Pittsburgh - The CCM USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at the CONSOL Energy Center on Thursday night presented 2014 NHL Draft prospects the opportunity to showcase their skills. The 39 players on the ice are some of the best young players the United States has to offer, but some stood out more than others.
Team Johnson's first line was a group of three extremely talented forwards. Notre Dame recruit Sonny Milano is a human highlight reel. His goal last night might not have been flashy as some of his scores, but it was a subtle display of skill. He made a quick juke that caused Team Mullen goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to open up and Milano slipped it five hole.
North Dakota recruit Nick Schmaltz centered the line and showed his offensive creativity. "They're very skilled players. They might sleep a few shifts, but all of a sudden when the puck gets on their sticks, I get up on my toes to see what they're going to do," said Mark Johnson of Milano and Schmaltz.
The right wing on that top line, Boston College recruit Alex Tuch, made a nice pass to start the Milano goal. He is a big power forward who could benefit from working on his skating. He might remind BC fans of Kevin Hayes when he arrives in Chestnut Hill next fall.
The other very impressive tandem was Dylan Larkin and Player of the Game Keegan Iverson. Larkin scored the first goal of the game off a nice backhand feed from Iverson. In the third period Iverson regained the lead for Team Johnson after a nice play by Larkin to keep the puck in at the blueline. Both players might lack some of the high-end skill of guys like Milano and Schmaltz, but they're both high-energy guys who are always motoring on the ice.
"I'm happy for [Keegan Iverson]. It'll be a nice memory. He'll have a trophy for the rest of his life, but there were a few guys that could have won [Player of the Game]," said Johnson.
New Hampshire recruit Shane Eiserman had a very good game. He has good offensive abilities, but his physicality is what could really separate him from other players with a similar skillset at the next level. He made a bone-crunching hit on a Team Mullen defender late in the third period that got everyone's attention, but to just pinpoint that one play would be unfair. He was consistently creating havoc on the forecheck for Team Johnson.
No player's stock might have risen more Thursday night than goaltender Blake Weyrick. The Ojai, Calif. came on in relief of the more heralded Thatcher Demko. Weyrick looked to always square off to the shooter and seemed mechanically sound. His lateral movement and quick glove were on display with two highlight reel saves in the game.
Speaking of Demko, the Boston College freshman goaltender saw limited action, but certainly made no mistakes. There is no doubting Demko's ability to stop pucks, but one thing he said he's putting an emphasis on is playing the puck. Twice on Thursday night he came out of the net to play the puck to start the transition.
In the losing effort on the Team Mullen side, Shane Gersich had a great game. He was flying all over the ice. The North Dakota recruit displayed good speed and cutting ability to go along with a quick release on the move.
Before the game Ryan Donato emphasized the need for him to show scouts that he can perform against this level of players. Donato, the son of NHL veteran and Harvard coach Ted, plays prep school hockey for the Dexter School. He won't be viewed as much as the players in major junior and the USHL so it was important for him to have a good game.
Donato notched two assists, but what really stood out was his hockey savvy. He seemed to be in the right position more often than not and his motor was always going. Donato talked about the work ethic he has learned from being around the Harvard players all these years. Joe Mullen, Donato's coach for the night, was also positive about his play.
Another player who had a good game for Team Mullen was Wisconsin recruit Ryan Wagner. The Park Ridge, Ill. native will be called upon to step in and contribute immediately when he arrives in Madison next fall. He was very effective on the power play, making good passes from the sidewall. On two or three occasions, he found very narrow seams to set up a teammate on the man advantage.
When asked after the game who stood out to him, Mullen said he thought defenseman Jack Dougherty had a very good game. He scored Team Mullen's first goal on a quick wrister that he fired into the top of the net from just outside the left circle. Dougherty, along with Tyler Sheehy, are former Ohio State recruits looking for a new college destination. Both de-committed following the ouster of Mark Osiecki in Columbus.
With all the talent on the ice, these players stood out more than some of their peers. Obviously it is just one game, but it was an important game for the scouting community.
Editor's Note: Over the coming weeks and months, Jeff Cox and Chris Dilks will continue to profile 2014 NHL Draft prospects more in-depth, but this is just Jeff's quick take from his viewing in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
More from Western College Hockey Blog:
- Team Johnson Prevails Over Team Mullen in USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game
- 2013 USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game: Line Charts
- Breaking Down the Roster for the 2013 USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game
- ECAC Recruiting: USNTDP Forward Michael Floodstrand Commits to Harvard
- Hockey East Recruiting Rankings
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.