It’s never too early to look ahead. With barely 48 hours passing since New Jersey-native Nick Ebert’s name was called by the Los Angeles Kings, making him the 211th pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, it’s time to look into the future once again, getting a glimpse of some of the names you should know for the 2013 Draft.
A lot can happen between now and next June. Players will rise and fall quite a bit over the next few months. Ebert is proof. Last year, many (including me) believed him to be a potential top-five pick in 2012. It was unthinkable back then that he could be one pick away from not even being drafted. Things happen though. Sometimes it’s a matter of an advanced prospect at 16 being caught by his peers at 17. Sometimes a prospect has maxed out his potential at an early age. Sometimes it’s just bad luck.
With all of that in mind, I put together a list of players who performed admirably enough this year to be considered notable prospects to keep an eye out for over the summer and into the early parts of next season.
The first big event of the scouting season is actually happening right now as USA Hockey’s Select 17 Player Development Camp, featuring the best 1995-born players in the country, not currently playing at the NTDP, is underway in Rochester, N.Y. So now is as good a time as any to kick off the 2013 NHL Draft season.
Coming up after the jump, a look at prospects you should know.
Seth Jones — Defenseman — Plano, Texas
Few American prospects have received the hype and attention Jones has since he was about 15 years old. However, unlike many over-hyped, over-exposed teenagers, Jones has lived up to it every step of the way and in some cases exceeded his lofty praise.
Jones, who decided to play for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks next season, is a legitimate contender for the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. He has stiff competition with Nathan MacKinnon and the fact that there are many teams that will put a premium on drafting forwards over defensmen, especially first overall. That said, he has all the makings of a long time NHLer, who should be more than ready to hop into the lineup on opening night in 2013-14.
The difference between players who fizzle out and those who make it is typically the way a player thinks the game and the level of maturity in that game. As of right now, at age 17, Jones has one of the most mature hockey minds you’ll see. On top of that, he’s 6-foot-3, 201 pounds and incredibly mobile. So you’ve got hockey sense, you’ve got size, you’ve got skating ability.
The only thing Jones doesn’t really have is that edgy game that some teams seem to need in defensemen. It’s not that he isn’t physical, because he is. Just ask 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton, who Jones drilled in open ice at the Under-18 Worlds. He just doesn’t have that snarl, which I think actually benefits the rest of his game.
Jones’ defensive play is well above average with good reach, a good defensive stick, the ability to read plays accurately and sound positioning. Most of all, he’s great with the puck on his stick in his own end. He evades pressure with his big body and quick feet, spinning away from contact and making the exact right play almost every time. In the 20-plus times I’ve seen Jones play, I don’t think I’ve seen him get hit solidly more than one time.
His offense has come along as well. Jones put up 31 points in 51 games last year with the U.S. Under-18 Team. He has a heavy, accurate shot, handles the puck well and with tremendous vision finds seams to either turn it up on the rush or dish it to the best option.
He already has two IIHF gold medals to his name, captaining the 2012 U18 squad and anchoring a defense that allowed just four goals in six games at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship. He would have probably made the roster and been a difference-maker for the U.S. National Junior Team had he not been injured in a pre-tournament game. The first glimpse of Jones in the scouting season will come at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid this August.
He’ll be the most talked-about American prospect since Patrick Kane, with ease.
Adam Erne – Forward — New Haven, Conn.
Erne played for the Indiana Ice in the USHL at 15 and performed admirably. There are very few 15-year-olds that are ready for a league like the USHL, and the league seems unwilling to regulate that practice of bringing under-agers in. However, there can be exceptions and Erne is one, with his size and strength.
A 1995-born forward, Erne developed physically that most of his peers and is listed at 6-0, 205 now. Erne is a good skater with some nice puck skills. He’s had a pro-level shot since he was about 15 and knows how to get to the good goal-scoring areas. Erne has some good distribution skills and seems to think the game at a very fast pace.
The one concern with Erne, as there should be with any player who develops physically faster than his peers, is can he continue moving his game forward? Nick Ebert and Seth Ambroz are the cautionary tales of players who played in the USHL at 15 due to size, strength and advanced ability. Both were caught up to and in some cases surpassed by their peers without adding enough to their game to keep them ahead of the curve. Ambroz went from consensus first-rounder to fifth-round draft pick. Ebert went from consensus top-five to 211th overall. The fact remains that Ambroz and Ebert still have a lot of development ahead of them and you can’t call them busts, but it just shows how far one can fall from lofty expectations.
Erne seems less likely to befall the same fate, but these cautionary tales should be taken to heart. Another big season with the Remparts will keep Erne in the high-first round conversation all year long.
J.T. Compher – Forward — Northbrook, Ill.
There’s power and grit in Compher’s game despite his 5-10, 172-pound frame. On top of it, there is some scoring potential and a really strong work ethic in all areas of the ice.
Compher was called up to the U.S. National Under-18 Team and performed a key role for the team, providing energy and some offensive pop. He had 13 points in 18 games after being called up from the U17s, where he put up 42 points in 40 games, which is pretty strong for a U17 against mostly USHL competition.
He doesn’t have overwhelming puck skills, but can create offense with his strength and tenacity on the puck. Should be interesting to see how he fares in a full U18 season.
Ian McCoshen — Defenseman — Hudson, Wis.
The big defenseman from the Waterloo Black Hawks is another guy who started in the USHL at age 15. He took a step forward as a 16-year-old showing a little more offensive upside and steady defensive abilities.
He’s another guy that has been ahead of his peers, physically, and so far has shown that he can keep moving forward developmentally.
Unfortunately, McCoshen will be missing a big opportunity to showcase himself against some of the best players in the world in his age group, as he will be with the Waterloo Black Hawks at the World Junior Club Championship and not at the annual Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament.
The U.S. sends a team of Americans not playing at the NTDP to that event in order to give more players a chance to represent their country in a highly-competitive international tournament. Without McCoshen, Team USA’s D will suffer a bit, as he has a pretty mature game and a nice 6-2, 190-pound frame. Team USA will also be without Taylor Cammarata who appears later in this list for the same reason.
Scouts won’t be happy that those two guys will be missing from the tournament, as it is probably the second-largest international scouting event of the year next to the World U18 Championship in April, and ranks up there with the CHL Top Prospects Game.
I know Waterloo and the USHL want to put their best foot forward for this World Junior Club Cup (and I can’t blame them), but that decision will put two big-time prospects out of the mix for the U.S. and also keep them from being seen by hundreds of scouts and several NHL GMs. Not sure too many will be headed to Omsk for the Junior Club Cup.
Either way, McCoshen will be seen a lot at Waterloo and as long as he continues on his development track, he’s a possible first-round type defender. We’ll see what happens next.
Hudson Fasching -- Forward — Burnsville, Minn.
The big forward from the NTDP’s U17 Team didn’t put up big numbers last year, but could have some big upside. He’s pushing 6-3 and 200 pounds and has continually added more edge to his game.
He shows some good offensive tools and could be a power-forward type at the next level. Fasching also has an incredible back story, which makes him mature well beyond his years and has given him a strong work ethic.
Another year of building strength and getting challenged on a nightly basis could take his game to the next level. The upside is there.
Ryan Hartman — Forward — West Dundee, Ill.
As a late 1994-born player, Hartman will have some advantages over his 1995-born competition like being a year ahead in his development. Hartman’s offensive numbers dipped from his U17 to his U18 season at the NTDP, but he showed flashes of the offensive upside in his game at the World Under-18 Championship.
Hartman, despite his 5-11, 179-pound frame has some nastiness to him and engages physically whenever he gets the chance. However, the real benefits to drafting him will be the offensive tools that he possesses. He’s headed to the Plymouth Whalers next year, and he could have an opportunity to put up some significant numbers there. If he does, he could go early in 2013.
Steven Santini — Defenseman — Mahopac, N.Y.
He’s big, he hits and he can really skate. Santini is just beginning to realize the vast potential he has and could be a really strong candidate to be a first-round defenseman next year if he keeps progressing.
He’s not a real offensive force yet, but I think there’s a chance he could develop into a strong two-way defenseman due to his immense skating ability and distribution skills. He’s got a ways to go developmentally, but the shell exists for him to grow into a big-time defender.
Michael Downing — Defenseman — Canton, Mich.
After seeing him at the U17 Five Nations in Ann Arbor last year, Downing really surprised me with his rapid development this season in Dubuque. The 6-3, 185-pound defenseman is a gifted skater and seemed to learn a lot about the defensive intricacies of the game over last season.
Downing has some nice offensive tools and put up a respectable 14 points for Dubuque last year as a 16-year-old. He had the benefit of playing with guys like Michael Matheson, who went in the first round this year, and should be ready for more of a featured role with the Fighting Saints next year.
Downing is still very raw, but the upside is there to be a real intriguing prospect come next year.
Taylor Cammarata — Forward — Plymouth, Minn.
The former Shattuck-St. Mary’s product had a breakout rookie season in the USHL last year, being named Rookie of the Year in the league. He put up 69 points in 60 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks last year, which is astounding for a player of his size in the USHL. Cammarata stands at just 5-6, 149, which is going to scare a lot of teams away, but he has some pretty special offensive abilities.
Cammarata has great vision and puck skills, he can find the net, too. He was a revelation in the Clark Cup Playoffs, in which the Black Hawks made it to the finals. He had 16 points including eight goals in 15 games. He’s such an exciting talent.
Again, I think him not being made available for the Ivan Hlinka is a bit of a bad decision, as he would have been able to calm some doubters potentially by producing against the top players in his age group. That event isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it can positively impact a player’s draft stock, especially one that will be heavily scrutinized.
Teams probably shouldn’t sleep on his abilities, but he’ll have to have another productive year to hear his name called in the earlier, as opposed to later rounds.
Tyler Motte – F — St. Clair, Mich. – After coming out guns blazing in the first half of his U17 season at the NTDP, his goal-scoring tailed off a bit. That said, Motte has some excellent offensive abilities. Ten of his 25 goals came against international competition last year. He’ll be one to watch for sure.
Luke Johnson — F — Grand Forks, N.D. — Born just four days after the draft cutoff, Johnson will be one of the older first-year eligibles next year. He was a point-per-game player in the USHL this year for the Lincoln Stars with 55 points including 20 goals. He has decent size and pretty strong puck skills.
Brandon Shea — F — Marshfield, Mass. — Though he severely tarnished his draft stock last season by leaving the Moncton Wildcats mid-year and just sitting at home not playing hockey, Shea is still a notable forward prospect at 6-2, 200 pounds. He is slated to play for Dubuque in the USHL this year, though there are rumors of him going back to the Q if he gets sent to the right team. He has some serious work to do, after creating so many red flags off the ice.
Will Butcher — D — Sun Prairie, Wis. — A gifted skater and puck-mover, Butcher will be one of the best offensive defensemen prospects among American-born Draft-eligibles. He had 31 points for the NTDP U17s before earning a call up to the U18 squad. He was the seventh defenseman for the U18 squad that won gold, but played a played a regular shift in most games. He has good vision and puck skills, but his skating is extremely high end.
Keaton Thompson — D — Devils Lake, N.D. — He’s not flashy, but he’s effective and with his birthday falling one day before the cut off, he’ll be the youngest player eligible for the NHL Entry Draft. He has some really terrific hockey sense and puck-moving abilities. He’s unafraid of the physical game and could have a big year as a U18 at the NTDP.
Brendan Burke — G — Scottsdale, Ariz. — The son of former NHL goalie and renowned goalie coach Sean Burke is a big 6-3, 175-pound netminder and he’ll likely get the starting nod for the Portland Winterhawks next year. With the team he’ll have in front of him, he should put up some pretty nice numbers and obviously has a pretty good mentor in his father.
There are so many other players I could list for this class. Obviously it’s still really early, but it looks like there are plenty of players that could be early-round picks and many more will emerge throughout the season.
For another good 2013, rundown, Chris Dilks over at Western College Hockey Blog listed a bunch more names you should be aware of, names I wished I had more room for here.
As always, USofH will be tracking these players throughout the season to keep you in the loop.