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Where Are They Now?

This blog spends a lot of time covering future prospects, for a multitude of reasons. But in addition to constantly looking toward the future, I think it's also interesting to, from time to time, take a look back to the past, and see how some of the proclamations about these prospects actually turn out. It's especially intriguing because of all the recent discussion about early commitments, and how young teams should start recruiting players.

In doing research for a different article, I happened to come across an interesting post from deep within the archives of the Hockey's Future message board. The post, written by poster 'moosefan' was about the crop of young US forwards in the late '87/'88 birthdate class. The post was dated October 15, 2003, meaning the players being discussed were the age-equivalents of this year's late '91/'92 birthdates.

While this list may not be a professionally-done scouting list, it is a pretty nice look into what the general opinion about players was at the time. Here's a look at what was said then, and where those players are now.

1. Carter Camper
Then: "very young but dominates every level he has played at. He is currently playing honey baked AAA hockey as a 15 year old and is their leading scorer with 20 points in 16 games. IMO the best offensive player the USA will produce in awhile." The writer would go on to say later in the thread, "I would say so far if Camper keeps progressing like he is and keeps dominating, he has a good chance at going top 5[in the NHL Draft],"

Now: Camper went undrafted in the NHL draft, though is still eligible for this year's draft, and now has an outside at getting selected in a later round. He's a college freshman this year, with 14 points in 13 games for the #1 team in the country. Last year, he had 71 points in 56 games with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL and was in the top 10 in league scoring. The year before that, he was second in the NAHL in scoring with 82 points over 57 games. Basically, he's been a good scorer every step of the way, but the fact that he never grew much bigger than 5-9 seems to have really held him back from living up to those lofty expectations. If he continues to score at the college level though, I could see him moving on to the pros and having a nice career, despite his size.

2. Phil Kessel

Then: "a late 87 born player who is playing with the USNTDP 17 team, he is their leading scorer with 11 GP he has 10 goals and 4 assists. This guy is going to be a great one." He also predicted that Kessel would go in the top 5 in the 2006 NHL draft.

Now: It's hard to say that Kessel didn't live up to all of the hype bestowed upon him. He had one successful(at least individually), albeit rocky, season at Minnesota before being selected 5th overall in the 2006 NHL draft. He was one of two players to go straight to the NHL from the 2006 draft class, and played in 70 games despite having cancer, and looks to be on his way to becoming at least a point-a-game player.

3. Jack Combs

Then: "another super forward who last year got 131 points in 62 games. He is playing for the honey baked 88 team right now and is suppose to be a real sniper in the making."

Now: He signed with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL in 2004-2005. After a season with them, he joined the Saginaw Spirit where he has played up to the present. He seems to have taken off this year, with 38 points in 24 games, which is 13th in league scoring. He was never drafted by the NHL.

4. Peter Mueller

Then: "Suppose to be better than Camper, he is playing USNTDP as a 88 born player which is pretty amazing as it self."

Now: Mueller committed to play hockey at Minnesota, but joining the NTDP early ended up dooming the Gophers, since Mueller didn't want to play a third year with the program as a senior, and didn't want to play in the USHL, so he chose to give up his college eligibility and sign with Everett of the WHL. It's probably just as well for the Gophers, because it seems unlikely that Mueller would have stayed in school for much longer than a year. Mueller was drafted 8th overall in the 2006 NHL draft and has become a regular in the Coyotes line-up this season.

5. Kyle Okposo

Then: "playhing for Shattuck this year Okposo is considered one of the best power forwards in the USA right now. He and Jonathan Toews are the ones taking over for the departer of Crosby"

Now: Okposo ended up being taken one spot ahead of Mueller, and two spots behind Kessel in the 2006 NHL draft. He played his senior year of high school in the USHL and had a great season and then joined the University of Minnesota last year. He's had two solid seasons with the Gophers, though his play has been fairly streaky. He's still one of the most feared offensive talents in the league though.

6. Ben Smith

Then: "a great power forward who is playing with the Boston Junior Bruins. He is another great offensive player with grit."

Now: Smith was never drafted, likely because he was never able to pass the 6' tall mark, and few teams are interested in a short power forward. Smith is currently in his sophomore season at Boston College, where he put up 18 points as a freshman, and is starting to blossom into one of the Eagles top forwards, with 13 points so far through 12 games, second on the team in scoring.

7. Jeremy Stocker

Then: "playing junior A in Ontario for Syracuse, stocker is considered a super offensive player with great overal talent."

Now: ??? He played for Syracuse that season, and then played a season with the Cleveland Barons of the NAHL, and after that, I can't find anything, other than that he's playing in some roller hockey league in Syracuse.

8. Jason Reese

Then: "picked in the first round of the WHL draft, he had the offensive talent to give Toews a run for his money at first, but teams never knew if he was comming up or not"

Now: Ironically, it was Toews that ended up going to college and Reese that played in the WHL. Reese has had a long, decent WHL career, but a comparison to Toews now would just seem silly. This is technically Reese's 5th WHL season. He played 3 games in the 03-04 season(I believe that's all an underage can play). He finally broke out in 06-07, averaging a point-per-game, but was traded in the middle of the season. This year, he is 18th in the league in scoring for Swift Current. He has yet to be selected by the NHL.

9. Luke Popko

Then: "a smaller player who gets overlooked a bit he has imense offensive talent and dominates scorers where ever he plays."

Now: Popko hasn't grown much since, and hasn't developed into a huge offensive threat, but he has made his hard work his calling card. He is currently a sophomore for Boston University where he has 5 points in 12 games. He also went undrafted.

10. Chris Atkinson

Then: always a top scorer for no matter where ever he plays, could rise up these charts pretty fast. His offensive talents are among the best in the US.

Now: Atkinson suffered a freak injury when his neck was cut by a teammates skate in his final year with the NTDP program, and his hockey career was put into serious jeopardy. After 19 months rehabilitating the injury, Atkinson returned to the ice for Vermont this season, and still isn't back to where he was before the injury.

11. Garrett Roe

Then: "plays for Shattuck U16 team with North American phenome Angelo Esposito from quebec. Roe is a great playmaker with a nose for the net, he is among the best in the country."

Now: Replace Shattuck with St. Cloud and that basically describes Roe. He's a freshmen for St. Cloud this season, and is off to a great start, as one of the leading scorers in the country. He hasn't been draft, though he is eligible this summer, and has an outside shot at getting drafted.

12. Mike Hull

Then: "Bretts son is following in the familey lines as being a great player. Hull looks to make the tradition stay alive of having a superstar Hull in the pros at some point."

Now: Hull playing Jr. A hockey for the St. Louis Bandits of the NAHL, and is trying to earn a college scholarship. He has 7 points through 18 games this year for the Bandits.

Another name brought up in the thread a couple of times was Wisconsin's Blake Geoffrion, who was a second round NHL draft pick, and is developing into one of Wisconsin's better forwards.

On the defensive side, a few names were brought up including '88s Chad Morin(Harvard/undrafted) and Brian Strait(BU/2nd round), and a bunch of late '87 defenseman including Steve Spade(OHL/undrafted), Ryan Turek(Michigan State/4th round), Mark Mitera(Michigan/1st round), Joey Ryan(QMJHL/2nd round). One '88 goalie, Joe Palmer(OSU/4th round)


Looking at this fairly small sample, things seem incredibly hit or miss at the NHL level. There are a few superstars mixed in with a lot of kids that weren't drafted at all. One of the big contributing factors to many of those players not getting drafted, however, seemed to be that the big growth spurt never came and they stayed under 6' tall.

It should be noted, however, that with the exception of Stocker and Hull, every player listed has become at least a serviceable player at the NCAA or CHL level. Carter Camper and Garrett Roe may not have lived up to their early hype, but I think that any college team would be more than willing to add them to their team.