For the third consecutive year, the NTDP U17 team made a trip to New Hope, Minnesota to compete in a pair of games against teams from the Upper Midwest Elite League. The U17s are just two weeks away from participating in the World U17 Challenge, their biggest tournament of the year, this year held in Dawson Creek/Fort St. John British Columbia.
The U17s won both games against Elite League teams, as expected. But this year's games felt a lot closer than the past two seasons where it felt like the NTDP absolutely bombed their Elite League competition. Saturday's game against Team North was close for the first period before the NTDP pulled away, and Saturday's game was tied after two periods before the NTDP pulled away in the third. It was really more of a case of the NTDP's depth, being able to run four lines and seven defensemen, that made the difference rather than an overwhelming talent.
Comparing this year's team to the previous two iterations that have come out here at this point in the season, I would say this year's group is a little down. I'm not sure there's a definite high NHL draft pick in the bunch like Max Jones/Clayton Keller/Chad Krys last year or Noah Hanifin/Zach Werenski the year prior(Auston Matthews was out due to injury at the time). I can definitely see some kids rising to that level, but I'm not sure anyone is there yet. And it just didn't seem like this group moved the puck around as well as previous groups have done. But on the positive side, I think this might be the deepest group top-to-bottom that I've seen. It will be interesting to see how that plays out on the international stage in a few weeks.
Here were my notes on each player from this past weekend's games:
Michael Pastujov(Michigan)-If there's an elite offensive talent on this team, it's Pastujov. He's got decent size and a strong wide frame that he uses to protect the puck in traffic. He handles the puck well and is able to catch tough passes at speed. He's very dangerous one-on-one because of his ability to stick handle through players and he finished off a couple plays with nice goals.
Grant Mismash(North Dakota)-I think he only had one goal on the weekend, but it felt like he could have had four or five. He sees the ice well and can create open lanes for himself and his teammates with his skating and puckhandling ability. But most impressive is the way he is able to stickhandle in heavy traffic and still create quality offensive chances.
Josh Norris(Michigan)-I didn't get a chance to see Norris last year because he missed so much time due to injury, but I loved the way he played here. Everything he does is simple, quick, and strong. He was tremendous along the boards and responsible defensively as a centerman. His game should translate really well to the next level.
Joey Cassetti(Boston College)-Only played in Saturday's game. I thought he had a bit of a rough year last season, but he looked like he was back to playing his game here. He was taking advantage of his big frame to protect the puck along the boards and using his hands to set up teammates. At his best, he can be a very skilled power forward.
Jacob Tortora(Boston College)-Small and speedy. He showed good acceleration and decent hands. He'll be a little more effective when he adds a little more strength and learns to use his teammates a little more effectively.
Sean Dhooghe(Ohio State)-It's kind of funny to see 5-2 136 lbs. listed on a line chart. There's no denying that Dhooghe is small, but there's some real toughness there. He was not afraid to go to the front of the net and take a beating. He set up one goal on Saturday by crashing the net hard, drawing two defenders to him and opening up space for a teammate to bang home a rebound. If he keeps doing that, it doesn't matter how small he is.
Graham Slaggert(Notre Dame)-Slaggert isn't the most exciting player, but has always been so smart and dependable. That becomes a little less valuable as these kids move up the ranks and everybody starts to understand the game a little better, but it's still an asset worth having. He's very dependable up the middle.
Scott Reedy(Minnesota)-There's a lot of talent and upside there. Reedy is a great skater and has the tools to be very effective, but had a quiet weekend for the most part.
Logan Hutsko-Hutsko is quick with really soft hands. He's tough to contain in 1-on-1 situations. He has the ability to be a very good passer, but doesn't always use that ability like he should. He just needs to get a little stronger and a step faster to be more effective on the offensive end.
Brady Tkachuk(Boston University)-He didn't create a lot on the offensive end of the ice, but he was impressive defensively.
Logan Cockerill(Boston University)-He creates so much with his quickness. He's not much of a finisher, but he opens up so much space with his speed and he's effective defensively.
Randy Hernandez-He can really fly around the ice, but he's still extremely raw. If he can figure out where he needs to be and add a little more strength, he has a lot of upside.
Evan Barratt(Penn State)-Barratt showed off some good playmaking skills. Skating could improve a little bit, but he's effective for a lower line player.
Nate Knoepke(Minnesota)-There isn't really a true star defenseman in this group but Knoepke might be the best bet to develop into one. The combination of his size and skill is so impressive. If he becomes a little more aggressive in using his physical advantage he could develop into a really good player.
Josh Maniscalco(Minnesota)-He handles the puck well and moves it effectively. He showed good willingness to push the play offensively, and tried to jump into the rush a few times. He just needs to pick his spots a little better. He also plays with a really tough physical edge which makes him tough to play against.
Phil Kemp(Brown)-Quiet steady and reliable. He keeps things simple offensively, but makes the safe, effective pass well. He's a passable skater, so sometimes he can get into trouble when he has to pivot quickly or change direction. His gap control is very solid.
Max Gildon-Gildon has so much physical talent, but it's going to take some time for him to develop into a more complete hockey player. There were a lot of sloppy mistakes with the puck that will need to be cleaned up.
David Farrance(Boston University)-Plays a very similar style to Chad Krys on the U18, but a very poor man's Chad Krys. He can push the play offensively and handles the puck extremely well, but his skating isn't quite at the level to be really elite. He's not a bad skater by any means, but just not good enough to play that style and be really effective. He's a bit too soft with a gaps too because of the skating deficiencies.
Quinn Hughes(Michigan)-He made a couple big mistakes, but for the most part, was a very cerebral puck mover. I think he understands the game very well and should become a little more consistent with experience.
Tyler Inamoto(Wisconsin)-A big rangy defenseman. He's a physical presence in the defensive end, but sometimes can get caught out of position and end up running around a little too much. He has improved his discipline since last season--I can't recall him taking a penalty in either game--which makes him a more effective player.
Dylan St. Cyr(Michigan)-St. Cyr started on Saturday and had a strong game, including stopping this penalty shot. St. Cyr is very different from the type of goalies the NTDP usually picks, which are big, pro-style goalies that are maybe a little rawer. St. Cyr is very developed for his age. He's smart, he positions himself well. Still, 5'7" is 5'7" and there's just more net to shoot at on a goalie that size. I'll be very interested to see how he holds up once the US starts playing some more talented international competition that can pick corners a little better.
Adam Scheel(Notre Dame)-Scheel is a little more of a traditional NTDP goalie. He had a solid game on Sunday, not really standing out one way or the other.