/178 | Right | Estero, Fla.
When you watch his tape, Seamus Casey is like a diet Luke Hughes at first glance. Offensively, Casey is an electric skater, dynamic with the puck, and also a premiere creator, especially when running the point on the power play. Sound familiar?
Defensively, his effort and sustained intensity are rare given his natural offensive gifts. Despite the defensive game not being the sexiest in the public eye, Casey relishes in smothering opponents defensively and then overwhelming them offensively.
Casey is expected to be a second or third round selection in the 2022 NHL Draft.
John Druskinis - Defenseman - 6’1/185 | Right | Plymouth, Mich.
John Druskinis will be your dad’s favorite player for the next four years in Ann Arbor. Druski is a defender’s defender who specializes in the grit and physicality of the game. While a limited offensive player, Druskinis will always have a role only reserved for the select few: enforcer.
Recently drafted Detroit Lion Aidan Hutchinson is also from Plymouth, Michigan, which begs the question: what are they putting in the water there to raise these monsters of men?
Luca Fantilli - Defenseman - 6’0/183 | Left | Nobleton, Ontario
The older brother of an NHL superstar-in-waiting, Luca Fantilli brings a complete defensive game and an offensive accelerating mindset. Fantilli never lets the puck stick and keeps it moving around the ice.
Furthermore, Fantilli is another former USHL captain joining the Wolverines and his counsel and guidance for his brother Adam could be one of the biggest off-ice catalysts for Michigan’s potential success next season.
Brendan Miles - Defenseman - 5’10/161 | Right | Farmington Hills, Mich.
Despite being undersized, Brendan Miles was named the Detroit Free Press High School Hockey Player of the Year in Michigan last year.
Miles is a good skater who plays with an incredible chip on his shoulder. His agility and change of direction allowed him to circumvent his physical limitations at the high school level. However, Miles will need to add size to his frame to provide valuable blueline depth in the coming years for the Wolverines at the conference and national level.