Two months ago I took a look at potential line combinations and defensive pairings for your 2011-2012 Wisconsin Badgers Men's Hockey Team. At that time the roster looked dangerous, a top 3 WCHA team with the potential to go far in the NCAA tournament. Since then, pre-season All-American candidate Craig Smith changed his mind on coming back to Madison for his junior season signing a pro contract with the Nashville Predators.
While Smith's loss is devastating no question, believe it or not the Badgers will still field a team for next season. And in my opinion, still a very successful one. Digging into the lineup there is still a lot to like about the potential for this seasons team. The Badgers still have some dangerous forwards that can put points on the board like Derek Lee, Tyler Barnes, Mark Zengerle and Michael Mersch who are only scratching the surface of their potential. Additionally freshmen like Brad Navin and Joseph LaBate have huge upside putting the puck in the net.
Defensively the Badgers may not be as loaded as the crew in 2006 but they are undoubtedly the strength of this years roster. Justin Schultz is a Hobey Baker candidate and a potential 20 goal threat from the blueline. John Ramage is solid as it comes defensively and young guns Jake McCabe, Frankie Simonelli, Joe Faust and Patrick Daly are still getting better.
For more on the roster and Bucky's 5th Quarter's line projections, follow after the jump.
Michael Mersch (L)-Mark Zengerle (R)-Tyler Barnes (R)
I'll admit it's a bit risky to pair arguably the three biggest offensive threats the Badgers have into one unit but honestly this line makes too much sense to not happen. With Jefferson Dahl being the only returning center off last seasons roster due to Craig Smith signing with Nashville and Podge Turnbull and Sean Dolan graduating coach Mike Eaves has little choice but to move Zengerle to center (where he probably should have been last season). Barnes and Mersch are both scoring wingers who in my opinion are natural fits to be paired with a exceptional distributor in Zengerle. Dangerous, dangerous line and most likely the top power play unit as well. The most exciting part about this? All three are sophomores.
Ryan Little (L)- Derek Lee (R)-Joseph LaBate (L)
Interesting unit here. Like I mentioned previously with a lack of experience at center, Eaves could go in a number of different directions. Derek Lee is one of the most skilled players on the roster and one of the only ones with experience playing in the middle at this level. While he didn't play all season there, Lee centered a line until almost Christmas. Ryan Little showed last season that he's got a little skill to go along with his grit and he's one of the few players that I trust to play two way hockey against the elite offensive teams in the WCHA. LaBate is an interesting player to place as I feel like he's a top six forward with offensive upside but its virtually impossible to place kids coming straight out of high school. LaBate also has the ability to play center.
Jason Clark (L)-Jefferson Dahl (R)-Gavin Hartzog (R)
Starting in the middle you can't help but be confident with Jefferson Dahl here. Had a very solid freshman season and I flirted with him on the second unit. Two way player with more offensive flash then he showed last season. Big season for sophomore Jason Clark who saw limited playing time last season. The big bodied winger out of Shattuck St. Mary's is one of my breakout picks for this season. Hartzog showed some flashes last season and brings some skill along with his huge frame. Would like to see more consistency out of him in his second season.
Brendan Woods (L)-Brad Navin (L)-Keegan Meuer (R)
Navin is another high school player coming out of Waupaca and was selected by the Sabres in the 7th round of the draft. In my last projection I had Navin up on the second line but that was probably a big aggressive for him. Navin will see action for sure this season and as his confidence grows, so will his playing time. Woods is one of the beneficiaries of Smith turning pro as he wasn't in my top 12 forwards before that announcement but now slides into the lineup on the fourth line. Woods is an intelligent player who studied under former Badger assistant Kevin Patrick in the USHL last season. Meuer is a veteran being a third year sophomore and with no seniors and only two junior forwards, will be one of the oldest forwards in the lineup.
Matt Paape (L)-Tyler Lapic (L)-Sean Little (R)
I honestly feel good about all three of these players who at this point I don't have in the lineup. I feel that all three will see opportunities next season as the difference between them and the fourth line or even some on the third is not much, if at all. Sean Little saw some time last season as a freshman and is willing to run through a wall for the team which kind of reminds me of Ben Grotting. And anyone who has followed a Mike Eaves coached team knows he loves to have a Grotting type kid.
Thoughts on my picks or want to post your own? Leave a comment.
Follow me on Twitter