Wednesday, September 2, 2009

If I Were Eaves...(Defense)

A few weeks ago I posted my first installment of, "If I were Eaves." In that article, I talked about what I would do with the forward lines. After looking at the talent we're bringing to the table offensively I got VERY excited for what this team can do this season. Today I bring the second installment of "If I were Eaves," this time focusing on the defensive parings.

I'll state this from the beginning. This is the best group of defensemen ever to be put together on one college team. EVER. The loss of the WCHA Player of the Year Jamie McBain is a big one, but can be replaced by incoming freshmen Justin Schultz and John Ramage, along with the added fact that the current defensemen could only improve.

First Pairing=Ryan McDonagh-Jake Gardiner

The truth is, if Ryan McDonagh went pro over the summer, he would be in the Rangers lineup by mid-season. He will be the Badgers #1 defenseman in every on ice situation. He's got a great first pass and at the end of last season was our most physical defenseman.

Gardiner is a smooth skater who can benefit from McDonagh's smarts. Gardiner played in this spot for a while last year while people were injured and he stepped up as an 18 year old freshman. People need to keep in mind that Jake Gardiner has only played defense for two seasons. One in high school and one for the Badgers. All you have to do is look at how far he's come since then to realize how high his potential is. He could end up being the best player out of this group when it's all said and done.

Second Pairing=Cody Goloubef-Brendan Smith

Goloubef is the consummate veteran. He's always in the right spot and doesn't make stupid mistakes. I can really see him taking his game to a whole other level this season offensively. He's been relied on a lot on the defensive end in his first two seasons. I think this year Osiecki is looking for him to be a big more of a force on the offensive side.

Smith needs to stay healthy plain and simple. When he's healthy, he can be a game changer on the blue line. He's a power play specialist and has the hardest heater on the roster. He, like Gardiner only changed to defense recently. He's come a long ways on the defensive side in the past two seasons with the Badgers. If he makes the defensive strides that I think he will, he could be in for an All-American season if he gets his PP points which shouldn't be a problem.

Third Pairing=Craig Johnson-Justin Schultz

The top 4 guys were easy to place, all four of them could be seeing their names on the All WCHA team at the end of the season. After those guys, we're going to have 5 guys battling for the last two spots. Taking hints from Eaves, there is no way incoming freshman Justin Schultz will be sitting in a suit watching games this season. A second round draft pick out of the BCHL, Schultz will be an instant force on the blue line for the Badgers. Schultz knows how special it is to be a Badger as he had opportunities elsewhere to play college hockey last season but waited a year to be under the guidance of Mark Osiecki. He should be a great #5 defenseman for this team.

The #6 spot on the roster is going to be a revolving door in my opinion. I feel like Craig Johnson deserves the first shot at it with his play down the stretch last season. You know exactly what your getting from Craig day in and day out. He's a rock solid defender who is going to play conservatively and keep the puck out of the net.

Extras=Ryan Little, Eric Springer, John Ramage

After Johnson, I think you've really got a toss up. Little and Springer both showed at times that they can be regular WCHA defenseman. But they were also absolutely awful at times last season. I'm not sure that either one of them can be counted on at this point to be a regular on the blueline in the WCHA. Ramage, an incoming freshman from the NTDP could be the wild card. I think he will get some opportunities early in the season to see what he can do. He's played a partial college season last year with the NTDP so he should be ready to step in immediately. He's more of a stay at home type as well, but he has more offensive upside than Johnson.

Overall Thoughts

Mark Osiecki is going to have a fun time working with this bunch. We're a solid 9 deep on the defensive side of the puck. That means that there is going to be a ton of competition and hopefully it can help our in-experienced goaltenders. McDonagh is for sure a pre-season All-American and likely Hobey candidate. Smith, Goloubef, and Gardiner all could bust out and be an absolute super star in this league this season. The player I'm most looking forward to watching is Schultz. I think that he could really shore up the problems the Badgers have had in the past with the third pairing.

It should really be a fun year to watch Wisconsin hockey.

Photo of Brendan Smith by Brace Hemmelgarn