Thursday, April 2, 2009

Actual vs Predicted: Blue Line

Previously I kicked off a little season review and took a look at my pre-season predictions against a player’s actual production. Yesterday was the goaltenders, today I’m moving on to the defensemen, and what a fine group of blue liners they are.

Jamie McBain – Grade: A-
Actual stats: 36 games, 7-27-34*
Prediction: 36 games, 10-26-36
* Regular Season stats only

WCHA POY, Hobey Finalist and likely an All-American. Anything more to say? Good luck to McBain in the pros; I’ll be tuning in regularly when he’s an everyday NHLer, likely by 2010/11.

Ryan McDonagh – Grade: B+
Actual stats: 32 games, 4-11-15
Prediction: 32 games, 5-12-17

McDonagh came to the rink and gave a solid effort every night. He doesn’t always light up the score sheet, but he is valuable on both ends of the ice. Of all the defensemen, he is the most physical (w/ the exception of Ryan Little’s reckless abandon) and had some huge hits throughout the season. At first I didn’t like his pairing w/ Goloubef, but they compliment each other well and if they both return they should be the top pairing in the country.

Cody Goloubef – Grade: A-
Actual Stats: 32 games, 4-8-12
Prediction: 36 games, 6-14-20

Gold Medal Goloubef gets an extra notch on his grade for gaining the gold men w/ Canada at the WJC in January. The only NCAA player on the team, quite impressive. Sitting behind McBain, Smith and Gardiner in the PP hierarchy, Goloubef still hasn’t been able to show off his offensive upside, but he still had a great season. He is solid on both ends, actually better than solid. Again w/ McDonagh they make a great pairing, and assuming Goloubef returns he might get a chance to run the PP w/ Smith on the 1st unit. Goloubef’s future looks mighty bright.

Jake Gardiner – Grade: A
Actual stats: 35 games, 2-16-18
Prediction: 30 games, 4-12-16

Lost in a lot of other things gaining attention in Badger Men’s hockey, Jake Gardiner had one hell of a season! Two seasons ago, Jake completed his last season as a forward, and now he looks a few seasons away from being an NHL regular on the blue line as he refines his defense game, and expands his offensive capabilities. The grade I gave him is based on him beating expectations, not in scoring, but in the level of play he brought throughout the season. I don’t think anyone honestly expected his level of play and adjustment to the WCHA from high school hockey. He stepped right into a pairing w/ McBain in the 2nd half and never looked back.

Brendan Smith – Grade: B
Actual Stats: 27 games, 8-13-21
Prediction: 30 games, 4-13-17

Smith was a critical part of the power play in the 1st half of the season; he was a force out there being fed from McBain. Injury derailed his season once again, and upon returning late in the season he was never quite as effective. Smith made big strides in his defensive game and started to really show off the offense that made him a 1st round pick of the Red Wings. A healthy season is critical for Smith next year, and if he is his numbers could be huge.

Craig Johnson – Grade: B
Actual Stats: 19 games, 0-0-0
Prediction: 10 games, 0-1-1

I underestimated Johnson, or overestimated Little and Springer based on who would get playing time this season. To start the year, there was a regular rotation of all three, but as the Badgers neared crunch time Johnson became a regular on the 3rd pairing and even time on the PK. I think his late season pairing w/ Smith was effective since they both compliment the other’s weakness. Johnson started to show a better slap shot late, and was better in big game situations. W/ Justin Schultz coming in for sure, Little and Springer are going to have to work hard to take Johnson’s spot in the lineup next season.

Ryan Little – Grade: C+
Actual Stats: 22 games, 0-3-3
Prediction: 20 games, 1-3-4

Little gets a small bump in his grade for his aforementioned reckless abandon in “owning” opponents. He reminded me of Patrick Johnson’s freshman year. Overall, Little was good at times and struggled mightily at others, but for a freshman season it wasn’t too bad. My fan’s expectation for frosh blue liners is to not be a liability in the defensive zone and whatever else you do great (outside of the highly touted kids). At the end, Johnson was less of a liability than Little, so he saw the ice time. Plenty of room and time to improve.

Eric Springer – Grade: C
Actual Stats: 18 games, 1-2-3
Prediction: 18 games, 1-4-5

Springer doesn’t get the bonus for reckless abandon, but I think he had a similar season to Little. Right before Christmas 60 and I discussed how great he was playing, but after the holidays he seemed to take a step back. Overall a good freshman season, and like Little there is a lot of room for growth and improvement. There is a possibility of mass blue line departures following next season, and both Springer and Little will be critical parts of the 2010/11 team as upperclassmen.