The US Under-18 National Team Development Program played games on back-to-back weekends in Minnesota against the University of Minnesota two weekends ago, and Minnesota Duluth this past weekend, and I was on hand for both to see how this year’s squad stacked up.
The results were wildly different, with the U18s losing 9-0 to Minnesota, but clawing out a late 2-1 victory over Minnesota Duluth. Don’t let the 10-goal difference fool you though. Strange as it may seem, the U18s were outplayed almost as badly in the win as they were in the loss, as Minnesota Duluth kept the U18s penned in their own zone most of the night. Some poor execution in finishing by UMD, and a lucky break at the end of the game may have given the U18s the win, but it certainly didn’t inspire any more confidence in this team.
Followers of the NTDP have been spoiled in recent years with superstar talents like Clayton Keller, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel at forward and Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski on defense, but it’s worth remembering that isn’t necessarily the norm for this program.
At forward, there’s a lot of good future college players here, but there’s no one that I think would be a great college player right now. They really lack that explosive force like Keller/Matthews/Eichel that could break down a defense with their explosive speed and help create opportunities for their teammates.
On the blue line, there’s a lot of size, and a lot of potential, but the ability and hockey sense to handle pressure at the college level just isn’t there yet. Last Saturday’s game against Duluth was a parade of terrible breakouts, and a night spent mostly in their own zone.
So it’s a bit of a down year, but not necessarily one that is unprecedented. Hopefully they can pull it together enough by the end of the season to take back the World U18 crown.
Here were my notes on the individual players, including a rough NHL Draft projection.
Josh Norris(Michigan)-There’s a lot to like about the way Norris plays the game. He’s a good skater with a very strong frame. He shifts his weight really well to protect the puck allowing him to bring the puck through the neutral zone and gain zone entry. He plays a hard-nosed two-way game, and is comfortable at the center position, which increases his draft value. The downside is that Norris lacks elite hands and finishing ability. He’ll create opportunities by driving hard to the net with or without the puck, but has trouble with difficult passes and isn’t likely to make a skill play to create offense. I would say late-first/early-second round for Norris, with a higher probability that he gets pushed down a little bit by teams taking home run swings on less-proven, but higher ceiling prospects in the top 30.
Grant Mismash(North Dakota)-Mismash has some high-end offensive tools. He’s really good at handling the puck in traffic, and he can fire a heavy snap shot. His skating holds him back a little bit, so he’s more effective when he can play zone-to-zone, rather than an up-and-down game. His best moment came against Duluth when he made a nice fake in the corner to get a defenseman off balance, then lowered his shoulder to make a strong power move to the net. That’s where I think his game is going forward—working in tight spaces down low to make things happen. He doesn’t have a huge frame, but is strong. Drew Stafford might be a good comparison. I’d project him somewhere in the early-to-mid second round at this point.
Michael Pastujov(Michigan)- I see flashes of a really good player with Pastujov. He had a confident finish on the game-winner against Duluth. He put a puck off the cross-bar against Minnesota, which was the closest anybody got to scoring. But that ability isn’t there consistently enough. He lacks an explosive first step, which limits his ability to make plays with the puck. I think he might be more effective if he was paired with a skilled playmaker that could help create space for him and getting him the puck in more positions to use his heavy shot and natural finishing ability. I’d put Pastujov in the second round because I’m intrigued by his ceiling, but I may be a bit optimistic on this one.
Scott Reedy(Minnesota)- After leading this team in scoring last year, Reedy has just one goal and four points through 12 games. I’m not quite sure what happened, but he hasn’t looked like the same player as last year. He was very quiet in both games. I still think he’s got some talent though, and is interesting as a late-2nd/early-3rd round pick.
Brady Tkachuk(Boston University)(2018 Draft)- He was very quiet against Minnesota, but had a nice short-handed goal and a beautiful pass that was almost a goal against UMD. He’s an okay skater that makes up for his lack of speed by being smart. He does everything pretty well, but I’m not sure he has one standout elite quality.
Evan Barratt(Penn State)- Not a fast skater, but he hustles. His best asset is his playmaking ability, but struggled to get much going in either game. If he can get a little faster, he has some good offensive upside. He’s probably a mid-round draft pick.
Graham Slaggert(Notre Dame)- Slaggert is a really dependable player. There’s not much offensive upside, but he pressures the puck really hard defensively, blocks shots, and does all the little things. There’s probably a spot for him to get picked in the later rounds of the draft.
Jacob Tortora(Boston College)- A little player that relies on his speed to make plays. He’s the only player on the team at over .5pts/gm against the NCAA(4 pts in 6 games). He’s willing to stick his nose into tough areas, and his quickness makes him sneaky effective.
Logan Cockerill(Boston University)- Cockerill is very similar to Tortora. He’s small and willing to battle for pucks, but at his size, it’s tough for him to be effective.
Joey Cassetti(Boston College)- His big frame is still intriguing from an NHL standpoint, so he’s worth keeping an eye on, but is still struggling with the speed of the college game. He saw very little ice late against Duluth.
Randy Hernandez- Like Cassetti, he’s relegated to the fourth line and didn’t see much time in tight situations. There’s still some potential, but he hasn’t quite developed from the raw player he was when he came into the program like some had hoped.
Sean Dhooghe(Wisconsin) Dhooghe pretty much maxes out what a player that is 5’3” 138 lbs. can do at this level, which is limited when he’s giving up 70-80 lbs. to the competition. He has some decent offensive instincts when he can get time and space, and works hard on the defensive end of the ice. He’s a good shot-blocker and the U18s use him in key defensive situations.
Quinn Hughes(Michigan)(2018 Draft)- Hughes was the most effective defenseman in terms of moving the puck out of his own zone because he’s able to use his great skating ability to skate the puck out of the zone frequently. He maintains good gaps defending one-on-one as well. My biggest complaint is that sometimes he trusts himself a little too much, opting to try and stickhandle around a forechecker when he’s the last defenseman back, rather than making a safer play.
Max Gildon(Wisconsin)- A player with Gildon’s raw physical tools should be a slam-dunk for the first round of the draft. But I’m not sure that he has the hockey sense to match it. His huge shot from the point is a big asset that I’d like to see used more often. He’ll probably somewhere in the second round of the draft.
Tommy Miller(Michigan State)- Miller has a pro frame and is a strong skater. He doesn’t quite have the offensive ability to project as a PP guy at the pro level, but he’s good enough that he won’t be an offensive liability. He struggled a bit defending one-on-one. I’d project him as a 2nd/3rd round pick at this point.
Tyler Inamoto(Wisconsin)-Inamoto is a big, rangy defenseman that covers a lot of ice due to his size and athleticism, making him tough to beat when he’s playing defense. His discipline has really improved too, as he’s cut out a lot of the dumb penalties he took when he was younger. The problem is that his puck-handling and passing is a liability, which means he spends too much time in his own zone defending. I’d put him as a mid-round pick, but can see some team falling in love with his size and toughness.
Nate Knoepke(Minnesota)- Knoepke had two really quiet games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all things considered. He showed a decent ability to withstand pressure and still make a play with the puck to keep possession. There’s not much of an offensive side to his game, and he doesn’t make the impact on the game one would hope from a player with his size and athleticism, but he’s a solid player. Probably a 3rd-4th round pick.
David Farrance(Boston University)- Theoretically, Farrance should be the dynamic offensive force for this team on the blue line. He’s got lightning quick feet and great agility which allows him to get himself out of pressure with the puck, but he rarely does anything with the extra time and space that he creates. Again, likely a mid-round pick.
Phil Kemp(Yale)- Kemp is a pure defensive defenseman that is better when he doesn’t try to do too much. He had a really ugly game against Minnesota, but rebounded with a quiet, solid performance against UMD. He’s a potential late-round draft choice.
Josh Maniscalco- Maniscalco doesn’t play as much as the other defenseman 5-on-5, though they use him quite a bit in penalty kill situations. It speaks to his defensive abilities, where he’s a strong, physical presence, but he doesn’t play an overly dynamic game.
Adam Scheel(Notre Dame)- Scheel started against Minnesota and was pulled after giving up four goals in the first period. He’s got a pro-style frame and moves pretty well. He just hasn’t stopped that many pucks this year. Some of that is the team in front of him. I couldn’t particularly fault him for any of the four goals. But he’s got to stop more than four out of every five shots if he’s going to be drafted.
Dylan St. Cyr(Michigan)- Not really an NHL prospect at 5’8”, but he had a very strong game on Saturday. He gets out of the net and handles the puck well, which is a plus.