The NTDP U18 team always brings a crowd of scouts with them where ever they play. Saturday night in St. Cloud was no exception. Scouts filled up much of press row and the top two rows of seats along the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center's north sideline, to see more than a dozen first-time eligible potential NHL Draft picks skate against one of the NCAA's top teams.
Overall, it was a disappointing effort for the team of high schoolers, who were manhandled in an 8-0 loss. But still a good opportunity to see some of the future of American and do a little adjusting to my own 2014 NHL Draft rankings.
Here's what I saw. Players are listed in the order I'd have them on my draft list.
Nick Schmaltz(North Dakota)- Schmaltz got a call-up to skate with the NTDP with Jack Eichel still returning from the World Juniors and Sonny Milano out with an injury. That could prove to be good experience, because if the Green Bay Gamblers lose early in the USHL playoffs, he'd made an excellent addition to the U18 World Championships team.
Schmaltz was clearly the most offensively-gifted option the US team had on Saturday night. He displayed great hands in traffic and created a good number of scoring chances. He's maybe not the most complete player, and he'll need to add a lot of strength, but it's very rare to find high-end offensive upside like he has. I could see Schmaltz going into the 15-25 range in the first round of the draft this year.
Dylan Larkin(Michigan)- If Schmaltz was the best offensive threat, Larkin was the most complete player on the US side. Playing center, Larkin was effective on both ends of the ice. He's a smooth skater that is very strong on his skates, and while he's not as flashy as Schmaltz, he was nearly as effective in terms of creating offense. He plays like a pro player already. There's become a bit of a bias against NCAA players in the first round of the draft, which could push Larkin towards the very edge of the first round, but he'll be a steal for whichever team takes him.
Alex Tuch(Boston College)- Tuch was a bit of a fish out of water this weekend, moving to the middle to play center rather than his normal wing, and it showed a bit. He was brutal in the face-off circle(1 for 10 on the game). Still, Tuch has really been rising up draft boards in recent months and it's easy to see why. He's an excellent skater for 6'3", has a really good stick, and showed some soft hands around the net to create a good scoring chance. Guys like that are really hard to find. He didn't produce a lot this weekend, but his numbers have been great on the season. He's definitely playing his way into the first round of the draft.
Jack Glover(Minnesota)-Definitely a disappointing game. He got caught out of position on St. Cloud's first goal, leaving a SCSU player all alone in front of his net(at least he wasn't alone in doing this). He got beat one-on-one and had to take a bad tripping penalty, which led to St. Cloud's second goal. I also counted a lot of turnovers and bad decisions with the bad puck. Just a bad game for a really good player. Glover was a player that I thought could push for the first round of the draft heading into the year, but I can't see that at this point, unless he had a really huge U18 tourney. Glover never quite took off at the NTDP program like I thought he might when he left Minnesota, but there's still all the tools there for him to become an exceptional player. He's probably a second round pick at this point.
Jack Dougherty(Wisconsin)- Like Glover, a talented kid that had a really rough game here. He really struggled to keep forwards in front of him one-on-one, and struggled with the puck when pressured. Overall, it sounds like Dougherty has been impressive this year with the NTDP, but again, I can't see him pushing into the first round without a really standout performance at the World U18s. There's so much upside there though that I can't see him lasting past the second or third round of the draft.
Ryan Collins(Minnesota)-He's on the third pairing behind the other two big D in Glover and Dougherty, but I actually thought he was the best of three on Saturday(which is pretty small praise, admittedly). Collins played his gaps really well and generally kept things simple and mistake-free. He's a huge kid and while he's still a bit of a project, these past two years at the NTDP have really helped him and he's trending upward. Sometimes with the NHL Draft it's not so much about where a player is as which direction he is heading. Collins is a mid-round selection, but I would think about him towards the higher end of the middle rounds as opposed to the lower end.
Shane Gersich(North Dakota)-Coming into this year, I think everybody knew that Shane Gersich could skate. He can skate really, really well. The question was whether he could develop the scoring ability to go along with it. I still don't see him as ever being the type of offensive threat a player like Schmaltz is, but his skating should still make him an effective player. Without that offensive upside, he'll probably drop into the later rounds of the draft though.
Nolan Stevens(Northeastern)-Stevens is very much a project, but I can see flashes of big potential. He's uses his frame to protect the puck along the boards pretty well He was outmuscled in a couple board battles, but that won't happen for long. He's missed a good chunk of time in Ann Arbor due to injury, but if he can stay healthy, and fill out, I think he could make a very solid, dependable power forward.
Anders Bjork(Notre Dame)-Hard-working two-way forward. Not exciting, but can play both ends of the ice really well.
Ryan Bliss(Cornell)- Just about a half-step slow in terms of foot speed, which was really exposed against a faster team. That will probably keep him from being more seriously looked at earlier in the draft, but probably worth taking a shot at later in the draft.
Nathan Bililtier(Notre Dame)-A smaller puckmover. He struggled at times on Saturday, but as he matures, should be a very reliable player. Showed some nice agility and poise to create a shooting lane for himself from the blue line a few times.
Joe Wegwerth(Notre Dame)- A 6'3" 200+ lbs., he's certainly got the size for the pro game, which makes him intriguing, but I'm not sure has the hands or skating to be much more than a grinder at the pro level.
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