Hi! I'm Anthony, a Michigan season ticket holder and longtime follower of the Arctic Ice Hockey blog. I added this site to my RRS feed shortly after its' inception, back when it was purely an advanced-stats blog. There it has stayed well after the return of the Jets' to Winnipeg.
Being close to the Michigan program, I'll be writing as often as I can about Jacob Trouba and Brennan Serville, two Jets' draft picks who currently play for the Wolverines. Since this is my first post I'll provide input on games dating back to last year, but future posts will be centered on the teams' most recent games.
To begin, it should be noted that Michigan has been in a free-fall the past four weeks after beginning the season ranked 3rd overall. An injury to defenseman Jon Merrill -- a New Jersey Devils' prospect -- in the first period of Michigan's opening exhibition game hasn't helped, but the Wolverines have played some terrible hockey which has culminated into a 2-5-1 conference record and 4-6-1 record overall. Things worsend for the men's hockey team last Thursday and Friday, when they hosted and were subsequently swept by #6 Notre Dame by scores of 3-1 and 4-1.
With that out of the way, we will now discuss the play of defensemen Brennan Serville and Jacob Trouba.
We will begin with the dish on Serville, who has started his Michigan career rather slowly. Joining the Maize and Blue as an NHL third round pick, fan expectations were high, though not met promptly as Serville didn't hit the ground running. He began his Michigan career paired with fellow freshman Mike Chaisson (son of former NHLer Steve) and often looked overwhelmed when dealing with opposing forecheckers on the breakout. The following exchange happened on multiple occasions over the course of last season between my friend whom with whom I share season tickets and myself:
Me: "Serville isn't very good".
Friend: "I don't get it, he was a third round pick".
Me: "Yeah, by the Thrashers".
To be fair, Serville greatly improved over the course of last season and he rarely looked out of position or made bad mistakes. The knock on him was that he often looked overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the speed of the college game. As is the case with any sixth defenseman, you're just happy if you never have to think of them, and there were plenty of games where that happened down the stretch. Michigan was a regular-season powerhouse last year, finishing with a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament before being upset in the first round. By that time, Serville was more of an asset than a liability.
This season, Serville has been a much better player. He's still a bottom-three defenseman on a very talented team, but he's performed well. He rarely makes bad plays and his puck movement has improved. The Wolverines' breakout is predicated on long stretch passes to the far blue line, effectively opening up the neutral zone and Serville has demonstrated an ability to make those passes all season, as well as carry the puck on occasion. He's definitely solid in his role and capable of being featured on a top pair if the situation calls for it. He did miss the Northern Michigan series two weeks ago with a concussion, but has played in every other game this year.
At this point there is still a possibility for Serville to play in the NHL one day. He's not a lock by any means, but he does have an NHL frame and decent skills. There are still 90+ games and 2+ years left in his college career, so there's a lot of room for continued growth. He has by no means been a bust, nor is he what a third rounder should project to in the NCAA.
My first exposure to Jacob Trouba was at the 2012 World Junior Championships. Here in the States most games were televised and I was able to catch the USA's as they face-planted in the tournament. Trouba was the youngest player on the US team at the time and I was excited to see him as he was Michigan's prize commit.
He didn't disappoint.
Trouba was easily the best defenseman on a team that featured Merrill (who to be fair was playing his first competitive games of the season as he had been suspended by Michigan for the first half of the season for off-ice troubles) along with some other high-end college and junior defensemen.
But in the end, it was Trouba who stood out the most. My read from the limited time I saw him -- and without the benefit of seeing him in person -- was that he displayed great athletic skills and was a very reliable defenseman. He was a good skater, very steady in his own end, and more than held his own against much older players. Trouba is often referred to as the US's best defenseman from that tournament.
Expectations were extremely high after being drafted ninth overall by the Jets; it's rare for such a high draft pick to hit campus. A couple years ago, Cam Fowler bailed on Notre Dame and tried his hand at making the Anaheim Ducks opening day roster, which void's a players' college eligibility.
Coming into the season, some Michigan players had been tweeting about "JMFT" and his performances in practice, in reference to the "JMFJ" nickname that Jack Johnson carried when he was at Michigan. Just so we're clear, the "MF" does not stand for "my friend". Trouba has been as advertised -- similar to Johnson in his freshman year.
One thing is certain, Trouba is the most talented player on the ice every night. Some nights he's even been the best. As a younger than average freshman, he's playing against guys that can be up to six years older than him (some freshmen start at age 20 after 2 years of non-CHL juniors) and is more than holding his own. He's laid plenty of big hits on opponents and made plenty of great plays.
Trouba does need to be reigned in a bit, and this past weekend against Notre Dame was a good start. He played more within himself, similar to the performance he had at the WJC. He's one of the best skaters, has the hardest shot (Michigan's power play has devolved to "get Trouba open for a one-timer" and it works) and can jump into the play any time he wants. Opponents are at his mercy physically; nobody can get a clean hit on him to retaliate for anything that he does.
Trouba did get a little out of control and was given a DQ for this hit early Michigan's game at Northern Michigan a couple weeks ago, and it cost the team dearly. Michigan had to dress a walk-on forward as the sixth defenseman because of Trouba's suspension and two other defensemen being out due to injuries (Merrill with his neck and Serville with the concussion) and Michigan lost the game. If he can play more under control, he will be even more of a factor than he already is.
Michigan next plays this Wednesday at home against Bowling Green State University and Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York against Cornell.