CCHA Player Watch – Part 1 – Michigan Wolverines

By Greg Andrade
Some of the top players in the CCHA have departed for the professional ranks over the summer, but there are still plenty of players to watch in 2000, including an exciting crop of recruits. Despite the departure of Mike Comrie to the WHL and the loss of seniors like Shawn Horcoff, Brian McCullough, Roger Trudeau and J.P. Vigier, there will be no shortage of talent in the CCHA this season. In this first installment of the CCHA Player Watch, we will focus on several players at the University of Michigan who will be worth following this season.

Among the returning players this season is standout Michigan defenseman Jeff Jillson. Jillson was drafted in the first round by the San Jose Sharks in 1999 and had a chance to leave school and sign with the Sharks this summer, but he chose to stay at Michigan for his junior year. He is 6-3 220 pounds and is perhaps the toughest and most intimidating defenseman in college hockey. But what separates him from other defensemen is his offensive ability. He led all CCHA defensemen in scoring last season and become one of the best two-way blueline prospects in all of hockey. Jillson might be good enough for the NHL already, but the Sharks are currently loaded with young talent on the blueline and there is no need to rush him. Jillson will be the leader of a Wolverine defense that should be much improved over last season, when the team was short on depth after the unexpected departure of Mike Van Ryn to the OHL.

Jillson’s Michigan teammate Andy Hilbert is another player to watch this season. A 5-11 190-pound forward, Hilbert will try to improve on an outstanding freshman season and fill the void left by former linemate Mike Comrie, who left school over the summer. Comrie was perhaps the most dynamic offensive player in the CCHA last season, but it will be almost impossible to replace his speed, playmaking and goal scoring ability. Hilbert has many of the same tools, but does not have the same speed or elusiveness. But he is an intelligent player who plays a strong two-way game and has great hands. He finished third on the team in scoring last season, tied for the league lead in freshman scoring and earned CCHA All-Rookie Team honors. If he can step up his role this season, Hilbert could make the loss of Comrie much less painful.

Another Wolverine who is expected to shine this season is Mark Kosick, a 5-11 180-pound senior center who has made tremendous strides during his years at Michigan. He was drafted in the eighth round, 209th overall by Carolina in 1998 and has consistently been one of the better offensive players for the Wolverines. Kosick tied for 15th in the CCHA and second on the Michigan team with 34 points last season, including 18 goals. He is a solid two-way player and a dangerous power play threat who brings leadership and intangibles to the ice. He has been overshadowed in the past by teammates like Jillson and Comrie, but head coach Red Berenson will expect Kosick to provide senior leadership this season and help the Wolverines make a run for the CCHA championship and an NCAA title.

While Kosick will provide senior leadership, incoming freshman Mike Komisarek will help replenish the ranks on the blueline. Komisarek is 6-4 and 230 pounds and spent last season with the U.S. National Under-18 team, where he was a steady two-way defenseman. He is a surprisingly smooth skater for his size and is quick enough to get around the ice in all situations. He is a smart player who reads the play well, is rarely out of position and makes good passes out of his own end. Komisarek should flourish at Michigan, where he may become another intimidating two-way defenseman like Jillson. If he can step up his physical play and develop some of the nastiness that Jillson displays, he could be a very attractive prospect for the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

One final Michigan player to watch is goaltender Josh Blackburn. He has been the top netminder for the Wolverines over the past two years, but he missed part of last season with a foot injury. Blackburn was selected by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 5th round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and has since developed into a very respectable goaltending prospect. He has very quick reflexes and routinely makes game-saving stops for the Wolverines. He often shows a solid mix of butterfly and stand-up style goaltending. This season may be his breakthrough for Michigan, if he can help lead the team to a CCHA title and a national championship. The Coyotes have no shortage of young goaltenders in their system, but if Blackburn can follow the path of his two predecessors – Steve Shields and Marty Turco – he could have a very succussful pro career.