After a resurgent second half to the 2019-20 season as the No. 17-ranked program in the NCAA, the Michigan Wolverines are prepped for an even bigger resurgence in 2020-21.
An overreliance on defense created an offensive struggle for the Wolverines last fall, going 4-8-2 through November. But as the systems came together the natural offensive ability began to bloom and helped the team go 14-6-2 from December onward, prior to the cancelation of the Big Ten and national tournaments.
Seniors Jake Slaker, Will Lockwood, and Nick Pastujov carried the offensive torch as the three leading scorers, leaving questions about offensive output in 2020-21. The loss of stable, at-home defensemen Luke Martin and Griffin Luce will also need to be addressed.
But there is plenty of upside in Ann Arbor. In college hockey, a stalwart netminder is a must-have and last season Strauss Mann took the next step in solidifying the Wolverines’ defense.
Mann went 18-13-4, starting all but one game as a workhorse with consistent top-tier numbers. Mann finished the season with a .939 SV%, 1.85 GAA, and six shutouts, finishing third, sixth, and second in the NCAA in each respective category.
The winner of the Hal Downes Award, presented to the team MVP, is Strauss Mann! pic.twitter.com/ig1WjQ3fni— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) April 19, 2020
While the Wolverines made great strides in 2019-20, their 18-14-4 overall record is average for where they expect and want their historic program to be. Players must step up and the enticing incoming freshman class will need to adapt quick to curb another slow start.
The loss of Slaker, Lockwood, and Pastujov opens the door for 2019 first-round picks Johnny Beecher (30th overall, Boston) and Cam York (14th overall, Philadelphia) to take the next step.
It’s not too late for either to sign with the NHL clubs that hold their rights, but with the NHL season in limbo, there is no rush. Neither organization is in immediate need of their services and with neither player having an eye-popping freshman season, Michigan is likely to see each return in 2020-21.
In their return for their sophomore seasons, coach Mel Pearson will heavily rely both on as the top two returning scorers. Beecher’s offensive expectations will certainly increase and after a year of learning, the former USDP center will take over the top line and play with the best wingers.
York, another USDP alum, will be expected to stabilize the blue line and take a larger role that means pushing the offense while simultaneously going toe-to-toe with the other team’s top players.
The duo will be joined by a number of incoming freshmen also ready to show off their skills in the NCAA. Beecher and York will also have the opportunity to ease the transition for two more USDP alumni that will join them this fall.
After leading the USDP team in scoring with 46 points (16 G, 30 A) in 47 games, Thomas Bordeleau will look to further develop his game in the NCAA. As a projected late first-round pick in 2020, there will be high expectations placed on him, pressure his predecessors in Beecher and York can relate to.
The same goes for USDP defenseman Jacob Truscott. Projected to go somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft, development will be key for Truscott during his college career. He will be able to learn alongside York and other “veteran” teammates, but ice time will have to be earned more so than his mates.
Joining the freshman in 2020-21 is Brendan Brisson, another projected first-round pick in 2020, who finished second in scoring in the USHL last season. Brisson posted 24 goals and 35 assists for 59 points in 45 games as a rookie with the Chicago Steel.
ANOTHER honor for #LAJrKings grad, #GoBlue recruit & #NHL draft prospect Brendan Brisson, who today was named the USHL's Rookie of the Year! ?— LA Jr. Kings (@JrKingsHockey) April 25, 2020
READ MORE ▶️ https://t.co/bcDQqWABef pic.twitter.com/VcDQ21L7aw
Son of noteworthy NHL player agent Pat Brisson, Brendan has been a fast riser in the draft rankings and could be a massive catch for the Wolverines in 2020-21, regardless of being another one-and-done player common in the NCAA.
Other freshmen will be joining the Wolverines this fall, including Brisson’s Steel teammate, forward Matthew Samoskevich (34 pts. in 47 games), as well as forward Josh Groll (42 pts. in 41 USHL games with Lincoln Stars).
The Wolverines have the makings to be the 2020-21 equivalent of North Dakota this past season. Top-tier goaltending, player development, and productive rookies will go a long way in getting the Wolverines back to the top of the NCAA.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.