NHL Draft: Scouts Go Rabid For Wolverines

NHL Draft
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Tuesday, July 26:

July 25, 2005

By Elliot Olshansky



Last season, T.J. Hensick did it all for Michigan.  The rising junior from Howell, Mich., scored 23 goals and notched 32 assists for the Wolverines and was one of six skaters among the 10 Hobey Baker Award Finalists.  As a result, he can expect his name to be called early at Saturday's NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.


However, some of his future Wolverine teammates will most likely hear their names called even earlier.


In the NHL Central Scouting Service's final rankings for 2005, Hensick is ranked 78th among North American skaters, which is a testament to Michigan's program in itself.  Add three incoming freshman who are ranked even higher, though, plus a fourth in the top 100, and it's easy to see why the Yost Arena faithful will have plenty to be happy about this fall.


"They're going to have a good opportunity to step in and play right away," said Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson, who is heavily involved in the Wolverines' recruiting efforts. "There'll be some pressure, but they're a dynamic group, a diverse group, and they'll be able to come in here and get an opportunity to play."


Overall, five of the top 100 North American skaters in the draft will wear the Maize and Blue this fall.  Defenseman Jack Johnson, who played right across town last year with the Ann Arbor-based U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 Team, is ranked fourth.  His once and future teammate, forward Jason Bailey, is ranked 56rd, followed closely by another forward, Canadian junior `A' product Andrew Cogliano, at No. 63.  Forward Zach Macvoy, who played with Johnson and Bailey on the Under-18 team, checks in at No. 99, which should mean a pretty fine draft day for the Wolverines.


The star of the class, of course, is Johnson, who is expected to be a top ten pick in the draft.  The 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Fairbault, Minn., is a hard-nosed defender, but also contributes a fair share of offense from the blue line.  Johnson, whose grandfather was a three-sport athlete at Michigan, led all NTDP defenders in scoring, and finished sixth overall on the team with 45 points (15g, 30a).


"He's probably the jewel of the class," Pearson said. "He's a prototypical defenseman, in that he has good size, he's got a nasty streak to him, he skates very well, and he just loves to play the game. You can just see it.  He's a very, very good prospect, and he'll step in here and, obviously, do very well right off the get go."


Bailey, who already calls Ann Arbor home, tallied 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) for the NTDP in 2004-05, and, like Johnson, was a part of Team USA's gold-medal effort at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.


"Jason Bailey has got great power," Pearson said of Bailey. "He's a typical power forward. He's got great acceleration, good speed.  We expect him to come in and just be a real strong power forward who will create some room for some of our skill guys that we have on the team."


At 5-foot-9½ and 178 pounds, Cogliano has come on strong since the CSS released its mid-term rankings in January.  Rated 87th overall among North American skaters in the mid-term rankings, the native of Vaughan, Ont., jumped up more than 20 spots in the final rankings, and is being projected as a first-round pick by some analysts.


"He's a kid that puts people in the seats," said Pearson.  "People want to pay to see him play. He's a dynamic forward with tremendous speed. He's got a great shot, has real good command on the ice. He's a very explosive, exciting player, and I think he'll be a great college player. We expect him to come in and be a gamebreaker."


MacVoy, who turned 18 in March, joined the NTDP Under-17 team for its North American Hockey League playoffs, recording five points as the U-17s won the North Division.  With the U-18 Team, MacVoy notched 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 62 games.


"Zach is another big kid," Pearson said of MacVoy. "He's got great size, and everybody needs some a little bit of size in their lineup, but he's got great hands. He's a great player from the blue line in, and that's where he'll make his mark. We think he'll complement some of our other players very well."


There are five other incoming freshmen in Michigan's 2005 recruiting class, including NTDP defenseman Mark Mitera, who is too young for the 2005 draft, but will be looking for a high spot on the draft board in 2006.  The large class could hardly come at a better time for the Wolverines, who saw 10 players walk across the stage this spring, including four defensemen. 


"It's going to be tough to replace them," Hensick said of the recently graduated seniors,  "but what you see on paper, and what you've heard from Central Scouting, and talking to different scouts and different people, we have a good class coming in, and it shows by the depth of the guys who are going to be drafted.  It's good for the program to have players like that to fill roles, especially with the guys leaving. It's good for the future."


Pearson is a bit more reserved.


"We think they're all pretty good players, obviously," Pearson said, "but the real measure will be what they accomplish in their careers at Michigan, and four years down the line, to see how they've done and how they've done both as a team and individually.


"The bar's been set pretty high here at Michigan," Pearson said. "The class we just lost had a tremendous four years. They won a lot of hockey games and a lot of championships.  Obviously, this class coming in has been talked about a lot, and then they have to go and do it on the ice.  They'll be given a great opportunity to play here because of all those holes that we're going to need to fill. They understand by coming to Michigan that the expectations are high, and people want championships."


The large incoming class, with its four expected draftees, would be an embarrassment of riches by themselves, but Hensick's achievements and talents can hardly be overlooked. "T.J.'s an extremely creative player," said CSTV hockey analyst Billy Jaffe, "who, for the most part, flourished this year at Michigan. He's not that big, but has the ability, because of his speed and the way he thinks the game, to take over a game."


Hensick himself isn't sure where he'll go, but he knows what he's looking for.  "I really don't have any idea where I'm going to go," Hensick said. "I think any player would want to go to a team isn't deep in their roster of prospects. I think you want to go to a team like that, where they need players to play in the NHL and help fill rosters in years to come. You don't want to go a team that's going to have so many guys, so many veterans that you won't get an opportunity to play."


Still, there's a sentimental favorite whose uniform Hensick would like to wear. "I'm a huge Detroit Red Wings fan," Hensick said. "My favorite player is Steve Yzerman, and that's a great situation. I love Detroit, I love the organization. I'm real familiar with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. I think that'd be a good fit for me, just because I'm a local kid, and I know everything about the Red Wings and their organization, but you know, that might not happen, and I'll have to work with what does happen."


In the end, while Hensick and his future teammates aren't sure what will happen, or who will call their names this Saturday, one thing is for sure: a lot of NHL coaches, executives and fans, will be saying, "Hail, hail to Michigan, the leaders and the best!"


Elliot Olshansky is an Assistant Editor for CSTV.com.



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