Last week's NAHL Showcase was one of the first major events of the season for scouting the 2000-born age group which will be eligible to be selected for the NTDP or drafted into junior hockey leagues this coming spring. With both colleges and junior teams in a seemingly endless race to identify players first, there weren't a ton of major surprises. Eight of the nine players in the top grouping have already committed to a college.
Overall, the 2000 age group looks to be a little bit down compared to some previous years. There are very good players, but not many that stand out as special players right now. The good news is that there appears to be a lot of very smart, intuitive hockey players in this group which should make them effective players as they progress up the ladder.
As it has become an annual tradition, we'll preview the group by categorizing the players in order of likelihood that they'll be invited to next March's NTDP Evaluation Camp, with the caveat that it's a very busy five days during the Showcase and there's likely a few names I might have missed.
Oliver Wahlstrom-F-Shattuck-St. Mary's(Harvard)-Ignoring the circus off the ice regarding his recruitment(s), his on-ice performance here made him the best of the group. It's a dangerous comparison to make, but the way he handles the puck and can weave through defenders almost reminds me a bit of Jack Eichel(though he doesn't have Eichel's ridiculously powerful stride). He scored a beautiful goal on Friday night. He was the one player in this age group that showed really explosive high-end scoring ability.
Jacob Semik-D-Honeybaked U16(Michigan)-Extremely calm and poised, great footwork and handles the puck well. He still needs to fill out a bit, and he could stand to develop a little more aggressiveness in the offensive end when he doesn't have the puck. But his ceiling appears to be very high.
Jacob Pivonka-F-Chicago Mission U16(Notre Dame)-One of the smartest players I've seen at this level since Matt Tkachuk. He is always involved in the play because he is always in the right position to get the puck. He plays with a wide base and is very difficult to knock off the puck. His upside might not be as high as some of the other players in this group, but he'll be a dangerous, reliable centerman at any level of hockey.
Brady Smith-D-Chicago Mission U16(Wisconsin)-A quick skater and strong puck mover. He made great first passes out of the zone all weekend. He could improve his gap control when defending one-on-one. He'll be a very solid puck-moving defenseman.
Blade Jenkins-F-Compuware U16(Michigan)-Not the fastest skater, but is so dangerous one-on-one because of his ability to change speeds and direction. He's a very dangerous offensive threat with good stickhandling ability and a deceptively heavy shot. He'll need to become more committed to playing on the defensive end of the ice.
Bode Wilde-D-Chicago Mission(Harvard)-Maybe a victim of expectations being set too high, but it was a tough weekend for Wilde. His physical talents are undeniable. He's big, strong and light on his feet. But there were just way too many sloppy mistakes and poor passes. There's still time for him to clean that up, and if he does, the sky is the limit for him, but there appears to be a much longer way to go than many assumed.
Colin Schmidt-F-Omaha U16- The Wayzata forward made the move to Omaha, at least for the early part of the season. It's strange that Schmidt hasn't drawn the attention of some of the other top Minnesotan forwards in this age group, but to me, he's the best of the group. He's got size, is a decent skater for his size, handles the puck well and isn't afraid to play in traffic. All the tools to be a power forward some day are there.
Blake McLaughlin-F-Elite League North(Minnesota)-Such a sneaky good player. He's a player that understands the game well and always gets himself into the right position to make plays.
Johnny Gruden-F-Honeybaked U16(Miami)-It's impressive that he's effective as he is because he's still so skinny. Like Pivonka, he just has a great feel for the game and he's only going to better as he fills out physically.
Jaxon Nelson-F-Elite League Great Plains(Minnesota)-He's holding his own in the Elite League, which is no small feat for a player that young, but there are still questions about if he can make the jump to being a dominant player against quality competition. He'll need to get better at using his frame in traffic to make plays instead of just relying on his skill.
Valentino Passarelli-F-Honeybaked U16-Such a shifty, dangerous offensive player. He's really tough to defend because of the way he attacks laterally.
Keegan Karki-G-Elite League Great Plains-After a shaky first period on Saturday night, he tightened things up and played well. Perhaps some concern about his long-term growth, given that he's 5'9" and already a physically-developed 200 lbs., but for now, he's one of the top goalies available in this class.
Caleb Everett-D-Honeybaked U16-A bigger defender that skates well and plays his position quietly. His game should translate well to the next level.
Jack Drury-F-Chicago Mission U16-A good-sized centerman that is strong on his skates with a wide base. Room to improve with the puck on his stick
Max Ellis-F-Honeybaked U16-A smaller forward, but very fast and sticks his nose into the play.
Christian Krygier-D-Little Caesar's U16-Good size and a solid, responsible defenseman.
Cole Krygier-F-Little Caesar's U16-Always in the right position and effective on the wing.
Kaid Oliver-F-Arizona Bobcats U16-Oliver was the second American selected in the WHL Draft last summer by Victoria in the third round, and seems likely to end up going that route. Great speed and he competes hard.
Calen Kiefuk-F-Honeybaked U16-A really hard player to play against. He plays a heavy physical game.
Jack Randl-F-Chicago Mission U16-A very strong two-way winger. Not flashy offensively but makes life difficult for opponents.
Isaiah DiLaura-G-Minnesota Magicians American U16-Didn't get a chance to watch his Magicians team play here, but from past viewings, he looks like he could be a top-end goalie.
Dawson Klein-D-Minnesota Blades U16-Made tremendous strides since earlier this summer when I first saw him. Very good balance and strength on his skates and he moves the puck effectively.
Rocco Lerario-F-CYA U16-Reminds me a lot of his older brother who currently plays in the USHL for Lincoln and is committed to Brown. He looks lanky, but is very fast and plays with a really tough edge. He'll make plays with the puck and can lay a heavy hit on someone.
K'Andre Miller-F-Team CCM-It's still a lack of consistency that is the big knock with Miller. There are times when he does things that are dazzling, but there are also a lot of shifts where he looks two steps behind the play.
Gavin Hain-F-Elite League North-Hasn't quite taken off like his teammate Blake McLaughlin has, but is still a top-notch player.
Devlin McCabe-F-Team CCM-Not the most physically gifted kid in the group, but he's so fundamentally solid and smart that he's a very effective player.
Chase McLane-F-Little Caesars U16-A good skating two-way centerman that plays a hard, physical game.
Michael Ferrandino-D-CYA U16-Not huge, but a very smart, reliable defender. Can do a little bit of everything.
Kacper Ryba-F-CYA U16-Really good skill that he will be able to take more advantage of once he gets a little bigger.
Ean Small-F-CYA U16-Decent size and keeps up with the play well. Lots of potential upside.
Jimmy Dowd-D-New Jersey Titans U16-Son of long-time NHLer Jim Dowd, the younger Dowd is a small defenseman that moves really well