February 04 2013 01:31PM
On Friday night, the good folks at the Big Ten Network were nice enough to televise a game between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State University Spartans. Handily enough, this provided a great chance to watch a full game with Flames 2012 seventh round pick Matt Deblouw.
A BIT ABOUT DEBLOUW
Matt Deblouw is quite the hockey player. A native of Chesterfield, Michigan – a suburb of Detroit – and currently playing for Michigan State, he previously played with the USHL's Muskegon Lumberjacks. He didn't put up huge offensive figures with the Lumberjacks (34 points in 58 games) but he was consistent both in the USHL and in the previous junior ranks, where he was roughly a point-per-game player.
The book on Deblouw is that he's supposed to be a smart two-way player and a face-off whiz. He's not tremendously big, though – at six-feet and 183 pounds, he's of average physical size on his college team. DeBlouw plays primarily with David Bondra and Tanner Sorensen.
The Flames drafted him in the seventh round, 186th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
A BIT ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE
The Michigan State Spartans are a program that has turned a lot of college hockey players into professionals and they've won three NCAA championships, most recently in 2007.
Over 500 Spartans have turned pro following their collegiate careers – including notable NHLers Justin Abdelkader, David Booth, Adam Hall, Shawn Horcoff, Duncan Keith, Ryan Miller, Jim Slater, Bryan Smolinski and Mike York. Former Flames first-rounder Jason Muzzatti was a Spartan.
The Spartans have yo-yoed in recents years between being pretty good and petty lousy. Last year they were fifth in their conference. This year, they're very likely going to finish last in their conference. That said, they're a very young team. Nine players on their team are freshman (and the team has ten players on their roster 19-years-old and younger).
Deblouw is one of four NHL-drafted players on his team. The others are RJ Boyd (Florida's 2010 seventh rounder, 183rd overall), John Draeger (Minnesota's 2012 third rounder, 68th overall) and Rhett Holland (Phoenix's 2012 fourth rounder, 102nd overall). Their most bitter rival, and their opponent this weekend, the University of Michigan Wolverines, has eleven NHL draftees, including 2012 first rounder Jacob Trouba and second rounders Cristoval Nieves and Phil Di Giuseppe.
Deblouw had roughly a dozen shifts in Friday's game. If that sounds low, it's because CCHA shifts appear to be amazingly long – usually a couple minutes or so. That's not entirely representative of the NCAA game, though.
The Spartans were penned into their own zone quite a bit throughout the game. Deblouw's shifts generally involved him jumping in on the fly, his team getting penned in a bit in their own zone, icing the puck and then them trying to burst out of their zone again. He took roughly ten face-offs and won about half of them. On the year he's been chugging along at just over that pace, which is impressive for a freshman on a last-place team.
In addition to being solid on face-offs, Deblouw was noticeable on the ice for his strong positional play. He continually had his head and feet moving, making little adjustments here and there to open up (or close off) passing lanes.
Despite not being a huge physical presence, he was very involved in board battles. Again, his smart positional play translated both to him using his skates to protect the puck when he was over-matched in the offensive zone (and bought his team time for a line change) and he read the play when a teammate was out-matched two-on-one on the wall to figure out the best place to chip in.
Deblouw was also quite smart with his stick-work. He was very active with his stick on the fore-check throughout the game, and escaped his zone with a nice little spin play late in the first period.
I've always been of the mindset that if your seventh round draft picks turn out to have working arms and legs, you should be happy. Even if you expect your late-round picks to be adequate hockey players, Deblouw represents a pretty interesting long-term project.
Though it's only one game, and it's a game his team lost by a 3-2 margin, there was a lot of good things about his game. Granted, he didn't show much offensive flair, but his team spent 65% of the game trapped in their own end and the score flattered them quite a bit. But Deblouw's one of the better players on his team, second in team scoring as a 19-year-old freshman, and his positional play suggests that he could do more if surrounded by a better team.
Heading forward with the expectation that he's spending four years at Michigan State, it'll be interesting to see how Deblouw can grow as his very young team ages. He doesn't likely have the offensive ceiling that Mark Jankowski is expected to have, but Deblouw appears to be a very astute college player with some potential for growth.
ELSEWHERE, THE BEANPOT APPROACHES
Tonight, the annual four-team tournament between Boston-area schools, the Beanpot, kicks off. The 61st annual tournament pits Boston University, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern University head-to-head for local bragging rights. Boston College won last year's Beanpot in dramatic fashion. Flames prospect Bill Arnold scored the overtime winner over Boston University and Johnny Gaudreau began his break-out by being named the Tournament MVP.
Boston University plays Northeastern at 5pm ET (3pm Calgary time), while Boston College faces Harvard at 8pm ET (6pm MT). The only television coverage is from NESN, while all the local schools have radio broadcasts. The finals and consolation game go next Monday night.