The US National Team Development Program Under-17 made their annual trip to Minnesota this past weekend to play a pair of games against the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.
This is the fourth year now that the U17s have made this trip, and while it is still early in their first season, their past trips have ended up being fairly instructive. Last year’s write-up described a team a bit down in talent from previous years and lacking a high-end first round talent which.....is exactly what I’m going to be writing about that team tomorrow.
This year’s team became the first ever to lose a game in the Elite League. On Saturday, they fell 4-0 to the league-leading Northwest team, and on Sunday they lost 4-3 to an all-star team made up of some of the league’s best players. Saturday was an atrocious effort, but they rebounded on Sunday to play a decent game.
My overall impression was that there was some exceptional individual talent on this team, but the whole seemed to be much less than the sum of its’ parts. Part of that is that the surrounding pieces weren’t very good. Part of it is those top players not making the others around them look better. Either way, this was the worst NTDP team I’ve seen in terms of moving the puck around the ice in some time. There’s still a lot of work to be done with this group.
My individual notes on players from this weekend:
Oliver Wahlstrom(Harvard)-Wahlstrom was the best forward all weekend. He’s got a great combination of strength and soft hands so that he can stickhandle through traffic and fight his way through checks. I like his offensive instincts too. He made a couple spin passes at high speed that were close to setting up beautiful goals.
Joel Farabee(Boston University)-He probably created more scoring chances than any other forward this past weekend. He’s a super-smooth puckhandler and playmaker. He generated a ton of shots, but did little with them as he doesn’t seem like much of a finisher.
Jake Wise(Boston University)-It’s easy to see why he was hyped coming into this year, and also why he has struggled a bit offensively so far this year. Wise looks incredible when he gets the puck. He’s got quick, strong hands and tremendous body awareness. But other than one dazzling play one-on-one against a defender, it never amounted much. He looked pretty skating around with the puck for a while, and then he lost it. If he can figure out how to use his teammates better and how to better use his skills against higher competition, he could be a really spectacular player.
John Gruden(Miami)-I’ve always loved the way Gruden plays. He’s starting to fill out a little bit, but is still pretty skinny. That doesn’t stop him from being extremely tough though. He can handle physical contact and fight through traffic and dishes out his own share of physical punishment. He’ll be a beast when he gets stronger.
Tyler Weiss(Boston College)-Everything he does is really fast and smooth. It never added up to much this weekend, but he’s got the tools to develop as a really nice playmaker for this team.
Jacob Pivonka(Notre Dame)-He was a solid third line center that did some nice things. I think Pivonka runs into the same issue I had with Graham Slaggert last year, which is that he was a kid with exceptional hockey intelligence at a young age, which allowed him to dominate at the U14 and U16 levels, but moving up a level where everyone else starts to understand the game a little better, that becomes less of an advantage and the rest of the pack is starting to catch up a bit. He’s still a really good player, but I’m not sure he’ll be a hugely dynamic offensive threat.
Jake Goldowski(Penn State)-A big body that won some puck battles along the boards to set up offense. Theoretically a big shooter that can finish off plays too, but never really got much chance to do so this weekend.
Blade Jenkins(Michigan)-Jenkins is decent with the puck and has the finishing ability to be a strong scorer. His footspeed and skating ability, which was my big concern last year, keeps him from being consistently effective though.
Mathieu De St. Phaille(Wisconsin)-He was called up from the Chicago Mission U16 for the weekend. He’s a smaller player, but plays hard is willing to do the dirty work in tough areas in more of a grinder role.
Trevor Janicke(Notre Dame)-He’s a nice skater, but his abilities with the puck aren’t quite there yet. He got off to a slow start in high school hockey last year for the same reason, and really improved as the year progressed, so hopefully the same happens here.
Patrick Giles(Boston College)-A big forward that is still really raw. He made the most of a couple chances when the puck popped out to him off scrums, but otherwise didn’t do much to create on his own.
Jack DeBoer(Boston University)-A big body and a hard-worker, but was overall very quiet on the weekend.
Bode Wilde(Harvard)- I was on the lower end of opinions about Wilde last year. There was no doubting his raw physical talent, but his ability to handle and make decisions with the puck was lacking. He’s made nice strides in that area though, and has improved in his own end. He’ll be a big-time prospect because it’s just so rare to find players his size that can move like he does. Looking back at the past four years of NTDP teams, he’s maybe not quite in the same category as Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski, but he’s close, and then there’s a big gap to the rest of the field. He’ll finish the year with the U18s and may be that team’s best defenseman.
K’Andre Miller(Wisconsin)-The switch back to defense last year for Miller is looking like a tremendous move. Playing on the blue line gives Miller ample opportunities to unleash his big shot. He’s basically a possession black hole because if he gets the puck, he’s putting it on net, but that’s not a bad thing. He’ll score a lot of points that way. He’s starting to fill out physically and can fly down the ice with the puck to gain easy zone entry. He’s still learning on the defensive end, and his outlet passing can be very sloppy. But he has huge upside.
Ty Emberson(Wisconsin)-Emberson is a such a calm, composed presence on the ice. He plays a very mature, detail-oriented game. If there’s a complaint it’s that maybe he’s sometimes a little too calm because with his talent, he could push the play and create a little bit more.
Will MacKinnon(Denver)-Not very flashy, but was overall a very solid all-around player. He’s not going to provide much offense, but showed a willingness to join the play offensively a few times and was fairly reliable in his own end. His ceiling isn’t super-high, but he’s a nice player.
Ben Schultheis-Schultheis was filling in for the weekend due to some injuries on defense for the U17s. He’s off to a great start with the Honeybaked U16; he was a standout at the NAHL Showcase three weeks ago. He didn’t look out of place here at all. He’s more of a defensive defenseman with a big frame and some nice athleticism. Likely a matter of time before he’s making a college commitment.
Josh Maniscalco-Maniscalco hasn’t been seeing much ice with the U18s so far this year, so he got some time down with the U17s who were short on D this weekend. Maniscalco really seems to have hit a plateau in his development. He’s pretty much the same player he was last year, which was pretty much the same player he was the year prior. He’s not terrible, and he should still be a nice college player for somebody down the road, but he’s not looking like a top prospect any more.
Spencer Stastney(Notre Dame)-Stastney is going to be at his best when he’s playing a quiet, conservative game and on Saturday, he made two big mistakes that led directly to goals. He has potential as a solid complementary piece though.
Keegan Karki(North Dakota)-Karki started Saturday’s game. Other than a big, lazy error behind his net that led to an open net short-handed goal, he played well, and clearly looks like the team’s top goalie. He’s got a big frame and positions aggressively to give shooters nothing to look at. He was calm and composed with no excess movement and makes a lot of saves look very easy.
Ryan Ullan-He struggled a bit on Sunday. He gave up a goal on what was essentially a dump-in in the first period and got caught way off his angle on the third goal. But he has some good natural athleticism and should be a solid goalie once he refines his technique a bit.