As the 2021-22 regular season comes to a close, my thoughts turn to one of the highlights of the campaign, which was the excitement surrounding lacrosse-style goals in hockey, aka 'The Michigan,' aka 'The Svechnikov.' The snazzy move certainly wasn't new this season, but it was more prominent at all levels. And not only did we have more people pulling off the move in games, but we also had variations, from the Trevor Zegras-to-Sonny Milano Michigan pass, to fake Michigan moves turned into goals by the Florida Panthers and Merrimack College.
So it had me thinking, what does it mean for the game overall? That is to say, will The Michigan become a tactic that defenses have to game-plan for? To get an idea, I canvassed players (and one coach) from the NHL, major junior and NCAA.
The first obvious takeaway is that as the years go on, we're going to see more players capable of pulling off the move because generationally, the kids grew up in a world where they have been practising skills and moves they've seen on YouTube and other social media outlets.
"These guys are so skilled it's crazy," said San Jose Sharks coach Bob Boughner. "I had the fortune to coach high-end kids like Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler (with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires) and I saw what those kids could do at that age - now I get to see what the next generation is doing. We used to play hockey and train in the summer, now these guys have hockey academies and their own individual skills coaches and they're on the ice twice a day growing up - That's going to be the next wave, these high-end guys and how crafted they are in their skill sets. I think it's fun for the game. I give these guys credit for working hard to get to this point. And they have the confidence to do it - I never would have had that confidence as a player."
With a little bit of self-deprecation, one of Boughner's best players in San Jose agrees with the bench boss.
"All I know is that I can't do it," said Logan Couture. "My skill level is lower than that so I don't have to worry about it, but it seems like all the kids we call up or draft these days are so good with the puck. Their pucks skills are so much better than mine were at 18 or 19. It's only good for the game. The skill level is so high already, and to add more and get more eyeballs on the game with creative moves is only going to benefit the sport in the long run."
One of the most skilled youngsters in the NHL right now is New Jersey's Jack Hughes, and he believes the trick will continue to be a factor in the future, though to what extent remains to be seen.
"I would say people are starting to worry about it consistently now," Hughes said. "I wouldn't call it a 'tactic' because a lot of things have to line up: You have to get a lot of time behind the net or have the puck rolling with speed - there's a lot of things to think about with it. You won't be seeing one every night but you will see more of them."
And while we all give props to the forwards who pull off the move in real-time on big stages, there were a couple voices I felt I had never heard from on the issue: the poor defensemen and goalies who have to try and stop the puck from going in.
Ty Nelson is a skilled defenseman with the OHL's North Bay Battalion and a potential top-40 pick in the 2022 NHL draft. And while he can put up points, he's also responsible for stopping goals, so he has to ponder what 'The Michigan' could wreak on his team in the 'D' zone.
"There's that thought in your mind because guys are doing it a lot more," Nelson said. "The way we've been taught defense, you stand beside the post and if a guy does try it, you can't really take his stick because you might get called for slashing, but you can take the body and try to get his stick out of the way. Those goals are pretty hard to score and if the guy gets it off, kudos to him."
And what about goalies? They're the ones who end up looking silly when a lacrosse-style goal is placed over their shoulder with their head spinning in the other direction. Tyler Brennan of the WHL's Prince George Cougars is one of the top netminders available for the 2022 NHL Draft and he's got some thoughts, too.
"It's a quick play and you have to pick up on it really fast," Brennan said. "As a goalie, you have to push over to the post and take up as much space as you can - maybe use your head in the top corner. It is very hard to read, so you just have to get in the way however you can."
And as fun as it is to watch as a spectator, you never want to give up a Michigan.
"The only thing I would say is if it got pulled off against my team, why did that guy have so much time to do it?" Boughner said. "There's always a counter, right? Guys never have time to get it on their stick and whip it around if you take away time and space."
For the last word, I'll give the floor to someone who actually played for Michigan this year and has now begun his NHL journey with the Columbus Blue Jackets, forward Kent Johnson. He's got as much skill as anyone right now and it'll be fun to see what he does in the NHL in the coming years as he's also known as a player who thinks a lot about offensive tactics.
"I still think it will probably be a little bit rare, but it will definitely get tried and used more often," Johnson said. "Some teams might have to adjust how they play their 'D' zone because normally you don't want to chase guys behind the net, as that leaves the front of the net open. But if it keeps happening, maybe teams start chasing skill guys behind the net - which is fine for us, because we'll just make plays to the front of the net. It could definitely change hockey a little bit."