Last Saturday, the NTDP U18 team made their only trip of the season to Minnesota to take on Minnesota State University in an exhibition game. Here’s a brief recap of the game, a 5-3 victory for the Mavericks. Minnesota State is an older, more experienced team, and one of the better college teams in the country, so they were able to handle the youngsters from the NTDP fairly easily, but the U18s were able to show off some of their incredible skill and keep the game competitive throughout. It was quite a palate cleanser to remember that hockey can be a fun, skilled game a night after watching Notre Dame play.
This team has to be among the most closely scouted in the world, so there are probably no big secrets here. I can’t say my opinion on anybody drastically changed because of this game. But it was good to get some reinforcement as we get later into the year and draft rankings are beginning to reach some consensus.
Here are my notes of the NTDP U18 players. College commitment and Central Scouting Bureau mid-term ranking(NA skaters) in parenthesis.
Jack Hughes(Uncommitted, 2019 eligible)-When I saw Hughes play with the U17s at the beginning of the season, I said he was a top-five draft pick in his draft year, and it has turned out that I was a little conservative in that projection. He’s pulled way ahead of the pack to look like the number one overall pick in 2019. Hughes got called up to the U18s about midway through the season and has been centering their top line and running their top power play unit. He has produced too. He was held off the scoresheet on Saturday, but still has six points in five games against NCAA schools.
Hughes won’t turn 17 for another three-and-a-half months and the lack of physical maturity was evident even compared to his teammates, let alone the opposition, which was 6-7 years older in some cases. Any negatives you might come up with stem from that. He’s got a beautiful stride and skating pattern, but just didn’t quite have that extra gear that’s going to come when he builds his lower body up some. He wasn’t much of a factor along the boards or in his defensive end. The biggest complaint is that he’s not as much of a goal-scorer. His shot will improve as he gets stronger though.
But any time he gets the puck on his stick, something special is going to happen. I can’t think of another player at this age, going back to Patrick Kane, that could handle and pass the puck like he can. He’s going to be an incredible player, and is worth the price of admission every time I see him.
That said, he remains uncommitted and I can’t see him playing college hockey. He’s likely going to prove everything he needs to prove with the U18 this year. Is there much gained by going back for another year? Even if he did, he’ll be ready for the NHL immediately after being drafted. There is the possibility of him accelerating his schooling to be NCAA eligible next year—I haven’t heard one way or the other on this—but even then, is it worth it to shoot pucks at a wall of defenders for 36 games or go score 150 points in the OHL.
Oliver Wahlstrom(Harvard, 7th)-The NTDP shouldn’t have had as much offensive success as they did considering they got almost nothing in the prime scoring area. But that didn’t matter for Wahlstrom, who scored two goals, both on nasty wrist shots from above the tops of the circles that beat the goalie clean.
Wahlstrom is a tremendous shooter and always going to look for his shot first, but he showed a little more depth to his offensive game than I’ve seen in the past. In the past, I thought he relied on his abilities one-on-on a little too much, but he made a couple passes that showed really nice vision here. He even made a crafty play to set up his first goal when he flipped the puck over the head of a defender to Joel Farabee for a zone entry. He also made a nice power move to the net, where he turned the defenseman inside-out with his stick-handling, which he has always been able to do, but then used the advantage to gain leverage on the defenseman and power his way to the net.
I would have put Wahlstrom in the top-15 of the draft before this, but he’s definitely top-10 in my mind now.
Joel Farabee(Boston University, 11th)-Just a smart, talented offensive player with a great stick. He handles the puck beautifully, and makes a lot of really nice, quick passes. He plays the PK for the U18s as well. I think he lacks the explosive skating to be a really elite star player, but would make a perfect complementary first liner at the pro level. I could see him going somewhere between 10 and 20 in the draft this summer.
Jake Wise(Boston University, LV)-Wise missed the first half of the season due to injury, which kept him off the CSB ratings. He’s scored at a decent clip since coming back, settling into the role of a second line center, and playing on the top PP unit.
Wise is a solid player, but is always going to have to fight expectations for him a few years ago when he was compared to the likes of Jack Eichel. He’s a very good, strong skater, which is why he was so dominant at the younger levels, but lacks the elite hockey sense to really thrive now that everyone else can skate too. The middle rounds of the draft are littered with guys like that.
Jonathan Gruden(Miami, 48th)-I’ve always liked Gruden. He’s not a flashy offensive player, but he can move the puck around a little bit, and works hard to make a lot of hustle plays. He’ll be a solid contributor for any team he plays for. Lack of scoring upside makes him a borderline second round guy for me.
Trevor Janicke(Notre Dame, 2019 eligible)-Janicke got off to a rough start with the U17s last year, but has developed to become a solid player for the U18s this year. His skating remains his best asset. Probably a mid-to-late round pick next year.
Patrick Giles(Boston College, 19th)-NHL Central Scouting loves this guy. I’m not sure I see it beyond him being very tall. The ceiling is certainly very high, but he was a non-factor in this game. He’s much more of a mid-round project pick that you hope pans out then someone you’d risk a first round pick on.
Gavin Hain(North Dakota, 85th)-Similar to former high school teammate Mitchell Mattson, Hain is a good example of why scouts want to push players to play in better leagues. I don’t think staying in Grand Rapids would have changed the trajectory of Hain’s career in any appreciable way. But if he had stayed and dominated in HS again, odds are he might have been a second or third round pick. Playing with the NTDP this year against much faster competition, Hain’s skating ability has kept him from being able to use his terrific shot as much, making him a less effective player, and probably pushing him into the later rounds of the draft. Playing up doesn’t necessarily make a player better, but it does make them easier to evaluate.
Jacob Pivonka(Notre Dame, 69th)-Still a very smart, solid overall player, but after being at the top of this age group a few years ago, he’s beginning to look like an early developer that may not have as much upside as some others in this group. Did good work on the penalty kill. Still a good player that should go in the middle rounds of the draft though.
Tyler Weiss(Boston University, 71st)-Size is going to be a bit of a concern for NHL teams, but I like his offensive ability. He could sneak into the third or fourth round of the draft.
Jack DeBoer(Boston University, 197th)-Overall a nice player, but very limited offensive upside at the next level. I’d still give him a better shot to be drafted than Central Scouting does with their ranking.
Erik Middendorf(Uncommitted, 206th)-No longer committed to Denver. Middendorf has some exceptional 1-on-1 puck skills, but hasn’t quite developed the team play necessary to succeed at this level. Again, I’d still guess some team will take him somewhere in the draft.
Bode Wilde(Michigan, 22nd)-Wilde has the size and light feet of a top pairing NHL defenseman. But I’ve always questioned if he handles the puck well enough to be a top guy at the NHL level. I love his skating; he showed the ability to jump into the rush as a fourth forward. Sometimes he gets himself out of position and tries to use his superior athleticism to recover—which he couldn’t get away with as much against college speed—but that’s correctable. He was good when he was making quick decisions with the puck, but isn’t that effective when the puck is on his stick too long.
I still think late-first round where Central Scouting has him is a little too harsh. Somewhere mid-first round like where Bob McKenzie had him(14th to be exact) feels more accurate.
Mattias Samuelsson(Western Michigan, 17th)-He finished the game with three of the quietest assists you’re ever going to see. But that speaks to how effectively he gets the puck out of his own zone and up the ice. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he does a pretty good job defending and making the simple play. Late first round feels about right. He lacks the offensive upside to be a true top pairing guy in the NHL, but should be a reliable player.
K’Andre Miller(Wisconsin, 31st)-All of the NTDP defensemen struggled in their own zone, with Miller having the toughest time. That said, I still love his upside. He’s big, and strong and has the ability to handle the puck. A few years playing defense-first college hockey should teach him the nuances of D-zone coverage. The offensive upside he has can’t be taught though. The NTDP always has more guys sneak into the first round of the draft than projected, and I think this year Miller could be that guy that surprises everyone when he goes on the first day.
Ty Emberson(Wisconsin, 57th)-Emberson is another player I’m high on, even though he kind of a rough game here. Took a bad interference penalty early in the game, and got hit with a major penalty for boarding late(though I think that was more the officials trying to keep a lid on the game). But I really like his calm, steady presence on the ice. He does a lot of little things well like maintaining good gaps and retrieving pucks that make him a very effective player. Central Scouting is probably close on where he’ll go in the draft, but I might edge it a little higher personally.
Adam Samuelsson(Boston College, 66th)-A big defensive defenseman. His feet are a little bit heavy, otherwise he would likely be ranked way higher. A solid mid-round pick, but not enough upside to go any higher.
DJ King(Uncommitted, Not ranked)-Another big body. Kind of reminds me of Clint Lewis when he played for the NTDP. Lewis has been a very solid college defenseman for Minnesota State, but an NHL future isn’t likely.
Drew DeRidder(Michigan State, 28th(NA goalies)-DeRidder didn’t have his best game here, but again, very few 18-year-old goalies are going to look good playing college teams. He moves well and competes hard. With experience, he should be a very solid goalie at Michigan State, but at 5’10”, he’s probably not going to draw much interest from the NHL.