USA Hockey's Select 16 Festival brought together many of the top '98 born hockey players in America to the Northtown Center in Amherst. This observer got to check out the last four days of action - seeing some players for the first time while also recognizing many players from prior viewings.
The following rankings have been broken down into forwards, defensemen and goaltenders. It got much tougher to rank players further down, but it was an interesting task. The description and evaluations of some of the lower ranked players should be read into more carefully than a specific ranking. One last thing to keep in mind is that this observer didn't see the first two days so some players who had a good first few days, but didn't fare as well towards the end of the week will be ranked accordingly.
Players are uncommitted unless otherwise noted.
1. Evan Wisocky (#8 Black) 5-11/175 LI Gull U16 - The Paramus, NJ native was really impressive at the camp. He has good vision and finds seams to hit open teammates. He had good chemistry with his linemates and did a terrific job of maintaining possession of the puck down low.
2. Jack Kopacka (#16 Grey) 6-1/180 Detroit Compuware/Soo Greyhounds (OHL) - The more I saw of the Metamora, Mich. native, the more I liked his game. He goes to the net hard, he has elite skill, makes nice passes and has good speed. He made a really nice backdoor pass on the power play that just showed his awareness on the ice.
3. Jordan Robert (#10 Kelly) 5-10/170 St. Lawrence Thunder/Gunnery Prep - He was a relative unknown to almost everyone at the camp except western NY observers. He plays a bigger game than his size. The Massena, NY native has good offensive instincts to go along with some silky hands. He has good speed and his game should flourish for Chris Baudo at the prep level this fall.
4. Riley Tufte (#9 Kelly) 6-4/195 Blaine High School (Minnesota-Duluth) - A big power forward who will continue to be more of an impact when he consistently uses his strength and size to drive the net. When he takes charge in the offensive zone, he's nearly impossible to stop. He's a real good get for Scott Sandelin.
5. Garrett Wait (#18 Grey) 5-11/165 Edina High School - He's the type of player you have to watch for a little while before truly appreciating the skill he has. He's a very smart player who doesn't possess the flash. He just gets the job done with quick sharp passes in the zone. He has good hands, good speed and good vision from behind the goal line.
6. Keenan Suthers (#8 Kelly) 6-5/180 Compuware U16 - The Tecumseh, Ontario native who has dual citizenship crosses the border to play midget hockey with the intent on going the NCAA route, according to a source at the festival. He's a huge, hulking forward who can take over a game with his ability to drive the net and bowl through traffic. He also has good skill and speed for a player of his size. He was a scoring machine at the tournament.
7. Henry Crone (#18 Royal) 5-8/145 Dallas Stars Elite U16 (Boston University) - Another player whose skill became more apparent as the week went on. He is a great stick handler with good speed, but perhaps most impressive was his ability to read plays and anticipate where his teammates would be and where to find pucks.
8. Chris Grando (#14 Forest) 5-9/152 LI Gulls U16 - He was one of the major snubs from the all-star game in this observer's opinion. He has good speed with a strong initial burst. He also had a good hockey IQ and had a quick stick especially in traffic.
9. Sam Sternschein (#15 Black) 6-2/180 LI Gulls U16 (Cornell) - He's a power forward who did a good job of being a net front presence here, including scoring a nice tip-in goal for the game-winner in one of the games here. He also has a good head of steam on the forecheck. He really fits the mold of players Big Red coach Mike Schafer likes to have in his program.
10. Kieffer Bellows (#11 Red) 6-1/190 Edina High School (Boston University) - This observer didn't think he truly showed what he's made of until the All-Star game. Admittedly, he was playing on one of the weaker teams here during pool play. He's a power forward who likes to throw his weight around. He made several jawing hits during the camp, but then came alive on Sunday. He drove to the net and scored two goals, as he was one of the better players in that game. He's got a quick release and is strong on the puck. He reminded me a little of Ottawa Senators draft pick Shane Eiserman with perhaps a little more offensive upside.
11. Max Gerlach (#14 Gold) 5-9/155 Colorado Thunderbirds U16 - The Texas native is a player who brings a lot of intangibles to the rink. He's strong and good on face-offs. He has good awareness of the ice and had a real nice turnaround wrist shot goal in the all-star game. Would be shocked if CC or DU didn't make a hard push at him, if they haven't already.
12. Liam Murphy (#15 Kelly) 6-1/210 Avon Old Farms (UConn) - He is a man amongst boys when he turns on the jets. He's a big, physical player who can knock opposing defensemen off the puck. He's got a hard shot and drives the net. He was a little inconsistent at this tournament, but it's hard to tell if some kids are just worn out from all the hockey they play. It is July after all.
13. Christian O'Neill (#11 Kelly) 5-10/155 Belmont Hill - This ranking might be a little high, but he had a good tournament. He has good puck skills and made some nice crisp passes that showed his vision from the sidewall.
14. Dante Palecco (#9 White) 5-11/170 LI Gulls U16 (Yale) - The Yale recruit had a nice tournament. He's strong, can control the puck, especially along the half wall and he has good offensive instincts. He probably projects as more of a second or third liner who will play with energy and chip in offensively, but he's a nice player. He needs to be a little more consistent being strong on pucks and attacking the play.
15. Brandon Puricelli (#10 Black) 5-10/160 St. Louis Blues AAA - He played on a line with Wisocky during much of the tournament. He did a very good distributing the puck in the offensive zone. He made some real nice sauce passes and had some good stick handling skills as well.
16. Grant Cruikshank (#17 Kelly) 5-9/170 Milwaukee Junior Admirals U16 - Another player who might be a little high, but he had a strong week. He has good bloodlines and is a player who could be a really good third liner in college. He drives the net well for a player his size. He has some nice moves and is strong on pucks. He's got a quick release. He's a smart player who is gritty and wins face-offs.
17. John Leonard (#9 Orange) 5-10/170 Springfield Cathedral (UMass) - His scoring prowess went down as the week went along, but even so, his skillset shined. This is a player I'd seen a lot during the high school season. He has a quick release and gets shots off even under duress. He's a good lateral skater and stickhandles through traffic with ease.
18. William Knierim (#12 Columbia) 6-2/208 Chicago Mission (Miami) - He's a power forward who had a good tournament. He uses his body nicely to fend off defenders from the puck. He's a player whose stock could continue to rise with playing a more consistently strong game and using his size as an asset all the time.
19. Jamie Armstrong (#14 Grey) 6-1/180 NV River Rats/Avon Old Farms - He's a player who I believe didn't have his best tournament, possibly due to fatigue of all the hockey he's played this spring, including a USHL camp. He's a strong power forward who has the potential to grow even more. He's fast and physical and is the type of player who can win one-on-one battles.
20. Logan Drevitch (#12 Red) 5-9/153 Boston Bandits (Merrimack) - He's a small forward who seems to read plays well as he had numerous breakaway opportunities in the tournament. He's got good hands and the puck just seems to find him. He's a feisty player who isn't afraid to mix it up and go into corners. A son of a former Hockey East player, he's a real good get for Mark Dennehy.
21. Timmy Gettinger (#12 Grey) 6-3/187 Cleveland Barons U16/Soo Greyhounds (OHL) - The North Olmstead, Ohio native definitely has pro potential. He's big and uses his body to protect the puck. His speed seemed a little slower than some of the high-end players here, but he had a good offensive game and was strong around the net.
22. Richard Murphy (#12 Gold) 6-2/180 St. Sebastian's - He reminded me of Northeastern commit and late '98 Matt Filipe, just with a little less upside. He doesn't have the speed, but he's got a big frame and uses it well to maneuver through the neutral zone and cutting into the offensive zone.
23. Kailer Yamamoto (#18 Gold) 5-8/138 LA Jr. Kings U16/Spokane Chiefs (WHL) - He's a nice player, but he made a poor decision on signing with a major junior team. He has good hands, buzzed all over the ice and made things happen, but he would have been better off heading to the college route.
24. Marcus Dickerson (#12 Royal) 5-10/195 Selects Academy U16 - He really impressed this week with his energy and his tenacity on the ice. He's a real strong player who has a rocket of a shot. He backchecks well and competes hard each and every shift. He also had deceptively good speed the more you watched him.
25. Eric Esposito (#9 Black) 5-11/175 Loomis-Chaffee/CT Wolfpack (UNH) - The recent Wildcat commit didn't have the greatest week statistically, but it's evident why Dick Umile and his staff like his potential. He has terrific patience waiting for the right time to pass and letting the play develop to his advantage. He sees the ice well and has nice speed. He occasionally tries to do too much with the puck, but that will improve as he continues to develop.
26. Hugh McGing (#14 White) 5-9/145 Chicago Mission U16 (Western Michigan) - He's small, but he buzzes around the ice and plays hard each shift. He's got a good skillset, but will probably be a penalty kill specialist in college. He lacks the patience to let plays come to him at times. From all accounts at camp, he's a great teammate who will be an asset to the Broncos' program.
27. Justin Cmunt (#17 White) 5-9/166 Toronto Jr. Canadiens - He's a player I was seeing and hearing about for the first time. He's small, but moves well in the offensive zone. He is a good stickhandler with good movement and gets shots on net.
28. Ethen Frank (#11 Black) 5-10/167 Omaha U16 AAA (Western Michigan) - He has a strong stick and moves well laterally. He was persistent on the puck and had good skills. He made some flashy moves to avoid traffic.
29. Dominic Mersch (#9 Red) 6-0/175 Chicago Mission U16 (Wisconsin) - A player who didn't have as strong a tournament as he would have liked. He's a player who has the potential to be a high-end talent. Here he had good hands, was creative and used his body well. He's probably ranked too low, but was perhaps more critical of him knowing his potential and hype.
30. Kaden Pickering (#17 Columbia) 5-9/165 St. Lawrence Thunder/Northwood Prep - Small forward had a good showing here after being relative unknown coming from Tier II midgets. He's crafty with the puck and has some good speed. He will be a nice college player who could produce offensively for an ECAC team.
31. Mitchell Lewandoski (#15 Columbia) 5-9/170 Honeybaked U16 (Michigan State) - He's a strong kid despite being on the shorter side. He's not afraid to plant himself in front of the net and go into the dirty areas. He also showed some offensive skill with a nice behind the back, no-look pass in one game.
32. Michael Fahie (#15 Forest) 5-9/150 Nobles (Brown University) - A smaller player, he moves around well. He is patient and has a good hockey IQ. He makes nice lead passes in transition and has good hands as evidenced by a few really nice saucer passes here. He went from high school to prep school this past winter so he's a player that could continue to improve as he advances with stronger competition.
33. David Cohen (#8 Forest) 5-9/180 Thunder U16 AAA - He had a nice week here offensively, but he's one of those players that doesn't stick out. He isn't flashy. He just gets the job done by being in the right place at the right time and having a good awareness of where the puck will be.
34. John DeRoche (#12 White) 5-8/145 Jr. Bruins U16 (Quinnipiac) - A smaller player who has good offensive creativity. He has good vision, always has his head up and is smart. He's deceptively strong and willing to go into corners. He also plays a very economical game, not over expending energy.
35. Ben Lown (#14 Kelly) 5-7/145 Shattuck St. Mary's U16 -Has sneaky speed and really buzzes around the ice. He projects as a third or fourth line grinder who would be a penalty kill specialist at the next level, but he's a good passer and exhibits some offensive skill.
36. Sam Field (#18 Forest) 6-1/180 Choate Prep - A power forward who should find a home for an Ivy League or ECAC school eventually, he doesn't have elite skill, but he is a smart player who does everything well. He just needs to be more confident on the ice and attack the puck more than he does currently.
37. Luke Cowan (#17 Grey) 5-8/163 Honeybaked U16 - He's a pass-first guy with decent speed. He didn't immediately stand out, but he separated himself a little bit as the week went on.
38. Jon Russell (#12 Black) 5-10/155 Compuware U16 - He has good speed, the puck just seems to find him. He's in the right position at the right time it seemed like without having any true elite skillset.
39. Alexander Drobot (#8 Columbia) 5-8/174 NJ Rockets U19 (Maine) - He had a decent week offensively, but didn't really stand out. He does do a good job of going to the net and looking for pucks. He creates opportunities for himself. He's certainly a player I'd want to see more of to truly gauge his potential.
40. Ty Amonte (#16 Black) 5-9/165 Thayer Academy - He's a very good skater who goes laterally side-to-side well. The biggest problem I had with him at camp was his propensity to disappear for shifts. He'd look real good with offensive vision and skill some shifts and then others he'd be hardly noticeable. The raw talent is definitely there, but the size issue might scare off some college coaches.
41. Zachary Walker (#12 Kelly) 6-0/175 Colorado Thunderbirds U16 AAA - He doesn't have elite skill, but he does a good job of pushing the pace. He goes to the net; he's strong, physical and made a legitimate effort backchecking.
42. Mark Senden (#10 Gold) 5-10/175 Wayzata High School - He's on the smaller side and projects as a third or fourth line player in college who could be a good penalty kill specialist. He was tenacious and got his stick in lanes on the backend. Offensively he's more of a setup guy in the attacking zone.
43. Monte Graham (#10 Royal) 5-11/172 Thayer Academy - He's one of those players who won't really do anything flashy, but he seems to find himself on the scoresheet. He's a strong skater and is hard to knock off pucks.
44. Mitchell Mattson (#8 Royal) 6-3/185 Grand Rapids High School(North Dakota) - Big forward who used his strength to win one-on-one battles for the puck. He was good on face-offs here and could become more of a threat as he realizes he can use his body more to have an impact on the scoresheet.
45. Austin Grzenia (#15 White) 6-0/165 Victoria Honda U16 - Might be a little higher on him than others, but he had a nice ability to make effective centering passes and make plays with the puck. He was a good skater who could be a little bit of a hidden gem.
46. Eugene Bentley (#15 Royal) 5-8/15 Cleveland Barons U16 - He never stopped moving his feet the entire week. He had a really nice shorthanded goal that was a terrific individual effort where his persistence finally paid off. He backchecks well and could be a real good grinder and someone opponents hate to play against.
47. Jack Gates (#18 Columbia) 5-7/145 Anaheim Junior Ducks U16 - He's a small forward who will need to grow to really be considered a true Division I prospect, but there's a lot to like here. He's got good speed, a good stick and pucks just seemed to find him here this week.
48. Christopher Berger (#8 Grey) 5-10/167 Buffalo Junior Sabres U16 - He's not overly big, but he does a good job of maneuvering through traffic with a combination of speed and good puck skills. He did a nice job distributing the puck as well as finding the back of the net here this week.
49. Anthony Delgaizo (#11 Orange) 5-9/175 Delbarton - He isn't an overly big kid, but he's strong and has a good low center of gravity. He projects as more of a grinder at the college level, but he's got the ability to be an above average setup guy.
50. Nicholas Alfieri (#11 Forest) 6-0/165 Buffalo Junior Sabres U16 - He was strong on his skates and did a good job overall. The local product could afford to push the play a little more and create more opportunities by driving the net.
1. Matthew Kiersted (#4 Grey) 5-11/165 Elk River High School (North Dakota) - He stood out immediately, but I liked his game more and more as the week went along. He has good poise, vision and always has his head up. He was physical when he needed to be and pushed opposing forwards wide in his own zone.
2. Cameron Dineen (#3 Kelly) 5-11/168 NJ Rockets U19 (Yale) - Really liked his game consistely the whole tournament. He has good vision and is a real good puck mover on the power play and in transition. He's solid defensively, but perhaps not quite as strong in that category as Kiersted.
3. Ty Farmer (#7 Orange) 5-10/170 St. Louis Blues AAA (Michigan State) - He was one of the best skating defensemen here. He had a good slapshot on net from the point and was effective moving the puck up ice. He always had his head up and made crisp passes.
4. Luke McInnis (#4 Columbia) 5-10/170 Hingham High School/Dexter Prep - This was by far the most impressed I've been with him. I had seen him during the high school season and thought he was a good player, but not this good. He is a terrific skater, always has his head up looking for an outlet pass. He makes smart plays and doesn't try to do too much. He's a good power play QB who needs to be a little more consistently strong in his own end.
5. Derek Daschke (#6 Kelly) 6-1/197 Oakland Junior Grizzlies U16 - His hands and ability in the offensive zone was second to no one here among defensemen. However, he made some lazy passes and didn't always make the right decisions in the defensive zone. Two of his goals were absolute highlight reel variety and he turned heads with his skating ability and silky smooth mits.
6. Andrew Peeke (#3 Royal) 6-2/195 Selects Academy U16 - He has a lot of potential with the physical tools he has. He's a good skater and plays a simple yet impactful game in the defensive zone. He has a nice slap shot and was solid on the power play.
7. Samuel Rossini (#3 White) 6-2/180 Burnsville High School (Minnesota) - He does a good job bringing the puck up ice in transition and establishing possession for his team He makes crisp passes and does a good job reading plays defensively. He does a nice job of keeping the play to the perimeter in his zone.
8. Casey Staum (#2 Gold) 5-11/165 Hill-Murray - He was steady all week. He possessed good vision and was a fluid skater. He didn't possess some of the flash of some of the players ranked above him, but he was consistently impressive. He did a nice job with gap control and had a good sense of his surroundings defensively.
9. Alec Mahalak (#5 Royal) 5-9/160 Compuware U16 - Small defender who caught my attention more as the week went on, especially in the All-Star game. He's good in transition, has good vision and is a smooth skater. He's been taught the game well as he always seems to be in good positioning.
10. Jake Ryczek (#5 Red) 5-11/170 Selects Academy U16 (UNH) - He did a real good job all week getting pucks on net from the point, but his defensive play impressed me more as the week went on. He's strong and made some good body checks, but also had a tendency to get beat wide.
11. Michael Underwood (#2 Red) 6-0/175 Oakland Junior Grizzlies U16 - He consistently got pucks to the net and did a nice job as a quarterback on the power play. His defensive game didn't really stand out one way or the other so he didn't make any glaring mistakes.
12. Ben Gleason (#4 Red) 6-0/160 Honeybaked U16/London Knights (OHL) - Exhibited poise and was good moving the puck. He was strong defensively and did a good job keeping plays to the outside.
13. Colin McCabe (#4 Gold) 5-10/170 Thayer Academy - Impressed me this week against better competition than I had seen him against previously. He's an excellent skater, displays good vision up ice, moves the puck well and pinched appropriately. He won't do anything to wow observers defensively, but he's solid and will get better on the back end as he develops.
14. Ryan Ashe (#6 Grey) 6-0/181 Avon Old Farms - Very solid shutdown defender who exhibited his physicality on several occasions. He's not afraid to step up and use his body. He stands his ground well and forces the play wide. He needs to be more consistent making smart plays to really make the jump to the next level.
15. Alec Semandel (#5 Grey) 6-3/185 Chicago Mission U16 - He makes smart decisions with the puck most of the time. Has good vision and ability to force the play in transition. Speed and footwork will need to be addressed, but he projects as a solid collegiate defenseman.
16. Ryan Bederka (#7 Gold) 5-10/175 Honeybaked U16 (Michigan State) - He did a solid job defensively, but pushed the play and distributed the puck well. He isn't as flashy or as noticeable as some of the more high-end defensemen, but he does a good job impacting the play in a positive manner.
17. Billy Overby (#2 Grey) 5-8/150 CT Wolfpack - Small defenseman, but he makes the most of his tools. He keeps things simple and is sound defensively. He isn't flashy, but made good lead passes out of the zone and used the boards to chip pucks out.
18. Dennis Cesana (#6 Columbia) 5-9/170 Kimball Union - Another small defenseman, he does a good job being aggressive on opposing forwards. Some college coaches are scared away by his lack of size, but he gets the job done. He'll continue to get better under Tim Whitehead at the prep level.
19. Simon Butala (#5 Gold) 6-2/195 LI Gulls U16 (Maine) - The hulking blue liner has no problem mixing it up. He projects as a strong and physical defender at the NCAA level. His foot speed and propensity to get caught out of position hurt him a little here, but with more coaching, he could be a real gem for Red Gendron.
20. Mitch Eliot (#5 Forest) 6-0/175 Honeybaked U16 (Michigan State) - He's very strong defensively and keeps opposing forwards wide. He's sound fundamentally going backwards, but doesn't have the offensive upside as some of the higher ranked blue liners. He did make some poor decisions in the All-Star game and wasn't quite as smooth here as might have been expected.
22. Zachary Berzolla (#3 Black) 6-2/187 NJ Devils U16 AAA - He's a big physical defenseman who was really strong in the corner. One of the best prototypical shutdown defenders at camp, but struggled reading plays and pushing the puck up ice in transition.
23. Nicholas McKeeby (#6 Forest) 5-11/180 Honeybaked U16 (Western Michigan) - Doesn't make decisions as quickly as some of his peers, but he does a good job in his own zone. He forced plays wide and was strong in one-on-one battles.
24. Harmon Sorenson (#6 Royal) 5-9/160 Wayzata High School - He had good vision and was a strong skater. He did a good job pushing the puck up ice.
25. Tristan Moss (#7 Kelly) 6-2/209 Wayzata High School - He was a little overmatched here due to his lack of speed and inability to read plays as well as some of the higher-tiered blue liners. However, his size is intriguing and with a little more development, he could be a solid shutdown fifth or sixth defender in college.
1. Dayton Rasmussen (#30 Royal) 6-2/206 Holy Family - The big goaltender from Minnesota had by far the best numbers of any goaltender in the tournament. He was big, took up a lot of the net, had a good glove and made most every type of save thrown his way.
2. Peter Negron (#1 Grey) 5-10/155 NJ Devils Youth - Really liked how he played in net. Displayed confidence and was able to cut down on angles and make the easy save as well as the more acrobatic save. He was one of the most athletic goalies here.
3. Ryan Keane (#30 Orange) 5-9/160 Dallas Stars Elite U16 - He's the smallest goalie who stood out at camp. He didn't take up as much of the net as his peers, but he came out and challenged shooters. He was aggressive and made several highlight reel saves to showcase his athleticism. He reminded me a little bit of '97 Kimball Union goaltender and Brown commit Elijah Harris.
4. Ryan Edquist (#30 Kelly) 6-0/165 Shattuck St. Mary's (Minnesota) - At times he looked really good. He was very good on positioning and did a good job of staying composed in the net. He did let in a few soft goals in the championship game, but it's obvious he has the talent and projects as a terrific college goalie.
5. Stephen Dhillon (#1 Black) 6-3/170 Buffalo Regals - A big goaltender who takes up a lot of the net and is fundamentally sound and in position to make the saves look easy
6. Eric Dop (#30 Gold) 5-11/160 Ohio Bluejackets AAA - Did a good job squaring off to shooters and looked confident in the crease during the week.
7. Jacob Acton (#1 Orange) 6-1/155 San Jose Junior Sharks - He's a big goaltender who stayed in good position and took up a lot of the net. He did a good job of not overreacting and made several nice saves while here including one on a penalty shot.
8. Nick Sorgio (#30 White) 6-2/185 CT Wolfpack/Salisbury School - He didn't have his best week here, but he is good at finding pucks through traffic and is fundamentally sound. He let in a few soft goals, but made up for it with a few nice glove saves. Better weeks are definitely ahead for him.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSports.
Any feedback, positive or negative, is welcome on these rankings. There are other players who this observer took notes on, but didn't make the cut in the rankings. Feel free to ask for any specific player who didn't make the list.