The 2020-21 University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is one of the more talented squads in the country. With 10 NHL draft picks and loads of experience, this Wisconsin team could turn heads and be contenders for a national championship. Here’s a full breakdown of the position groups.
The Badgers will cause a lot of problems upfront for opposing defenses in 2020-21. Sophomore Cole Caufield will look to shoulder the load after a stellar freshman campaign.
Caufield was a first-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens last summer and one of the highest-ranked prospects in any NHL system. Prior to joining Wisconsin, Caufield broke nearly every scoring record for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. His 72 goals and 126 points in a season shattered current NHL stars Auston Matthews and Phil Kessel’s previous records of 55 and 104, respectively. At the Under-18 Men’s World Championship, Caufield tied Alexander Ovechkin’s record of 14 goals.
The expectations for Caufield and the Badgers’ front line are huge and rightfully so. Caufield is the front-runner for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best player in college hockey. The offense doesn’t stop there, as Caufield has a few other studs surrounding him.
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Dylan Holloway, the No. 14 overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, is poised for a huge season for Wisconsin. The Badgers also return their fourth, fifth and sixth leading scorers from a year ago — Roman Ahcan, Ty Pelton-Byce and Linus Weissbach, respectively.
In addition to the veterans, the Badgers have a couple of newcomers who could make a significant impact this season. Mathieu De St. Phalle, the son of former Badger national champion Jacques De St. Phalle, led the USHL with his 60 points last season. His elite scoring is a welcome addition to an already-loaded Badger offense.
Sam Stange is the other major freshman addition to the Wisconsin forward group. Stange was a High School Second Team All-American and the 2019 Wisconsin State Player of the Year in his senior year of high school. Stange scored 45 points in the USHL last season.
Cole Caufield and the rest of the Badger forwards combine to make up one of the most lethal offenses in the country.
While not as loaded on the back end as they are up front, there is still some serious defensive talent on this Wisconsin team. The team’s best defender is probably Ty Emberson.
The 2020-21 team captain is a Preseason All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. Last season, Emberson blocked 62 shots and scored 9 points. His talent was best represented when he played on Team USA’s first line during the 2020 World Juniors. The third-round draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes will be the leader on the back end for this 2020-21 season.
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In addition to Emberson, the Badgers return Tyler Inamoto. Inamoto ranked seventh in the nation last year with 79 blocked shots and is one of the better defensemen in the conference.
The only major returning defenseman is Josh Ess. Ess is a senior and former draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. Ess finished third on the team in blocks last season and had one of the better +/- ratings by a Wisconsin defenseman. The left-handed defenseman does not contribute a ton offensively but is a reliable defender in his own zone.
There are so many young defensemen on this year’s Wisconsin team. Though that is really exciting for the future of the program, it leaves some serious question marks about the team’s strength on the back end, as most have little to no experience in college hockey. With so many options on defense, it seems likely that a few guys will cement their spots early.
Despite this, there is a good chance that the third pairing could change on a night-to-night basis which could be harmful to the chemistry of the defense. Head Coach Tony Granato has some interesting decisions to make regarding his defensive lineup, and the lack of significant, sustained practice time could make these decisions much harder than they already were.
Last season, the Badgers had a solid rotation of three goaltenders, but unfortunately, all three of those guys are gone. Granato hit the recruiting trail and brought in Robbie Beydoun, a graduate transfer from Michigan Tech, and two freshmen — Cameron Rowe and Ben Garrity.
Beydoun is expected to be the team’s starting goalie this season. At Michigan Tech he posted an impressive career save percentage of .919 and a 2.28 goals-against average. This wealth of experience and strong performance puts him in line for the starting job.
Though the two freshmen are exciting for fans, there shouldn’t be an expectation for them to have a major role with Beydoun carrying the majority of the weight between the pipes. It is expected that Rowe will be the primary backup to begin this year, but both freshmen will probably see some action throughout the season.
This year’s Wisconsin team projects to play in a lot of high-scoring games. With the extreme strength on the offensive end and the relative weakness in the back, expect to need at least four or five goals to win every game.
That being said, there is a lot of excitement around Beydoun. While nobody should expect him to be incredible and win a bunch of awards, he is an upgrade from the three Wisconsin goalies last season and will provide some necessary experience that is seriously lacking in the defensive end.