Wisconsin Badgers hockey was dealt a major blow following the 2015 NHL Draft as top prospect and expected starting goaltender Luke Oplika announced his intention to play major junior hockey in Canada instead.
On Friday, the Badgers got some much needed depth for the program as forward Jarod Zirbel committed to play for UW. The Green Bay, Wis. native will enroll and be immediately eligible for this fall per a report from Andy Baggott of the Wisconsin State Journal.
Zirbel should be familiar to Madison hockey fans, as he played for the Madison Capitols of the USHL this last season. In his first season out of Green Bay Notre Dame Academy, Zirbel finished with six goals and seven assists, while being a key contributor on the penalty kill unit for the Capitols.
Heâ€™ll have some familiar faces to help get him through the transition, with former Capitols teammate Will Johnson joining him as a freshman for the 2015-16 season. Additionally, former NDA teammate Tony Stillwell will join up with him following a season of play for the Capitols this upcoming year.
While Zirbel may not be the most highly talked about or sought after recruit, he provides UW with some badly needed depth up front. After losing Morgan Zulinick unexpectedly this offseason, the Badgers were left with barely enough players on the roster to fill out three, let alone four full lines of forwards.
Following Zulinickâ€™s departure, UW had just 13 forwards on the roster â€” two short of the number most clubs like to carry. Adding Zirbel to the mix gives the Badgers just a bit more room to play with and helps in case of injury, suspension or other unforeseen things happening.
As a player, Zirbel will provide grit and some nice puck handling. Heâ€™s also got good vision to help make up for the size disadvantage, as Zirbel comes to UW at just 5-10 and 170 pounds. Few will outwork this kid, and thatâ€™s the kind of attitude this team needs as it looks to rebound off its worst season in the Mike Eaves era.