I made the trip to the newly rebranded USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan on Tuesday to see the NTDP U18 squad host the Chicago Steel in a USHL game.
After giving up the first goal, the U18s answered back with a pair of goals from Joey Anderson and Adam Fox to take a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the first period. Michael Pastujov extended the lead to 3-1 with a goal early in the second period. Chicago's Brandon Duhaime answered back 40 seconds later, but Trent Frederic's goal later in the period gave Team USA a 4-2 lead. After a quiet third period, Fox added his second goal of the game into an empty-net to ice the game.
As it is with every NTDP U18 game, this was a heavily scouted game. All but three players on the NTDP squad and a number of players from Chicago are eligible for the NHL Draft this year.
Some notes on some of the Draft-eligibles in the games:
It was generous of USA Hockey to cut first rounders Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows from the World Juniors so that I could get the opportunity to see them here. Keller looked like his usual self. He always has the puck on his stick and is such a good stickhandler and playmaker. There are going to be questions about his size, but for a little guy, I think he uses angles and leverage well to win battles and his quick stick allows him to dig out pucks along the boards. The size isn't enough to scare me away from all the positives he brings. I have Keller pushing the top 10 on my draft list.
Bellows got off to a slow start, but ended the night with a pair of assists. He's really the perfect compliment to Keller. He's got a big strong frame with a heavy shot and soft hands to make skill plays. Skating and defensive play were average, and I would have liked to see him work a little harder for better position in the offensive zone, but even on an off night, he was impressive. I rank Bellows as a mid-first rounder.
The third player on that top line is often forgotten, but Joey Anderson is a good prospect in his own right. It's easy to understand why he's overlooked. He had a goal in this game, but it was a tap-in after Bellows made a great pass to Keller, and Keller deked around two guys and made a nifty cross-ice pass. The thing I love about Anderson though is that he plays with such a high motor. He competes really hard, and has some nice skill to back that up. He's not a guy that drives possession, but is very good in the right role. I have Anderson as a 2nd rounder right now.
Centering the second line, I thought Trent Frederic had a nice game. His skating has really improved over his year and a half at The Program, and he's got great hands that allow him to make plays in traffic. He doesn't use his size often, but he is big off enough to fight off checks when he wants to. I have Frederic ranked in the second round as well.
With forwards Graham McPhee and Will Lockwood out, the US forward line-up got a little bit thin after that. I thought it was a really good game from Nick Pastujov. He did a tremendous job of keeping his feet moving and playing with speed in both directions all night, and the puck just had a way of finding him. I could see Pastujov pushing the top 100 of the Draft if he keeps playing like that. James Sanchez, Keenan Suthers, Zach Walker, and Keegan Howdeshell are all late-round project types.
The defense doesn't have as many great pro prospects, especially with Chad Krys in Finland for the World Juniors. Ryan Lindgren had a strong game before leaving midway through the third with an injury. Lindgren is a great skater and plays a solid, reliable game. The big concern is that he isn't all that different as a player now than he was at 15 years old, which leads to some questions about his long-term upside. He won't be a star at the next level, but good, dependable D are hard to find. I have Lindgren ranked in the second round.
Beyond Lindgren, there aren't many clear-cut finished products on the blue line. I love the upside on Griffin Luce, who is a big kid that is a really smart player.(Sidenote: Does going to Michigan scare teams away from a defenseman at this point?) Adam Fox had a strong game last night. He showed the poise and footwork to change his shooting angle and get shots through to the net. A lot of people like the size and physicality of JD Greenway, but his struggles handling the puck when facing pressure really scare me. Michael Campoli had a rough game. Matt Hellickson doesn't get much Draft hype--he didn't even make the 'Everybody Gets A 'C' Rating Central Scouting List'--but I thought he played a really quiet, dependable game. He didn't make any sensational plays, but made the simple, solid play every time.
For the Steel, Max Zimmer is the player most likely to get drafted next summer. Zimmer is an excellent skater, which is enough to get him some serious looks, but he just hasn't had much offensive production this year. Unless he's carrying the puck up the wing on a rush, he doesn't play with the puck on his stick all that often, and he doesn't quite have the hands to keep up with his feet. He's probably worth a late round pick though, just with the hope that the offense catches up with him.
Selects Academy forward Greg Printz made his USHL debut with the Steel. It's tough to judge a kid joining a team midseason in his first game. He looked as you'd expect, which is not quite on the same page as everyone. He's got a solid 6'2" frame and skates well though. He showed a little jam to his game as well. I was intrigued enough by his upside that he might be worth a late round pick.
Defenseman Matt Kiersted had a quiet game. Kiersted has never been a blazing skater, but made up for it by being such a great puckhandler and passer. But I don't think those abilities are going to be enough to overcome questions about his lack of size and skating ability.
Second year eligible forward Tanner Laczynski drew some late steam for last year's draft, though ended up going unpicked. He's having another strong year this year, and could draw some attention the second time around. Laczynski has good speed, and uses it effectively. He's always getting into open space and plays with the puck on his stick quite a bit. The big knock on him is that even though he's 6'2", he doesn't play like it.