John Draeger, Defense
6'1" 189 lbs, 12/2/93
Michigan State University (NCAA)
I got a chance last weekend to watch 2012 3rd round pick John Draeger make his NCAA debut for Michigan State live at Mariucci Arena. While the Spartans were outclassed at times en route to losing 5-1 Friday and 7-1 Saturday, there were also times where Drateger shined in front of his family and hometown crowd.
So just like Dan has done in the past with Sean Lorenz and Erik Haula, I feel compelled to write a quick post.
Michigan State currently is a team in transition and nothing shows that off more than the defense. With a blue line that featured four players making their Spartan debut against the Gophers and lost Hobey Baker top-ten finalist Torey Krug to the Boston Bruins, there are plenty of openings for a player to take the reigns. And that looked to be the case for John Draeger this weekend.
Spartans head coach Tom Anastos had a lot of faith in the 6'1" freshman. He started on defense alongside junior Jake Chelios (son of Chris) in both games this weekend and saw minutes in every situation. Draeger played well Friday, ending up as the only Michigan State defenseman to finish with a positive +/- and was able to adjust well on the fly.
There was a chance for Minnesota forward Seth Ambroz in the second period created when a clearance went off a forward's skate and an out-of-position Draeger went back and shut it down. He seems to lack that next gear yet wasn't put at a disadvantage in the defensive zone and looked solid skating. He could use his length to shut down guys like Nick Bjugstad against the boards or close gaps although when push came to shove a bigger Bjugstad was able to physically manhandle Draeger.
Offensively, the freshman wasn't afraid to shoot. He had 3 of MSU's 10 shot opportunities in the first period Friday but like most of Michigan State wasn't threatening either Gopher goalie.
Things were different Saturday, however, as Minnesota essentially beat up on the Chelios-Draeger line. No one wearing Green and White played well but the two never felt in sync and finished a combined -9 with Chelios receiving a checking from behind major/game misconduct in the third period. At times it seemed like Draeger would try to cover for a teammate and leave a Gopher open in front of the net. His lack of physical play caught up - especially in the first period where he was on the ice of 3 of Minnesota's 4 goals - as bigger and faster Gopher forwards had their way.
The one saving grace for Draeger during Saturday's game was his play on the penalty kill. Minnesota went 1-8 on the man advantage with the only goal occurring during Chelios' five minute major in the third. The Wild draft pick had good gap control, broke up a few plays and made smart decisions in his opportunities to be relentless.
Unfortunately for Draeger, this weekend more than anything was a tale of two nights. The adjustment to NCAA hockey from Shattuck-St. Mary's is major and one that will take some time. In a perfect world he would more consistent but the fact is we are talking about an 18 year-old freshman thrown into the deep end. As the season goes on it will interesting to see which performance becomes the norm for the 2012 Minnesota 3rd round pick, Friday or Saturday?