There is a long line of NHLers to come out of the University of Michigan and Zach Hyman
will soon look to join their ranks. This season he has traded in the Maize and Blue of Michigan for the Blue and White of the Toronto Marlies and, if all goes to plan, the Maple Leafs.
The choice to go the college route was a calculated one for Hyman. An opportunity to join Michigan's storied hockey program coupled with the benefits of a college hockey schedule were positives and both stood to benefit his development.
"The first thing was I got to play for Red Berenson which was one of the major positives going to college for me was playing for him and learning from him," said Hyman. "And college, you have a lot of time to get better and to work out and mature and make sure your body is ready. I feel like I needed the extra time and I think it helped me a lot."
As an athlete who played soccer, rugby, football and a handful of other sports into his high school years, he didn't fully settle into his hockey career until his arrival in Ann Arbor. He seized upon the opportunity to refine his game. By his senior season with the Wolverines in 2014-15, Hyman made sure he left with a well-stocked trophy case. He finished the season by taking home the Big Ten Scoring Title and Big Ten MVP award.
The accolades kept coming. Hyman won Michigan's Senior Athlete of the Year -- and award also won by Michigan greats like Barry Larkin, Glen Rice and Charles Woodson. Away from his campus, Hyman was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He also earned Big Ten First Team All-Star, First Team All-American and First Team Academic All-American honours.
In addition to leaving Michigan as one of the school's most decorated athletes, Hyman also left with his degree in History.
"I was always a guy who really liked school and wanted to get my degree," said Hyman. "To have that under my belt is really special and nobody can take that away from me. That's unrelated to hockey and that's great."
After being selected by the Panthers in the fifth round of the 2010 Draft, Hyman never signed an entry level deal. The lack of a contract provided the Maple Leafs an opportunity. On June 19, 2015, the Leafs sent Greg McKegg to the Panthers to acquire Hyman's rights. He came to terms with the Leafs on an entry level deal on June 23.
His introduction to life in the organization has been a positive one. At the end of training camp, Mike Babcock mentioned Hyman alongside names like Nylander, Kapanen and Marner as players poised to one day play at Air Canada Centre for the Leafs.
For Hyman, the opportunity to work under the Leafs' head coach was a great learning experience.
"Those couple weeks were awesome, just being able to learn from him and being around all the guys was an incredible experience," said Hyman. "He plays a fast paced hockey game, that's the kind of game he wants to play, with lots of skating. You've got to be fast, you've got to work hard and I think that suits my game."
Moving forward, he feels that what he does well fits how the organization wants to play as a whole.
"Being fast, working hard every shift and going out there and trying to give your best. I think that suits the way the Leafs want to play and I had a great experience being there with them. "
Hyman will have the opportunity to grow into that style of game with the Toronto Marlies this season. With the organization looking to foster continuity between its farm team and the big club, both teams will be playing the same uptempo, high pressure style.
Hyman felt equipped to make the leap to pro hockey from college after four seasons at Michigan and his first NHL training camp. 151 games of Big Ten hockey presented a chance to develop himself, while camp gave him a chance to get a sense of pro speed.
The Marlies are off to a strong start to their season and Hyman appears to be a fit. In the early season he has chipped in offensively and on special teams for a club that has distributed the workload between its deep roster. Maintaining consistency in his game will be key to earning the trust of a Maple Leafs management group preaching patience with its youngsters.
If being on the cusp of the NHL wasn't enough motivation to continue refining and improving his game, being on the cusp of joining his favourite childhood team surely is. Hyman grew up a Leafs fan -- his favourite player was Leafs legend Mats Sundin. If he seizes the opportunity in front of him, he'll one day wear the same sweater in front of family, friends and fellow Leafs fans.
The chance to begin your NHL career where your NHL dream took shape is a special one.
"To be playing in the Leafs organization, to one day have the opportunity to play for the Leafs -- the team my whole family roots for, the team I grew up watching, the team all my friends watch and are huge Leafs fans," said Hyman. "To have the opportunity to be with the organization and starting with the Marlies, it's really special."
"An Original Six team, there's so much history here and it's just incredible."