A week ago I took part in the 3rd Annual WCHA Blogger & Website Preseason Poll as one of 18 participants and thought it would be a good idea to break down my own picks for the final year of the conference as we know it going from 12 to 1. Third place is Wisconsin, a team that struggled last year but have plenty of upside in 2012-2013.
I might be higher on the Badgers than most but their finish last year reminded me a lot about the Gophers in 2010-2011. Even though Wisconsin finished tenth in the WCHA last year, they won five of their final eight games and took Denver to overtime in Game 3 of their first round series before losing 3-2. It was a young team, including two freshmen goalies in Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson, that will benefit from being a year older.
Losing WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Justin Schultz, who signed with Edmonton as a free agent, stings but the Badger blue line is still strong with Jake McCabe (Buffalo Sabres), Frankie Simonelli and captain John Ramage (Calgary Flames). They may be even stronger up front where 50 point scorer Mark Zengerle returns for his junior season along with Michael Mersch (30 points) and Tyler Barnes (26 points).
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, they may be without heralded freshman Nic Kerdiles as he is currently appealing a one-year suspension for his relationship with an agent. However, the balance between the offense and defense coupled with a solid year from Rumpel could be enough to return Wisconsin up to the next level.
Agree with the picks? Disagree? Sound off below.
For more University of Wisconsin coverage, check out Bucky's Fifth Quarter. You can also read up on the WCHA and college hockey at Western College Hockey and SB Nation's NHL hub.
You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.