Avon, Conn. -- Five players on the 2016 NHL Central Scouting Service Midterm Rankings, 10 players committed to Division I college hockey programs.
That's what Wednesday afternoon's prep hockey game between Avon Old Farms and The Gunnery featured. Numerous NHL teams were represented, including the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators, and Hockey East, ECAC Hockey, Atlantic Hockey and Division III coaches were in the building.
It was the Winged Beavers who came out on top with a 5-3 win. Quinnipiac commit Dan Winslow and Providence recruit Matt Allen led the way on the score sheet with a goal and an assist each for the home team. Northeastern recruit Jamie Armstrong, Tyler Carangelo and John Giatrelis added goals for John Gardner's club.
Cornell recruit Cameron Donaldson had a goal and an assist in the losing effort. Defenseman Keelan Ulnick dished out two helpers and McKay Flanagan and Matt Danner also scored for Craig Badger's squad.
Despite the five NHL Draft eligible players in the game, the best player on the ice was Avon Old Farms '99 left defenseman Ben Mirageas. The Newburyport, Mass. native who is committed to Providence is a dynamic force in all three zones. He's an incredibly smooth skater who was able to make numerous big time defensive plays on Gunnery's Gustaf Westlund and Donaldson. His foot speed allows him to go backwards and keep up with every skater on opposing teams. He's fast and retrieves pucks well. His first step is good. His head is always up. He makes good, crisp passes tape-to-tape. He walks the line well and gets shots through from the point. He has good lateral mobility which gives him the ability to maintain possession and impact zone entries. The Bloomington Thunder own his USHL rights, and it seems extremely unlikely he'll be anywhere else next fall except plying his trade in the top Junior A league in North America.
Connecticut commit Adam Karashik made one of the highlight reel plays of the year in prep hockey on Jamie Armstrong's third period tally that gave the Winged Beavers a 4-2 lead. The '98 right defenseman pops Flanagan off the puck just inside his own blue line then goes and retrieves the puck. He starts an end-to-end rush before finally doing a spin-o-rama and backhanding a pass out front to a waiting Armstrong for an easy finish. The video is below, courtesy of AOF Sports and GKess Films.
It's the type of play that has drawn the attention of NHL organizations. The Ridgefield, Conn. native doesn't have prototypical size of a physical, shutdown defender, but he has good feet and likes to line up opposing players for big hip checks. He plays a high risk, high reward game. Sometimes he overcommits or takes himself out of position while trying to make a big hit, but the upside to his game is intriguing. Some question whether the physical part of his game can translate to the next level with his size. He is very rugged despite measuring in at less than six feet. His vision and puck-moving abilities are good, and if he can keep putting on weight in college, he could be a nice long-term project for an NHL team in the later rounds of the draft.
Armstrong, who was the beneficiary of Karashik's wizardry, was terrific all game. He's a player who continues to get better and use his physical attributes to his advantage. He's a strong skater with a powerful stride. He covers a ton of ground on the forecheck. On one sequence, he hit both the right and left defenseman as he hemmed Gunnery deep in its own zone. His hockey IQ is very good. He reads plays well and anticipates what's going to happen next. He made a great play, stepping up and picking off a pass in the neutral zone before entering the zone and creating a scoring chance in the first period. He is doing a better job setting up shop on top of the goalmouth like he did on his goal. He also has learned to use his size and strength to create space in the slot and near the crease on the power play. The son of St. Louis Blues Director of Scouting Bill Armstrong, the younger Armstrong has a quick release and softer hands than given credit for. In the second period, he got off a quick shot on an odd man rush after receiving a pass from BU recruit Patrick Harper who was zooming down the left side. Later in the game he collected a tough pass from behind as he was moving through the neutral zone along the left wall. Armstrong has always had to deal with the high expectations of living up to his father's reputation, but he is playing better than ever. He has a high compete level and wants to succeed. Here's betting that whatever NHL club picks him in the draft will receive a player who will be even better after a few years at Northeastern than he is now.
Harper was uncharacteristically kept off the board, but he still contributed to the win. He's so quick and has such a good stick on draws. His speed allowed him to get to two loose pucks and get clears on the same penalty kill sequence. He got his stick into a shooting lane and forced the puck outside the zone with the goalie pulled for Gunnery late in the game.
Matt Ladd, the only prep goalie ranked by NHL Central Scouting, let up three goals, but collected the win for AOF.
Westlund, the only Gunnery player ranked by Central Scouting, was held off the score sheet, which has happened at several viewings this season. However, even when he doesn't score, the upside to his game is evident. He has such a long reach and can cut well on his edges that he can maneuver around opposing defenders. His best scoring opportunity came when he accelerated to win a race to a loose puck in the neutral zone. He then cut across the middle in the high slot and get a hard, high shot off that almost handcuffed Ladd. It's not all there yet, but the potential is very high for the extremely athletic Swedish import.
Donaldson, a '98 senior left wing committed to Cornell, was the best player for the visitors. He's very quick and crafty and has continued to get better. He was a very nice pickup for the Big Red.
Late '97 senior Daniel Haider's speed stood out for Gunnery. Flanagan, a '97 in his second season of draft eligibility, was ranked by NHL Central Scouting last year before going undrafted. He's another high risk, high reward player. He had two big hits in the game and is a fairly good puck-moving, mobile defender. Ethan DeStefani, a big '99 right wing who plays with Westlund and Donaldson, has some upside, especially due to his size. He's a player to watch closely to see how well he progresses over the next calendar year.
Getting back to Avon, Carangelo, a '97 senior left-shot center, is extremely underrated. He scored a goal, but he does a lot of little things well. He competed hard in all 200 feet of the sheet, has a good stick and a quick, deceptive release. He did a good job pulling the puck back before using the defender as a screen on the fifth AOF goal.
Avon Old Farms Line Combinations
#27 Matt Allen (PC) - #11 Tyler Carangelo - #20 Daniel Winslow (QU)
#12 Jamie Armstrong (NU) - #7 Patrick Harper (BU) - #10 Tyler Madden (CC)
#17 Sam Timonen - #5 Jake Witkowski - #21 Josh Vertentes
#22 Will Christiansen - #3 Matt Horton - #18 John Giatrelis
#8 Ben Mirageas (PC) - #2 Ryan Ashe
#24 Brendan Killoy - #16 Adam Karashik (UConn)
#13 Jake Gresh - #4 Cullen Young
#29 Matt Ladd
The Gunnery Line Combinations
#12 Cameron Donaldson (Cornell) - #23 Gustaf Westlund - #18 Ethan DeStefani
#7 Zach Pellegrino - #22 Chad Varney - #19 Evan Johnson
#17 Daniel Haider - #21 Jordan Robert (Clarkson) - #16 Matt Danner
#27 Noah Williams - #10 Albert Washco - #20 Lucas Prestamo
#5 Taylor Slade - #3 McKay Flanagan
#2 Keelan Ulnick - #11 Alex Wilkins
#15 Josh Gagne - #6 Connor Dahlman
#31 Trevin Kozlowski (Army)