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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Effects of the defects

How will the Sioux survive the early departures of Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac and Matt Smaby?

All three players were outstanding, well-rounded talents, which is why they now are pros. They produced offense and were also very good in areas that didn't show up on the scoresheet. They will leave holes in the offense, defense, power play and penalty kill.

Can UND effectively fill those voids?

The talent will still be there. Everyone marveled at the fact that UND had five first-round draft picks and 11 total picks on its team last season.

Even with the losses, the Sioux still could have five first rounders come the fall. T.J. Oshie, Brian Lee and Joe Finley all will return and Jonathan Toews is a lock to go in the first. Recruit Michael Forney also could go in the top round this summer.

In all, there will probably be 12 draft picks on the UND roster, one more than the team that preceeded it.

Plus, forwards Rastislav Spirko and Ryan Duncan both tallied more than 30 points this season. Neither are on that list of draft picks because of their size.

Who will step up?

Without Stafford and Zajac manning the top lines, the Sioux will look for other players to step up and fill those important roles.

"Two players who come to mind right away are Andrew Kozek and Matt Watkins," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "Those are two guys who are going to have great opportunities to play expanded roles. They are guys who are very capable of playing much larger roles."

Kozek and Watkins didn't play on UND's top two lines during their freshman seasons, as they were asked to play other roles. Now, it may be time for more of a scoring role.

Kozek, who scored seven goals and added six assists, was a dominant scorer in the British Columbia Hockey League. He finished second in the league in scoring prior to coming to UND.

One BCHL coach told me that in the league's playoffs, his team focused a gameplan around slowing down Kozek, but they were unable to control him. I would expect that he will be a strong candidate to fill one of the openings on the power play. Kozek did get some time on the unit this season, although not much.

Of course, there will still be loads of offensive talent to join him on the power play, including 30-point scorers Oshie, Toews, Duncan and Spirko (if he returns). Lee, Taylor Chorney and Kyle Radke also give the Sioux threats from the blue line.

On the penalty kill, the Sioux will be without mainstays Stafford, Zajac, Smaby and outgoing senior Mike Prpich.

I would expect to see Spirko, Chris Porter and Erik Fabian to be key forwards on the penalty kill, and Zach Jones and Chorney on the blue line. All five of those players had expanded penalty killing roles last season. Watkins seems like a strong possibility to kill penalties, too, with his speed and tenacity.

So, how are the players taking the early losses? Hakstol said they have begun to prepare for next season and he senses a lot of excitement for it.

"We fully turned our focus toward next year," Hakstol said. "We're looking forward to having a great summer. And I know, to a man, everyone is excited to get back here in the fall."


Anonymous Isn't "Dakota" a hostile and abusive word said...

I'll miss Zajac, Smaby and Prpich.

I wish Drew lots of luck, but think the Sioux may actually be better off without him.

He has incredible skills. But if he is replaced by a more consistant player, the rest of the team will know what they have to do to win.

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