Monday, January 31, 2011

Gopher Week Questions: Where Will Kyle Schmitt Play?

Schmitt back in action just in time for the Gophers

In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: Where will Kyle Schmitt play upon his return from a broken hand this weekend?

The speedy senior winger is set to return to the lineup for the Bulldogs Friday after spending five weeks mending a broken hand, suffered in practice in mid-December. Before his injury, Schmitt had seven goals and five assists in 18 games, while playing on the second line with Travis Oleksuk and JT Brown. After a great start to the season, the play of the second line had begun to drop off towards the middle of the season, and at one point Brown went eight games without a goal or assist.

After losing Schmitt, Sandelin was forced to tinker with the lines, eventually settling on Connolly-Connolly-Grun, Fontaine-Oleksuk-Brown, and some combination of Seidel, DeLisle, Flaherty and Hendrickson on the third line. Normally thought of as a grinder, Grun proved to be a nice compliment to the playmaking Connollys, notching three assists and a goal since being moved up. The Fotaine-Oleksuk-Brown line has been even better, scoring four even-strength goals while compiling a +12 in the five games they have played together. It's unlikely, although not impossible, that Sandelin breaks up either of those two lines.

The most likely option is easing Schmitt back into play on the third line with Seidel and either DeLisle or Flaherty. Another intriguing option would be to pair the Connollys with Schmitt, leave the red-hot Fontaine-Oleksuk-Brown line alone, and move Grun back down to the third line with Seidel and DeLisle. 

For the long-term it would seem that Schmitt's ability to shake off the rust and Grun's ability to continue his chemistry with the Connollys will be the deciding factors for Sandelin to set his lines for the WCHA stretch run.

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