Miami has seven defensemen returning from last season, but who will play on the three pairings – or even dress at all – is still completely unclear.
Complicating matters further is the arrival of three freshmen with solid credentials who will push for playing time right away.
“We’ve got people who we know can play that will sit out every night, that’s just the way it is,” coach Chris Bergeron said. “We’re going to dress seven (defensemen) most nights, and that means three guys are going to be out.”
One certainty is the RedHawks need to see improvement from this corps overall. MU allowed an NCAA-worst 37.6 shots per game, and the penalty kill was ranked No. 53 out of 59 at 74.5 percent.
VFTG takes a look at the defensemen in Part III of our 2022-23 Miami Preview.
WHO’S BACK: Srs. (2) – Jack Clement, Alec Capstick; Jrs. (3) – Robbie Drazner, Dylan Moulton, Hampus Rydqvist; Sos. (2) – Nick Donato, Alex Murray.
WHO’S GONE: Derek Daschke, Andrew Sinard, Bray Crowder, Will Cullen.
WHO’S NEW (previous team in parentheses): Axel Kumlin (Dubuque – USHL), Zane Demsey (Dubuque – USHL), Michael Feenstra (Dubuque – USHL).
ANALYSIS: Jack Clement was named team captain a few weeks back, and Bergeron was asked what attributes made him the optimal candidate to wear the ‘C’ for Miami.
“Everything,” Bergeron said. “His work ethic, his way with his teammates, his example in practice every day. He takes pride in his academics – he’s just a really great kid. The leadership of a program like this is so, so crucial, and Jack believes in Miami hockey and the idea of leaving it better than he found it and he wants to have an impact on that. I’m excited for him – he’s earned it and he deserves this opportunity and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with it.”
Clement has logged 94 career games and tallied seven goals and 13 assists while taking just 44 penalty minutes despite him logging tons of ice time in a combative role.
His regular lineup spot should obviously be pretty safe, but the other nightly slots appear up for grabs, which should create excellent competition in practices.
Another shut-down D-man who impressed his first 1½ seasons is Robbie Drazner, who was injured midway through 2021-22 and required surgery. The junior has three goals and six assists in 49 games.
Dylan Moulton and Hampus Rydqvist logged significant power play time and improved as the season progressed. With Derek Daschke gone, both will be relied on to man the point on the man-advantage.
Moulton was second among Miami defensemen in points with 10 last season, and Rydqvist netted six goals, thanks largely to his missile of a slap shot.
Alec Capstick is a three-year veteran who has logged 64 career games and picked up 10 points, including four goals.
Two freshmen made their case for starting jobs last season as well. Nick Donato – who missed the first part of the season with an injury – notched three assists in 16 games, and Alex Murray dressed for six games and was solid in that small sample size.
Bergeron hinted that Murray could challenge for power play time.
All three freshmen – Zane Demsey, Axel Kumlin and Michael Feenstra – were teammates at USHL Dubuque last season.
“They bring lots,” Bergeron said. “There’s some size there, they’re all great kids, they can defend and they can help us kill penalties. Axel’s probably the most offensive of the three, but Michael and Zane are both capable of getting involved in the offense.”
Demsey and Feenstra were defensive defensemen on the left side and Kumlin played the right side and went 5-17-22, recording tons of power play minutes on one of the best teams in the league.
“When you talk about depth, we’re as deep on the back end as we’ve ever been, and you’re going to have to earn the lineup, and those three guys are going to make it difficult for everybody, and that’s a good thing,” Bergeron said.
As of Monday, Kumlin had still not been cleared to play because of eligibility issues but he should be able to hit the ice soon.