Cranberry Township, Pa. - The 2016 USHL Fall Classic East Youth Tournament brought some of the top 2002-born American hockey prospects to the UPMC Lemieux Complex for three days of action.
While much of the attention was on the USHL preseason games being played in the adjacent rink Friday and Saturday, USA Hockey, USHL, NCAA and WHL teams were represented among those scouting the U14 games.
Players here are 19 months away from being drafted into the USHL, OHL or QMJHL. Ridiculously, the WHL still has a Bantam Draft so players in the western regions of the U.S. will be drafted into that Canadian Hockey League this spring.
With that in mind, there is still plenty of time for prospects to continue to develop, and some other players might not continue on an upward trajectory. Scouting is about the process. This was just one weekend.
The Minnesota Blades were certainly the best team from top to bottom, and it showed in a demolishing of Team Wisconsin in the championship game and Westchester before that in the semifinals.
The forward group was definitely more skilled across the board. Several teams had very good top lines that were able to dominate when they were on the ice.
The following is a look at the top players, combining how they played this weekend with future projections, from the USHL Fall Classic East Youth Tournament. The top 20 forwards, top 12 defensemen and top 4 goaltenders are ranked followed by other players that stood out, in alphabetical order.
In short viewings with games running simultaneously, it is difficult to notice too many of the "others" when trying to watch for standouts. Please note all heights, weights and date of births are taken from RinkNet. If any figures are omitted, it is because they were not listed.
Some might criticize me for being overly harsh, but one player was dropped several spots in the rankings for being a hothead and being benched twice by his coaches for undisciplined play. There's obviously plenty of time to mature, but it wouldn't be right to not knock this player down a few pegs in the rankings. And, no, this player won't be named.
1. Tanner Latsch, #93 Meijer, 6-2/170, 2/2/02, Shoots Right (Wisconsin) - He's a huge power forward that doesn't play like he's entitled from his commitment to the Badgers. He backchecks and does a lot of little things that you don't always see in elite players. His size is obviously very intimidating at this level, but he's about more than just his frame. He made a real strong move off the left wall to hit Tim Kramer in the slot for a goal. He has an extra gear to deceive defensemen when he's bringing it up the ice. He is hard to bring down. He's heavy on pucks and has exceptional explosiveness. He forced a defenseman out of the zone while killing a penalty.
2. Ryan Kirwan, #44 Syracuse Nationals, 2/27/02, Shoots Left - He has pro written all over him. Not only is he talented, but he competes hard and gets in the dirty areas to distribute pucks to open linemates. A few of his assists were from below his own goal line. His vision was exceptional and he has a quick stick. His older brother Luke plays in the OHL with the Flint Firebirds.
3. Ryan Mulrenin, #97 Minnesota Blades, 4/9/02, Shoots Right - He was absolutely dynamic in the championship game. He's shifty. He can make things happen out of nothing. He has good hands. He was just a finisher. The puck went through him when he was on the ice. He had a nice move to finish off a breakaway in the semifinal and made two powerful moves to the net that resulted in goals in the final. He made a nice pass from the left circle to the right point for an assist on a power play goal.
4. Aidan Cobb, #16 Westchester Express, 5-4/110, 3/5/02, Shoots Left - His skating and footwork were very good and he has a dynamic skill set from the center position. He's very fast. He could have been the best pure skater here. He thinks offensively, goes to the net and has a low center of gravity.
5. Jason Siedem, #11 New Jersey Devils, 10/17/02, Shoots Right - It doesn't take long to see the offensive skill set he possesses. He has a quick stick and he's a good skater. He gets chances, has a quick release and has elite speed. His older brother is a '01 at Westminster.
6. Josh Rule, #91 Meijer, 5-9/140, 2/17/02, Shoots Right - He's the younger brother of Caleb, a promising '01. He's a good skater with an explosive first step. He has a good release and sees the ice well. He rang the crossbar in the overtime Sunday. His agility and ability to protect the puck also were notable.
7. Luke Tuch, #89 Syracuse Nationals, 3/7/02, Shoots Left - He's the younger brother of former BC star, and current Minnesota Wild prospect, Alex Tuch. He's a power forward who enjoyed throwing his weight around. He has a heavy shot and got it off quickly. His size and bloodlines certainly make him an intriguing prospect.
8. Dane Dowiak, #19 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 3/27/02, Shoots Left - He is a good skater and has a good offensive skill set, but he might have had the most hockey IQ of any forward here. He's shifty, but wasn't quite as dynamic as the prospects ranked above him. He's a two-way center who played an honest game. One play that exemplified that was on Sunday when he made a hit down low in his offensive zone that disrupted the breakout. He drove the far post to finish off a two-on-one.
9. Victor Czerneckianair, #13 Mid Fairfield, 5-9/150, 2/17/02, Shoots Left - He's a very good skater with lateral agility. He possesses the ability to cut and move around opposing defenders with finesse. He made a terrific move in the shootout on Saturday, showing off his hands.
10. Isaac Novak, #91 Syracuse Nationals, 5-9/155, 1/8/02, Shoots Left - He didn't play in the first game, but he made a big impact Sunday. He has a great shot and had a knack for finding the puck in scoring areas.
11. Mitch Kohner, #18 Minnesota Blades, 5-6/130, 2/11/02, Shoots Right - He had an explosive stride and a second gear. He played with a chip on his shoulder. He knew where to go to find scoring chances. He waited at the far post for an easy tap in goal in the final. He also had a strong backhand finish in the semifinal.
12. Milan Cermak, #27 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 9/27/02, Shoots Right - His ceiling might be higher than some of the players ranked above him. He had a very good shot and knew how to finish.
13. Anthony Cipollone, #91 Westchester Express, 5/14/02, Shoots Left (Vermont) - His older brother is at Loomis and is a fellow commit of the Catamounts. He's a good skater, made several nice passes and created offense.
14. Jon Tokarczyk, #78 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 11/23/02, Shoots Right - He has a good shot, made a few real nice passes from down low on the power play. He drove the net with purpose.
15. Hunter Hastings, #87 Arizona Bobcats, 5-11/165, 2/7/02, Shoots Right - He had good size and reach. He had a heavy, heavy shot with a good release. He was a finisher who projects as a power forward.
16. Anthony Dimitrievski, #7 HoneyBaked, 5-4/116, 7/25/02, Shoots Right - He's a very good skater who can wheel and deal with the puck on his stick. He likes to have the offense go through him and exudes confidence.
17. Johnston Meiers, #17 Minnesota Blades, Shoots Left - He's more of a finesse player, but he has a solid offensive skill set. He made a good pass to the right wing then drove the far post for a good chance in transition.
18. Cameron Agnew, #15 Meijer, 5-11/145, 7/16/02, Shoots Left - He's an above average skater who plays a 200-foot game. His speed allowed him to get on pucks and disrupt the other team's flow. He also has offensive upside.
19. Ethan Bishara, #71 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 3/29/02, Shoots Right - He had a great one-hand move on the shootout. He made a highlight reel pass out to the slot from below the goal line. He cycled it down low and was a possession-type forward.
20. Dayne Hoyord, #19 Team Wisconsin, Shoots Right - He was the top line center. He generated offense with his skating ability, his agility and his above average hands. He had the puck a lot and was fast in pursuit.
Drake Albers, #91 Belle Tire, 5-7/135, 3/11/02, Shoots Right - He uses his edges well when he skates. He can stop and start on a dime. He has a good shot from the slot and also has good feet.
Dale Bennett, #11 Team Wisconsin, 2/1/02, Shoots Right - He was a good skater, who backchecked and played an honest game.
Blake Biondi, #7 Minnesota Blades, Shoots Right - He scored a wraparound goal to give his team a 2-0 lead in the semifinal. He works hard for his chances. He scored on a power move from the left corner out to the slot. He made a big hit in his own zone that broke up a play.
Bryce Bollman, #81 Chicago Young Americans, 6/23/02, Shoots Right -Listed on the roster as a forward, he seemed to play some defense as well. He played left point on the man advantage. He has good hands. He scored on a nice deke during the shootout. He made a no-look pass where he faked out the defenseman. He put the puck right on the tape of a teammate, Ethan Carls, on a two-on-one that resulted in a nice goal.
Matthew DeBoer, #9 New Jersey Devils, 9/1/02, Shoots Right - The son of San Jose coach Pete DeBoer and brother of NTDP U-17 forward BU recruit Jack DeBoer, he is a good hockey player in his own right. He used his size and strength to control pucks and win battles down low and along the boards. His ceiling is probably higher than outside the top 20.
Tanner Dicksonson, #71 Belle Tire, 5-7/125, 3/5/02, Shoots Left - He was close to the top 20 from his play this weekend. He's a very good skater who can create time and space. A backhand pass from behind the goal line to out front showed off his vision and creativity.
Nathan Hanley, #12 Mid Fairfield, 5-8/145, 1/1/02, Shoots Right - He is a good prospect to keep an eye on. The skill set was evident, but it was a notch below most of the guys in the top 12-15, at least this weekend. His best play was coming off the left wall with authority and sniping a wrist shot just under the bar.
Chris Hawkins, #28 Meijer, 5-4/130, 2/3/02, Shoots Left - He's stronger than he looks because of his small frame. He backchecked so well and did such a good job in his own zone, he almost looked like a third defender.
Ethan Holt, #97 HoneyBaked, 5-9/155, 2/6/02, Shoots Right - He's a big winger who got some chances. His size and strength make him an intriguing prospect.
Blake Johnson, #23 Colorado Thunderbirds, 5-8/130, 2/20/02, Shoots Right - In limited viewing of his team, his play stood out. With good size, he had good vision and was able to stop and start on his skates. He made a great look down to the weak side from the right point on the power play.
Tim Kramer, #5 Meijer, 5-5/125, 1/4/02, Shoots Left - He's small, but he's quick and drew penalties. He got a lot of opportunities and wasn't afraid to go up against bigger players. He scored on a nice shot from the slot after getting a centering feed from Tanner Latsch.
CJ Lass, #12 Team Wisconsin, Shoots Right - He's a small, crafty forward who made an eye-popping pass down to the backdoor from high on top of the left circle.
Cade Lemmer, #8 Team Wisconsin, 1/18/02, Shoots Left - He's an athletic, physically mature player for his age. He had a heavy shot, played some point on the power play and was able to keep the puck on his stick for extender periods.
Drew Lenz, #10 Team Wisconsin, 5/28/02, Shoots Right - He had good size and a hard shot, but his skating is what had him lower in the rankings.
Nate Mann, #66 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 1/11/02, Shoots Left - He didn't consistently stand out like some of his teammates, but he showed the ability to use his size and strength to leverage the puck and power his way to the scoring areas.
Brendan Poshak, #9 Team Wisconsin, Shoots Right - He scored a really nice goal, moving left to right across the high slot.
Gunnar Thoreson, #12 Minnesota Blades, 3/19/02, Shoots Left - He was quick and was a pest on the penalty kill and while backhanding. He's a player who is just fun to watch because he never stops moving his feet.
Griffin Tominez, #43 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 1/23/02, Shoots Left - He's a good skater who was solid down low. He made a nice saucer pass out to the point from the left circle. He was strong cycling the puck.
Zachary Tonelli, #27 Westchester Express, 5-4/110, 2/14/02, Shoots Right - He's a player that bordered right on being inside the top 20 here. He has good feet and gets in position to receive passes. He has a good one-timer. He's a little more of a finesse type player than his older brother, Jordan, a Brown commit who plays at Taft. His father played in the NHL, mostly with the NY Islanders.
Logan Valkama, #18 Arizona Bobcats, Shoots Left - He was another player who was very close to being in the top 20. He has a heavy shot, controls the puck and is good on pursuit.
Dalton Wright, #13 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 10/24/02, Shoots Right - He had slick hands and made some good moves to create offense. On a shootout attempt, he patiently waited as he cut to one side for the goalie to go down before lifting the puck into the top of the net.
CJ Zezima, #67 Mid Fairfield, 5-6/130, 3/12/02, Shoots Left - He has a quick release on his shots. He scored a really nice goal from the top of the right circle. He has acceleration with a high compete level.
1. Connor Kelley, #28 Minnesota Blades, 7/30/02, Shoots Right - He's a good skating defenseman and has good size. His stride is notable. He closes quickly. He had good gaps. He's not as flashy as other blue liners, but he was steady and showed potential to be a big time prospect.
2. Daniel Juzych, #76 HoneyBaked, 5-10/150, 3/28/02, Shoots Left - He's a physically mature defender who's best hockey is still ahead of him. He's a player to watch for the future.
3. Samuel Saccone, #5 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 2/2/02, Shoots Right - He had a lot of the physical tools scouts will be looking for as he gets older. His size, poise and vision all stood out. He had a hard shot from the point and pushed possession for his team.
4. Mark Gordon, #13 Arizona Bobcats, 5-4/110, 1/13/02, Shoots Left - His mobility really shined. He had good hockey IQ, impacted possession and skated really well.
5. Drew Joliet, #4 Belle Tire, 5-11/158, 1/25/02, Shoots Right - With good size, he was able to contain, win battles and shut down some of the top forwards here. He has a hard shot and good speed for his size.
6. Victor Mancini, #23 HoneyBaked, 6-0/180, 5/26/02, Shoots Right - He had good footwork, especially for his size. He's an athletic prospect who had a good wrist shot from the left point.
7. Luke Gramer, #13 Minnesota Blades, 7/2/02, Shoots Left - He's a mobile defender who liked to have the puck on his stick in transition. He makes sharp outlet passes and skates with his head up. He impacts possession positively. He got in lanes and played sound in his own zone. He took a huge hit that resulted in a player being ejected from the other side, but he bounced back after a few nervous seconds.
8. Bryan Dolby, #16 Chicago Young Americans, 1/1/02, Shoots Left - He moved the puck well and was a good skater. He made a great pass when he jumped into the rush, sending a saucer pass on a two-on-one.
9. Ben Ritter, #77 Syracuse Nationals, 1/31/02, Shoots Left - He played with confidence, had good gaps and a good stick to go with it.
10. Logan Cramer, #18 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 3/29/02, Shoots Left - He has good size, was smooth, and got shots through and on net from the point.
11. Michael Bevilacqua, #6 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 1/26/03, Shoots Left -He had good poise with the puck and skated well. He's a power play quarterback-type defenseman. His cousin is committed to Canisius.
12. Daniel Latsch, #21 Team Wisconsin, 5-10/115, 2/13/02, Shoots Left - He had good size and skated fairly well. He's a player whose ceiling is higher than how he played this weekend, which was still good.
Jacob Conrad, #6 Team Wisconsin, Shoots Left - He made good rushes up ice and was offensive-minded, but he was solid in his own zone. He kept one of the Blades' top players to the perimeter on a nice defensive play.
Owen Gallatin, #3 Minnesota Blades, 6/17/02, Shoots Left - He was a smaller defender, but he was offensive-minded.
Cameron Grillo, #26 Mid Fairfield, 5-10/140, 1/1/02, Shoots Left - He's a mobile defender who moved the puck with good outlet passes.
Chris Hedden, #22 Meijer, 5-8/135, 9/20/02, Shoots Left - He's a smaller defenseman who skated well and made good plays in his own zone.
Bryan Huggins, #40 Belle Tire, 5-9/140, 3/26/02, Shoots Right - He was smooth, a good skater and closed quickly.
Christian Jiminez, #2 Westchester Express, 5-5/155, 3/15/02, Shoots Left - He had good mobility, was good on breakouts and had a good reach and stick. He was close to being inside the top 12.
Wyatt Kaiser, #5 Minnesota Blades, 7/31/02, Shoots Left - He had good feet and his tight gaps kept the puck moving forward. He turned several retrievals right into offense going the other way.
Jackson McCarthy, #20 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 9/27/02, Shoots Right - He moves well for a player his age and size. He has a heavy stride, but he gets around the sheet. He's agile, but will need to continue to learn when to pick his spots.
Tanner Merrill, #81 Chicago Fury, 10/24/02, Shoots Left - He had good size, a heavy shot from the point and was the player most notable in limited viewing of his team.
Cole Oravitz, #13 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 4/13/02, Shoots Right - He was noticeable each shift. He skated well and liked to jump into the offense.
Graham Padgitt, #13 Chicago Young Americans, 1/10/02, Shoots Right - A mobile defender, he had good vision and made nice passes from the point on the power play.
Dominic Zenone, #17 Belle Tire, 5-9/185, 1/17/02, Shoots Left - He's a mobile, offensive-minded defender. He impacted the transition.
1. Noah Grannan, #31 Minnesota Blades, 4/27/02 - He has good size and is a typical butterfly goaltender who likes to take up a lot of net. He moves well and made a highlight reel save on a breakaway in the semifinal.
2. Ethan Mork, #30 Team Wisconsin, 6/20/02 - He's a very big goalie who covers a lot of the net. A prototypical butterfly goalie, he's smooth and skated well.
3. Tommy Aiken, #30 Westchester Express - He had good size and made a big time glove save on Tanner Latsch in a game against Meijer. Both Westchester goalies were good until Sunday - when the Minnesota Blades overwhelmed the men in front of them.
4. Hunter Mitchell, #30 Arizona Bobcats, 5-4/130, 4/18/02 - He had a very good post-to-post save in a shootout. He looked to have potential.