The 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game is Tuesday night at 7:00 CT at the Mystique Community Ice Center, the home of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. For those unfamiliar, the United States Hockey League (USHL) is the top developmental league in the United States and top feeder of NCAA college hockey in North America. Tuesday's game brings together 40 of the league's top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft, including three players listed as 'A' players by NHL Central Scouting.
The rosters for the game were announced on Dec. 30, but have undergone some tinkering due to injuries. USHL.com, the league's official website, has set up a 'Game Hub' where rosters, statistics and player bios can be found. The three 'A' players are Kyle Connor, Brock Boeser and Tom Novak. This observer watched all three players in the 2014 USA Hockey/CCM All-American Prospects game back in September in Buffalo.
Connor, a Michigan commit who plays for the Youngstown Phantoms, is known for his tremendous speed. The Shelby Township, Mich. native has 12 goals and 22 assists in 27 games played this year in the USHL. He's got a good compete level and strong closing speed.
Boeser and Novak are linemates in Waterloo whose playing styles compliment each other nicely. Boeser, a Wisconsin de-commit, has reopened his recruitment. He's a dynamic right wing who is an elite goal scorer. He has plenty of international experience, including this past summer's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in which he had five goals and six assists in five games. His shot, with a quick release, is pro-ready. His play in his own zone and in the gritty areas could use some improvement. His offensive upside is through the roof, but he needs to prove he has the toughness that NHL teams will be looking for in a first round draft pick.
Novak, a Minnesota recruit, is more of the play-maker with incredible vision. A River Falls, Wis. native who played high school hockey at St. Thomas Academy, he has six goals and 21 assists in 27 USHL games this season. His skating stride is pretty to watch and he brings a lot of energy each and every shift. He's got to bulk up, but his hockey IQ is an asset that NHL teams will like when watching him play.
Providence recruit and Cedar Rapids forward Erik Foley is a player this observer really enjoys watching, but he'll miss Tuesday's game with an injury. He's projected as a second or third round pick, but he's a player that could jump up in the draft.
A player who impressed at the USHL Atlantic Challenge and at the USA Hockey/CCM All-American Prospects Game is western New York native Joe Cecconi. He's a big six-foot-three blue liner who isn't flashy, but he is a very reliable defender. He's strong and physical without taking himself out of plays with unnecessary hits.
"He's a big defenseman. He has good mobility, has the skills and attributed needed to be a really good defenseman," said Todd Krygier, his Cecconi's coach in Muskegon and a former NHLer.
As much as the big names such as Connor, Boeser and Novak will garner much of the attention leading into tonight's game, some of the lesser known players, the 'C' players, could benefit the most. NHL scouts are at almost every USHL game, but if a player has a big night on this stage, it could really help his draft stock.
As is the case in many of these showcases, defense is sometimes optional. Every player wants to impress NHL scouts and gain attention by way of flashy plays.
Team West is coached by Cedar Rapids RoughRiders coach Mark Carlson, a UMass Lowell alum. Union alum and Sioux City Musketeers coach Jay Varady will coach Team East.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.