American Prospect Update: Season Wrap Up

For American prospects, the playing season is done. The USHL’s Clark Cup Finals was the last on-ice event featuring American prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Oddly enough, there isn’t a single American, draft-eligible or otherwise that is playing in the CHL’s Memorial Cup. So with the conclusion of a thrilling Clark Cup series, it’s time to wrap up the season.

Coming up after the jump, a review of the Clark Cup Finals, look ahead to the NHL Scouting Combine, International Scouting Services’ May rankings, Red Line Report’s interesting Top 10, and celebrating Ian Jenkins’s life.

The Dubuque Fighting Saints looked nothing like an expansion team as it marched it’s way through a stellar first season and right to the Clark Cup. Having lost its first game of the Best-of-5 to the Green Bay Gamblers, the Fighting Saints rattled off three straight wins and captured the USHL’s ultimate prize on home ice, at a packed Mystique Ice Center.

It was an especially important final series for John Gaudreau, the USHL’s Rookie of the Year and one of the few ranked draft eligibles playing in the final series. After leading Dubuque with 72 points in the regular season, Gaudreau continued his scoring ways in the playoffs, averaging a point-per-game. The small forward finished second in the USHL Playoffs with 11 points (5-6).

Hoisting the Clark Cup is a pretty good way to cap off a brilliant season and scouts will likely notice that. He’s still likely to go in the late rounds, but as I’ve said before, there may be a few teams that might reach a little bit for the shifty Gaurdreau.

Green Bay had three American draft eligiles that were ranked by NHL Central Scouting on its roster.

The highest ranked of those players was No. 48 Andy Welinski, whose stock has risen steadily all year. He finished the USHL playoffs with two goals and a plus-5 rating. In the final two games against Dubuque, Welinski finished on the minus side, but will likely remain an earlier mid-round pick.

Austin Czarnik, who was ranked No. 115 by Central Scouting, had four points in the playoffs including an assist in the finals. Despite being a smaller player, Czarnik has a tenacious style and has shown in the past he can score. He’ll probably be a later-mid-round pick and would likely be a long-term prospect.

Aaron Harstad, who is in his second year of eligibility, was ranked 134th by Central Scouting. I liked his game in my viewings last year and I still like it. He’s got good size and decent offensive abilities, but didn’t have the same point production this year. He posted two goals and two assists, to go along with a plus-3 rating in the playoffs. He also had a team-high 26 PIM. He’ll be a good pick in the middle rounds, and another long-term development prospect.

It was an up-and-down season for USHL prospects, but it certainly was a solid year for the league as a whole. Many teams are doing well in their local markets and continuing to build interest in the league. I’ve long thought that the USHL is a great product and certainly a solid avenue for development. It was good to see the league have a very solid season on the ice and in the box office.

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We’re about a week away from the NHL Scouting Combine, which takes place in Toronto May 30-June 4. In preparation of the combine, NHL.com is ranking the Top 10 prospects at each position and started with the Left Wings.

Among those ranked were Americans Brandon Saad, Mario Lucia and Matthew Nieto. You can read the story to find out where they’re ranked.

NHL.com also released it’s top 10 right wing prospects. Three more Americans made the cut here, with Tyler Biggs, Seth Ambroz and Stefan Noesen all getting recognized.

Defensemen, centers and goaltenders will be released in that order throughout the remainder of this week on NHL.com.

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International Scouting Services (ISS) released it’s Top 30 for May. The thing I like about this list is it takes into account the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, which in my mind is one of the most important scouting events in all of hockey. If there was one thing I would change about Central Scouting’s final ranking, it would be to delay it until after the World Under-18s. It’s a great way to gauge the European players, as well as the top Americans.

Among the ISS Top 30 were Americans Rocco Grimaldi (No. 15), J.T. Miller (16), Connor Murphy (18), Jamie Oleksiak (21) and Brandon Saad (24).

The meteoric rise of Connor Murphy has continued among almost all scouting services. The IIHF World Under-18 Championship was his official “Here I Am” moment, though to Central Scouting’s credit, they were already on the bandwagon. Murphy certainly has first-round ability, but will his injury issues haunt him at the draft? As I’ve said before, the Scouting Combine will be a big event for Murphy to prove he’s healthy.

There seem to be a lot more folks on the fence about Grimaldi and Miller. Some believe they deserve Top-15 status, while others think they shouldn’t go before the 20th pick. There are even a few outlets that don’t believe either are first-round prospects.

However, more consistently we are seeing both Miller and Grimaldi’s names appear ahead of Saad, Biggs, Ambroz, Prince and Noesen. Are they the top two American forwards? More importantly, of that group will they be the best pro players? It’s very interesting to see the fluctuation in rankings over a given year.

There seems to be more fluctuation this year, than ever before. There is probably no tougher year to predict a draft than this one. It can go in so many different directions in the first two or three rounds, it’s almost ridiculous. Should be fun to watch.

For more ISS info, check out the risers and fallers over at Hockey’s Future.

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The Red Line Report’s USA Today column came out last week and, as usual, it raised a few eyebrows.

The aforementioned Miller and Grimaldi both cracked Kyle Woodlief’s Top 10. Miller was ranked ninth, and to be honest, could be a Top 10 pick with his size and skill set. Grimaldi has always had top 10 skills and speed, but his size has been the biggest reason for skepticism. Whether you think these picks were for the right reasons, or not, it’s a fairly well-respected publication putting faith in a pair of intriguing prospects.

Woodlief also mentions Reid Boucher as a riser, and some think the forward can even sneak into the second round. On many of Boucher’s scouting reports, I’ve seen that his size will hurt him. He has a smallish frame, but I feel that his physical strength is underrated. Not to mention, his strength over the puck. He battles in the corners and along the walls well, and I don’t think his size should be as big a concern as it seems to be with some evaluators.

I think his rise up the charts is warranted and he could end up being a great value pick for whoever gets him.

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Today, I close this prospect update somberly. As many of you have probably heard, promising 1995-born American goaltender Ian Jenkins, passed away Monday morning.

Jenkins recently completed the Warren Strelow National Goaltending Camp, which is an invite-only camp held in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the American goalies that have been identified as the best in their age group. The young goaltender, who played for the Belle Tire AAA program last season, also signed on to play for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

The hockey community is a tight one, and when something like this happens, it effects all of us in some way. I’d never met Ian Jenkins and all I know of him is what I’ve read. However, whenever a tragedy like this strikes, it hits us all in some way. Especially when that young person has so many things ahead of him.

As Ian’s father, Joel, said in a released statement: “No matter what happens, he had the happiest two weeks of his life leading up to that day, and all of us on Ian’s family ‘team’ were thrilled to be part of that.”

There’s something inspiring about that and I’m so glad that the family will have that memory forever.

It sounds like Ian Jenkins had a huge impact on the people he met in his short life. George Sipple, of the Detroit Free Press, wrote a beautiful story with more comment’s from Joel Jenkins, former coaches and others that knew him.

On Saturday (May 28), Ian’s life will be celebrated with a hockey game at Compuware Arena in Plymouth, Mich., and a foundation has been set up in Ian’s memory. Visit banditsgoaltending.com for more information and to find out how to donate to the Big E Foundation.

I think I speak for all of the hockey community when I say, our thoughts are with the Jenkins family and friends.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to American Prospect Update: Season Wrap Up

  1. Woody says:

    What is the situation with Oleksiak? I know he was born in Toronto, and the Hockey News listed him as Canadian. Has he indicated who he will play for?

    • Chris Peters says:

      Oleksiak is Canadian born, but holds dual citizenship. Since he played for the U.S. in the Ivan Hlinka and was at the tryout camp for the U.S. National Junior Team, I’m counting him as American. That said, he’s not officially an American international player until he plays in an IIHF event. So he could still play for Team Canada. If he does… he wouldn’t be considered an “American prospect” anymore.

  2. Woody says:

    Thanks Chris for the clarification. Hopefully he stays with us, as I think quite a few scouts are real high on him.

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