Many people, myself included, ranked Miami first overall in last year's NCHC preseason poll. But the RedHawks put together just three wins in the second half of their regular season and limped to an embarrassing last place finish in their first season in the NCHC. They salvaged a shred of respectability by sweeping top seed St. Cloud in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, and came within one game of stealing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but overall, the season was a huge disappointment.
But I'm sticking with Miami's talent, rather than their results. They return nearly everyone from last year's team, and there are just too many good players on this roster to have another season like last one.
|Blake Coleman, SR||Austin Czarnik, SR||Riley Barber, JR|
|Alex Wideman, SR||Sean Kuraly, JR||Anthony Louis, SO|
|Cody Murphy, SR||Kevin Morris, JR||Alex Gacek, JR|
|Devin Loe, SO||Justin Greenberg, SO||John Doherty, JR|
|Extras||Jimmy Mullin, SR(inj.)||Andrew Schmit, SR||Conor Lemirande, FR||Michael Mooney, JR|
|Matt Caito, JR||Matt Joyaux, SO|
|Louie Belpedio, FR||Chris Joyaux, JR|
|Trevor Hamilton, SO||Taylor Richart, SO|
|Extras||Ben Paulides, SR||Scott Dornbrock, FR||Colin Sullivan, JR|
|Ryan McKay, JR||Jay Williams, JR||Anthony Jacaruso, JR|
NHL Draft picks: Barber(WSH), Coleman(NJD), Sullivan(MTL), Kuraly(SJS), Belpedio(MIN), Louis(CHI), Mullin(TBL)
Free Agent targets: Czarnik, Caito
Everyone knows the big three: Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber, and Blake Coleman are all back despite opportunities to move on to the next level last summer. It's tough to lay the blame on last year's disaster on Czarnik and Barber, who both improved their point totals from the previous year. Both players should be in the conversation for the Hobey Baker this year. Coleman missed some time due to injury last season, and the RedHawks played much better when he returned to the line-up late in the year.
Behind that top line is a sneaky good second unit. Sean Kuraly is a big center that isn't flashy, but he scored nearly 30 points last year and brings a great defensive presence. Anthony Louis seems primed for a breakout year, after the tiny speedster had a very good freshman season last year.
The depth behind those top six isn't particularly noteworthy, especially with Jimmy Mullin missing the season with an injury. Alex Gacek and Cody Murphy are two high-energy veteran players that have the potential to put the puck in the net though.
If there's one area that's a question mark for Miami, it's on the blue line. Last year, the graduation of senior defensemen Steve Spinell and Joe Hartman didn't seem like a huge loss. They were mostly defensive defensemen that didn't show up on the scoresheet often, so they were a bit overlooked, but Miami lost a lot of size and defensive presence when they left.
There are a lot of skilled puck-movers on the Miami blue line, but not very much size. Their big addition was NTDP defenseman Louie Belpedio, who should be an excellent power play quarterback this year, but again, just 5-10 195 lbs. There may be an opportunity for big freshman Scott Dornbrock to see some regular ice time just to bring a more physical element to the line-up.
It may be a little too harsh to say the duo of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams were exposed last year with a weaker defense in front of them. But after a freshman season where Williams' numbers were very good and McKay's were outstanding, their sophomore season was much worse. McKay put up average statistics for a college goalie, while Williams' numbers were below average. The big difference was that they had a much higher workload--and one could safely assume were seeing a higher quality of shots too--as sophomores McKay went from seeing .43 shots per minute played as a freshman to .51 shots per minute played as a sophomore. Williams went from .42 shots per minutes to .46 shots per minute as a sophomore.
With two seasons worth of data, McKay is starting to clearly establish himself as the starter. He's a solid goalie, and given adequate protection, he's good enough to get Miami to where they want to go, but he's not going to be a savior if Miami needs him to steal games like they did last year.
There's no accounting for things like injuries and momentum, which really sent Miami off the rails last season. But I can't see Miami turning in a repeat performance of last year. Even for as bad as they were last year, at times, they looked like they could compete with anyone in the country. If that team can show up consistently, there's no reason they can't win the league this year.
I think Belpedio mitigates some of the defensive issues. There's no better defensive system than possessing the puck, and Belpedio should help in that area. Getting two guys that legitimately could score 50 points back for this year in Czarnik and Barber is huge. They should carry the offense, and I think Louis really establishes himself as a top-flight player, giving Miaimi all the offense they need.
The RedHawks look like the NCHC team that has the best potential to earn a top seed in this year's NCAA tournament.