One piece can lead to a surge in the construction of a jigsaw puzzle, and Minnesota State forward Marc Michaelis could be the piece that creates a surge in multiple puzzles.
Michaelis has the opportunity to make the next few months the biggest of his life as his NCAA career transitions into a professional career with several countries watching.
Skating in his senior season with the Mavericks, Michaelis and the No. 3-ranked team are en route to their third consecutive NCAA tournament berth, where they intend on making 2020 their year.
High expectations have been met with heavy disappointment in Mankato recently, which both includes and predates Michaelis and his teammates; the Mavericks have gone 0-5 at the NCAA tournament under coach Mike Hastings, who is eyeing his sixth berth in eight seasons.
But still, expectations remain as the Mavericks continue to dominate the regular season with a 26-4-2 record in 2019-20. Those expectations are both internal and external and play a large part in the second-year captain’s choice to return for his senior season, along with six other seniors who aren’t ready to give up the fight for a national title.
Michaelis remains the key piece, on pace to lead the team in scoring for the third time in his four seasons, accumulating 67 goals and 151 points in 142 games in that span. While he has missed the past six games with a leg injury, he’s a leader both on and off the ice and is among the frontrunners for the 2020 Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player
Regardless of tournament success or an individual award, when Michaelis’ collegiate career comes to an end he will have plenty of suitors across the NHL ready to offer an immediate opportunity at the professional level.
At the NHL level, the United States, Canada, and his native Germany will be among the most excited countries to have the opportunity to watch him transition to professional hockey like many collegiate free agents before him.
When he turns pro, the 24-year-old will take the next step as a new piece to a different puzzle, bringing his leadership and two-way skill to a new team piecing together a puzzle of their own, be it a rebuild, ongoing blueprint, or Stanley Cup aspirations.
But when that inevitable first pro contract comes, Michaelis will become bigger than a new teammate, a signature on a piece of paper, or a six-figure paycheck. He’ll become a beacon in his homeland, a place that has begun developing noteworthy talent over the past several years.
In 2014, Leon Draisaitl was selected third overall by the Edmonton Oilers, becoming the highest-drafted German played in NHL history. That same year, Michaelis also entered the NHL Draft, where he was ranked at 103rd overall among European skaters.
Michaelis ultimately went undrafted and made the choice to head to North America for the 2014-15 campaign and continue his career in the NAHL prior to a move to the USHL in the same season. All the while, the two-way play was constant and the points were consistent.
Ignoring that whole cliché about hindsight, Michaelis has spent the last six seasons showing he was worth the draft pick back in 2014. Now, as mentioned, a professional career is inevitable.
Nevertheless, Michaelis is looking like another piece to the German hockey puzzle and has the chance to continue building the talent pipeline from Germany to the NHL. Where other players have been cast-off for their heritage — see Kopitar, Anze circa 2005 — Germany is proving it has even more talent to offer.
Just nine Germans have played in the NHL this season, and seven are younger than 30 years old. Last summer, Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman drafted German defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth overall pick, which many laughed off as a drastic overreach. But he’s in the AHL, showing the promise Yzerman saw in him.
Almost a year later, German winger Tim Stützle is among the top of his draft class and is doing his part in expanding the relationship between Germany and NHL hockey.
But Michaelis is hoping his NCAA career is far from over as the Mavericks look to meet the heavy expectations placed on them. Michaelis’ pending return from injury will see him become an integral part of the Mavericks deep offense once again as the NCAA tournament approaches.
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