The University of Michigan has established a reputation as
one of the premier NCAA teams for NHL talent in recent years. A Michigan player
has been selected in the first round of five of the past six NHL entry drafts;
John Madden is a Selke winner, Marty Turco a Vezina finalist, Brendan Morrison a
first line center. Ten current Wolverines have been drafted by the NHL. By next
year that number could be around 15.
What follows is a list of the top ten NHL prospects on the
Michigan team, excluding freshmen, who haven’t proven themselves in the NCAA;
once the season starts the ranking will be updated to include them.
This following list is based on NHL potential, not college
production. NHL Ceiling is just that, a ceiling. Not every player on this list
will reach his ceiling (or even come close to it). Players are listed with their
position, year, draft team, round, number, and draft year.
Top 10 Michigan Prospects
1. Jeff Tambellini (LW, Sophomore, LA-round 1, #26,
Tambellini is a player that inspires superlatives; Coach
Red Berenson described his shot as ‘a Brett Hull shot’. He’s one of the
fastest skaters in the NCAA as well, maybe the fastest, and he has a
goalscorer’s knack. Tambellini will shoot from anywhere and shoot it hard.
Berenson even used Tambellini at the point on the power play for much of last
year. He led Michigan in points as a freshman (the first to do that since Mike
Comrie) and was only the 12th freshman to be named to the all-CCHA
Tambellini has some things to work on (escaping tight
checking, getting stronger) but there’s no reason he can’t have a huge year
next year. His skill set translates very well to higher levels of competition,
too: he doesn’t rely on fancy stickhandling that better defenders don’t fall
for. Tambellini is the surest NHL prospect on the Michigan team.
NHL Ceiling: Second line winger, borderline first,
consistent 20-30+ goal scorer.
2. Al Montoya (G, Sophomore, 2004 eligible)
Montoya stepped into the Michigan goaltending position as a
freshman like Steve Shields and Marty Turco before him and largely lived up to
high expectations. He was inconsistent during the year, but flashed superior
talent in several games, including 2-1 victories against Minnesota—eventual
national champions—and Maine where he made more than 30 saves, many
spectacular. Montoya, the youngest player in NCAA hockey last year, set Michigan
freshman records for wins, save percentage, and games played.
Montoya has very good reflexes and instincts, but needs to
work on his positioning and consistency. He is an unbelievable puckhandler.
Mental lapses cost Montoya periodically as a freshman. He’s also a bit of a
hothead: opposing teams learned that if he got run over he would often let it
get to him, taking an unnecessary penalty or letting in a soft goal. As he
matures, he should put that behind him.
NHL Ceiling: Starting goalie in the league, possibly
an all-star type.
3. Jason Ryznar (RW, Junior, NJ-round 3, #64, 2002):
Ryznar had separate nagging injuries to both shoulders in
the first half of last year and it seriously affected his game. A grinding
winger, Ryznar was unable to crash the boards effectively and his play suffered.
However, once his shoulders healed he began to play very well. He found himself
on a line with David Moss and Milan Gajic that clicked. Late in the season Moss
and Ryznar were almost unstoppable cycling the puck down low, dominating the
boards against quality NCAA teams like Colorado College, Ferris State, Maine,
Ryznar was the team’s best skater in the playoffs and
scored or created several critical goals. After scoring 16 points in both of his
first two years, Ryznar is poised to break out next year.
NHL Ceiling: A poor man’s Todd Bertuzzi; second line winger good for 20
4. Eric Nystrom (RW, Junior, CGY-round 1, #10, 2002)
Nystrom did not have a year that justified his high draft
position. By his own admission, he stopped working as hard once the Flames
drafted him, and it showed on the ice when the season started. He got off to a
non-descript start, only scoring five goals in the first half of the season.
After the World Juniors, however, he picked up his game, scoring 10 goals,
including four points in three NCAA tournament games.
This year is a critical one for Nystrom. He must bounce
back and get more mileage out of his considerable talents. He has size,
excellent offensive ability, and is a playoff performer—if he applies himself
he should significantly improve this year. Nystrom wore an ‘A’ last season
as an injury replacement and should wear it full-time this season.
NHL Ceiling: Second line winger who does a little
bit of everything and excels in the playoffs.
5. Dwight Helminen (C, Junior, EDM-round 8, #246, 2002)
Helminen was one of the biggest fallers in the 2002 draft;
the CSB had him as a second or third round pick but he fell all the way to the
eighth round. A lightning quick skater with an excellent quick-release wrister,
Helminen developed into a solid two-way threat last year, increasing his point
total from 18 as a freshman to 33. Helminen became the team’s premier
defensive forward and penalty killer and used his speed and shot to good effect.
Helminen was the first player on the ice in late game
situations when Michigan was protecting a one-goal lead; he also takes critical
faceoffs for the team. He will probably be the other alternate captain this year
(Senior defender Andy Burnes will wear the ‘C’).
NHL Ceiling: One of the league’s better checking
centers: Todd Marchant (with better hands) or John Madden.
6. Danny Richmond (D, Sophomore, CAR-round 2, #31, 2003)
Carolina reached when they drafted Richmond with the first
pick of the second round. Richmond is a maddening player, prone to horrific
decisions on the ice. He made more than his fair share of bad pinches as a
freshman and also had a tendency to be caught way out of position after going
for a big hit. If Michigan had any defensive depth last year, he would have
found himself on the bench frequently.
That said, he has a smooth skating stride, is an excellent
passer, and is very tough for an offensive defenseman. Richmond did show that he
was getting better at his positioning late last year. He has a very high ceiling
with his skillset but has a long way to go to realize his potential. He must get
stronger and learn when to take chances and when not to.
NHL Ceiling: A fighting, hitting, still defensively-suspect
7. David Moss (C, Junior, CGY-round 7, #220, 2002)
Moss made a quantum leap last season. Moss went from 13
points to 31 (outscoring Calgary’s 2002 first rounder, Eric Nystrom, by 5
points) and looked like an entirely new player. Berenson moved Moss from wing to
center and reunited him with Brandon Kaleniecki, a former teammate of Moss in
high school. Kaleniecki and Moss started the season at a torrid pace, scoring a
slew of dirty crease goals. Moss continued to produce when matched with Ryznar
A stronger, more confident Moss dominated the boards late
in the season with Ryznar and went from an NHL afterthought to a real prospect.
NHL Ceiling: Rugged third line center with some
offensive talent like Dave Scatchard.
8. Brandon Rogers (D, Junior, ANA-round
4, #118, 2001)
Rogers is a less extreme version of Richmond: a good
offensive defenseman with decision-making problems and a tendency to put himself
out of position. Rogers is not as good offensively or as poor positionally as
Richmond, though. He took a major step forward as a sophomore, going from 3
points to 25, becoming the team’s leading scorer among defensemen. He was
still prone to costly mental errors, but less so. With continued progress he
could be a solid second pairing defenseman who plays some point on the powerplay.
NHL Ceiling: A second pairing defenseman who plays
on the powerplay.
9. Milan Gajic(LW, Junior, ATL-round 4, #112, 2001)
Gajic is a frustrating player to watch. He flashes
all-world ability but all too rarely. He favors the spectacular play over the
easy one, and he can start that spectacular play with his impressive
stickhandling ability, but has trouble finishing his chances. Gajic has a
tendency to get down on himself and squeeze his stick. If he gets his confidence
up and finds a finishing touch, he has the ability to be a major goal scorer.
However, it doesn’t look like that will ever happen at this point.
NHL Ceiling: Minor leaguer.
10. Mike Woodford (RW, Junior, FLA-round 4, #117, 2001)
Woodford hasn’t really developed as the Michigan coaches
had hoped. He has spent most of his first two years on checking lines, putting
in good work against dangerous opponent forwards, but has had a hard time
putting up much offensive production. Woodford is a chippy player who will
defend his teammates but is prone to taking bad penalties.
NHL Ceiling: Minor leaguer.
Michigan has a strong incoming class of recruits, though it
took a hit when Matt Nickerson (a third round pick of the Stars in 2003) decided
to go to Clarkson. Clarkson had a scholarship and a spot on the blueline open up
when Randy Jones signed with the Flyers. Michigan offered less playing time —
five defensemen will return and there are three other defensive recruits — and
less scholarship money.
TJ Hensick (C, Freshman, 2004 eligible, USNTDP)
Hensick is a small, dynamic playmaker in the mold of former
Wolverines Mike Comrie and Mike Cammalleri. The USNTDP U-18 team’s leading
scorer last year, Hensick will be looked upon to provide playmaking ability to
snipers like Tambellini and Nystrom.
His small stature may hurt him in the NHL draft, but
someone will happily risk a pick on a player of his caliber. He could go
anywhere from the late first round to the third.
Mike Brown (RW, Freshman, 2004 eligible, USNTDP)
Brown is a role player and grinder who had a tough year
with the NTDP last year, suffering injuries and getting stuck down the roster.
The Michigan coaches think extremely highly of his work rate and physical play.
If he has a good year he could be a late round draft pick next year.
David Rohfls (LW, Freshman, EDM, round 5, #154, 2003,
Rohfls, 6’3” and 220 pounds, is a hulking forward who
put up 30 goals in the NAHL last year on a poor offensive team. Lightly
recruited, Rohfls put together his game late like many big players do. He has
soft hands around the net and isn’t afraid to use his size to his advantage.
The Michigan coaches are expecting him to play a supporting scoring role this
Tim Cook (D, Freshman, OTT, round 5, #142, 2003, River
Cook is another extremely large man, 6’5” and 205
pounds. A smooth skater, Cook is confident with the puck but not flashy. He’s
a solid, simple, intelligent defender that can be an imposing physical presence
once he fills out.
Matt Hunwick (D, Freshman, 2004 eligible, USNTDP)
Hunwick is a slick offensive defenseman with a good
all-around game. He was the NTDP U-18 team’s leading scorer among defensemen
and is probably the most polished of the incoming recruits. He will likely step
in immediately to the void in Michigan’s blueline. Hunwick should be a mid
round pick in 2004.
Jason Dest (D, Freshman, 2004 eligible, River City-USHL)
Dest is blazing fast for a defenseman, though only average
sized at 6 foot and 175 pounds. He improved rapidly in the USHL last year and
could be a mid round pick next year.
Projected lines for 2003-04: