The Lincoln Stars of the USHL held their tryout camp in Minneapolis this past weekend. Your best resource for information on the camp is the excellent Black and Blue Blog, which has camp rosters and recaps from all 17 games at the camp. I was also there for a couple sessions and figured I would give my take on what I saw.
There was a very different feel to the Stars tryout camp this year compared to last year's camp. Last year, the Stars had a lot of returning talent, and a lot of high-end players, including 2012 NHL picks Mike McKee and Paul LaDue, and potential 2013 draftees Luke Johnson, Vinni Lettieri, and Ross Olsson. This year, the Stars seem to be in complete rebuild mode. There were almost as many players that played for other USHL teams last year as there were returning Stars players. There wasn't a lot of high-end future NHL-type talent here, but when you started to add it up, more than enough solid junior hockey players to build a good hockey team.
The USHL's rules are a constantly moving target, but it appears the Stars kept 30 players, which has to be cut down to 25 by July 10th, and then down to the final 23 after the USHL Fall Classic.
Last year's starter, Michael Bitzer had the option of heading to Bemidji State next season, but with Beavers' starter Andrew Walsh just heading into his junior season, Bitzer opted to return to the Stars where he should see the large majority of the playing time. The Stars also kept late '95 Jacob Nehama and one other goalie, most likely '94 Nick Schmit, with one of them earning the back-up role. Tough to say too much about the goalies in such a small sample size, but Bitzer should carry most of the load next year. Moorhead '96 Jacob Dittmer had a strong camp as well, and looks like a nice Affiliate List player.
This is a very deep group that should be a strength for the Stars. The two best players at the camp were returnee '96 Daniel Willett(Northeastern) and Des Moines trade Luke Shiplo(Western Michigan). Both are smaller, very quick defensemen with great poise. They have two solid defensive defensemen returning in Zack Pittman and Zach Frye to complement the other offensive D.
Colgate commit Kenny Citron is a player that really impressed me last year, and he looked very comfortable here, bringing a tough, stay-at-home defensive presence. NAHL overagers Scott Dornbrock and Nate Repensky both had very nice camps. Dornbrock was protected. Buffalo '95 Tony DeVito reportedly made the protected list as well. Former Northern Lakes(MN) D Connor Chambers had a great final day of the camp, scoring a bunch of goals and likely earning himself an opportunity somewhere next year.
This group was a bit more hit-or-miss. There's a lot of good players to choose from, but likely no one that is a top line scoring threat in the USHL next season. One of the best at the camp was 6'4" forward Hunter Anderson, who was great in the NAHL last season, and appears to just keep getting better. It looks like Lincoln will add another couple vets from the NAHL as well, including Brandon Smith, David Parrontino, John Simonson,and Eric Brenk. Brenk played in the USHL as a 16-year-old with Sioux Falls, and probably wasn't ready for it, but after a few years of junior experience, he looks like a completely different player now.
Dominick Sacco, who skated a bit with the Omaha Lancers last year, had a good camp as well. He's got the best hands and most pure offensive skill of anyone on the roster. North Dakota commit Luke Voltin came to Lincoln in a trade. He's got the skill to be an excellent player, but is starting the year with his third team in three years, which certainly doesn't help questions about his attitude. UNH commit Michael MacNicholas had a strong camp as well, scoring a lot of goals. Tommy Marchin also brings a lot of size and skill to their roster as well. Moorhead's HS alum Thomas Carey was also reportedly named to the roster.
A pair of brothers from Norway named Magnus and Ludvig Hoff attended the camp, and both reportedly made the 30-man roster. Magnus is a '93-born smaller, more offensive-minded type player. With Lincoln needing to cut at least one over-age player and an import, I don't suspect he'll play the whole year in Lincoln, but if he stays in North America, I could see him being a great pick-up for an NAHL team. Ludvig, on the other hand, is a late '96 birthdate. He was an alternate captain on Norway's U18 team this past season, and scored 7 points in 5 games at the Division 1 U18 tournament. He's a really big, strong kid for his age. His hands aren't quite there to be a big offensive threat, but will definitely be a player to keep an eye on.
The other big surprise at camp was Futures pick August von Ungern-Sternberg. He played for the Idaho Jr. Steelheads in the WSHL as a '97 last year, so it was tough to know what to expect, but he was the best '97 at the camp. He's not very big, but is a very good skater and pretty good offensive instincts. He's a pretty tough kid too, throwing down in a fight on Saturday night and more than holding his own. Playing in a league where he could develop a little more offensively wouldn't be a bad thing, but he could also probably hold his own in the USHL next year.
Overall, this doesn't look like Lincoln's strongest team ever, but they should be pretty tough to play against. They're very strong in goal and on the blue line, which should keep them competitive. If they can find somebody that can score consistently for them, they could be a very good team.