Top College-Bound NHL Draft Eligibles Examined

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft should pique the interest of college hockey fans with several top recruits and current players hoping to hear their names called within the first three rounds of the Draft, American or otherwise.

Of course, there will be work to be done by each school after one of their top recruits is selected. Some NHL teams are known to steer their college-bound recruits to Major Junior, others are content to stay the course. In the end, most teams leave the decision up to the player, knowing he will develop either way, since the person most responsible for a player’s development is the player himself.

There are some really intriguing names out there that have some college fan bases really excited. Coming up after the jump, a look at the top college recruits (not just Americans, mind you) that were listed in the Top 60 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its final rankings and the CHL teams that hold their draft rights, should anyone decide to change their mind.

Players listed in CSS NA Top 30

Jacob Trouba — D — U.S. National Under-18 Team — CSS NA Rank: 9
School: University of Michigan — CHL Rights: Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Trouba’s been covered at length at this blog, most recently in this post. It is worth noting that Trouba has been outspoken about his commitment to the University of Michigan. The Rochester, Mich., native has said ever since he made his final commitment earlier this year that he would not be backing out. Kitchener is one of the top teams year-in and year-out in the OHL, but don’t expect Trouba to step away from Michigan.

Zemgus Girgensons — F — Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) — CSS NA Rank: 18
School: University of Vermont — CHL Rights: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Photo: USHL

Girgensons is an exciting talent from Riga, Latvia. He spent the last two years with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, winning a Clark Cup with the team in his rookie season. Scouts love his size and speed, but on top of it, he has enough offensive skill to be a potential power-forward force at the next level. Girgensons was expected to dominate the USHL this year, but only experienced a slight uptick in production from his breakout rookie season. It shouldn’t be much of a concern, though.

Girgensons also played for Latvia at the World Juniors this year and was clearly the team’s best player. He didn’t have much to work with, but he made his teammates better and was able to do quite a bit by himself. The size, strength and puck skills are going to make him a sure-fire first-rounder and his renowned work ethic should get him to the NHL in a short span.

Kelowna has made its pursuit of Girgensons well known, however Girgensons recently said this to USHL.com:

“The CHL is not an option for me now,” Girgensons said Saturday. “I’m a committed man, and I want to go to Vermont.”

It has been reported often that Girgensons’ parents care deeply about education and that played a big role in Girgensons coming to the U.S. three years ago. Before joining Dubuque, Girgensons played for the EJHL’s Green Mountain Glades. He seems like a safe bet to be a Catamount come fall.

Brady Skjei — D — U.S. National Under-18 Team — CSS NA Rank: 19
School: University of Minnesota — CHL Rights: Regina Pats (WHL)

The smooth-skating defenseman has been a hot name since about mid-season as he kept flying up draft charts. With explosive speed and a solid 6-3, 200-pound frame, Skjei looks like he could be a top four at the next level at some point. There are worries that he doesn’t have enough offensive upside to reach top-four potential, but he’s a smart defender that can play physically and has added a fair amount of edge.

How many times does a kid from Minnesota that’s committed to the Golden Gophers back out on that commitment? Pretty much never. The Lakeville, Minn., native apparently has been contacted by the Regina Pats as recently as April, but I would not anticipate Skjei heading the WHL route.

Phil Di Giussepe — F — University of Michigan — CSS NA Rank: 22
CHL Rights: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Throughout his freshman season Di Giussepe has been considered a potential first-round talent. He posted 26 points in 40 games with the Wolverines last year and showed flashes of high-end skill and speed. Di Giussepe also has good defensive instincts and can play a strong two-way game. He’s on the bubble for the first round, but took a big step forward development-wise and if he keeps getting stronger he should be a nice prospect for the team that picks him up.

Based on what he told Kirk Luedeke about choosing Michigan a few weeks back, it is highly unlikely the Ontario-native will be leaving school anytime soon. However, you can never quite count out Windsor, which acquired Di Giusseppe’s rights from Niagara last season. No doubt Warren Rychel, who just signed Patrick Sieloff away from Miami University, will be, um, persuasive.

Nic Kerdiles — F — U.S. National Under-18 Team — CSS NA Rank: 29
College: University of Wisconsin — CHL Rights:  Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Aided by a great performance at the World Under-18 Championship in which he led the U.S. with four goals and nine points, Kerdiles is starting to look more and more like the first-round prospect he was projected to be at the beginning of the season. There are still some mixed reviews about him in terms of if he has enough in the way of puck skills for that to translate, but his size, speed and hockey sense are all first-round tools.

As Kerdiles told Shawn Reznik of The Hockey Writers:

“I really haven’t given too much thought of playing in the WHL because Kelowna has respected my choice of going to Wisconsin and has not been persistent on me.  Kelowna is obviously a great organization, and they have respected me enough to allow me room to breathe and choose my path on my own.  I have nothing but great things to say about Kelowna and I wish them success in the future.”

That was in February, but Kerdiles has remained firm in his commitment to Wisconsin and it would be unlikely for him to head the WHL route. Players with his size usually have an easier transition from junior to college.

Michael Matheson — D — Dubuque Fighting Saints — CSS Rank: 27
School: Boston College – CHL Rights:  Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)

A fellow Fighting Saint, Matheson and Girgensons have been the most talked about USHL prospects this year. The Pointe-Claire, Quebec native has a solid 6-1, 178 frame and skates very well. He has good puck skills and vision which should make him a  pretty successful two-way defenseman. His defensive abilities might not be where they need to be to be a lock for the first round as projections have him either late-first or early-second.

Matheson was drafted by Shawinigan of the QMJHL, but his rights were traded to Moncton last year. Moncton has made it perfectly clear that they are going to do what they can to attract Matheson (and fellow BC recruit and 2012 Draft-eligible Frankie Vatrano for that matter) away from Boston College. It doesn’t happen too often where BC loses a top recruit, but one can never know for sure.

Players Listed 31-60 in CSS NA Rankings

Jordan Schmaltz — D — Green Bay Gamblers — CSS NA Rank: 34
School: University of North Dakota — CHL Rights: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Though he started the year as a projected first-rounder, Schmaltz is looking more like a second-round guy by most rankings. He’s a good offensive defnseman with room to work and grow. The upside is there for him to be a really strong offensive defenseman in the future, so he’s a nice pick for whoever gets him. Windsor has been hard after Schmaltz since they drafted him and rumors swirled he could be headed that way, but just weeks ago, Schmaltz reaffirmed he is 100 percent committed to North Dakota.

Sam Kurker — F — St. John’s Prep — CSS NA Rank: 36
School: Boston University — CHL Rights: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

CSS has been high on Kurker much of the year due to his 6-2, 198-pound frame and power-forward capabilities. He was a standout  for the U.S. at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka and played well in Prep School. New England Hockey Journal was a little less optimisic than CSS on Kurker,  citing consistency issues. Though BU was planning on Kurker coming in 2013-14, some early departures to the pros made the roster space available for the power-forward to get on board next season. NHL teams will probably be pretty happy about that, too. Kurker was drafted by Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts in the recent QMJHL Priority Draft in the 10th round, but there’s nothing to indicate the St. John’s Prep star is considering the QMJHL route.

Mark Jankowski — F — Stanstead College (Quebec) — CSS NA Rank: 43
School: Providence College — CHL Rights: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Photo: Stanstead College

One of the most rapid draft risers this year has been Hamilton, Ontario’s Mark Jankowski. It is rare a player from Quebec’s high school/prep school ranks is receiving first-round consideration, but Jankowski has been a hot prospect in the second half of the season. He put up 94 points in 57 games at Stanstead, which will be taken with a grain of salt due to the competition. That said, scouts love his size and skill level. After being passed over in the OHL Draft twice, Saginaw snapped him up in this year’s OHL Priority Draft. Though Jankowski has already signed a Letter of Intent with Providence, he may still play a year of junior hockey before heading to PC, as he told Kirk Luedeke. Just in case that does happen, he was picked up by the Dubuque Fighting Saints 11th overall in the USHL Entry Draft. Jankowski has also said if the NHL team that drafts him wants him to go to Saginaw, he would consider it. So there are a lot of different scenarios that could play out yet with this rising prospect.

Jake McCabe — D — University of Wisconsin — CSS NA Rank: 47

McCabe is a late 1993-born defenseman coming off of a solid freshman campaign with the Badgers. While he is best in his own end, McCabe has shown flashes of higher offensive potential. Despite the flashes, there isn’t enough offensive consistency to call McCabe and all out two-way defenseman, but he’s getting there. With good strength along the walls and a steady, if not explosive stride, McCabe looks to be a pretty solid defenseman down the line. He has plenty of time to develop and will likely stick around in school for a couple of more years. He’s projected as high as early-second round material to early-third.

Robbie Baillargeon — F — Indiana Ice — CSS NA Rank: 50
School: Boston University — CHL Rights: None.

Baillargeon made a pretty seamless transition from prep hockey to the USHL this year. Certainly didn’t hurt that he was playing with a veteran laden Indiana Ice club, but the forward showed a lot of tools on his own. Baillargeon put up 48 points for the Ice in 54 games last season. He’s a pretty quick skater with a nose for the net and the puck skills to get there. He has decent size and 6-0, 175 and has plenty of time to round out his game. Baillargeon is not expected at BU until 2013, so he’ll likely be sticking with the Ice next season.

Matt DeBlouw — F — Muskegon Lumberjacks — CSS NA Rank: 51
School: Michigan State University — CHL Rights: None.

After taking a slight tumble in the CSS Rankings, Matt DeBlouw is still a little difficult to project in terms of where he might end up getting drafted. CSS was always high on the Lumberjacks forward, but I didn’t hear much buzz about this prospect from other places. DeBlouw has good size and pretty good puck skills. In his second USHL season, his production was underwhelming with 34 points in 58 games. That said, Muskegon was a pretty poor team last year and DeBlouw didn’t have a great supporting cast. The centerman had a great performance at the Scouting Combine, but still projects anywhere from late second-round to early-fourth. He’s headed to Michigan State next year, which made it to the NCAA tournament and could be a program on the rise. DeBlouw is one of the Spartans’ best recruits and should be given a chance to contribute immiediately.

Zach Stepan — Shattuck-St. Mary’s — CSS NA Rank: 53
School: Ohio State University — CHL Rights: None.

The cousin of New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan, Zach has had a busy offseason already. Though he had initially committed to play for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL next year, he reversed course and decided to play for the Waterloo Black Hawks instead in the USHL. Stepan is due for a one-year stop before heading to Ohio State in 2013. The forward had a really strong year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and if he played stronger competition throughout the year, he might have even better stock than this. Stepan had 65 points in 50 games this year as he led SSM to the USA Hockey Tier I U18 National Championship.

Brian Hart — Phillips Exeter — CSS NA Rank: 54
School: Harvard University — CHL Rights: None.

A late 1993 birth-date, Hart is a behemoth at 6-2, 216. He also put up a boatload of points at Exeter with 68 in 29 games. Hart looks like he could be a big time prospect for Harvard, and there’s a strong chance he’ll go in the second round of the draft. Apparently he is also a highly accomplished soccer player and have some scholarship offers to play the sport, but chose hockey. The one bit of concern, as Kirk Leudeke wrote for the New England Hockey Journal is that Hart hasn’t quite figured out how to use that big body of his yet. That will be the key to him making it to the next level. You can’t be big and not use it. That said, Hart has some great offensive tools that are more attractive due to his size.

Devin Shore — Whitby Fury (OJHL) — CSS NA Rank: 58
School: University of Maine — CHL Rights: Barrie Colts (OHL)

Photo: Brian Watts — OJHL

Shore’s name has been a hot one of late among scouts. In fact, TSN’s Craig Button had Shore at No. 37 on his final rankings. Shore had an explosive season on the top like for Whitby in the OJHL with 58 points in 41 regular-season games. He also was a standout at the World Junior A Challenge for Canada East and was named MVP of the tournament. Despite the fact that Shore has played against weaker competition, there are some skills and a good bit of potential for this forward. He committed to Maine soon after he was drafted into the OHL by Barrie. He could have gone right to the OHL, but wanted to go to school. Initially committed for 2013, it appears Shore will be headed to Maine this season. It’s a huge pickup for a school that just lost about half of its offense to graduation. Shore could be an impact player for the Black Bears as they rebuild a bit.

Most of these players appear firm in their commitments, but if last off-season taught you anything,  it’s expect anything. With the ringer these players get run through after the Draft, things can change rather quickly, so… stay tuned.

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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.
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