Season Preview Part II: Rounding Out The D
Now, I'm not ruling the forwards out when it comes to defense, you're going to see a team effort there, but I'll get to them later. Let's look at our blueliners.
Senior, Kevin Kapstad. Hometown: Boxboro, Mass. A defense first defenseman, straight from Governor Dummer Prep, who has enough of an offensive upside that he actually played forward for a couple mid-season games last year. He scored all three of his goals in consecutive games upon his return to the blueline and five of his eight assists after that down the stretch. Look for Kevin to return as a solid senior blueliner who will pick up the team when necessary with a hard hit or even an end to end rush a la Garrett Stafford - expect about a dozen or so points, a plus/minus in the teens.
Senior, Jamie Fritsch. Hometown: Odenton, Maryland. Hailing from the D-1 talent producing hotbed that is the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Fritsch has been a steady point producer over his first three seasons and he'll do anything but trail off in this, his final season. Most notably Jamie has increased his plus/minus rating year-over-year capping off last season with an impressive plus-seventeen. I think we'll see an increase in both categories to the tune of twenty points and a plus-twenty rating and look for Jamie to keep getting the job done in the steady, quiet manner that has marked his play in the Blue and White.
Junior, Nick Krates. Hometown: Palos Park, Illinois. One of our many hockey players from Illinois over the last decade or so, Krates is the lone junior defenseman - part of a class of just four including forwards Bobby Butler, Peter LeBlanc and goaltender Brian Foster. A former Omaha Lancer of the USHL Krates established himself as a regular on the blueline last year and showed steady improvement through the season - winning the team's Most Improved award - and despite recording just one assist he managed a commendable plus-five. With his first complete season under his belt look for Nick to be much more comfortable out there while dealing out punishing hits and locking out the opposition in his own zone. Five points and a plus-ten.
Sophomores, Matt Campanale and Mike Beck. Hometowns: Chester Springs, Pennsylvania and Long Beach, California. Representing the Green Mountain Glades (EJHL) and the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL). Both of these offensive defensemen saw at least one game's worth of action in their inaugural season, Campanale getting the larger share with 6 games which I would guess was due to Beck's recovery from an unfortunate knee injury that ended his USHL career and required surgery. Neither has recorded their first career point in a Wildcat sweater - expect that to end soon. These two are practically peas in a pod. They can really move and have a great ability to make things happen on the ice while still taking care of business in their own end. It's tough to tell their future in terms of points when you factor in the challenge presented by the newcomers (who I'll be getting to next) and line assignments but if they skate a fairly complete season I could easily see them putting up more than a dozen points apiece and certainly positive in the plus/minus column.
The Newcomers, Blake Kessel and Damon Kipp. Hometowns: Verona, Wisconsin and Salmon Arm, British Columbia. The Waterloo Blackhawks and the Salmon Arm SilverBacks. Size, strength, mobility and an offensive upside - these are two very good defensemen with the edge going to Kessel who was a sixth round pick of the New York Islanders, 166th overall, in the 2007 NHL draft. They are absolutely going to challenge for a spot from the get-go. With ice time and line assignments in their favor they could put up similar points to Campanale and Beck but making the game roster will depend on how quickly they adapt to Coach Umile's system.
Overall, there is going to be great competition for a spot on the Wildcat blueline and the guys are going to have to work hard in order to maintain it. If they don't take care of their own end first, they will not stay in the line-up - it's as simple as that. But don't think that this will preclude them from joining the rush and making things happen offensively. The heavy offensive talents of these defenders will certainly be put to use. Along with their quick feet and good size this corp will be a formidable force and I look forward to a first look on Saturday!
Tomorrow, Part III: The Last Line of Defense