The University of Michigan has signed five players for next fall, including two Michigan natives and an NHL draft pick.
The group includes forwards Louie Caporusso, Aaron Palushaj (Northville) and Ben Winnett and defensemen Kevin Quick and Tristin Llewellyn (Ann Arbor).
"We've had classes where there are obviously headliners, but with these five it would be very difficult to separate the three forwards or the two defensemen," U-M assistant coach Billy Powers said. "I think that may end up being the theme of this class. We think all-around and because of the numbers that this will be an impact class at Michigan."
Caporusso is a 5-10, 180-pound forward who plays for Toronto-St. Michael's in the Ontario Provincial Hockey League. Through 22 games this season, he has team bests in points (35) and assists (15). Thirteen of his points have come on the power play (2-11-13). Caporusso also played for St. Mike's in 2005-06, earning the OPJHL's South Division Rookie of the Year honor. He skated in 48 regular season games, earning 29-44-73 totals. In 25 playoff games he had eight goals and 10 assists as St. Mike's won the OPJHL championship.
"Louie Caporusso is a forward playing for the same organization that brought us Andrew Cogliano -- St. Michael's," said Powers. "He's a skilled centerman. I kind of compare him a lot to Andrew Ebbett. Though he doesn't have Cogliano's flat-out speed, he has the intelligence and stick skills."
Caporusso recently participated in the inaugural Junior A World Challenge, which was put on by Hockey Canada from Nov. 6-12. He had a 1-3-4 line in four games, as his Canada East squad garnered a silver medal, falling to future teammate Ben Winnett's Canada West team in the final. Caporusso was named to the tournament All-Star team.
Palushaj (6-0, 185) is a member of the United States Hockey League's Des Moines Buccaneers. Through the first 12 games of the season he has seven goals and six assists. Six of his goals have come on the power play, which leads the team. Palushaj also spent the 2005-06 season with Des Moines. He accumulated 10 goals and 23 assists in 58 regular season games. En route to the Buccaneers' USHL championship last year he picked up two goals and four assists in 11 playoff games.
"He has a great stick," Powers said of Palushaj. "He's a goal scorer, an offensive player. I believe a lot of his goals right now are on the power play, so he should be able to come in and compliment our power play. Aaron has always been a kid who scores goals. I would say recently, a player like Brandon Kaleniecki comes to mind. He is somebody who's very smart, very passionate around the net, with a great stick and a great nose for the net. He's going to be a guy who's going to contribute offensively."
Winnett (6-1, 180) skates for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League. He is currently fourth in the league in goals (20) and ninth in points (37) in just 18 games played. Winnett also spent the 2005-06 season with Salmon Arm, tallying 18-31-49 in 60 regular season contests and 1-1-2 in 10 playoff games.
"Ben Winnett is a top scorer in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League," noted Powers. "He has great speed, great hands. He's been a prolific scoring player at pretty much every level he's played. We expect that Ben will be an impact player from day one."
Winnett competed last week at the World Junior A Challenge, playing for Canada West's gold medal-winning squad. He scored three goals and added two assists, defeating future teammate Louie Caporusso's Canada East team in the final.
Llewellyn (6-1, 178) is a blueliner for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL. In seven games so far this season he has a 2-2-4 line and a +5 rating, and has also received 26 penalty minutes. He split the 2005-06 season between the Indiana Ice and Tri-City Storm -- altogether, Llewellyn played in 49 games, posting a 5-5-10 line and a -2 rating and earning 119 penalty minutes. As a 15 year-old in 2004-05, Llewellyn played in 40 games with Indiana while earning a 1-7-8 line, +1 rating and 103 penalty minutes.
"(Llewellyn) has good size and he's mobile," Powers said. "He's an all-around defenseman. He reminds me of Mark Mitera. He's not 6-3 like Mitera, but he's a big kid and he plays big. He loves to play physical. He also has an offensive upside, so we look at him as a really good two-way addition to our back end."
Quick (6-0, 175), who plays at Salisbury Preparatory in Connecticut, has yet to start his senior season. As a junior, he recorded three goals and 20 assists, combining for 23 points in 28 games played. In 2004-05, he had a 3-9-12 line in 27 outings. Quick was drafted in the third round (78th overall) by the Tampa Lightning in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
"(Quick)'s a highly-skilled, skating, puck-moving, offensive defenseman that knows how to play with the puck," said Powers. "He reminds me of a guy like Chris Summers. He's really smooth and good in all zones. Kevin will be a nice addition to our blue line."
The Wolverines expect to receive five more National Letters of Intent from players before the early signing period ends.
Michigan will graduate seven players at the conclusion of the 2006-07 campaign. The class of 2007 includes forwards T.J. Hensick, David Rohlfs and Morgan Ward, defensemen Tim Cook, Jason Dest and Matt Hunwick and goalie Mike Mayhew.