Editor’s note: Ripping a page right out of the NCAA’s book, the United States of Hockey is naming three, that’s right, three All-America teams. Why let the college folks have all the fun? The three All-America teams will feature the American-born players I feel are the best at their individual position. There will be an All-America team made up of NHL players, one for college hockey (naturally) and another featuring 2012 Draft-eligible prospects. I’ll be naming six players to each of the three teams, while also throwing out some honorable mentions. The All-America teams will be revisited at both the half-way point and the end of the hockey season. They might look the same, they might look different and that’s the fun of doing it in the preseason. We start with the 2012 NHL Draft eligible players, but stay tuned for the college hockey All-America Team later today. Side Note: This post takes the place of this week’s American Prospect Update.
As more Americans have entered the game, lists like these will become less necessary, but this is a blog about hockey in America, and I am going to write about hockey in America and the American players that play hockey in America. Still with me?
All that aside, the first of the three All-America teams I’ll be unveiling this week on USofH features the top American-born 2012 Draft-eligible players. It’s a very deep crop, making this an incredibly difficult list to put together. Narrowing the list down to one player for each position is quite difficult to do anyway, but with this class it was down right nauseating. I realize that the seasons for most draft prospects have started and therefore this isn’t much of a preseason team, but I wanted to delay these lists until closer to the NHL’s opening night. So, you can call this a “preseason” All-America list.
Here’s how this will go… I’ll list each position, then the player and a brief description as to why he’s on the preseason All-America Team. After each position player’s description, you’ll find the list of players receiving honorable mention. So how about you have a look see after the jump?
Left Wing – Nicolas Kerdiles – U.S. National Under-18 Team
Of course we had to start it off with a U.S. national teamer, right? I mean, what’s more American than that? Apple pie is about all I can think of. Kerdiles is not just on this list because he’s a national teamer though. He earns a spot based on his very projectable skill set and proven track record.
Last season, as a member of the U.S. National Under-17 Team, Nic Kerdiles was among the offensive leaders. He parlayed that success into a spot with the U.S. National Under-18 Team and was part of the gold-medal-winning team at the World Under-18 Championship. While there, he played alongside Caps sixth-round pick Travis Boyd and Maple Leafs first rounder Tyler Biggs. Kerdiles didn’t miss a beat. In fact, he was possibly the best defensive forward on that line, which allowed Boyd and Biggs to transition quickly and get up ice. As the tournament wore on, that line continued to improve and Kerdiles was a big part of making that happen.
The single biggest reason for Kerdiles to be part of this list is his versatility. He’s defensively responsible, but has great goal-scoring ability and offensive touch. Kerdiles has a solid 6-1, 192-pound frame that he uses well to protect the puck and take opponents off of it. He’s not overly physical, but plays a very steady, strong game.
With his U18 experience under his belt, Kerdiles should play a featured role on the U.S. National Under-18 Team this year. Not everyone has him as a first rounder right now, but if he continues to play the way he has in the early goings of this season, a lot more people will.
Honorable Mention: Stefan Matteau, U.S. National Under-18 Team; Brady Vail, Windsor Spitfires
Center – Alex Galchenyuk – Sarnia Sting
Though raised in Russia, Alex Galchenyuk is American born. That’s right, a kid named Alex Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which as Alice Cooper once graciously informed us is Algonquin for “The Good Land.”
Galchenyuk may not be aware of that, but what he is aware of is how to play ice hockey. He can play center or wing. No matter where he plays, Galchenyuk’s always around the puck. His slick skill set and uncanny vision have made him a highly rated prospect. Some even believe he can be a top-three pick. He does have that kind of talent, though he may more safely project into the lower half of the top 10.
The bad news is that Galchenyuk has been sidelined with a serious MCL injury. He’ll miss at least six weeks, which is a significant chunk of both his and the Sting’s season. Sarnia hopes to have him back by mid-November, but that’s sounding awfully optimistic.
If Galchenyuk is able to return at full strength and play up to his ability, he’s still one of the best young talents out there. He was selected first overall at the 2010 OHL Priority Selection and put up 83 points in his rookie season in the league. We can only imagine what he’ll accomplish with a year of experience and development under his belt.
When it comes to American forwards for 2012, there’s none better than Galchenyuk.
Honorable Mention: Cameron Darcy, U.S. Under-18; A.J. Michaelson, Waterloo Black Hawks; Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, Kent School.
Right Wing – Henrik Samuelsson – MODO (SEL)
How about that? Another European-sounding name on an All-America list? Well, sure, Henrik Samuelsson is the son of longtime NHLer Ulf Samuelsson, who is of course Swedish. However, Henrik is American born and played for the U.S. National Under-18 Team at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship last season. That means he’ll play his international hockey for Team USA for the rest of his career.
Samuelsson surprised many when he announced he would be leaving the National Team Development Program after just one season to join his father in Sweden with MODO. Ulf was named head coach and soon thereafter, it was out that Henrik was heading to Sweden. The good news for the big forward (Samuelsson can play right wing or center), is that he may get a shot at playing professional hockey in his draft year with MODO.
He’s currently listed on the big club’s roster and should he perform with the pros, it could significantly increase his draft stock. While at the NTDP, Samuelsson proved to be a strong forward with some great hands. In front of the opponent’s net, Samuelsson was immovable. Funny that Henrik turned into the same type of forward his dad would hack, cross check or stab to clear the crease.
Because of his physical tools, the younger Samuelsson may not be too far away from the next level. The one thing holding him back is his skating and propensity for making bad decisions, particularly in the penalty department (apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). However, those two flaws in Samuelsson’s game are overshadowed by the things he can do now and the things many believe he can do at the NHL. There’s a lot to like about his game and more than enough evidence for him to earn a spot on this team.
Honorable Mention: Riley Barber, U.S. National Under-18 Team; Miles Koules, U.S. National Under-18 Team; Vincent Hinostroza, Waterloo Black Hawks.
Defense – Jacob Trouba – U.S. National Under-18 Team
He’s big, he’s mean and he can put the puck in the net. Jacob Trouba already plays an NHL-style game and he’s not yet 18. Trouba’s terrific strength is only surpassed by his near-elite skating ability. His speed and sturdiness have led to some big open-ice hits that cause forwards to think twice before cutting across the middle.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Trouba’s shot is ready for the NHL. The puck jumps off his stick in a blink. In fact, he scored off of a one-timer in the gold-medal game against Sweden at the 2011 World Under-18 Championships. He’s a nightmare for an opponent’s penalty kill.
While his D-zone positioning and awareness need a bit of work, Trouba has all of the physical skills a first rounder is supposed to have. It isn’t whether or not his name will be called in June, it’s how early.
Defenseman – Nick Ebert – Windsor Spitfires
Ebert and Trouba made for a pretty easy pair of choices for the defense positions. Both have been highly touted since they were just 15. Ebert is certainly an offensively-gifted defenseman with some edge to his game.
Trouba and Ebert are similar in some ways and perhaps the pair will end up in similar draft positions in 2012.
Ebert is in his third year of Junior hockey after starting his career with the Waterloo Black Hawks at age 15. In his rookie season in the OHL, he posted an impressive 41 points. Now a focal point on the blue line of a young team in Windsor, Ebert’s production should increase.
Windsor appears to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode after years of dominance. With such a young team, Ebert will be looked to for leadership and production. With that increased responsibility, all Ebert has to do is live up to expectations and he should hear his name called early in the first round.
Honorable Mention: Brady Skjei, U.S. National Under-18 Team; Jordan Schmaltz, Sioux City Musketeers; Matt Grzlecyk, U.S. National Under-18 Team; Dylan Blujus, Brampton Battalian
Goaltender – Collin Olson – U.S. National Under-18 Team
Collin Olson is certainly deserving of being a part of this list, however this goaltender group as a whole (American or otherwise) is a bit weaker than in year’s past.
Regardless, Olson comes in with a lot of pressure, as the past two NTDP goaltenders (Jack Campbell and John Gibson) have gone in the first two rounds. Olson may not share the same high-round fate as his predecessors, but he is looking like the next high-end goaltending prospect to come out of Ann Arbor.
His tremendous size is exactly what NHL teams want and his positioning and general goaltending skills have vastly improved over the last year. There are still some rough edges, but there’s plenty of time for them to be smoothed out. He will split duties with Jared Rutledge this season. Rutledge is another goaltender that received serious consideration for this list.
Because of his pro-ready size and vast potential, Collin Olson rounds out the first All-America Team.
Honorable Mention: Jared Rutledge, U.S. National Under-18 Team; Jon Gillies, Indiana Ice; Matt McNeely, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
There you have it, the first ever United States of Hockey All-America team is named. Don’t forget, we’ll revisit this squad at the half-way point of the season to see how this first try went. There might be some changes. As we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen in a draft season.
Come on back this afternoon for the United States of Hockey’s College All-America squad.