Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves has always preferred his teams to be strong down the middle, and that's not expected to change this season. As of right now, it appears sophomore Nic Kerdiles will move from left wing to center this season to bolster the depth down the middle.
I had a chance to get a sneak peek at an interview Benjamin Worgull from Badger Nation did with Eaves this week, and he noted the early plan is for Kerdiles to make the transition to center. Eaves added that Mark Zengerle, Jefferson Dahl and Keegan Meuer are tentatively penciled in as the other three centers.
In the interview with Worgull (which will be featured in the hockey preview in Badger Nation Magazine), Eaves notes they understand how effective the line of Kerdiles, Zengerle and Tyler Barnes was at the end of last season. Eaves also added that this gives the Badgers a better look right now, but they can always go back to Kerdiles on the wing if need be.
Kerdiles will step into a role vacated by departing senior Derek Lee, who played in just 27 of Wisconsin's 42 games last year. In his absence, sophomore Brendan Woods filled Lee's shoes admirably as the Badgers made a run through the WCHA playoffs. Woods is gone now too, however, after he signed a contract in the off-season with the Carolina Hurricanes, forfeiting his last two seasons of eligibility in the process.
While he played all of last season on the left wing, Kerdiles grew up playing center, and was one of Team USA's top pivots at the IIHF U-18 World Championships in 2012. Kerdiles carries strong size at 6-foot-2, 196-pounds, and can play a physical two way game required in Eaves' system.
The strategy makes sense on paper. Moving Kerdiles to the middle takes the pressure off red-shirt freshman Morgan Zulinick, who can focus more on offense on the wing. It also gives the Badgers as significant advantage of having veteran centers in Dahl and Meuer in the No. 3 and No. 4 positions.
With that in mind, here is my early projected lineup for the Wisconsin forwards:
Morgan Zulinick -- Mark Zengerle -- Tyler Barnes
Already being nicknamed the BuZZ line by some fans, this unit brings a lot of flash and a ton of play-making ability to the table. Zulinick might have the best hands on the roster, and is one of the most creative players I've seen at this level, even in a small sample. After missing almost the entire season last year, people forget how dominant he was in the BCHL on a very mediocre Salmon Arm club as a 17-year-old two years ago. Zengerle is an elite passing center who people forget put up 50 points as a sophomore two years ago, and Barnes is an absolute bull on the ice who really came into his own down the stretch last season.
Joseph LaBate -- Nic Kerdiles -- Michael Mersch
This group could check in as one of the biggest lines in college hockey this season with LaBate (6-foot-4, 200-pounds), Kerdiles (6-foot-2, 196-pounds) and Mersch (6-foot-1, 215-pounds). This line should be able to manhandle most opponents, and has the gives the Badgers two serious scoring lines. Mersch not only led the Badgers in goals last year, but he was fourth in the country in that category. Not bad for a "second line" winger. Kerdiles doesn't get enough credit for his passing ability, and LaBate and Mersch should be able to benefit.
Dahl is the only 37-year-old playing college hockey this season (I kid, I kid), and his veteran presence in the faceoff circle allows Eaves to play his line against any team Wisconsin will face. Besse is a goal scoring threat any time he's on the ice, and Soleway brings a physical presence to this line that should create opportunities for Dahl and Besse to make plays offensively.
Brad Navin -- Keegan Meuer -- Sean Little
Meuer and Little have each played about 1,000 games in a Wisconsin uniform, so this is another group that can play against any line if they have to. Both Meuer and Little go full-tilt at all times, so they should be able to provide an energy spark every time they touch the ice. Navin isn't a prototypical fourth line guy, so don't be surprised to see Paape get plenty of opportunities here as well. With his shooting ability, it also wouldn't be a surprise to see Navin given an opportunity on Dahl's line either.
Extras: Corbin McGuire, Aidan Cavallini, Matt Paape
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