Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wisconsin Preview

Thanks to a change by the NCAA Rules Committee, the 07-08 Wisconsin Badgers will go down in history as the only team to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record. The Badgers won an NCAA tournament game on their home ice, before losing a third period lead to North Dakota in the regional final. This year's Wisconsin team returns most of the players from last year, including star defenseman Jamie McBain and Ryan McDonagh, but minus superstar forward Kyle Turris.

Who is Gone?: The Badgers had a very young team last year, so they didn't lose too much, but did lose one of their top forwards in Kyle Turris. They lost two top defenseman in Kyle Klubertanz and Davis Drewiske. Depth players Josh Engel and Matt Ford also graduated.

Who is New?
: The Badgers bring in a strong freshman class, who beat out a cast of thousands of other players committed to the Badgers for the right to play college hockey this year. Forwards Matt Thurber, Jordy Murray and Derek Stepan should make an immediate impact. First round NHL draft pick Jake Gardiner is talented, but could need some time to adjust to college hockey. Eric Springer and Ryan Little should add depth on defense.


Projected Forward Lines

Mike Davies-Ben Street-Derek Stepan
Josh Turnbull-Blake Geoffrion-Pat Johnson
Matt Thurber-Sean Dolan-John Mitchell
Jorday Murray-Ben Grotting-Tom Gorowsky

Kyle Turris was the Badgers' leading scorer last year as a freshmen, but unfortunately for Badger fans, one year is all he would play in Madison. The Badgers don't have a flashy offense, but do return a few proven scorers in Ben Street and Mike Davies. Blake Geoffion had a 24-point increase between his freshman and sophomore seasons, and could be an offensive catalyst for the Badgers this year. Wisconsin also has the advantage of being able to count on some offense from their talented blueline.

Wisconsin finished 6th in league scoring last year, and without any bonafide superstars, they'll likely finish in the middle of the league again this year in scoring. If anything, I'd expect an inconsistent offense that looks very good some nights, but is shutdown on other nights.


Projected Defensive Pairings

Jamie McBain-Ryan McDonagh
Brendan Smith-Cody Goloubef
Jake Gardiner-Craig Johnson

This should be one of the more talented groups in the country. Last year, the Badgers had three 18-year-old freshmen defenseman playing nearly every night, and there were some hiccups as they learned the ropes. This year, those three are a year older and should be much better. Jamie McBain and Ryan McDonagh are both All-American candidates, and are likely playing their last year of college hockey.

While this is a talented unit, most of their defensemen are known for their offensive prowess. They could chip in some offense, but I'm not convinced that they will absolutely shut teams down the way their national title winning team did 3 years ago.


Shane Connelly
Scott Gudmanson
Jeff Henderson

After struggling mightily at the start of his career, Shane Connelly proved that was a capable starting goalie in his first full year as a starter, but he'll likely never be a dominating star in the way his predecessor Brian Elliott was. Scott Gudmanson played sparingly last season, and could see more action this year to prepare him for Connelly's graduation at the end of this year.


The Badgers finished in the middle of the pack in just about every statistical category last year in conference play(except for penalty kill, where they weren't very good). That means the Badgers should be in the hunt in the WCHA this year, but will probably lack the game-changing offense or goaltending to really compete amongst the best in the league. Their defense will be very good, but probably not enough to make a huge difference offensively or defensively. A little puck luck--and avoiding Randy Schmidt as an official--could make a big difference, but the lack of great goaltending will probably move them down towards the bottom of the middle of the pack.