The weather was lovely on Saturday afternoon, moving from rainy thunderstorms to oppressively humid in about five minutes, which made it perfect weather to go to a hockey rink. I took in a little bit of Easton AAA Classic at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
These will be pretty short. I didn't watch a lot of hockey, but as I've been doing all these draft profiles, I'm finding that the ratio of times I've seen a player to times I've written about them is probably lower than it should be, so I should try to get something down here.I stuck with the '94 and '95 age groups, because the benefit gained by watching the younger kids isn't worth listening to all the way-too-into-it parents at those levels. Since a lot of these teams were thrown together at kind of the last minute, rosters were pretty hit or miss, and I had to kind of piece things together with kids I recognized.
1. If you haven't heard of the Shattuck-St. Mary's duo of Taylor Cammarata and Nathan MacKinnon yet, you probably will quite a bit in the future. They each scored about a billion points this year for Shattuck and are considered top players in the world for their age group. I was a little less over-the-top about the two when I saw them play earlier this February. I questioned if Cammarata could stay a step ahead of the competition when the competition got bigger and faster, and said MacKinnon reminded me a bit of a 15-year-old Luke Moffatt(and 18-year-old Luke Moffatt has turned that into a backhanded compliment).
Seeing them play here definitely sold me though. Cammarata is more than just a flashy stickhandler. Watching the way he sees the ice and can anticipate plays developing in the offensive zone was just incredible. I can't think of too many players I've ever seen that can work like that. Getting another look at MacKinnon, he's very good in some areas that Moffatt never really developed; namely in his puck-handling ability, and the ability to use his teammates. Playing with players close to his skill level--and it isn't easy to find players like that--certainly helps in that area.
I'll be interested to see where these kids go. MacKinnon is Canadian and seems a lock to head to the QMJHL next year. The only saving grace might be that the last similar Shattuck prodigies to head to the Q--Garrett Clarke, Kelsey Tessier, and Angelo Esposito--all saw their hockey careers kind of fall apart. The pressure on this kid to head that route should be immense though, especially considering there was this other kid from MacKinnon's hometown that went from Shattuck to the Q and turned out pretty well.
2. If I were the NTDP, I would definitely take a second look at extending an invite to Zach Stepan. He's very similar to his cousin Derek. Maybe not the most physically-gifted kid, but a very smart hockey player that knows when to speed the game up and when to slow the game down. He actually looked like he could handle playing junior hockey next season.
3. Maple Grove will be an interesting team to watch next year, since they're loaded with a ton of young talent. Their potential top line next year of Alex Mason, Dylan Steman, and Tony Paulson were playing together on the KwikRink team that ended up taking second place in the '94 division. I had heard that Steman was the best of MG's deep sophomore class last year, though he had to play JV hockey since he transferred in from Buffalo. Watching him play, he definitely stood out as the best of the group. With Blaine and Centennial both losing a lot of experience going into next year, Maple Grove looks like they could be really good.
4. It was interesting to see some younger kids that made high school rosters last year, but didn't stand out much playing against their peer group. It really showed why those players are considered so good. Bloomington Jefferson's Ian Janco and Holy Angels Frankie Mork are two examples off the top of my head.