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Edwards Growing His Game at Michigan | PROSPECT WATCH

The other Devils prospect playing for Michigan is also in his freshman season with the university

by Peter Robinson / NewJerseyDevils.com

Most Devils fans are aware that the University of Michigan is home to a player who some day is expected to be a big part of the club's future.

You can't discuss Devils prospects without mention of Luke Hughes, a Wolverines defenseman currently with the U.S. team for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship.

But Ethan Edwards is another intriguing Michigan defenseman who bears watching. The 19-year-old is in his freshman season playing on a stacked Wolverines team that provided four of the top five picks in the 2021 NHL Draft.

After some time to get adjusted to college hockey, Edwards has picked up his game, recently scoring his first goal for the No. 3-ranked Wolverines. He's also had two assists in 14 games.

"My role here has grown," said Edwards, "… it took some time for me to get the game to slow down in my mind, so there was an adjustment period.

"(The Big Ten) is such a good, deep league."

Edwards joined the Devils' pool of prospects nine months before Hughes when he was selected in the fourth round (120th overall) in the 2020 NHL Draft.

He grew up in Grand Prairie, Alberta but moved to St. Albert, a satellite community of Edmonton in his early teens. He came to Ann Arbor from Sioux City, Iowa, where he played a single season in the USHL. That club also had Akira Schmid in goal and (along with Providence College) was one of two amateur clubs to have multiple Devils prospects on it during the 2020-21 season that was defined by pandemic protocols.

Like a lot of Devils fans, Edwards has observed Schmid's impressive rookie season. Together, Edwards and Schmid helped the Musketeers ascend the USHL standings, complete a solid campaign by earning a playoff berth and one postseason series victory. It may be easy to forget now but at this time last year there was concern prospects could have development stunted by not having a proper place to play.

Edwards (and Schmid) found a home in Sioux City and thrived. Edwards is now adjusting again to an even bigger change in scenery, not to mention a steep climb in level of play. Not yet 20 and with at least a couple more seasons of college hockey at a storied school, Edwards is in a good place.

He's in regular contact with Eric Weinrich, the former Devils defenseman who is now a development coach with the club.

"I have a lot of runway ahead of me," said Edwards. "I feel like I'm in a good spot."

Michigan's "big four" will take center stage during the World Junior, divided equally between the Canadian and U.S. rosters. But with defensemen Hughes and Owen Power (Buffalo), who was the No. 1-overall pick in July, both temporarily out of the Wolverines lineup, more opportunity lingers for players such as Edwards.

"For sure," he agreed, "we only dress six defenseman and (as many as three) could be away for awhile so there is an opportunity for me and other players to step up and take advantage of it."

Devils fans need not be reminded that No. 1-overall picks typically play in the NHL right away. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier did exactly that with the Devils, so Power's returning for another year of college hockey was unusual and a boon for the Wolverines. It has also provided Edwards (and Hughes) a template for an elite college defenseman who has already excelled against pros, as Power did last year for Canada at the senior World Championship.

"He's such a good player," observes Edwards, "it's easy to learn from him."

Edwards has also been impressed with Hughes, who is 15 months younger than him.

"He's very skilled and plays a very confident game," said Edwards.

The Wolverines are currently 14-6-0 having split a weekend series on the road to No. 17 Ohio State before the break. It's tough to criticize such a talented squad but if there has been a concern through the holiday break, it is that the Wolverines have lacked something of a killer instinct.

"With (two-game series) people can make adjustments," explained Edwards, when asked about his team's tendency to allow lesser-ranked opponents to split games, particularly at home.

The Wolverines will be looking to reverse the disappointment of last season when the team was pulled from the postseason because of a COVID outbreak. Though Edwards wasn't there at the time, it was one of the worst tough-luck stories from college sports during the pandemic season.

For now, he's looking forward to 10 days at home in Alberta after not being able to travel last holiday season. Like most people in the hockey world, he'll be tuning into the World Junior and looking to stay sharp for a pair of Great Lakes Invitational games against inter-state rivals Michigan Tech and Western Michigan between Christmas and New Years.

"Obviously, as a Canadian, I'll be hoping for Owen and Kent Johnson," said Edwards, of his compatriots and Michigan teammates who are both slated to play for Canada at the World Junior.

"But if it can't be them, then I hope the Americans (can win)."

Photo: Jonathan Knight

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