The NAHL Showcase is one of the first major events of the hockey year, and the start of a new cycle of finding the best young players in the nation. This year, players born in 1998 take center stage, as they will be scouted and evaluated for next year's NTDP U17 team, the USHL Phase II(Futures Draft), and the OHL and QMJHL drafts.
This year's NAHL Showcase featured a lot of the top talent in the 1998-age group. This was one of the rare opportunities to see so many of the best players all in the same place, on the same day, and have the ability to compare and contrast them. It would not be surprising if a good percentage of the players invited to the NTDP Tryout Camp this April came from teams that participated in this tournament. With that in mind, here's my listing of players that could be invited to the NTDP Camp later this year.
Clayton Keller-F-Shattuck-St. Mary's(Boston University commit)-Keller made his debut with Shattuck's top team this weekend and looked exceptional. Not very big, but continues to draw comparisons to Zach Parise, for his natural scoring ability, combined with his ability to play in the defensive zone as well.
Ryan Lindgren-D-Shattuck-St. Mary's(Minnesota commit)- Lindgren is second on this list, but I heard more than a few people call him the best '98 in the country. Lindgren is a tremendously powerful skater, and seems to have a very natural feel for the game. He picks his spots to be aggressive offensively very well, and very rarely forces anything.
Max Jones-F-Honeybaked U18- I really, really liked this kid's game. He's got a big frame at 6'2" with a lot of room to fill out. He's very strong on his stick, and that, combined with the way he uses his size, makes it near impossible to knock him off the puck. He's a pretty good skater for his size, competes well on both ends of the ice and loves to hit people. Once he adds some more weight(listed at 198, but no where near that), he should be a monster. Should be an interesting battle between NCAA/OHL. His older brother plays for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, but his dad played for Red Berenson at Michigan.
Joey Anderson-F-Team Northeast(Minnesota-Duluth commit)-Like many of the Minnesota Elite League players(outside of Shattuck), I don't think Anderson had his best performance here, but he's still one of the most talented players in his age group.
Jake Toporowski-D-Chicago Mission U16-Toporowski was the top defenseman on a very good Mission team. He doesn't necessarily shine in any one area, but he skates pretty well, uses his size, and is very strong on his stick. Very consistent, and made a lot of players. He's the son of legendary WHL goon Kerry Toporowski, and was a 3rd round pick of Spokane in last year's WHL bantam draft.
Patrick Khodorenko-F-Honeybaked U16-Of all the talented '98s on Honeybaked's roster, Khodorenko was the most consistently dangerous offensive threat, made all the more impressive by the fact that he's a late '98 birthdate. His soft hands and excellent allow him to run Honeybaked's top power play unit and put up a lot of points. He was a 2nd round WHL draft pick of Everett.
Mitch Eliot-D-Honeybaked U16(Michigan State commit)-Eliot is a huge load, but still moves pretty well laterally, making him extremely difficult to beat one-on-one. A rock solid defensive defenseman.
Kieffer Bellows-F-Team Southwest-Bellows got the call up to the main Elite League two weekends ago. Being one of the youngest kids on the ice, he didn't necessarily stand out, but his skill and upside as a power forward is evident. He handles the puck very well, and has excellent hockey sense.
Nick Pastujov-F-Honeybaked U16- Just a slight step behind Khodorenko, but still an elite talent. Pastujov's offensive skill means he'll almost definitely get an invite to NTDP camp.
Garrett Wait-F-MN Elite D League-Wait missed the full game I saw of the Elite D League team, but was pretty good in the other half-game I saw, and I've seen him enough elsewhere to know he's got a pretty good chance of being selected. He's calm and poised with the puck, and has a big frame. He should only continue to get better as he fills out physically.
Mitch Lewandowski-F-Honeybaked U16(Michigan State commit)-Maybe the best pure passer in this age group. He's the type of player that makes all his teammates look better.
Cole Weaver-G-Omaha U16-Weaver wasn't tested much, playing on a loaded Omaha team, but he was solid when called upon. I'm not as sure what the rest of goaltending field looks like, and I'm hardly an expert on evaluating goalies, but Weaver has been the best I've seen so far.
Alec Semandel-D-Chicago Mission U16-A big kid that doesn't do a lot to stand out, but the closer you watch him, he's very responsible and reliable.
Austen Long-F-Team Northwest-The third '98 from Minnesota that made the Elite League. Long skates hard, and brings a nice physical presence. Not quite sure if the offensive skills are there though. He reminds me a lot f Ethan Price from last year.
Noah Lalonde-F-Honeybaked U16(Michigan Sate commit)-Overshadowed a bit because Honeybaked has some huge offensive weapons, but Lalonde has some offensive skill of his own and might be the most complete player on his team.
Matt Kiersted-D-MN Elite D League- Kiersted is one of the best offensive defenseman in this group, but needs to improve on the defensive end.
Riley Tufte-F-Minnesota Blades U16-Intriguing size at almost 6'5". Will definitely be a player to watch throughout the year.
Davis Bunz-D-Team Wisconsin U16-One of the few '98s on the Wisconsin team that won the U16 division. Looked good defensively and contributed a bit on the offensive end.
Ethen Frank-F-Omaha U16-I don't know if he quite as the upside of some of the other kids in this group, but is a very solid, hard-working player that does a lot of nice things out on the ice.
James Sanchez-F-Chicago Young Americans U16-CYA played very well in this tournament, despite not having a lot of big names. Sanchez is a big kid that skates pretty well. Not as offensively developed as some of the players ahead of him, but a nice two-way forward.
Casey Staum-D-Minnesota Blades U16-Staum is an excellent puck-moving defenseman. He always has his head up and is looking to make a play up the ice.
Ryan Carlson-D-Chicago Mission U16-Played alongside Toporowski all weekend and looked very solid.
There were a few top Canadian '98s at this tournament as well, that obviously aren't NTDP eligible, but are worth adding for sake of comparison:
Tyler Benson-F-POE U18-Benson was the #1 overall draft pick in last year's WHL bantam draft, and was the best '98 forward here. He was a step faster than every other '98, and made some amazing plays at high speed. He looks like a special talent.
Dylan Williamson-F-POE U18-4th round pick of Prince Albert and has already signed with them. Another kid that can really fly. His offensive skills are quite as elite, but he's got a nice frame,and should develop into a nice player for the Raiders.
Ralph Jarratt-D-POE U18-2nd round pick of Victoria in the WHL draft and has already signed. Raw, but he has a pretty big frame. He's probably a couple years away from really making an impact in the WHL, but he's got some nice upside once he fills out a little bit.