By Thomas Harrington
Instead of joining the University of Wisconsin last season, Matt Berkovitz opted to delay his college career by a year and spent one more season playing for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. This year, he’ll join fellow Anaheim prospect Grant Besse at Wisconsin.
Berkovitz struggled in his first season in the USHL as he had mononucleosis early in the season and changed teams. Thankfully, his second season went much better. Berkovitz was largely healthy and appeared in most of the Gamblers’ games. Overall, he played in 52 games and scored two goals and 10 points for Green Bay. In the playoffs, he played in three games and scored no points. More importantly than his offensive contributions was his play on the backend. After a difficult first season in the USHL, Berkovitz’s defensive game saw a significant improvement this past year.
A year ago, it was expected that Berkovitz would start his freshman season at Wisconsin. However, after the struggles he went through in the USHL, the decision was made to defer going to Wisconsin by a year. Berkovitz’s poor season of development meant he wasn’t ready for NCAA hockey yet. Thankfully, after a much a stronger season, he looks NCAA-ready.
Last year, I said that I didn’t expect Berkovitz to get a ton of minutes as a freshman playing in what is historically an excellent college hockey team. Well, since his decision was deferred a year, I can’t really say whether or not he lived up to the expectations I set a year ago. However, given how much he improved in his second season in the USHL, it’s safe to say that last season was a highly successful one for Berkovitz.
This coming season, Berkovitz will start his NCAA career at the University of Wisconsin and will have a shot at playing in their top six. He’ll have a difficult time cracking their lineup on a consistent basis, but hopefully the extra season he spent in the USHL means he’ll get more playing time this coming year than if he had been a freshman this past season. Even if he doesn’t manage to get in the lineup on a consistent basis, practicing and playing with his new team should be a big help to Berkovitz. Hopefully, as the season goes along, he’ll gain the coaching staff’s trust and play more minutes in more varied situations.
In terms of his future, Berkovitz is a hard prospect to predict given that he hasn’t even started playing college hockey yet. The best case scenario for him is turning into a number three or four defensemen in the NHL who sees time on a team’s second powerplay unit and sees a fair amount of time on the penalty kill. Or he could turn into more of a bottom pairing player who gets limited minutes and plays on the shorthanded unit. Anaheim has several players who have similar potential to Berkovitz, however, Berkovitz’s skating and offensive potential mean that he may have a better shot at making it to the NHL one day. Regardless of what kind of player he develops into, Berkovitz is several years away from being considered NHL ready.
The Ducks will hold his rights for the next several years before he eventually becomes a free agent, so Anaheim has a lot of time to decide what to do with the young defenseman. If his next few years at Wisconsin go well, I expect Anaheim to sign him and bring him to San Diego. However, if he stumbles while in college, the Ducks could instead decide to not sign him. It all comes down to what Berkovitz does in the next few years. If he can continue to improve in the way he did last year, I’m confident he’ll be San Diego bound in a few years. Berkovitz is a good skater who plays well at both ends of the ice. He won’t wow the opposition with his offensive abilities, but he is capable of putting up points from the blueline.
My next prospect update will be on Garrett Metcalf.
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