On tuesday I posted my initial thoughts on Forwards, based on the recent announcement of the 2008 recruiting class, and today its on to the Defensemen.
3 young men will be stepping in to fill the shoes of our departing seniors.
Jake Gardiner is a highly touted offensive defensemen who has spent most of his hockey life as a forward until recently. He was a big part of Minnetoka HS's success this past season and is projected as a late 1st round NHL draft pick this June. Jake has a lot to learn on the blue line, but has a ton of potential, and should be molded into another NHL regular by the coaching staff in the coming seasons.
Ryan Little and Eric Springer both spent the season in the USHL w/ Green Bay and Sioux Falls respectively. I saw Ryan Little play in one game this season. He doesn't do anything flashy, but he is solid in the defensive end. He does take penalties, but he also wears the Captain's C on his chest, and hopefully he will become a leader for the Badgers. Eric Springer was a surprise player, he kinda came out of nowhere when I thought the Badgers had a pretty full stable of Dmen for the next 2 seasons. Eric had a great season in the USHL, being an All-Star and being named to the All-USHL 2nd Team. I'm looking forward to seeing him play.
Briefly looking at returning players, Jamie McBain will be the key to the team next season IMO. His return gives us a great leader on the blue line who has a legitimate chance at being an All-American. Ryan McDonagh and Cody Goloubef are both at a simlar place to where McB was after his freshman season, and I think they will both be key contributors on the blue line. Brendan Smith battled injury in the 2nd half of the season, and it seemed he battled himself in the 1st half of the season. He has a ton of talent, and needs to learn to have more confidence in himself as a player. When he was having a good game he seemed to take his game to the next level, but when he was having a bad game, his confidence dropped and so did his play on the ice. Craig Johnson had a solid freshman campaign filling in during the WJC and due to injuries. He played within himself, and personally I thought he did a good job when on the ice, and hope he gets some good playing time again this season.
Projecting the Pairings:
Reserves: Craig Johnson and Ryan Little
Though Johnson and Little are listed as reserves, I think everyone will get some decent playing time. McD will definately be on the USA WJC team (I think McB will be too old???) and Smith and/or Goloubef could possibly play for Canada at the same event. I wouldn't be surprised to see a rotation of Springer and Little w/ someone else sitting on occasion and Craig Johnson picking up that playing time.
Though very young, this group has a lot of talent. If Smith and Gardiner develop as the season goes on, Wisconsin could have one of the best Blue Lines in the country by the end of the season.
Though Johnson, Springer and Little might not play a ton this season, they will be key parts of the team in years to come. It is not unlikely that McB and McD could be gone after next season, and that Smith, Goloubef and Gardiner could all be gone the season after, depending upon development. Looking way ahead to 2010, they could likely be our leaders on the blue line.
*Draft eligible this year