It's too soon to know how many of the nine freshmen will play for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team in its season-opening series Friday and Saturday vs. Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center.
One absolute lock is Eau Claire defenseman Jake McCabe, who not only will play, he will see major ice time paired with junior All-American Justin Schultz.
By all rights McCabe should be in high school, but he accelerated his education so he could finish in three years while skating for the U.S. National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
One of his youth coaches was Gary Shuchuk, now a UW assistant who confidently predicts that McCabe will distinguish himself at the college level and beyond.
McCabe may be the youngest guy on the Badgers, but UW coach Mike Eaves call him an "old soul'' whose behavior belies his tender age of 17. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, McCabe's big-time presence is such that he's ranked among the top 50 prospects for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by Red Line Report, an independent international scouting service.
Question: You turn 18 next week. Your gift of choice is?
Jake McCabe: "My mom gave me an early birthday present, which was a TV. That was a nice surprise.''
Q: Mike Eaves calls you an "old soul.'' What does that mean to you?
JM: "People say I'm mature beyond my years, which I probably agree with. I moved away from home at 15 (to attend the NTDP), so that was tough being that it was my sophomore in high school and I was away from my family. That made me grow up real quick. I've always hung out with the older guys and always played hockey with the older guys. I think that just contributed to all that.''
Q: What's your most important campus lesson to date?
JM: "No double scooting (two riders on a scooter).''
Q: Who's the freshman on this team that everyone will be talking about at the end of this season?
JM: "Joe Rumpel.''
Q: What's the team competition you're absolutely certain you'd win?
JM: "Let's go with jump roping.''
Q: Your favorite class at UW and why?
JM: "Let's go with military science. It's prettying interesting just hearing those guys' stories. The professors, they all served in the military and they all have stories.''
Q: If you could watch one former Wisconsin player in his prime who would it be?
JM: "It's a toss-up with coach Eaves and coach Shuchuk.''
Q: What makes playing with Justin Schultz special?
JM: "Justin Schultz is one of, if not the top, defenseman in college hockey. You watch him and he's so poised with the puck. Nothing rattles him at all. He's a two-way defenseman -- obviously more offensive than defensive -- but he's responsible in his own zone and he's just a guy that playing with him every single day will make me that much better.''
Q: What was your reaction the first time you saw you'd be paired with Schultz?
JM: "It caught me off guard. It's pretty special. It's a good opportunity for me. I've just got to keep playing, playing my game, playing simple hockey.''
Q: If you could steal one skill from a teammate, who would it be and what would it be?
JM: "I'm going to go with Ryan Little's grit.''
Q: What's the great unknown for this season-opening weekend?
JM: "Obviously, everyone's big question is first that we're a young team and second it's goaltending. I think people are going to underestimate us and we're going to come out and I think we're going to be flying. We're getting better every day.''