It took Zach Hyman a little while to get acclimatized to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and make his presence felt.
With press clippings galore from his time in Junior A hockey with the Hamilton Red Wings – he was RBC Canadian Junior Hockey Player of the Year in 2011 – he didn’t exactly set the league on fire in his freshman and sophomore seasons. It wasn’t until his third, junior, year with the University of Michigan Wolverines that he started to make an impact. And then, look out!
Now in his senior year, he’s having a breakout season that is seeing him play on the team’s top line, lead the team in scoring, receive player of the week awards and become one of the top three candidates to win the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top college player in the United States.
Oh, and the 2010 Florida Panthers draftee (fifth round, 123rd overall) is likely to turn pro next season.
Not a bad year. Not at all.
To his credit, Hyman, 22, doesn’t want to look that far ahead. Contacted by phone in Ann Arbor, home of the Wolverines, he said he is not focusing on what the future might hold.
“I’m thinking more about the season and helping Michigan do well,” he said.
If the future doesn’t interest the native of Toronto, let’s look at the present. Hyman, who’s played centre and right wing, recently led Michigan to a two-game weekend sweep over the ninth-ranked Minnesota Gophers. He tallied six points in two games, including a goal and three assists in the Wolverine’s 4-3 overtime victory. The next night he added another goal and one helper to help complete the sweep.
That performance left him atop the Big Ten in scoring and fifth in the nation, with 26 points, or 1.37 points per game. He then received his second career Big Ten star of the week award.
Earlier this season, Hyman, who stands six foot two and weighs 205 pounds, enjoyed a five-point night (3 goals, 2 assists), including a natural hat trick, against UMass-Lowell.
Pressed to recount a season highlight, Hyman conceded he felt pretty good notching the game-winning goals against rivals Michigan State and Michigan Tech in the GLI Championship in late December.
In 19 games he leads the Wolverines in scoring with 11 goals and 15 assists, is plus-12 and has three game winners.
No doubt those performances account for the massive support he’s been getting in voting for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given to the player voted most outstanding in U.S. college hockey. He’s near the top with more than 28,200 votes (anyone can vote online at this stage), well ahead of Boston College’s Jack Eichel, touted to be one of this year’s top two NHL entry draft picks.
Hyman, a graduate of the Robbins Hebrew Academy and the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, admits his success was slow in coming. It took him until the middle of his third year before things started to change for him.
“I had a good finish to my year,” he said. “I finished really strong.”
That boosted his confidence, and when you put that together with improvements in his skating, puck handling and shot, the results have been seen on the score sheet this year.
He sees himself as not just the go-to guy when it comes to scoring or setting up his linemates, Dylan Larkin and Alex Kile, but as a 200-foot player, responsible at both ends of the ice.
His coach, Red Berenson, agrees.
“He’s a senior now and he’s become one of our best players over four years,” Berenson said. “His game has really come to the fore this year. He’s a leader and is leading in points. He scores huge goals. When the team needs a lift, Zach is the guy who gives it to us.”
Berenson said he can rely on Hyman in all situations, including the power play and penalty killing.
Hyman’s progress did not come overnight, the coach continued. “I think it’s been a gradual process.”
When he came to the Wolverines, “he was a good junior player, but not necessarily a good college player,” Berenson said.
“He came to us with a lot of press clippings, and people expected he’d be ready to make an impact, but it never happened. He did not quit working or stop being a good teammate. He kept evolving. He became stronger, faster and had more confidence. Puck luck followed him.”
Hyman, one of three Jewish players on the Wolverines along with Americans Justin Selman and Steve Racine, has attended the Panthers’ rookie camp, which no doubt helped in his development. While both Hyman and Berenson are hesitant to look too far ahead, the legendary coach said Hyman is definitely a pro prospect.
“He could play in the American [Hockey] League tomorrow,” Berenson said.
As for the NHL, it would depend on the role expected of him. It’s tough to predict a college player’s future, but his former teammate, Luke Glendening, was not the scorer Hyman is. Still, through hard work, he developed into a useful contributor to the Detroit Red Wings on their fourth line, Berenson said.
Modest to a fault, Hyman said a pro career is something he’ll consider. “I feel physically and mentally ready,” he said. “After this year, obviously I’ll try my hand at the next level.”