We'll continue previewing the WCHA by ranking the 12 defensive units in the league. Here's my ranking:
2. North Dakota
5. Bemidji State
7. Colorado College
10. St. Cloud
11. Michigan Tech
12. Minnesota State
Explanations after the jump:
1. Denver- The Pioneers lost a great defenseman in Matt Donovan to the pros, return a nice offensive defenseman in David Makowski and add two amazing skaters in Scott Mayfield and Joey Laleggia. Those players should be able to partner with solid, responsible defensive defensemen like John Lee, John Ryder, and Paul Phillips to form a pretty dominating unit.
2. North Dakota- The Sioux have two extremely tough defensive defenseman in Ben Blood and Andrew MacWilliam. If Derek Forbort can find his comfort zone and start playing to his potential, the sky is the limit for him. The Sioux don't quite have the depth Denver has the blueline, however.
3. Wisconsin- Speaking of a lack of depth, the Badgers are extremely thin on defense, but have far and away the best defenseman in the league in potential Hobey Baker candidate Justin Schultz, and with Schultz likely to be on the ice half the game, that means the Badgers should be pretty strong on the blueline. Junior John Ramage gives the Badgers some toughness and steady defensive play, which they desperately need.
4. Nebraska-Omaha- The Mavericks don't overwhelm with individual talent, but they've got a lot of size on the blueline, and tend to play a fairly conservative style that make them a tough group to crack.
5. Bemidji State-The Beavers have a pretty underrated group on the blueline, led by powerplay quarterback Brad Hunt and his canon of a shot. Sam Rendle had a surprisingly strong freshman season last year, and the Beavers add two versatile defensemen that did well in the USHL last year in Sam Windle and Matt Prapavessis.
6. Minnesota-Duluth- The Bulldogs lost Justin Faulk, who now looks like he'll make the Carolina Hurricanes out of training camp, and unsung hero Mike Montgomery. Brady Lamb will play a starring role on this year's Bulldog defense and finally get an opportunity to showcase what solid player he is after years in a secondary role. Like at forward, depth will be the big question mark for the Bulldogs.
7. The Tigers perpetually seem to have a great offensive defenseman, and this year is no exception with Gabe Guentzel returning to the Tigers, while the next generation, in Eamonn McDermott waits in the wings. The Tigers also add two nice freshmen in Aaron Harstad and Peter Stoykewych who should help bring some defensive stability.
8. Minnesota- The big offseason news for Minnesota was that they brought Mike Guentzel back to coach the defense, replacing John Hill in a long over-due move. Still, the Gopher defense doesn't look particularly strong at the top, nor particularly deep. The Gophers desperately need a big improvement from freshman to sophomore year from Justin Holl and Mark Alt, and need Seth Helgeson to play with more discipline and be a consistent defensive stalwart for them.
9. Alaska-Anchorage- On paper, this is maybe the least impressive group in the league, but it's a testament to their defense that last season, both of UAA's starting goalies kept goals against averages below 3, despite stopping fewer than 90% of their shots. It's a group that can keep things simple and slow the game down to their advantage.
10. St. Cloud State-This was a pretty brutal group last year that lost top pairing defenseman Oliver Lauridsen. Lauridsen had his own share of problems on the ice last year, but at least provided some size to a Huskies defense that is now pretty small. Sophomore Nick Jensen is a solid player, but couldn't quite handle the pressure of playing top pairing minutes against other team's top units. Jensen and fellow sophomore Kevin Gravel will need to develop into a pair that can do that for the Huskies, while hopefully the rest of the defense can create enough offense to make up for some of their defensive deficits.
11. Michigan Tech-The Huskies defense hasn't quite seen the same influx of talent that they've had at the forward position the past two years. Steven Seigo and Daniel Sova would be solid additions to any team in the league, but not quite at the level needed to play the role they'll be asked to play.
12. Minnesota State- The Mavericks spent much of last year playing only four defensemen out of necessity, and since then, three of those defensemen have graduated.Tyler Elbrecht took a bit of a step backwards last season after a great rookie year--partially due to injuries--and will have to have a great season as the Mavericks top defender. Beyond that, there is very, very little in the way of proven talent for the Mavericks.