Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Projecting the Lines: September 2010 Edition

Wow it has been a busy few months for me, I apologize for my lack of blogging and updates. I have another busy month to go w/ work, but I wrote this up a month ago and finally have time today to get back around to posting it.

A few months back, Chuck projected some lines and I wanted to take a fresh look as the season approaches and the roster is finalized (again I wrote this five weeks ago).

1st Line: LW Jordy Murray – C Craig Smith – RW Derek Lee

At forward, the team doesn’t have a ton of experience, but I think Eaves would be well suited to have one line of veteran players, who should be able to light the lamp and play some solid D. Jordy Murray returns as the top returning goal scorer, while Craig Smith as the top returning scorer. I don’t think there would be much debate that they are the two most talented returning forwards on the team. Smith was a center w/ Waterloo in the USHL, and he’ll need to step up into that role on the top line w/ the departure of Stepan to the pros. Derek Lee was the causality of a loaded team last season. He didn’t have the body or game to be a grinder, he is a playmaker, and there wasn’t room on the top lines for him last season. He needs to assert himself this season, and showcase the skills he used to be one of the top players in the BCHL a few years back.

2nd Line: LW Jason Clark – C Mark Zengerle – RW Josh Turnbull

Past the first line, it is a crap shoot. There are so many freshman, they are going to have to play major roles on the team. Mark Zengerle joins the Badgers as a 21 year old freshman, and I’m hoping he provides some Tyler Bozak (former DU standout) type excitement as an older skillful player. Leading the BCHL in scoring two years in a row leads to high expectations. Josh Turnbull comes off a roller coaster season, which finished well and hopefully boosts his confidence as well as Coach Eaves’. Turnbull has disappointed often during his career, but he get one more crack to make a difference, and the team needs him this season. Jason Clark is a big, talented power forward. The last two kids to come from Shattuck St Mary’s stepped in and contributed right away (Derek Stepan & Murray), so I expect some of the same from Clark, but could see several other people filtering through this spot.

3rd Line: LW Patrick Johnson – C Sean Dolan – RW Tyler Barnes

Sean Dolan is the only returning player w/ regular time spent at the face off dot. In addition he has been named team Captain, so he could project as the 2nd line center. One thing is for sure he is a rock solid defender, and will likely be called upon for his defense throughout the season. The line “designation” often doesn’t mean much to Coach Eaves, and Dolan’s line will see a lot of ice time regardless. Which Patrick Johnson will take the ice this season? if the freshman version of Ratty makes a resurgence, he could find a spot in a more offensive situation, but again like Dolan is a solid defender. Tyler Barnes comes off having a similar USHL season to Craig Smith at this time last year, and will be another freshman counted on to be productive for the team. That production might not come as goals, but Barnes will counted on as a regular this season, and is another solid defender.

4th Line: LW Michael Mersch – C Jefferson Dahl – RW Ryan Little

A while back, Baggot mentioned Eaves might experiment w/ playing Ryan Little as a grinder at forward, so I’ve put him into that slot on the 4th line. Wouldn’t be the worst experiment, the team is deeper on the blue line than at forward, and having another experienced player on the ice won’t hurt any where you can fit them. Jefferson Dahl should be able to do a lot of things for the Badgers as a freshman. He led the expansion Youngstown Phantoms in scoring last season, but was also a regular on their PK. He isn’t the biggest guy, but he is very hockey smart. Michael Mersch will be the youngest Badger on the team next season, not turning 18 until the second home series. His numbers last season w/ the US NTDP weren’t world killing, but Mersch is a talented young man, who could surprise this season, but if nothing else will be a regular in the lineup.

Lineup Crashers: Keegan Meuer, Sean Little & Gavin Hartzog

This group of young men could be regulars in street clothes or regulars in the lineup all season. W/ a young team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eaves switch things around a lot the first half to try to find the right combination of players, or when someone isn’t giving 100%. Keegan Meuer brings a year of the Eaves’ system to the team, Sean Little brings unending energy and scrappiness to the Badgers, while Gavin Hartzog brings size you can’t teach. Unlike last season, I don’t think there is an obvious drop in talent or role that keeps a player on the bench compared to the rest of the lineup. Spots will be up for grabs and hard work in practice each night will be vital for the younger players. I especially like Sean Little to get some PT this season, but I’m kinda biased after watching him in Green Bay the last two years.

Top Pairing: Jake Gardiner & John Ramage

Some people might like to break up the top three defensemen, but I think the team needs a top notch pairing to skate a ton of minutes each night. Jake Gardiner and John Ramage would make one of the best pairings in the country. Gardiner returns as arguably the most talented player on the team, and w/ Stepan and Ryan McDonagh leaving early, will be one of the team’s leaders this season (has been named alternate captain). Paired w/ Ramage, Gardiner should get a chance to show off more of his offensive talent. Ramage is use to being paired w/ an offensive partner, but unlike Brendan Smith, I don’t see Gardiner leaving Ramage out to dry w/ regularity. Ramage is nothing but a rock as a defender, and happens to have a cannon of a shot to use when the situation allows. Gardiner is no defensive liability though, his year playing w/ McDonagh did wonders for his all around game.

2nd Pairing: Justin Schultz & Eric Springer

The other big name regular returning is Justin Schultz. His role will have to expand from learner to leader this season. Last season Cody Goloubef led the way at EV, now Schultz will have to take up that role and grow as a player. On the PP, Schultz and Gardiner should make a solid 1st unit combination. I put Eric Springer w/ Schultz, as I hope Springer is ready and able to play a regular shift on the blue line this season. The blue line is still pretty deep by WCHA standards, and two years in the system, even w/ a new assistant coach, should be to his advantage. Frankie Simonelli or Joe Faust will be pushing for playing time though.

3rd Pairing: Craig Johnson & Frankie Simonelli/Joe Faust/Chase Drake

This is where spreading out the top three blue liners wouldn’t make sense, if I didn’t think Craig Johnson was capable of leading this pairing every night. He’s been a solid stay at home defender his entire time at Wisconsin, and as a senior can show one of the freshman the ropes. I listed all three freshman opposite Johnson, since I think the blue line will have some shuffling early on. Simonelli was a regular w/ the US NTDP and should be a regular in this lineup, but I can’t discount Faust either since I’ve never seen him play. Chase Drake did not overwhelm me the two times I saw him play in the USHL, but he was a great high school player for Mosinee, and look forward to his Badger career.

In Goal: Scott Gudmandson

While Gudmandson should start the year as the #1, he’ll have to work hard to keep that spot, and Brett Bennett will see time in the crease no matter what. Bennett should push him all year, as he looks to rebound completely from a shoulder injury that he never really looked the same after despite being cleared to play. No matter what, these two need to play better. The help out front has diminished from last season, not only from the losses on the blue line in McDonagh and Goloubef, but more importantly from the defensive forwards. Ben Street, Blake Geoffrion, Andy Bohmbach, Ben Grotting and Aaron Bendickson were outstanding defenders, and the 2010/11 forward corps will be hard pressed to match what has been lost to graduation. Experience goes a long way though, and having two senior goalies is something no other WCHA team can boast. Gudmandson and Bennett need to keep the Badgers in games to start the season, and give this young team the opportunity to succeed and grow.