Monday, December 19, 2011

WCHA Blogger & Website Preseason Poll: Mid-Term Review

We are at the midway point of the WCHA regular season with every team having played 14 of its 28 conference games. This, of course, means it is time to review the WCHA Blogger & Website Preseason Poll. Minnesota and Michigan Tech have exceeded expectations, as the Gophers sit five spots higher than what was forecast for them and the Huskies four, while preseason favorite Denver sits four spots lower than what the pollsters foresaw. And while there is a lot of hockey left to be played, the blognosticators correctly slotted 6 of the 12 teams within one spot of their current position. Here are the current WCHA standings along with their corresponding jump/slide from the preseason poll:

3Colorado College-1
4Nebraska Omaha+/-0
6North Dakota-3
7Michigan Tech+4
7tSt Cloud State+/-0
9Bemidji State+1
12Minnesota State+/-0

Outside of goaltender, the picks for the preseason All-Conference team are hard to argue, as Jack Connolly and Justin Schultz are absolute no-brainers, with Jason Zucker, Ben Blood, and Jaden Schwartz also living up to the preseason hype. There are several players (Bjugstad, Brown, Shore, R. Schwartz, Broadhurst, Nelson, Hunt, Jensen, etc.) who have been outstanding in the first half and perhaps deserve All-Conference honors, but we'll wait until the season's end to broach those heated debates. The goaltender position is neck and neck between Kent Patterson and Kenny Reiter, as preseason pick Aaron Dell started the season slowly before picking it up as of late. The edge in goal is ever-so slightly given to Patterson, as he leads the league in GAA and Save %, with Reiter nipping right on his heels.

The preseason player of the year was Jason Zucker, with Jaden Schwartz coming in one vote behind. While both Zucker and Schwartz have been outstanding, it is very hard to argue against either Connolly or Schultz.

The runaway winner of the preseason Rookie of the Year has played in only four games, but in the absence of Rocco Grimaldi there is a host of deserving candidates. Josh Archibald, Kyle Rau, JP LaFontaine, Caleb Herbert, Jayson Megna, Joey LaLeggia et. al. are all viable candidates, and the second half will hopefully see this picture come into clearer focus.

The preseason Defenseman of the Year was Justin Schultz, and rightfully so. The Wisconsin blueliner has been sensational all season and is a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate.

The Breakout Player of the Year is a bit harder to gauge, considering 13 players received at least one vote. Of the three who received two votes, Beau Bennett has been sidelined most of the season, Zach Budish has been decent but nothing more, and JT Brown probably had his breakout performance down the stretch last season and thus hasn't really been a true "breakout" performer. Among those receiving single votes, Terry Broadhurst, Brock Nelson, and Ben Hanowski are the leading candidates at the halfway marker.

It has been an entertaining first half, and the second half promises even more of the same.

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