SB Nation College Hockey released the Big Ten Preseason Media results on Monday. You can read the results here. Like Chris Dilks did with his WCHA ballot, in the spirit of transparency I wanted to release my own ballot and explain my (presumably wrong) choices.
That is only fair. After all, explaining and showing transparency help give a better understanding. Maybe the person/people who had Wisconsin as one of the top 20 teams in the country really sees something in them that no one does. It will be hard to know unless they say so, which is something I'd like to know. Not returning the favor means I would be a hypocrite.
Ballots feature ranking the teams 1-6 in order of finish, a first and second All-Big Ten team, a rookie team, and Preseason MVP. Here's what I had:
Predicted Order of Finish
3. Ohio State (picked fifth by Media)
4. Penn State
5. Michigan State (picked third by Media)
While there being only six teams in the Big Ten limits options as to who goes where, the rankings fall into three tiers. Michigan and Minnesota are in one. Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are another. Wisconsin being sixth rounds up the league.
It was tough to pick the order of teams in their tiers. (And in fairness that is par for the course. The league did have four teams entering last season's final weekend with a chance to win the regular season title.) Michigan and Minnesota are very similar. One difference was Michigan having a little more stability on the blue line and in net. The Gophers did find recent success when it had to replace top scorers with freshman before - the juniors who are leading this year are one example. Minnesota also has with replacing a top goalie, as Adam Wilcox came in as a freshman and had a historically good season. The team did, however, only have to do one at at time when it found success - this year Minnesota has to do both - and there are a lot of moving pieces with which the Wolverines don't have to deal.
Ohio State edged out Penn State and Michigan State on my ballot because of stability. The Buckeyes did lose defenseman Sam Jardine late in the offseason (he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, completing the conference's early departure six team cover all) and captain Tanner Fritz, but maintain many of the pieces in a core that performed well late in the season. Head coach Steve Rohlik also has an underrated freshman class that is a little older and experienced. Tyler Nanne, Miguel Fidler and Dakota Joshua all played in the USHL a year after being drafted (with Nanne and Fidler once again being teammates). There's usually one surprise from the norm with a 20 game schedule. For me, this is it.
Penn State and Michigan State each have pieces where finishing second or third happens easy, but both lost others where things need to go right. The Nittany Lions have to replace 2/3 of its top line along with losing the team's top freshman from a year ago in Scott Conway.
MSU is an older team. The 11 freshmen who showed up at Mariucci Arena three years ago to get a bad introduction to college hockey are now for the most part hard-nosed veteran seniors. The Spartans have a goaltender in Jake Hildebrand that can steal any game, however, I still think it is asking a lot of him to do so for another year. Tom Anastos' preseason divulging of a defenseman undergoing offseason surgery has become the Big Ten's longest-running tradition. With that and the losses of Brock Krygier (graduate transfer to Arizona State) and Josh Jacobs (OHL defection), any depth has disappeared.
MVP: Zach Werenski, Michigan
Its hard to see a defenseman win the MVP. Mike Reilly led the Gophers in points last season and wasn't even in the conversation. Still, I was trying to come up with the player that needs to play well for Michigan to win the Big Ten and couldn't get away from Werenski, the 8th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Michigan needs improved defense and needs it from Werenski. Without it the team simply doesn't win a Big Ten title.
The Wolverines' depth up front helps make it difficult for teams to slow down Michigan. That also makes it difficult for one player to stand out, as seen in last year's MVP race. Werenski gives help on both ends.
F- JT Compher, Michigan
F- Justin Kloos, Minnesota
F- Anthony Greco, Ohio State
D- Zach Werenski, Michigan
D- Travis Walsh, Michigan State
G- Jake Hildebrand, Michigan State
Compher and Kloos have each shown flashes of brilliance throughout their first two seasons. Rohlik said of Greco, "I'm hoping he can finish more chances this year," and it's hard to disagree. The senior is tied with Penn State's David Goodwin for the most goals by any returning player (with 15) and that includes the speedy forward from Queens being held to three over the last two months of the season.
The youngest player in college hockey last season, Werenski made being a freshman defenseman look much, much easier than anyone should. Even if he struggles, Werenski remains one of the top blue liners in the conference. Walsh returns after a nasty looking injury to be MSU's top two-way defenseman on a defensively sound team.
Hildebrand was easy to choose. The nearest person to the Big Ten Player of the Year in his position last season went pro and the next-best graduated.
F- Grant Besse, Wisconsin
F- Tyler Motte, Michigan
F- Hudson Fasching, Minnesota
D- Luke Juha, Penn State
D- Ryan Collins, Minnesota
G- Christian Frey, Ohio State
One pitfall of Wisconsin's struggles is people missing out on how good Grant Besse was on a bad team. Besse was the only player to top 20 points for the Badgers and improved as a sophomore compared to his freshman year. The same can be said of fellow junior Motte, who went from 18 to 31 points on a deep Michigan team.
Fasching, like Compher, should bounce back from a sophomore slump and take advantage of bigger opportunities. (Minnesota losing four seniors in the top-nine forwards and Michigan seeing linemates Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin go pro, respectively.)
Juha is your classic "defenseman that scores a lot of points" pick in these lists. His year was on track to be that guy before his season ended early because of injury. Ryan Collins seemed to be putting things together towards the end of his freshman season defensively. It was tough to go with either him or another offensive D in Michigan's Michael Downing, but it's hard to shy away from shining a light on defensive defenseman when possible.
Christian Frey, meanwhile, hasn't shown the consistency which nearly won OSU the first-ever Big Ten conference tournament. He's had his moments. He's had some that Ohio State would like to forget. In a six team league with 2 new goalies and a third team using a platoon, he has done enough where it is hard to shy away from the Arlington, TX native.
F- Kyle Connor, Michigan
F- Luke Kunin, Wisconsin
F- Tommy Novak, Minnesota
D- Joe Cecconi, Michigan
D- Nick Boka, Michigan
G- Eric Schierhorn, Minnesota
Michigan nearly had more players drafted this year than the other five teams combined. While it didn't end up happening, the Wolverines still have a high-end and young freshman class. Connor led the USHL in scoring, culminating with being picked in the first round by Winnipeg. Cecconi (Muskgon - USHL) and Boka (US National Team) both shined in their draft year. While Minnesota transfer Nick Seeler came to mind for this list (Rookies includes transfers) along with Nanne, I chose to go with the maize and gold "M's".
Novak has shown flashes. He'll also get power play time at Minnesota, which will help stats-wise. His new teammate Eric Schierhorn begins the year in a platoon. If he plays well he will get more opportunities. It's easier to see him get those compared with any of the other freshmen Big Ten goalies.
I went back and forth on Kunin because he's so young on such a young team. It didn't look like he would join the Badgers this year. He's highly regarded. Most of all Kunin does some size despite accelerating and being draft-eligible for 2016 (where Central Scouting sees him as a first rounder).
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate