The NTDP U17 team, this year made up of the top players born in 2002 in the United States, took to the ice on Friday and Saturday evening at the NAHL Showcase in front of a packed arena of scouts and fans for their third and fourth games of their young season.
The youngsters came away with back-to-back 4-3 victories over the Northeast Generals on Friday, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights on Saturday.
This year’s group came into the season facing the near impossible task of following the ‘01 birth year group last year, which many scouts say was the most prepared for junior hockey of any 17s group that has ever come into the NTDP. This year’s group is much closer to the norm, which is to say, they’ve got a ways to go. I doubt we’ll see them make a run in the USHL playoffs like the U17s managed to do last year.
Obviously there is a lot of talent on this team, as there is every year. I really like the blue line for this group, especially at the top of the line-up. The forwards weren’t quite as impressive. When it comes to high-level international play, I’m not sure where the offense is going to come from. But, it’s also early and players are still getting their feet under them. Things could look different in a few months. There isn’t another Jack Hughes in the group that is a definite top-5 NHL pick-type, but a number of players that could potentially play themselves into the upper half of the first round.
So while it may be a bit of a let down after year’s exceptional group, USA Hockey is in a spot where their baseline is still good enough that there is plenty to be excited about.
Here were some thoughts I had on the individual players.
Dylan Peterson(Boston University)-Peterson is a cut above the rest of the forwards in terms of long-term potential right now. He’s a really good skater for 6-4 with excellent hands, and a lot of poise and patience with the puck. That got him into trouble at times; he turned the puck over as the last man back about four times on Saturday, but once he figures out what he can get away with and what he can’t, he’s got the potential to be the offensive star on this team.
Brett Berard(Providence)-Berard makes a lot of things happen on the ice due to his exceptional skating ability. He’ll have to get a little better with his ability to move the puck now that he can’t skate around everyone, but has potential to be a very good offensive player.
Landon Slaggert(Notre Dame)-Like his older brother three years ago, I think Landon comes into the program a couple steps ahead of everyone else because he’s a very smart, mature player, though I’m not sure he has as high of a ceiling as some of his teammates. He’ll be a solid player up the middle for this team though.
Luke Tuch(Boston University)-Tuch has been one of the most productive players early on, scoring four goals in his first four games, including a very pretty goal on Friday. He’s still growing into his body a little bit and and the goals are coming from brief flashes of brilliance rather than consistent sustained pressure, but it’s easy to see him becoming a very draft pick down the road if he keeps developing.
Thomas Bordeleau(Uncommitted)-Currently leading the team in scoring thanks to a goal and five assists through the first four games. He’s probably the closest thing this team has to a small playmaker. Decent speed with great balance and he’s pretty crafty with his stick.
Hunter Strand(Notre Dame)-Strand is a tough, fast two-way forward. His relatively simple game translated a little easier than some of the more skill-oriented guys. He’s probably not a big scorer down the road, but a really tough player to play against.
Ty Smilanic(Uncommitted)-Smilanic had committed to Denver, but recently had that offer rescinded, according to reports. On the ice, he provides a little bit of everything. Decent size with strong skating and some offensive skill. He’s a player to watch that could make a big jump in production after a few months with the NTDP.
Matthew Beniers(Uncommitted)-One of the less heralded players on this team, and one of the younger players, but he brought the type of high-energy play that he’s going to need to fill his role.
Tanner Latsch(Wisconsin)-Latsch has always been pretty fast down the wing with a big shot. Now that the competition can match him physically, he’s going to have to work to add some different elements to his game. He has the potential to be a really good grinding two-way forward.
Chase Yoder(Providence)-Yoder announced his commitment to Providence just prior to this past weekend. He looked decent here. He’ll be a solid second or third line contributor for this group.
Hunter McKown(Uncommitted)-He plays a tough, heavy game. Similar to Strand, he probably won’t be a big scorer barring a huge jump in development, but a really nice player to have out on the wing.
Daniyal Dzhaniyev(Penn State)-A later add to this team. Dzhaniyev has potential as a skilled, playmaking forward, but it’s going to take some time for him to adjust to the faster pace and add some more strength before he can be really effective.
Tyler Kleven(North Dakota)- Kleven is probably neck-and-neck with Peterson for top prospect on the team right now. Kleven is a very athletic 6-4 and loves to hit. He was confident moving the puck all weekend, as well. There is a lot to work with there. The big challenge for Kleven over the next two seasons will be how much he can develop the offensive side of his game. Ten to 15 years ago, a player with his skillset would probably be looked at as a potential top-5 draft pick, but these days, I’m not sure many teams would invest that heavily in a player without a strong offensive component.
Brock Faber(Notre Dame)-He has an excellent foundation to work with his exceptional skating ability. He’s making a big jump from bantam hockey in Minnesota last year to junior hockey this year, and that will take some adjustment. But he was solid enough defensively here, and once he figures out when he can jump into the play offensively, he could be really dangerous.
Jacob Truscott(Michigan)-Extremely steady and reliable. He still has some filling out to do, but otherwise, probably looked the most comfortable of the defensemen against the faster competition.
Daniel Laatsch(Wisconsin)-He really struggled with his decision-making with the puck against faster competition, but I think that’s a temporary adjustment thing rather than a big problem. Laatsch’s size and movement give him big potential once the game starts to slow down for him a little.
Connor Kelley(Minnesota Duluth)-Kelley isn’t a super-flashy player. He had a few hiccups in defensive coverage, as did all the defensemen, but for the most part played a quiet, solid game.
Owen Gallatin(Minnesota Duluth)-Gallatin is a small playmaker on the blue line and it’s going to take some time before he’s able to do that consistently at this level.
Jake Sanderson(North Dakota)-Sanderson does a little bit of everything well, and should make a solid third/fourth pairing D for this team.
Eamon Powell(Boston College)-Powell doesn’t have the high-end potential of some of the other D, but he moves the puck well and plays a smart, quiet game. Again, a nice depth player for this team.
Noah Grannan(Wisconsin) and Drew Commesso(Boston University) split both games. Both are your typical pro-style goalies. Neither is huge, but both top six feet tall and have good athleticism. Commesso was probably a bit more highly touted coming in, but Grannan had the better weekend. On Friday in particular, Commesso had a rough first half, and then Grannan came in in the second half and made some big saves to help secure the victory for the US. But it’s a very small sample size for both goalies. We’ll probably have a better idea on both midway through the year.