The NAHL Showcase is one of the first major scouting events of the hockey season, and a prime opportunity to see many of the top players in the 1999 age group that will be scouted for next year's NTDP U17 team, the USHL Futures Draft, and by the CHL. A few players have already made college commitments, and there will likely be more made as the year progresses.
Last year, as a way of previewing this group, I categorized the players based on likelihood of being invited to the NTDP's Evaluation Camp next March. A year later, that listed ended up looking pretty good, and seemed to be an effective way of previewing the group, so we'll do the same this year. Here's my view of the best 1999s I saw last weekend:
Alex Chmelevski-F-Honeybaked-We've had Chemelevski as the top player in this age group for a while, and while he wasn't dominant at this tournament, he showed enough to remain there for now. He's a fast, strong kid and I love the way that he competes. He might not be as much of a scorer as the rest of the field catches up to him in terms of strength, but he should be an effective player at a high-level for a very long time.
Vanya Lodnia-F-Honeybaked-I loved the high-end skill he brought to the game last year, but thought he played a little soft. This year, he's developed a little more strength and gotten faster, while still maintaining his playmaking ability. If he keeps developing into a more complete player, he might have the most upside of any forward in the group.
(Sidenote since a few people have asked: Both players have Ukranian parents, but were born and grew up in southern California, so they're American citizens and eligible for the NTDP. Both players were ruled eligible for the OHL Draft this year, rather than the WHL Draft last year. Also, I've seen their first names spelled both ways, but Chemelevski goes by 'Alexander' instead of 'Sasha' while Lodnia is going by 'Vanya' rather than 'Ivan'.)
Scott Reedy-F-Shattuck-St. Mary's(Minnesota commit)-Reedy earned a spot on SSM's top line and for large stretches, looked like the best forward on the team. He's a very complete player despite his age, doing everything pretty well. Didn't score a goal on the weekend, but had a beautiful snipe on Friday night that went in a half-second after the buzzer.
Grant Mismash-F-Shattuck-St. Mary's-Mismash isn't as good as Reedy in the open ice, but I love the way he plays around the net, which gives him more long-term potential as a scorer. He battles for position well and has soft hands that allow him to make plays in tight spaces.
Christopher Trouba-D-Compuware-Not quite to his older brother's level yet, but the potential is there. Skating can be a little rough, especially in open ice, and he doesn't have a huge bomb from the point, but he plays his position well and hits with purpose. He needs time to develop, but the upside is enormous.
Matt Anderson-D-Elite League Southwest(Minnesota Duluth commit)-I didn't make any of SW's games this weekend, but after seeing him play the previous two weeks, I'm confident he's up there. Outstanding vision and hockey sense.
Cole Coskey-F-Chicago Mision(Miami commit)-Coskey is a power winger with excellent footwork that brings a lot of energy to the Mission lineup. With his size and skating, he's very difficult for opponents to handle.
Mike Anderson-D-Elite League Northeast(Minnesota Duluth commit)-Anderson moves well and plays with a very good physical edge. Anderson's toughness should make an excellent complement to Matt Anderson's skill for Duluth some day down the road.
Josh Maniscalco-D-Shattuck-St. Mary's-Opened the season playing on Shattuck's top D pairing with Jordan Klehr. There's a lot to like about Maniscalco's game. He skates well, has decent size, and makes excellent decisions with the puck. He got lost in the defensive end a number of times, which is understandable this early in the season. If he cleans things up on the defensive end, he'll be a big-time prospect.
Baron Thompson-F-Omaha-It's almost a guarantee that he'll end up signing with Victoria in the WHL, but he's still a very nice player. He's a huge kid, and unlike most kids that tall at that age, he's actually been that big for quite a while, so he's a lot more comfortable and coordinated that you'd typically see.
Graham Slaggert-F-Chicago Mission(Notre Dame commit)-He plays such a mature, detail-oriented game. He's got a great stick and wins a lot of puck battles. Definitely the leader of his team; the kind of player you'd love on your team even if he's not scoring goals.
Ryan Poehling-F-Elite League Southeast(St. Cloud commit)-He's already a pretty physically developed kid for his age, and he relies on that physicality more than skill, so upside might be a bit limited, but he shows signs of becoming a very effective two-way winger.
Sean Dhooghe-F-Chicago Mission(Ohio State commit)- He's a kid that is really going to divide people, because he's very fast and supremely skilled, but he's listed at 5'3" and there are going to be questions about if he can maintain his level of play against bigger, stronger competition. He was very impressive here though. An explosive skater and above average shot for his size.
Dylan Mills-F-MNEPDL U16-Mills is tall, but still very lanky. He uses his size and big reach to protect the puck well and has a quick release on his shot. He gets up and down the ice pretty well for his size too. He'll need time to fill out, but I see lots of potential.
Nate Knoepke-D-Minnesota Blades-There's some rough edges that need to smoothed out, but he skates really well for a player of his size. He's the type of high-potential player the NTDP loves, especially on defense.
Connor Mayer-D-MNEPDL U16-Mayer's ability to handle the puck for a defenseman is elite level. He competes on the defensive end, but needs to get a little stronger to be more effective.
Clayton Phillips-F-Minnesota Blades-Skating has always been excellent. I thought he had a nice game against Honeybaked. The faster pace forced him to use his teammates a little more, and he showed a little more jam, which led to a first period goal. The talent is there, with the right push to break him of some bad habits, he could be high-end.
Isaac Johnson-F-Minnesota Blades- Very inconsistent, but when he's good, he's really good. Silent for the first two periods in the Blades game against Honeybaked and then the best player on the ice in the third period. Really strong on his skates and when he's engaged in the game, he can outskate just about anyone.
Cameron Babiak-D-Honeybaked-Honeybaked's most reliable defenseman. He's a solid player with the upside to develop into a really excellent player. He's got a very heavy shot that he got through for a nice goal against the MN Blades, makes decent decisions with the puck, and has a strong stick.
Mick Messner-F-Team Wisconsin-Short, but very strong, especially in his legs, which makes him an incredibly powerful and fast skater. Willing to go into dirty areas and compete for pucks.
Brayden Watts-F-Arizona Bobcats(Signed with Moose Jaw)-Looked good here, and looks like he still has room to grow and fill out his frame. Once he does, he'll have a really nice mixture of skill and size. Already signed a WHL deal, but worth watching.
Dylan St. Cyr-G-Honeybaked-I'm naturally skeptical of any goalie on a team as good as Honeybaked because they rarely see that many shots, but St. Cyr really held Honeybaked in their game against Chicago Mission though with a couple highlight reel saves. The goalie group here didn't strike me as all that impressive, but St. Cyr was one of the best.
Wyatt Bongiovanni-F-Honeybaked-Didn't stand out at first because his skills aren't spectacular, but I loved the way he competed. Decent size and not afraid to play a physical game. He should develop into an excellent two-way player.
Graham Lillibridge-D-Chicago Mission- A tiny defenseman, which the NTDP tends to shy away from, but every time he touches the puck, he's going to put it right on a teammates tape no matter how much pressure he is under.
Jaden Shields-D-Little Caesars-If he were two days younger, we'd be talking about him next year with the 2000 birthdates. Despite being so young, he's a pretty solidly-built kid, and effective on both ends of the ice. Solid in the defensive zone, and has the skill to make some plays on the offensive end.
Cooper Haar-F-CYA- A big kid that didn't have his strongest game when I saw him play, but the potential is evident.
Patrick Smyth-F-Compuware-He's got a big frame and plays up the middle for Compuware. He's not a finished product yet, but he's got the potential to develop into a nice power forward.
Trevor Mikyla-D-MNEPDL U16- Mikyla is a little defenseman that doesn't look like he'd be as quick as he is, but he has tremendous agility. Size will always be a question mark, but he'll be very good on the offensive end.
Jackson Decker-D-CYA-Struggled a bit with the puck, but his skating is top notch. A definite USHL draft pick, and potentially an excellent puck-moving defenseman down the road.
DeVon Fields-D-Little Caesars- He does everything pretty well, but doesn't shine in any particular area. Nice size at a listed 6'1" and if he gets a little quicker and a little more assertive, he could be a high-end player.
Joey Keane-D-Chicago Mission-Reminds me a lot of teammate Ryan Carlson last year. Not a flashy, high-end talent, but plays a very solid, quiet game, and should develop into a reliable player down the road.
Hunter Lellig-D-Chicago Mission-His skating is a little rough, but he plays a pretty smart, safe game and makes his presence felt with physical play.
Chase Brand-F-MNEPDL U16- A tiny, tiny kid, but I love how hard he is on the puck. He doesn't back down at all. He's also got some nice skill. Once he starts to fill out, he could be a really impressive player.
Sammy Walker-F-Minnesota Blades-He's small, but plays with serious speed. Distributes the puck pretty well. Both of his older brothers played in the WHL.