American Prospect Update: International Standouts

Today marks the first of not one, but TWO American Prospect Updates this week. Today, we’ll focus on the standouts from the past international break. Then come on back Thursday as NHL Central Scouting will be releasing its 2012 NHL Entry Draft preliminary rankings, in which they rank players by league (separately). There’s bound to be a few surprises, so be sure to check back Thursday for a complete rundown of where the Americans stand in their respective leagues.

Getting back to the task at hand, the international break was very kind to some prospects and not so nice to others.

For members of the U.S. National Under-18 Team, an undefeated record against some stiff competition is only going to help. For the U.S. Junior Select Team, a disappointing third-place finish creates more questions than answers.

Coming up after the jump, analysis of who helped, and who may have hurt their draft stock in international play.

Leading off today’s American Prospect Update is the U.S. National Under-18 Team. After going undefeated in the always-competitive November U18 Four Nations Cup, the team looks to be hitting its stride. It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster season with the difficult schedule the NTDP put together for its older group. Despite the fluctuating results in the win column, this U18 group is gifted. There’s a lot of talent and they showed just how much they’re capable of against their own age group.

Also, if you’ve ever wondered what you get for winning the Four Nations Cup in Switzerland… You get a carved wooden bear head and a cow bell, that’s what.

Well… That’s, um… nice?

In order to earn the bear’s head and cowbell, Team USA needed a few standout performances and that’s exactly what they got. In international tournaments, there always has to be a few players that rise to the occasion and become that go-to player the team can count on for consistency and production.

At the Under-18 Four Nations, that player was Nic Kerdiles for Team USA. The California-born forward, who should find himself climbing draft rankings, led the tournament with five goals in three games. He also took a team-high 16 shots on goal, giving him a pretty impressive shooting percentage (31.25%).

Kerdiles, who made my Draft-eligible All-America Team as a left winger, has been primarily playing center for Team USA this season and has been bringing it offensively. He’s tied for the team lead with 12 points in 17 games, including a team-best nine goals. He’s been able to produce against the USHL, NCAA and now international competition. Additionally, Kerdiles is a versatile player. He’s not all offense, and he’s not a passive player. Kerdiles just gets things done, and the fact that he’s producing at a high clip is an exciting development.

Riley Barber had a decent tournament with a goal and an assist (he also had a goal and an assist in the exhibition against Switzerland), but he also led the tournament with a plus-5 rating. I don’t put a whole lot of stock into plus-minus for a prospect, but Barber tends to find himself on the right side of it often.  He also is part of a three-way tie for the U.S. lead with 12 points (7g-5a). Despite the fact that Barber is a new addition to the team, he’s fit right in and contributed right away. I’ve gotten rave reviews about his work ethic and his compete level. This tournament keeps Barber moving in the right direction.

Jacob Trouba has a whole bunch of tools, but perhaps one of his most valuable is his ability to get pucks to the net from the blue line. His rocket shot can strike fear in the hearts of goalies around the world. It also gives the U.S. a deadly weapon on the power play. The defenseman scored one goal, a PPG naturally, and finished third on Team USA with 10 shots on goal. Trouba typically won’t shoot just to shoot. He looks for the opening and gets the puck to the net. His accuracy has greatly improved from last season. So he can skate, he hits, plays with a ton of grit, and he can score. The more he develops, the scarier he becomes, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible.

Connor Carrick tends to get overshadowed by some of the more highly-touted defensemen on his team, but the kid can play and teams shouldn’t sleep on this smaller, but effective blue liner. The Orland Park, Ill., native (South Side, represent), posted three points to lead the tournament’s defensemen. He has pretty solid offensive instincts and skates well. Carrick also plays with a fair amount of grit, which he has to at 5-10, 183. Overall this season, Carrick only has five points, but expect his production to pick up as the season wears on. This tournament may have been the jumping-off point for him. He has plenty of development ahead and I like what he brings to the table.

Lastly, it’s important to mention Team USA’s goaltenders.

Jared Rutledge appeared in two tournament games, while Collin Olson started in one (Olson did play the pre-tournament exhibition, though). Both put up pretty solid numbers.

Rutledge earned a pair of wins over Sweden and Switzerland, while making a total of 53 saves. He posted a 2.00 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in tournament play.

Olson got the nod against Finland, and helped Team USA earn the 3-1 win, with a 24-save performance. If you combine Olson’s starts from the exhibition and the game against Finland, he posted a sparkling 0.67 GAA and .960 save percentage.

Both of these goaltenders have really come a long way since I saw them for the first time last November. Olson is more of the athletic type, while Rutledge has proven to be pretty technically sound and steady. Both have been challenged by the really tough competition this year, and the numbers reflect that, but I wouldn’t judge either of these two tenders on numbers alone. I like what each can bring to the table.

Some surprises for Team USA:

Miles Koules, who was utterly dominant in international competition last year, failed to register a point in Switzerland in tournament play, but had a two-assist night in Team USA’s pre-tournament game against the Swiss. Koules has six assists on the young season and has continued to show he can make plays. For him not to get on the score sheet during tournament play is slightly surprising.

Stefan Matteau tallied one assist and posted 30 minutes in penalties, which included a game misconduct. He had two goals and an assist against the Swiss in the pre-tournament game. He’s been playing a pretty rough-and-tumble game and now leads Team USA with 47 PIM. He also is tied for the team lead with 12 points. He remains one to watch as his game continues to round out.

Matthew Lane registered three points and has shown some marked offensive improvement from last season. He has nine points overall on the year. Lane plays with a bunch of energy.

Cam Darcy started the year as an A-rated prospect by CSS and still looks like a top-three-round pick despite slow production this year. He managed just a goal in the tournament and has seven points so far this season. Darcy looks like he can be a power-forward type, with good skills. The production hasn’t been where I think many believed it would be, but he’s still well thought of by most people I’ve talked to.

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The U.S. Junior Select Team failed to live up to expectations, which leaves a lot of questions. In a tournament it was expected to win, Team USA fell short, earning third-place at the World Junior A Challenge, after losing to Canada-East in the semis.

The two best players for Team USA were both players selected in last year’s NHL Entry Draft. Mario Lucia was named to the tournament all-star team for his five-point (4g-1a) performance, while Sean Kuraly tied for the tournament scoring lead with six points (3g-3a).

For many of the draft-eligible players on Team USA, it was not an overly positive tournament. But let’s start with the one draft-eligible that really stood out to me.

Vince Hinostroza, for my money, was Team USA’s best draft-eligible in tournament play. He brought his solid on-ice work ethic and it paid off for him in the form of four points (1g-3a), good for third on the squad. Hinostroza’s goal came shorthanded against Canada West, and he proved to be a pretty good penalty killer overall. The biggest thing Hinostroza showed was that he’ll compete. That’s been his story since the Ivan Hlinka and it should be going forward. He’s not the most gifted guy out there, but he gets it done.

Shane Malloy, a guy who’s very plugged into the NHL scouting community and wrote a book called The Art of Scouting, had this to say about Americans at the WJAC on Twitter:

@ShaneMalloy Both Jordan Schmaltz and Brian Cooper played well enough at the WJAC, but expectations from other scouts is that they could have done more.

@ShaneMalloy I thought Austyn Young from Sioux Falls on team USA at the WJAC was the most promising 2012 NHL Draft eligible forward on the USA roster.

I am in complete agreement with Malloy’s scouting sources on that first tweet. Jordan Schmaltz and Brian Cooper were perfectly average in the games I saw. While Schmaltz has more NHL upside than Cooper, the former was outplayed by the latter, but only by a little.

Cooper put up three assists in the tournament and showed spurts of that offensive awareness that helped him put up 33 points in the USHL last season. He also showed he can skate, which was pretty well-known about him. Cooper was a bit suspect defensively, but I wouldn’t say disappointing. At the end of the day, he looked OK. At his size, he has to be better than OK.

Schmaltz, on the other hand, in my viewings didn’t look much like a first-round draft pick. That’s a concern. As I mentioned in my prelim-round recap, Schmaltz should have been undoubtedly the best player in that tournament if he wants to keep the first-round chatter alive. He simply wasn’t that. With one assist in the tournament, the offense was unable to make up for the defensive lapses. Turnovers were a problem and there were a few instances of over-committing in the offensive zone, both issues that have been ongoing.

Schmaltz returns to USHL play with a new team after being traded. He’ll need to adjust to his new teammates and new surroundings quickly in order to prevent a further slide. Schmaltz will remain in the first-round conversation because of his upside, but as a late 1993, and therefore one of the older players in the draft, there needs to be more than just upside.

I did like Austyn Young in my viewings. He didn’t blow me away, but no one really did. Young had a goal and an assist and showed some good instincts. Like Hinostroza, I thought he had a good on-ice work ethic and showed some maturity on the ice as well. He’s definitely given me more reason to watch him the rest of the year.

Austin Cangelosi was a little streaky, kind of coming and going, en route to a three-point performance. His early-season success has to be sustained for him to keep pushing his way towards mid-round (perhaps more conservatively, late-mid-round) consideration.

A.J. Michaelson didn’t register a single point at the Challenge. I thought this would be his breakout tournament, but clearly it was not. Almost invisible at times, Michaelson has failed to capture that offensive game he displayed in high school. At one point, he was considered the cream of the 1994 crop. Unfortunately, he’s a long way from that. He has a lot of minds to change over the course of this season.

I’ve been beating the Riley Bourbonnais drum for most of the first few months of this season, but the beat may be silenced soon. I still believe he has the tools to warrant a selection in his second-year of eligibility, but as one of the older players on Team USA, I expected him to shine a bit more. His offensive production has dropped off at Cedar Rapids and he only posted one assist at the WJAC. He’ll have to recapture the magic from the first few weeks of the season to remain in the conversation.

The international break told us a lot about these players, but it’s important to remember they don’t tell us everything. It is only November after all. There’s a long season yet to go and plenty of time for these guys to go up and down.

Don’t forget to check back Thursday for analysis of NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary-round rankings and the World Junior Spotlight on Cornell’s Brian Ferlin.

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.
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