Wisconsin hockey: Grant Besse promoted to top-6 forward role

Morgan Zulinick finds himself on the outside looking in after a slow start to the season. - Larry Radloff Photography

Shaking up the lines this week, Mike Eaves inserted Grant Besse on the left wing along with UW's top two scorers, Nic Kerdiles and Michael Mersch.

When Wisconsin hosts Colorado College Friday at the Kohl Center, you'll likely notice a new face among the top two lines for the Badgers. According to Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal, freshman Grant Besse has been inserted into the left wing slot on the line with Nic Kerdiles and Michael Mersch.

Other line changes according to Baggot include Jefferson Dahl centering Sean Little and Jedd Soleway, while Keegan Meuer centers Brad Navin and Matt Paape. Wisconsin's top line featuring Joseph LaBate, Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes remains untouched.

Besse's promotion leaves redshirt freshman Morgan Zulinick -- who had filled that slot through most of the first 12 games -- in limbo. According to Baggot, Zulinick was not on one of the top four lines at practice Tuesday, indicating he might be a healthy scratch when UW and CC battle it out on the nationally-televised contest on NBC Sports Network Friday.

"Every time that young man shoots is a legitimate scoring chance."—Mike Eaves on Grant Besse

The rise of Besse and fall of Zulinick on the depth chart was noticeable during last weekend's series vs. Penn State. Zulinick looked pedestrian most of the weekend, while Besse had one of the best series of his young career. In fact, Eaves experimented with Besse on the wing of Kerdiles' line much of the weekend.

After leading Salmon Arm of the BCHL in goals and points as a 17-year-old, Zulinick played just seven games for the Badgers last season before being sidelined for the year after suffering a nasty thigh injury in practice.

After taking a redshirt, Zulinick was given a top-six role from day one this fall, but hasn't run with the job like many expected him to. The Kamloops, B.C., native has zero goals and four assists in 12 games this season, and was invisible in the series vs. Penn State over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Besse hasn't taken the world by storm this season, though he has shown the scoring touch that earned him the Mr. Hockey title in the state of Minnesota as a senior last season with four goals, including a beauty on a 2-on-1 Friday night.

"On Friday night, he had three thunderous body checks in the first period," Eaves said of Besse during his weekly press conference Monday. "Which he's starting to say 'I feel comfortable.'

"Every time that young man shoots is a legitimate scoring chance."

Despite playing one less game and earning much less playing time as a bottom-six forward so far, Besse has 29 shots on goal to just 14 for Zulinick.

The extra forward, who has found his way into the top four lines with Zulinick on the outside looking in, is Paape. The junior winger from Appleton, Wis., has played in just two games for the Badgers this season after playing in 71 combined games his first two seasons in Madison, but has been a noticeable factor in both contests.

The depth a player like Paape provides to the Badgers is one of the reasons why Wisconsin was projected as the top team in the Big Ten before the season began.

The Wisconsin coaching staff is hoping the move sparks Zulinick, who clearly has the talent to be an elite player in the Big Ten if he can put it together.

For more hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter --
You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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