I mentioned yesterday in my write-up of the top '99s at the NAHL Showcase, that a player's junior draft year is the first time scouts really start paying attention to them, but it's certainly not the last time.
Last spring, the '98-birthdates were the players being selected in junior drafts, and many of the best are just beginning their junior careers here. But players develop at different times, and there were a lot of very good '98-birthdates at the NAHL Showcase that have developed over the past six months and will be drawing junior and college interest down the road. I subscribe to Bob McKenzie's theory that youth hockey is like a ladder, with players always moving either up or down. Here are some of the '98s that appear to moving up the ladder
Collin Adams-F-Honeybaked U16-Captain of Honeybaked's team and maybe the best overall player in the U16 division. He's small, which was why he was a bit overlooked last year, but he just keeps working and making plays every shift.
Nick McKeeby-D-Honeybaked U18(Western Michigan)-McKeeby was already pretty highly regarded by just about everyone, but he was impressive here again. An elite skater. It's just a matter of time before he's playing up in the USHL.
Kristian Afanasyev-F-Honeybaked- A big-bodied Russian kid that was playing on a line with Chemelevski and Lodnia early in the tournament and looked great. Nice mix of size and skill. Relatively unknown right now, but won't be for long.
Alex Green-D-Chicago Mission U16-Green was a very good skater last year, and appears to have added a little more muscle this year, making him an even more effective player.
Dalton Gally-D-Omaha U16-Last year, to me, he was tall and not much else. But he's really grown into his body and looks a lot more fluid, allowing him to use his size more effectively as a punishing defensive defenseman.
Casey Mittelstadt-F-Elite League SE-He flew under-the-radar a bit in his draft year because he played Bantam hockey rather than high school, but he's been tearing up the Elite League on Team Southeast with linemates Odeen Tufto and Nick Swaney. He's a natural goalscorer, and should be making a college commitment fairly soon.
Ethen Frank-F-Omaha U16(Western Michigan)-He was just okay to me last year, but this year, he showed the ability to completely take over a game with his speed and skill. He still has room to fill out, but he's a very nice player.
Myles Cunningham-D-MNEPDL Gray-Like Gally, Cunningham was a kid last year that showed flashes of what he was capable of, but wasn't quite there yet. He's really smoothed things out over the past year, becoming a stronger skater, and more assertive with the puck. He handles the puck pretty well, and with his size and strength, he has the potential to be an excellent offensive defenseman.
AJ/Christian DiCesare-D-Omaha U16- The twin brothers from New Jersey are playing with Omaha this year. I was really impressed with both at Lincoln's tryout camp this summer, and they had a strong tournament here. AJ is slightly more regarded than his brother, but both are really solid players.
Ian Kwant-D-Little Caesars U16-Overlooked a bit last year since he played in Maryland, but he moved to Michigan this year and is captaining Little Caesars U16 team. A huge kid, and while there are some mobility issues that come along with that, he's a pretty nice player.
Zach Noble-F-New Jersey Titans U16- I hadn't seen him play before but I was impressed in the game I watched. Listed at 6'2" and still has room to fill out his frame. Strong on his stick and showed some nice finishing ability.
Justin Brandt-F-Little Caesars- A little guy with really good hands and offensive capabilities.
Joe Abate-F-Chicago Mission U16-Flew under the radar playing with Chicago Fury last year, but he's earned a spot on Mission's top line this year, and scored the game-winner in their game against Honeybaked
Davis Bunz-D-Team Wisconsin U16-I thought he should have been on TW's U18 team this year, and he did skate up with them on Saturday. I don't think he drew enough attention on a loaded TW U16 team last year, but he's a very good player.
Trenton Bliss-F-Team Wisconsin U16-Another kid that was borderline to make the U18 team this year, and played up with the U18s on Saturday. He was the best forward on the U16 squad.
Michael Karow-D-Team Wisconsin U16- Karow has a really late birthday, which might have been why he was overlooked a bit last year. But he's a big kid and was very reliable on the blue line for TW.
Jason Smallidge-D-Elite League Southeast-Smallidge doesn't get talked about a lot, but he has really held his own in the Elite League this year, which is not an easy thing to do.
Mitchell Chaffee-F-Honeybaked U16-Could just as easily mention Justin Whited or German Samvel here. All three kids are absolute trucks out on the ice for Honeybaked. They're not big offensive producers, but they play a very heavy, physical brand of hockey.
Mark Willson-D-MNEPDL U16/Jack Johnson-F-MNEPDL Gray/Spencer Ovshak-D-MNEPDL U16-Different styles of play, but all three are pretty similar in that they've got some talent, and but weren't quite as physically developed as the top kids last year. They've all grown a little bit in the past year and are starting to show some promise, but still have a ways to go. They'll be worth watching this year.
Jack Stanger-D-New Jersey Titans U16-I don't think he ever left the ice when I saw the Titans play.Smaller play. Very reliable all-around defenseman.