Here's my thoughts from Friday, when I went to Blaine to watch the NAHL Showcase, and the NAHL Midget Showcase. The level of play, as you'd expect with the NAHL, wasn't spectacular. There were a lot of older players with not a lot of talent. I focused more on the younger guys that will almost definitely be playing college hockey.
Springfield vs. At-Large Team
The At-Large team was made up of guys from other teams that wouldn't be playing that day, to give them an extra chance to be seen. The didn't have their team roster for that day, so I didn't really recognize anyone other than former Austin HS defenseman Tim Kirby. I had seen Kirby play a couple times in high school, where he was one of the best players in southern Minnesota. I thought he looked decent on Friday. He probably won't get an offer this year.
The player from Springfield that impressed me was September '89 birthday Justin Kirchevel. Kirchevel is originally from South Dakota, but played last season with a AAA program in Colorado. He was at the Minnesota Model Camp this summer, and didn't catch my eye, but I really noticed him for Springfield. He's listed at 5'10", but looked a little shorter than that. He skated very well though, and I thought he did a very nice job playing his position both offensively and defensively. He scored a pretty goal off a rush that he finished off with a great shot top shelf, and scored another off a tap-in. He was a Futures pick of Sioux Falls, and went to their tryout camp this year. I think next year he'll make a USHL team, and should be a college player some day.
His teammate Ryan Kretzer was similar to Kirchevel, though not quite as attractive. He was also a quick, little player, but a year older than Kirchevel, and even smaller(5'6" 160 lbs.).
The other '89 birthdate on the team, Dan Weiss, was scratched for the game.
Alaska vs. Marquette
The player I was most interested in seeing was former NTDP forward Steve Sperry, who is now with Marquette. After seeing him play, I think it was pretty clear why some scouts thought he was going to be great two years ago, and why not many people feel that way anymore. Sperry has pretty good hands and isn't bad with the puck. In fact, Marquette put him at the point on their powerplay. But his skating and foot speed just isn't there. He really reminded me of Zac MacVoy, who played for the NTDP, and for Michigan last year, but is playing in the USHL this year. There will be a place for Sperry in Division I hockey some day, but he'll probably never be a star like some thought he might be.
Marquette also had former NHLer Mark Tinordi's son, Matt, playing for them. Matt is a late '89 birthday that played at the Select 17 Festival this summer. He looked ever bigger and more solid than the 185 lbs. he was listed at, but he's still a young kid, and didn't play a huge role on his team.
Alaska featured Seattle forward Paulos Shiferaw, who played at the Select 17 Festival this summer. He scored a nice powerplay goal in the first period, when he showed nice toughness, battling in front of the net, and was able to score.
Former Totino-Grace defenseman Brandon Graffunder was the defenseman on the top powerplay unit for Alaska, and didn't really do anything spectacular, but racked up three assists and didn't make any mistakes.
I caught a little bit of the Southern California Titans vs. the Chicago Young Americans Midget Major game. I didn't have a roster for this game, and I didn't really watch enough to notice anyone.
Wichita Falls vs. Bismarck
The guy from Wichita that I was most interested in seeing was former Duluth East defenseman Brian Downing. Downing is a big defensive defenseman. I believe in high school he was listed at 6'5", but was listed at 6'3" here. He's doesn't have great skating ability, but players his size that move that well are superstars. I think he'll play in the USHL next year, and should find a spot as a 5th or 6th defenseman in college.
Texas Attack AAA vs. Capital Centre Pride
I was excited to see '91 defenseman Tyler Amburgey play for Texas. He caught my eye at the Select 15 Festival and I wanted to see him play again. Amburgey was about 15 months younger than the next youngest player on his team. Despite being so young, he definitely held his own out there. He wasn't the best player on the ice, but he didn't look out of place at all. I think he'll be a pretty good recruit for 2009.
Martin Sundstedt was an '89 birthdate that I saw play at the Select 17 Festival this summer. He played ok on Friday, but didn't do a ton to impress me. He did a nice job grinding in front of the net on the powerplay and in the corners, but I wasn't overly impressed.
Some of the older guys for Texas that impressed me were defenseman Trevor Jewell and twins Patrick and Billy Colclough. Jewell quarterbacked the powerplay and scored on a very nice shot from the point. He's a big, solid kid that should move on to the next level.
Capital Centre defenseman Spencer Bye was a player I was interested in seeing play. He's an '89 birthdate. He got caught a couple times and had to take penalties, but overall, I think he's got a lot of potential, and should end up playing Jr. A next year.
Capital Centre also had another Helminen, who I'm assuming is related to Dwight, Lars, and Jodi. Like the other Helminen's, he was extremely fast, but also a little on the small side.
Fargo-Moorhead vs. Mahoning Valley
I was hoping to get to see Minnesota State recruit Austin Lee play in goal for the Jets, but Beau Christian got the start in goal. Christian played very well in goal. He should be highly-recruited this year.
Thief River Falls Robby Phillipp played well, and was rewarded with a goal. I doubt he'll get a scholarship offer this year, but he should get one next season.
The best prospect I saw the whole day was Mahoning Valley defenseman Eric Ringel. Ringel is a '90 birthday and I had heard he was an underrated prospect. I was very impressed with the way he played. He was on the top powerplay unit, and scored a goal and had a pretty assist from the point. He was incredibly poised with the puck, especially considering how young he is. He could improve a little bit defensively, and he probably will by playing against older competition, but I think he'll be an excellent college hockey player some day.
MV also had big 2007 defenseman Doug Leaverton. Leaverton played a quite game, which is good and bad. It's always good when you don't really notice a defensive defenseman because it means he's not making mistakes, but I also felt like he had the talent to be dominant out on the ice and he really wasn't. I don't think he'll be a top 2 defenseman at the college level, but probably a number 3 or 4 defenseman.
Mike Fillinger of MV really impressed me at the 2005 Select 17 Festival, but I haven't heard much about him since. He played pretty well here. He doesn't have a great scoring touch, but he's an excellent skater and does a lot of little things well. I think he'll be effective in college as a third or fourth line type guy.
Texas vs. Alpena
Again, I was really hoping Saline High School grad Brandon Stephenson would start in goal, since the idea of someone who played for my old high school making it to juniors is still a bit mind-boggling to me. But alas, Shawn Hunwick, Matt's brother, started in goal. Shawn is tiny but also very quick. He gave up a soft goal early when he let a long, easy shot get through his glove, but he settled down and played pretty well after that. I could see him being a back-up at the college level.
The Alpena player that impressed me most was Todd Rudasill. At first when I saw him, I thought he was one of the older players because of how physically strong he was, but I checked the program and he was an '88 birthdate. He scored a nice goal as well. I think he's definitely got a nice future as a college hockey player.
The other Alpena player I liked was defenseman Chad Billins. This was my second time seeing Billins after seeing him at the Select 17 Festival. He reminded me a lot of former Michigan defenseman Andy Burnes. He was pretty small for a defenseman, but made up for it with excellent quickness and positioning. He was also reliable with the puck. He probably won't be a top recruit, but should be a reliable college player.
Texas featured '89 birthdate Ben Miller, who Chris Heisenberg has listed as one of the top prospects in the NAHL. I came away with a pretty mixed opinion. One shift he would look great, and the next shift, he'd disappear. There's no doubt that he's got a lot of talent, but he needs to find a way to put it all together consistently.
Omaha Energy vs. Little Caesar's
This game wasn't as good as the other two midget games. The Energy are just starting out and Caesar's midget major team is one of the weaker MWEHL teams. Caesar's Defenseman Russ Whited did a nice job on the powerplay, and forward Tim Opie scored a very pretty goal, though Opie is pretty small.
Santa Fe vs. Traverse City
For Santa Fe, Michigan forward Nate Hennig looked like a talented forward. Another player I liked was former Minnesota high school forward Andy Kappers.
For Traverse City, Zach Hitch was a kid that was picked pretty high in the USHL draft last spring, though I can't say I was overly impressed. He's a solid player, but didn't stand out like I expected him to. Northern Michigan recruit Kory Kaunisto looked talented, but it looks like he'll need some time to adjust to playing against older competition. Chris Heineman was another young kid that looks like he'll be good down the road.
Southern Minnesota vs. Fairbanks
I didn't watch very much of this game. I was more interested in the NTDP game. I'll probably make it to at least Express game this season though, so I figured it wouldn't be a huge deal if I skipped this one.
NTDP U18 vs. North Iowa
This game probably wasn't even as close as the 8-0 score indicated. The NTDP basically put on a clinic. They did an amazing job of moving the puck around. They spent most of the game trying to set each other for one-timers. There's some debate on whether or not it's worth it for the U18s to play NAHL teams. I think at least for the start of the season, it's a good idea for them. It's a good warm-up for the team, kind of like how college teams play CIS teams as a preseason warm-up. It gives them a good chance to work on their passing and teamwork.
As for some of the indiviual players from the NTDP:
Jimmy Hayes and Mike Hoeffel were playing together again. They looked less dominant here than they did at the Select 17s. This is the first time I've seen Mike Hoeffel play that I wasn't really impressed, though he was banged up a little bit recently, so that could explain it a little bit. He did score a goal where he got the puck near the face-off dot, mishandled it a little bit, but was strong enough to muscle it through. It was the type of play that worked against an NAHL team, but not against better competition. The third player on the Hayes/Hoeffel line was C.J. Severyn. Severyn is one of the few forwards on the team that hasn't committed to a college yet. He reminded me of Brett Bruneteau when he played on a line with Hayes and Hoeffel. He's got talent, but he's not quite at their level yet. Teams are probably going to wait to see how he does this season before making an offer. I don't think he'll be a star at the college level, but he should be a good second line player.
Boston College recruit Ryan Hayes looked better than when I saw him at the Select 17s. I'm still a little skeptical of how he'll do in college because he's pretty small, and not all that fast, but he's got absolutely amazing hands. On one play, he took a puck that had bounced off the glass, and knocked it down out of the air with his stick, settled it down, and made a beautiful feed in front of the net that almost went for a goal.
Linemate Matt Rust also really impressed me. Some people have questioned his consistency, but he was certainly playing his best on Friday. He's lightning quick and has a deceptively fast shot. He scored a goal battling in front of the net, and a shorthanded goal where he stripped a defenseman and went in for a breakaway goal.
Miami recruit Justin Vaive looked even bigger than he was listed at. I think he's got great potential as a power forward.
Ryan Schnell hasn't committed to a school, but I like the way he plays. He's more of a grinder, but I think he's good in that role.
Mike Cieslak is another guy that hasn't committed to a school yet. He'll probably get an offer eventually, but you can also tell he's a little behind some of his other teammates in terms of talent. He's a good skater and has good size, but his hands and offensive ability is a little behind the elite recruits.
A.J. Sturges looked much better than the did at the Select 17 Festival, though I still think he's got a ways to go with his skating before he's a top college player.
It's tough to say too much about the defense since they weren't really tested at all defensively. They got to showcase their offensive skills though. Kevin Shattenkirk scored a goal. Colby Cohen took a ton of shots from the point. He was firing any time he got the puck at the point. I really liked the Ian Cole played as well.
Brad Phillips was in goal, but he couldn't have had more than a handful of saves.
That was about it for me. The night game was Alexandria vs. St. Louis, which would have been a very good game to watch, but it didn't start until 8:30, and I still had to make the long drive home, so I decided to skip it. Overall, it was a pretty good day of hockey though.
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