The NTDP U17 team made their second annual trip to play a pair of games in the Upper Midwest Elite League this past weekend, and I was on hand to get a look at some of the best talent in the United States.
The U17s were dominant on the weekend, winning 8-2 over Team Southeast on Saturday in which a penaltyfest kept the score relatively close, and blowing out Team Southwest 11-1 on Sunday.Coming into the weekend, I thought this year's U17 team was a little weaker than last year's, and this year's Elite League teams were a little better than last year's, so the games might be a little closer than last year when the NTDP dominated. Instead, it went in the other direction.
And that's good news for the U17s because there's a bit more urgency for their team in mid-October of this year. The World U17 Challenge, the most important international event on their schedule, was moved this year from its' usual spot in late December to the first week of November. They'll also be facing a tougher field at the World U17 Challenge this year as Canada no longer fields five teams based on regions of Canada, instead opting for only three all-star teams each made up of players from across Canada.(While no one admit on the record, both changes to the tournament were in response to the NTDP's success in the tournament). So it's a positive sign to see this team playing so well this early.
Here's what I saw out of the NTDP U17s this weekend, which now, I guess, can double as your preview for the World U17 Challenge coming in two weeks.
First line: Max Jones - Clayton Keller(BU) - Joey Anderson(UMD)
There's not a Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews-type talent on this year's team--three year's in a row would be almost greedy--but if there's a top 10/top 5 NHL Draft pick in the group, the smart money is on Jones. Jones is listed at 6-2 189 lbs., but moves really well for his size. I don't think I've ever seen a player that loves body contact as much as he does. He landed three or four big checks in the neutral zone. When he's holding the puck in the corner and a defenseman comes at him, he's looking to lower his shoulder and hit that guy before he can get. He even backchecks incredibly hard, mostly it seems because if catches the puck carrier--and he's fast enough that he usually can--he can throw another check. The downside is that he picks up a lot of penalties because he's so big and so fast that if he bumps in somebody, that player is going down, but his effort is worth that trade-off.
On the offensive end of the ice, I would like to see him play with the puck on his stick a little bit more, though he did score an absolutely dazzling goal on Sunday where he made two or three great fakes as he looped around the perimeter. He was really dangerous coming down the left wing on the 3-on-2 rush because if he gets a pass, he's got the strength to one-time a shot from the top of the circle and put a heavy shot on goal. That's an NHL-caliber play that just never see at this level.
Jones is uncommitted right now, and while he's taken visits to a lot of big name schools, the decision likely comes down to Michigan, where his dad played, or the London Knights of the OHL, who gambled by drafting him in the first round of last year's OHL Draft.
Centering the top line is BU commit Clayton Keller. I thought Keller was fantastic on Saturday, and just good on Sunday. The thing that really stood out both days is just how patient he is with the puck. He scored an amazing goal on Saturday that showed off some really good puckhandling skills. He's a small kid and his size will likely make him divisive among scouts gong forward, but he's got above average hockey sense, and should be a very valuable player.
Joey Anderson was the quietest of the three on the top line, but still tremendously skilled. He's got great puck-handling skills and sees the ice very well. His strength makes him strong on his stick with an above average shot. But he needs to get a little faster, as he struggled keeping up with Jones and Keller at times.
Second line: Graham McPhee(BC) - Trent Frederic(Wisc) - Will Lockwood(Mich)
McPhee is a really smart, detail-oriented player that does a lot of little things, but what separates him from similar players is that McPhee can do all of those things at a faster pace than other players. I think he's only going to get better and better. He's got good hands, but isn't a tremendously gifted-natural scorer. He surveys the ice really well in the offensive end though, which will allow him to pick up his fair share of points.
Trent Frederic has really good skill for a player over six feet tall. His feet sometimes look a little too heavy to play the center position, but he uses his footwork to be really deceptive in close quarters in the offensive zone. He's more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, though he did score a goal on a quick shot from the high slot on Sunday(I think everyone scored on Sunday). He's not very physical for his size, but that area of his game could develop with time.
Will Lockwood is a scrappy little player that looks better than he has any right to because he's always flying around at 100mph and not afraid to sacrifice his body to make a play. He still needs to develop physically, and once he does, he should be a really effective two-way forward.
Third line: James Sanchez(Mich) - Patrick Khodorenko - Nick Pastujov(Mich)
There's a lot of skill and offensive potential on this line, but it just doesn't show up as consistently as it does for the top two lines.
James Sanchez was listed at 6'1" but looked and played bigger than that. Skating is a bit rough, but he was effective along the boards on the cycle, and showed really good hands in tight space in front of the net to score goals, including a backhand top shelf.
Khodorenko showed some slick stick-handling abilties in the open ice when he got space to build up some speed, and his instincts in the offensive are very good. When's he good, he's really good, but those flashes were only coming once every two or three shifts. He's a younger kid, so if he can find a way to develop that consistency, he could develop into a really high-end player.
Same goes for Pastujov. He's got room to get a little stronger and faster, but he did show some ability to go into dirty areas and fight through checks to make plays in the offensive zone. When he gets a scoring chance, he knows what to do with the puck.
Fourth line: Keenan Suthers(WMU) - Keeghan Howdeshell - Paul Washe
A true grind line with some big physical players. Zach Walker got injured earlier in the season and will likely miss the World U17s, which is a shame because his speed would add another dimension to this line. Suthers is the biggest player on the team at 6'5". When he fills out a little more, his potential is sky high. Howdeshell is a smart, responsible center. Washe is a really young '98 that has potential which he gets a little quicker with his feet.
Chad Krys - Ryan Lindgren(Minn)
Krys is the biggest standout of the group. He consistently joined the rush as a fourth forward, yet I didn't see a single instance where he got caught out of position and didn't make it back into his position. It's like there were two of him out there. He's super-patient with the puck because any time he is pressured, he can use his superior skating ability to spin away from trouble and keep possession of the puck. He holds both blue lines really well because he doesn't have to worry as much about getting beat with his skating ability. Even the one time I saw him get beat--Dylan Malmquist came down the wing 1-on-1 with him and Malmquist made a nice move that got Krys to cross his feet over--he was able to recover with two quick strides and still make the play.
In the offensive zone, he's definitely looking to pass first. His shot is okay, but not special.He's got tremendous vision though, and did a terrific job finding passing lanes.
Krys is still uncommitted at this point, with Moncton(QMJHL) holding his CHL rights. His dad is a former captain at BU, so they might hold an edge, but he's a potential star player, every big school will give him their best shot.
Ryan Lindgren plays a quieter game in comparison to Krys. I think the engine was revving a little too high for him early Saturday morning playing in back at home, and he started a little sloppy, but once he settled down, he had a strong weekend. He's not huge, but he's so strong on his skates that he rarely gives up ice. He's a fiery competitor too. His ceiling might not be as high, but his skating and toughness will make him a valuable player for a long time.
James Greenway - Adam Fox(Harvard)
Greenway is the one big, physical presence on an otherwise smaller, speedy defensive core. His best asset is that he's a nasty player to play against. But his hands are also soft enough that he can stickhandle around somebody with the puck if necessary. He's pretty lanky right now, and he'll need to become a little more fluid and better with his feet. Right now, he's defending a little too much with his hands and stick and not enough with his legs.
Fox is a puck-moving offensive defenseman that displayed a good outlet pass. He's not as strong in the defensive end though, and struggled a bit defending forwards one-on-one.
Matt Hellickson(Notre Dame) - Michael Campoli - Matt Kiersted(North Dakota)
Hellickson had a big crowd watching him as he returned to his home state, and got off to a really rocky start as a result. But he scored a goal in the third period of Saturday's game, and after that, began to look like his old self again. When he's playing well, he's a tremendous passer and makes really smart, safe decisions with the puck.
Campoli is a dual-citizen out of Quebec. Not his strongest pair of games here, but he's got good size, and decent skill to go along with it.
Matt Kiersted filled in on the weekend with Michigan commits Griffen Luce and Luke Martin out of the line-up. Kiersted has been impressive in Elite League play so far. He's got great puck-handling abilities for a defenseman and is very smart in the offensive zone. He's not a very big kid, and there might be some concern about how he'd hold up in the defensive end against international competition, but overall, he'd be an asset to the team if they ended up needing to call somebody up to play in Sarnia at the World U17s.
Joseph Woll - Jake Oettinger
Each goalie played one game. There's not much to say at this point. Oettinger was barely tested on Sunday. He gave up in the goal in the final 30 seconds of the third period on Sunday, after going the first 19 minutes of the period facing a single shot that came from outside the blue line. Woll had a little more action on Saturday. Both are big pro-style goalies that use their size well. It's tough to draw too many conclusions based on this weekend, but I've liked what I've seen of Woll in the past, and think he should hold up well internationally.