As part of our continuing coverage of the USHL Drafts, I thought I'd take a look at some of the players that have been selected to shape the USHL's newest expansion franchises. The way the USHL handles this, allowing teams to tender a couple top prospects each, select a few players off current USHL rosters, and then draft along with everybody else, should allow both of the USHL's new franchises to be instantly competitive in the league.
We'll start off by looking at the Muskegon Lumberjacks, which will be led by former Wisconsin assistant coach Kevin Patrick.
Pre-Draft Tenders: G Joel Vienneau, D Jaycob Megna, D Sebastian Gingras, D Mark Yanis, F Matt Berry, F Mike Conderman
The Lumberjacks obviously seemed to make a conscious effort to build from the net outwards, starting off with perhaps the top goalie available in Joel Vienneau from Ontario. Vienneau is a big goalie with excellent lateral movement, that has reportedly committed to play college hockey at Minnesota, choosing the Gophers over Michigan. He's a borderline NHL Draft pick, ranked 14th among North American goalies by Central Scouting, but is the second highest rated USHL goalie(or future goalie) behind only Fargo's Zane Gothberg.
They also added three pretty high-end defensemen, including Jaycob Megna, who hit a growth spurt this past year and now stands at 6'4" and could be a late-blooming star. Sebastien Gingras is an offensive defenseman committed to Maine, and Mark Yanis is a '94 birthdate that could have been selected in the Futures Draft, but Muskegon didn't want to take any risks on losing him. He's a big, physical, defensive defenseman that could play right away in the USHL, and has drawn interest from some pretty big CCHA and WCHA schools.
The forwards are both small, but talented. Berry is an electric scorer that likely would have been one of the top picks in the USHL Draft. Conderman is a smaller, hard-working forward that played well out east last year, and has committed to play for UMass-Lowell.
Expansion Draft: D Kevin Albers, F Nick Czinder, F John Parker, F DJ Vandercook, F Brendan Woods
There was a bit of local flavor to the Lumberjacks Expansion Draft selections, as three of the five players come from the state of Michigan.
They added another piece to their defense with Kevin Albers, who is a quiet, but well-respected defenseman in the league. But mostly, they added some major pieces to the puzzle at forward. Brendan Woods is a player Patrick helped recruit to Wisconsin, and though he struggled this year with some injuries, he has some tremendous talent. Nick Czinder is a big forward whose size has drawn the attention of NHL scouts. Parker and Vandercook are both players really capable of putting the puck in the net.
Affiliate List: D Garrett Cockerill, F Joseph Cox, F Josh Henke, F Grant Besse, F Michael McNicholas, F Chris Leibinger
Muskegon didn't stray outside of the MWEHL AAA league for their first three picks. Cockerill was the second overall pick, in part because he plays with a tremendous edge, and seems physically ready for the grind of the USHL.
Cox is a very honest player, that doesn't blow you away with raw ability, but plays a solid, complete game. Josh Henke is almost the opposite of Cox, having tremendous skills, but needing to improve playing away from the puck and doing the little things.
McNicholas was one of the few Los Angeles players taken in the Futures Draft. He's a crafty, creative playmaking center.
Not a bad start for the Lumberjacks. Even before we hit the Entry Draft and tryout camps where they should add more quality players, they already appear to have a solid foundation to a team. A defensive core of Albers, Gingras, Megna, Yanis, and Cockerill backed up by Vienneau in net looks really good on paper. A defense like that should make them instantly competitive. It also looks like they'll place a lot of importance on faster, more highly skilled forwards. Woods and Berry both could be breakout offensive players for them.