Last week’s NAHL Showcase was a major stop on the scouting circuit for players in their NTDP/USHL draft years. Some of the top U16 teams in the country were playing under the watchful eye of scouts from around junior hockey, as well nearly every NCAA program.
This early-season event used to be one of the first looks at the given year’s age group, but that’s not really the case anymore. The legacy of this year’s 2001 age group will be the year when recruiting and committing to players at the U14 age level really took off. An unprecedented number of players in the ‘01 age group came into this event with college commitments already in hand.
Watching them play, there was certainly a lot of talent, but the increase in commitments is not the result of some generational level of talent in this age group. There seems to be a lot more guessing and hoping on the part of college teams when it comes to commitments because there’s very little consequence if it doesn’t work out.
In the past, college teams had avoided much scouting at the U14 level because it’s an uneven indicator of success at the college level in all but the most extreme cases. There’s a big difference hockey at the U14 level and hockey at the U16 level, and at least early on, it appeared that some players struggled to make the jump to the faster, more consistent level of play. The game becomes a lot faster and the amount of hockey sense needed to succeed increases greatly. Of course, it’s still early, and those players may continue to develop and adjust. But I strongly suspect that by the time these players are 18-19 years old, quite a few of these commitments will not have stuck.
Here are my thoughts on some of the top ‘01 players from the NAHL Showcase(plus Tuesday’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s/Minnesota Blades game). Players are broken into three categories: ‘A’(NTDP/USHL tender potential), ‘B’(Likely USHL Futures pick), and ‘C’(Possible USHL Futures pick).
Egor Afanasiev-F-Little Caesars-Afanasiev was one of the top prospects in his age group in Russia last year, and has moved over to the US. He’s a special talent. He’s got big size and an incredible handle on the puck. He’s not super fast, but is a very smart player and the puck seems to find him. He was exciting to watch every time he took the ice.
Alex Turcotte-F-Chicago Mission(Wisconsin)-Turcotte is the top line center on the very, very good Mission U16 team. His ability to handle the puck and make skill plays in traffic is elite. He’s not huge, but is very strong and plays with a wide base that makes him difficult to knock off the puck. He’s got potential as a great playmaker at the college level.
Robert Mastrosimone-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Boston University)-Mastrosimone is a smaller player, but he’s very noticeable because has tremendous speed and always has the puck on his stick. He showed some high-end vision with an amazing assist on Tuesday night too.
Jackson Jutting-F-Team Southwest-Playing in the Elite League against older, quality competition makes it harder for a young player to stand out, but Jutting didn’t look out of place at all. He’s a smart, solid hockey player that is smooth and efficient with everything he does.
Hunter Weiss-D-Chicago Mission(Notre Dame)-A big, rangy defensive defenseman. I really like his ability to move at his size and think he’s got a lot of upside.
Kaden Bohlsen-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Minnesota)-Bohlsen is a pretty smooth skater for a player of his size, and he displayed great hands with a nice finish for a goal on Tuesday. He has a lot of potential as a skilled power forward.
Jake Hale-F-Team Southeast (Minnesota Duluth)-I didn’t see Hale this weekend—Elite League games get bumped down the priority list because I’ll see them so many times later in the year—but I’ve seen him enough to know he’s one of the best skaters in this age group.
Mike Koster-D-Minnesota Blades(Minnesota)-Koster has shown steady improvement since the summer. He played on a D pair with Tyler Borsch and they were the best D pairing for the Blades. He’s one of the smoothest skaters in this group. If anything, he was a little too conservative this weekend because he has the talent to push things offensively.
Cam York-D-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Boston College)-York was the only ‘01 to make the Shattuck Prep team. Unlike past D that have made the Prep team in their USHL draft year(Ryan Lindgren, Josh Maniscalco), York isn’t overly developed physically. But he’s a smart, reliable player that does everything well. As he continues to grow, he should turn into an excellent player.
Josh Nodler-F-Honeybaked(Michigan State)-A strong, reliable two-way center with some nice offensive upside.
Drew Helleson-D-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Boston College)-Helleson didn’t show as much of his offensive upside on Tuesday, aside from playing at the top of the point on the top PP unit, but he was smooth and effective in moving the puck and has a ton of upside.
Mack Guzda-G-Honeybaked-A huge goalie from Nashville. Didn’t see a ton of work in the game I watched, but looked good when called upon.
Luke Toporowski-F-Chicago Mission(WHL signed)-Lots of hype, and he ended up with decent statistics, but was pretty quiet in Mission’s toughest games . There’s no doubt he’s a tremendous, strong skater, but he doesn’t really create many offensive opportunities unless it’s with his speed, and with the rest of the field starting to catch up physically, that’s becoming harder to do.
Clay Hanus-D-Minnesota Blades-A very talented defenseman that is a powerful, smooth skater, but had a little trouble with his decision-making and puck-moving at the faster U16 speed compared to some of the other times I’ve seen him.
John Farinacci-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Harvard)-A high-profile newcomer from New Jersey that centered Shattuck’s top line. He played an overall very solid game, and generated a few chances, but overall wasn’t flashy.
Ryder Rolston-F-Little Caesars-Son of Brian Rolston. He’s not as physically mature as some of the other top players in this group, but he’s got really smooth hands, and once he fills out, he’s got a lot of potential.
Michael Mancinelli-F-Honeybaked(North Dakota)-Another kid that is a really, really good skater, but struggled to do much with the puck against better competition.
Grant Silianoff-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Notre Dame)-Silianoff is really strong and pretty good with the puck, but his skating is going to be a bit of a concern as he progresses.
TJ Koufis-F-Chicago Mission(Wisconsin)-A very strong winger that isn’t very flashy, but does everything pretty well.
Shane Griffin-F-Minnesota Blades-A very good skater for his size, and he isn’t afraid to play a more physical game. He’s got excellent upside as a high-energy power forward.
Mitchell Miller-D-Honeybaked- Young for an ‘01, but pretty strong for his size. A solid defender and showed some offensive upside with a big shot on the PP.
Nik Norman-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s(Minnesota)-Norman is good with the puck on his stick, but his skating is just okay for a player his size.
Cole Caulfield-F-Team Wisconsin(Ohio State)-A small player, but very quick and feisty. Not afraid to stick his nose into play.
Javi Ubarri-D-Team Illinois
Evan Orr-D-Little Caesars
Eric Bargholtz-F-Team Wisconsin
Rob Christy-F-Minnesota Blades
Dylan Davies-F-Chicago Mission
Johnny Johnson-F-Chicago Mission
Alex Vlasic-D-Chicago Mission
Pat Guzzo-F-Little Caesars
Huston Karpman-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s
Michael McAuliffe-D-Team Meijer
Tyler Rollwagen-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s
Charlie Schoen-F-Minnesota Blades
Griffin Streeter-F-Shattuck-St. Mary’s
Drake Baldwin-F-Team Wisconsin