Friday night I was able to take in a USHL contest between the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and Sioux City Musketeers. It wasn’t much of a game, with Cedar Rapids winning 10-2, but it was a great chance to see top prospect Jordan Schmaltz and a host of other players who may hear their names called in June.
First off, a quick analysis of the two teams:
Cedar Rapids has been billed as one of the fastest teams in the USHL and they definitely lived up to that against Sioux City last Friday. The top six forwards for CR can really move the puck and create chance after chance with great speed. Cedar Rapids D is a little underwhelming physically, but still possess solid skating skills that can often make up for a lack of size. The RoughRiders are a very exciting team to watch.
Sioux City has a much older roster, with a heavy dose of 1992- and even a few 1991-born players. Despite the age and size advantages, the Musketeers got dominated. It’s not just CR doing the dominating either. Sioux City is 1-4 on the young season and is being outscored 19-9. This isn’t an overly fast team, and that could be a detriment to the Musketeers going forward in the increasingly younger, faster USHL.
Coming up after the jump, a look at prospects Jordan Schmaltz, Cliff Watson, Riley Bourbonnais, Matt McNeely, Austin Ortega and Ian Brady.
Jordan Schmaltz - D – Sioux City Musketeers – Commited to North Dakota
Schmaltz looked to be everything he’s been advertised to be: A solid offensive-minded, smooth-skating defenseman. He certainly looked the part, but finally having a chance to see him up close, I got a better idea of why so many folks are high on Schmaltz.
Let’s start with the positives:
Schmaltz has serious poise with the puck. He doesn’t force it too much. There’s very little panic in his game, but there are also a few times where there needs to be some more urgency. That said, when he’s got the puck in the offensive zone, he can make a lot of things happen. Schmaltz lets the play develop in front of him, which is a key component to his game. It allows him to make better plays. He’ll wait until there’s a passing lane or a shooting lane.
His skating is fluid and smooth, almost effortless. He doesn’t possess top end speed, but he moves very well. He’s tough to knock off the play because of his tremendous balance. He never got a chance to to tee up a shot in the game, but he can get his wrist shot off quickly.
What needs work:
Schmaltz rarely engaged physically. He can take a hit, but I didn’t see him forcing his big frame on Cedar Rapids’ smaller forwards, opting to use the stick more commonly.
Like all offensive defensmen, Schmlaltz was prone to giving up the odd-man break. An offensive zone turnover off his stick led to a 2-on-1 the opposite direction. It’s the risk you run with offensive defensemen, but it didn’t appear to be a common occurrence. Schmaltz seemed to have a good grasp on when to pick his spots overall.
I was impressed with his game. Schmaltz still needs some work, but he’s got a lot to like. If he can round out his game physically, he should find himself in the first round. As much as I like him, I’m not entirely sold he’ll be a first rounder come June, but he’s close.
Cliff Watson - D – Sioux City Musketeers – Committed to Ohio State
Watson came into this season with a lot of intrigue. NHL Central Scouting listed him as an A-rated prospect on its 2012 Watch List after spending last season in the Wisconsin High School league with Appleton United.
The big defenseman at 6-2, 195 appears to be going through an adjustment period heading into the USHL. That said, I took his performance with a grain of salt. It’s a huge leap from high school hockey to the USHL, so it’s hard to fault Watson for needing some extra time in the early stages of this season.
He has that great size, but his skating appeared to be average and his hands a bit below average. He seemed to have really solid awareness and positioning as the game wore on, but Cedar Rapids’ speed definitely gave Watson fits. He posted a minus-4 rating against the RoughRiders.
While I don’t think Watson is anywhere near an A-rated prospect, I do think he has draft potential. He looks to be more of a mid-round guy because of his great size and a fair amount of upside. Hopefully, we’ll get a better idea of what kind of player Watson is when he adjusts to USHL play.
Riley Bourbonnais - F – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Committed to RPI
When he was on the ice, I had a hard time taking my eyes off of Bourbonnais. It wasn’t much of a stretch either, because he always seemed to be around the puck and creating opportunities. He scored a goal and added two assists in the rout of Sioux City and to be honest, I’m surprised his point total was that low.
Every shift, it appeared Bourbonnais was generating a scoring chance, either by himself or finding an open teammate. Similarly to Schmaltz, Bourbonnais doesn’t force too many plays. He allows the lanes to open up before making a decision.
There was one play where Bourbonnais was skating into the zone, drew two defenders and made the smart play by getting it to a teammate. His patience with the puck is not often seen in forwards who can score. He didn’t shoot just to shoot, he’d shoot when he had an opening.
He currently leads the RoughRiders with six points through the team’s first four games, and has recorded 14 shots on goal.
There aren’t a ton of holes in Bourbonnais’ game, but his skating could use a little work and I’d like to see a little more out of him defensively, though that’s tough to gauge in a game Cedar Rapids so thoroughly dominated offensively.
He was passed over in the draft last year, but I honestly can’t see that happening this year. Playing in the much more visible USHL should get Bourbonnais plenty of looks. If he keeps up the scoring pace he’s currently on, he’d be near impossible to let slip past the fourth round.
Austin Ortega - F – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
When you don’t have size, you absolutely have to have speed and Ortega has plenty of that. He’s shifty and aggressive. With three goals already this season, Ortega is off to a great start in his rookie campaign.
In addition to his speed, Ortega has that tenacity required of small players. He layed a pretty nice body check on big Cliff Watson and won the puck because of it. Ortega will need to have a super productive year to warrant draft consideration, but I think he’s a name you should know going forward.
Ian Brady - D – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Committed to Nebraska Omaha
Brady has looked solid so far to start his second USHL season, with four points through the team’s first four games. He scored a goal and added an assist against Sioux City and looked pretty solid throughout the game, posting a plus-4 rating.
Brady lacks the size you’re looking for in a defenseman, but has some pretty good offensive instincts and skates pretty well.
Central Scouting has him listed as a C-rated prospect, which I think is pretty accurate considering he’s looking like a late-round hopeful. He’s no lock to be drafted, but Cedar Rapids’ style of play should allow Brady to flourish in his second USHL season.
Matt McNeely - G – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Committed to Minnesota Duluth
McNeely is another second-year eligible player and he’s another one that I think will absolutely earn a shot at the draft. Having spent last season at the NTDP in the shadow of John Gibson, McNeely will shine as the RoughRiders No. 1.
One of the knocks on McNeely in his NTDP days is it looked like he’d get rattled a bit after giving up a goal, but in this game against Sioux City, he couldn’t have looked more in control. He made 30 stops against Sioux City, including several big ones early, before the game got out of hand.
He also let up a goal that allowed Sioux City back within one, but shook it right off and made some big saves the rest of the way.
He’s always been a very athletic goaltender and that’s something NHL teams should like. He also has the size you want in a netminder at 6-foot-1, 199.
With a weaker crop of goalies for this year’s draft, McNeely deserves another shot and he should get it.
That’s it for this week’s American Prospect Update, make sure to check back next Wednesday for more news, notes and analysis on this year’s crop of American draft-eligible players.