The Michigan Wolverines marched to the Frozen Four in 2018 under new head coach Mel Pearson, but inconsistency made for a rocky 2018-19 campaign and now offseason losses leave the roster in limbo.
Quinn Hughes, who led the Wolverines with 33 points (5 G, 28 A) in 32 games last season, is on his way to becoming the Vancouver Canucks’ No. 1 defenseman. Meanwhile Josh Norris, who was on pace to lead the team in goals and points prior to season-ending surgery, has signed with the Ottawa Senators.
Graduates Joseph Cecconi, Nicholas Boka, and Brendan Warren are also among the departures, leaving Pearson with a young, inexperienced team coming off a 13-16-7 record.
Recruiting on the scrapbook of former players should be easy with the college stints of proven NHL players Dylan Larkin, Kyle Connor, and Zach Werenski in recent years, but commits are typically focused on the present. And presently, the Wolverines lack a notable leader at every position.
An overall struggle in the defensive zone led to subpar goaltending for the Wolverines, which has been the team’s seemingly unsolvable problem. Freshman Strauss Mann and junior Hayden Lavigne combined for an .887 SV% and 3.09 GAA.
Now, the pair will head into next season without puck-movers Hughes, Cecconi, or Boka on the backend as Pearson’s defensive core will fall into the hands of sophomores Jack Summers and Nick Blankenburg.
“As far as the returning defensemen, I think Summers and Blankenburg are ready to take a huge step. Both had good freshman campaigns,” Pearson told Bob Miller of Michigan.rivals.com.
But it’s usually the incoming class that generates the offseason hype and with top NHL draft prospect Cam York set to join the Wolverines, this summer’s hype is no different.
“Cam will be able to come in and do some things on the power play and just be a good all-around puck distributor, good skater,” Pearson said.
York, who set the record for most points by a defenseman in USDP history with 65 points (14 G, 51 A) in 63 games, is pegged to be selected somewhere between 13 and 20.
Prospect Cam York talks growing up in the Anaheim area and being mentored by Scott Niedermayer. pic.twitter.com/xJf3JdeqfL— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 1, 2019
Up front, newly named captain Will Lockwood, Jake Slaker, and Nick Pastujov will be the cornerstones of the offense, as the three seniors finished second, third, and fourth in team scoring last season, respectively.
They’re the only double-digit goal-scorers returning to the roster and with the inevitable increase in ice time, Pearson will lean heavily on the trio to push the offense and help develop the young team around them.
But a pair of grad transfers in Shane Switzer and Jacob Hayhurst will join the seniors as mentors for the rest of the squad. Switzer played in 31 games with Boston University from 2015 to 2019, tallying three goals and five points. He went scoreless in 17 games last season.
Hayhurst joins the Wolverines from RPI, where he amassed 22 goals and 66 points over 103 games, reaching the 20-point plateau in three consecutive seasons and leading the team in scoring in each of the last two campaigns.
Also joining the offense is freshman Emil Ohrvall, who finished fourth in goals and eighth in points in the USHL last season and could be a significant piece in the team’s attack after gaining a year of NCAA experience with RPI in 2017-18, where he scored 11 points in 31 games.
Pearson and the Wolverines will have their work cut out for them in 2019-20, but much like the team surprised in 2017-18, the right combination of ingredients could spark a recipe for success.
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