There was a lot of talent on display at this past weekend's Tier 1 Elite AAA Hockey Playoffs in Blaine, Minnesota. No group of players was more closely watched than the players born in 1998, who are eligible to play junior hockey for the first time next season, and some of whom have already drawn considerable interest from NCAA programs.
Earlier this season, we took a look at some players from the NAHL Showcase that might be candidates to be selected for this spring's NTDP Tryout Camp. We'll do the same thing for this group, breaking things down into three categories of likelihood for selection to the camp.
Trent Frederic-F-St. Louis Blues- A big kid with really soft hands. Incredibly smooth for a player his size and age. He kind of reminds me of James van Riemsdyk as a younger player.
Callan Foote-D-Colorado Thunderbirds- Foote thinks the game as well as any player at this level. Doesn't blow you away with amazing skating, flashy offensive plays, or crushing hits, but is always in position, and always thinking a step or two ahead of everyone else on the ice.
Ty Farmer-D-St. Louis Jr. Bues(Michigan State)-Farmer is one of the best skaters I've seen in this age group. He's got great balance, is strong on his skates, and has incredibly quick feet.
Zach Walker-F-Colorado Thunderbirds-I really like the way Walkers skates and competes. Great speed, he can finish, and isn't afraid to play a physical game.
Luke Martin-D-St. Louis Jr. Blues(Michigan)- Martin has all the physical tools to be a big-time player. Size, decent skill, and he's a right-handed shot, which is a valuable commodity. He started the weekend a bit shaky, but got better as the weekend, and it's very easy to see tremendous upside for him.
Hank Crone-F-Dallas Jr Stars- Crone is a prototypical waterbug forward. Quick feet and quick hands, with great offensive instincts. Reminds me a bit of a another player from Texas in Cason Hohmann.
Joseph Woll-G-St. Louis Jr. Blues(Harvard)-Goalies are tough to judge, especially goalies on good teams that don't see a lot of shots. Woll is a big goalie that takes up a lot of net with sound positioning.
Dave Melaragni-D-Team Comcast(Northeastern)-Very poised and an excellent puck-mover. The best passer I've seen in this age group.
Anea Ferrario-D-Colorado Thunderbirds- A really solidly-built kid that moves well and plays near mistake-free defense.
Derek Daschke-D-Oakland Jr. Grizzlies-An absolute horse. I felt like in the 80 or so minutes I watched Oakland play, he was on the ice for about 70 of them. He wasn't hanging back and pacing himself either. There's some rough edges to his game, but he's a legit 6'3" and a tremendous athlete.
Garrett Nieto-G-LA Jr. Kings-A big goalie that made some nice saves in the bit I saw.
Kailer Yamamoto-F-LA Jr Kings- A speedy little center with some flashes of offensive creativity. He needs to get stronger, but his skating will take him far.
Tim Gettinger-F-Cleveland Barons- Gettinger is tough to peg because he doesn't play on a great team and he's basically their entire offense(he scored 23 goals, while the rest of the team combined for 51), which means he floats quite a bit looking for scoring opportunities. But he's 6'5" and while his skating is a bit choppy, he's got pretty good hands for a player of that size.
Chris Conway-D-Pittsburgh Penguins- Watching him play, you'd never guess he's a few days shy of being a '99 birthday. A big, solid defensive defenseman.
Zach Solow-F-St. Louis Blues-A fierce competitor that hits like a truck. He was always making things happen when he was out on the ice.
Keegan Mantaro-D-Colorado Thunderbirds-Mantaro plays on Colorado's top pairing with Foote. He's not very big, but extremely reliable and moves the puck well.
Christopher Berger-F-Buffalo Jr. Sabres-A good skater and an effective two-way forward.
Grant Cruikshank-F-Millwaukee Jr. Admirals- Cruikshank has a lot of developing to do physically, but he's a nice offensive player that could be very dangerous once he fills out some.
Max Gerlach-F-Colorado Thunderbirds-Another kid that needs to mature a lot physically before he's ready for junior hockey, but has a lot of talent.
Jeff Stack-D-KC Mavs-Stack is an offensive-minded defenseman that can rush the puck up the ice effectively. Skates pretty well for a 6'2" defenseman.
Josh Dunne-F-St. Louis Jr. Blues-A big kid that is still a work in progress, but does some nice things out on the ice, and has good bloodlines with two older sisters that are elite-level hockey players.
Early '99 Watch List
I didn't spend a lot of time watching the '99 Bantam Major division because there were other games to see, and history suggests that outside of the very, very top players, there's not a ton of correlation between success at this level and at the NCAA level. Still, it was interesting to check in a little bit on some of the standout players in that age group.
Sasha Chmelevski/Ivan Lodnia-F-Belle Tire-This duo from southern California blew everyone else out of the water in the Bantam age group. Lodnia is a really gifted offensive playmaker. Chmelevski is a stronger, more complete player. Both have amazing hands and are strong skaters. They were really fun to watch.
Max Gildon-D-Dallas Stars U16-If Gildon was a '98, he'd almost certainly be a lock for the NTDP team. He's almost a complete package. Big, good skater, and very assertive on both the offensive and defensive end.
Brady Tkachuk-F-St. Louis Blues-Tkachuk plays remarkably similar to his older brother Matthew. Both have very slick hands, and do an incredible job of using their body to protect the puck.
Kyle Kawamura/Connor Merrill-F-TPH Thunder-Kawamura has been hyped as the next great hockey star out of the South. He's certainly one of the fastest skaters in the age group. Merrill was a little more effective in the bits I saw though, because he plays a little more aggressive and has much better hockey sense.
Andy Nedeljkovic-F-Victory Honda-A big, strong kid that is always involved in the play and making things happen.
Cayden Primeau-G-Team Comcast U16-Didn't play in the Comcast game that I watched, but by many accounts will be a player to watch in the future.