With the Wisconsin men's hockey team set to lose four forwards and two defensemen off last seasons roster many have been curious who is set to step up in the roles of the players who who have graduated or in the case of Jordy Murray and Jake Gardienr, left school early to sign professional contracts. Last season saw the Badgers lose an absolutely absurd 9 forwards and 3 defensemen, so losing only 6 skaters compared to last seasons 12 is encouraging when looking at the prospects of next seasons success.
Players like Gardiner, Craig Smith, Justin Schultz, Murray, Sean Dolan, Patrick Johnson, John Ramage, Craig Johnson, and Podge Turnbull all played expanded roles to fill in for players like Derek Stepan, Blake Geoffrion and Ryan McDonagh who all saw extended time in the NHL in their first seasons of pro hockey.
Smith, Schultz, and Ramage all return and will be relied upon for big minutes once again. In addition to the three previously mentioned, players like Derek Lee, Frankie Simonelli, Tyler Barnes, Michael Mersch and Mark Zengerle are going to have to step up and take their games to the next level in order for the Badgers to have the type of season they can be proud of.
For Bucky's 5th Quarter's late May line projections, follow after the jump.
Michael Mersch (L)-Craig Smith (R)-Derek Lee (R)
The Badgers return their number one center in Craig Smith who has had an outstanding off season so far representing the United States at the IIHF Men's World Championships. If I had to fill out my pre-season All-WCHA team Smith would be on my first team. Derek Lee stepped up his play the second half of last season and could be in for a huge season if paired with Smith. Michael Mersch is a big winger who has 15 goal potential this season.
Brad Navin (L)-Mark Zengerle (R)-Tyler Barnes (R)
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves loves to be strong down the middle and that's what I've done here in moving Zengerle back to his natural position at center. Zengerle is the best distributor on the roster and I've paired him up with two kids in Tyler Barnes who rooms with Zengerle and incoming freshman Brad Navin. Both Barnes and Navin have a history of being able to put the puck in the net and this could be a dynamic second unit.
Jason Clark (L)-Joseph LaBate (L)-Keegan Meuer (R)
Things start to get a little more interesting at this point of the projections. Joeseph LaBate is a big centerman who comes to Madison straight out of the Academy of Holy Angles high school program. Eaves started to rely more and more on Meuer as the season went on and with it being his third year in the Badger program (redshirt sophomore) he should be able to handle this type of assignment. Jason Clark is an exciting prospect to me who didn't see much ice last season. Clark has offensive upside but isn't cut out for fourth line duties. Playing in a scoring role should give Clark an opportunity to prove he was worthy of his third round NHL draft selection.
Ryan Little (L)-Jefferson Dahl (R)-Gavin Hartzog (R)
Next season the Badgers will have incredible depth in forwards. Little, Dahl, and Hartzog all saw action last season for the Badgers and Little and Dahl played big minutes as the season went on. All three players could play on a higher line and it's a big advantage for the Badgers that they have the type of depth where they can play these three in this role. Dahl will see minutes on the penalty kill and could potentially play on the second line if Eaves decides to keep Zengerle at wing. Little put up 10 points last season which was a nice surprise in his first year at forward after spending his first two years at Wisconsin playing D. Hartzog was a project much like John Mitchell but has some nice tools and could develop into a goal scoring option as his career evolves.
Matt Paape (L)/Sean Little (R)/Brendan Woods (L)/Tyler Lapic (L)
I expect all four forwards that I have listed above to get opportunities to see time this season. Paape and Little have played fourth line roles in the past and could easily see time there this season. Lapic and Woods have more potential to put the puck in the net but both are big forwards who can be used in checking roles.
Justin Schultz (R)-Frankie Simonelli (R)
I've moved Schultz from the right side to the left to pair him with Frankie Simonelli. I think Simonelli is ready for this type of responsibility and Schultz is obviously a pre-season Hobey Baker candidate. I like the idea of moving Schultz who is right handed to the left to allow him to get his shot off from the middle. This pairing could put up some big offensive numbers and also play against the oppositions top lines.
Jake McCabe (L)-John Ramage (R)
Sure, Jake McCabe should be a senior in high school next season but his play speaks for itself and he will be ready to jump right into the lineup for the Badgers. Pairing him up with veteran John Ramage gives the Badgers a shut down pairing that can play big time minutes if need be.
Eric Springer (L)-Joe Faust (R)
I'm a huge fan of the things that Joe Faust brings to the table and it's time for him to be an every night player for the Badgers. Springer is a veteran and will be in his fourth season of action for the Badgers. Not many teams in the WCHA can trot out a third d-pairing as good as this and it will be a huge advantage for the Badgers next season. With three solid pairings coach Butters won't have to play Schultz 35 minutes a night like he did last season.
Patrick Daly (L)-Chase Drake (L)
It remains to be seen how Patrick Daly will adjust to the WCHA coming straight out of Benilde-St. Maragrets high school in the twin cities. Wisconsin's top six is pretty much already in order but Daly with a strong camp could see an opportunity to prove his worth early in the season. At this point it doesn't seem as if Drake is ready to see much action for the Badgers and I've heard that they are possibly looking to bring in another defenseman for depth on the back end.
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