The 2012-13 hockey season might be marred by the NHL lockout, but that only leads to more attention on the other levels of hockey, which is primarily what we cover here at United States of Hockey. Of course, there’s an added focus on U.S. National Teams on this blog, especially of the National Team Development Program teams, as they are the only standing national teams under USA Hockey’s umbrella.
This year’s U.S. National Under-18 Team includes 20 players eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Last year, as U17s, the 1995s put up a respectable 25-27-3 record against a primarily USHL-filled schedule, placed second at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and won both the 2011 Under-17 Four Nations and 2012 Vlad Dzurilla U18 tournaments.
This year, with a schedule that includes an intimidating slate against NCAA Division I opponents and 30 USHL games, all roads lead to April’s 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship in Sochi, Russia.
Coming up after the jump, a brief outlook on the season and quick notes on each player on the U.S. National Under-18 Team roster.
Team USA will look to extend its unprecedented streak to five gold medals this year come April, but there’s a long road to get there and it certainly won’t be easy.
Led by head coach Don Granato, the Under-18s, which will represent the NTDP at the USHL Fall Classic beginning Wednesday in Sioux City, Iowa, will meet the likes of Wisconsin, Notre Dame, North Dakota, Cornell and Minnesota, and that’s just in October. Team USA will also travel to Bemidji State, Michigan State, Michigan, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Nebraska Omaha, Alabama Huntsville, Minnesota Duluth and a host of Division III opponents before the season is done. I can’t recall a tougher NCAA schedule for the NTDP in a long time.
The U18s aren’t likely to win a lot of those games, but will hope to have a good showing against the USHL, which is no small task either.
One of the highlights for the players and fans alike is that the IIHF’s November international break will bring a Four Nations Cup tournament to Ann Arbor. Switzerland, Sweden and Finland will all be at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube Nov. 6-11 for what is sure to be a scout’s haven.
Sweden and Finland often bring their best available prospects, so there could be an Aleksander Barkov sighting in November. The big Finn is getting a lot of top-five buzz for the 2013 Draft. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Sweden have a really intriguing little rivalry developing at the U18 level having met in each of the last three gold-medal games at the World U18 Championship. It should be a really great event and I believe it will also be airing on FASTHockey, just in case you can’t get out to Ann Arbor. It is not often you get to see several top draft-eligible European players in the middle of the season, so there’s certainly an allure for draft junkies.
It should be an intriguing season to follow, as it often is with the NTDP squad. This U18 group actually managed to get better in the off-season with a few key additions over the summer. More on that below.
Here’s a brief look at each of the 23 players playing for the U.S. National Under-18 Team this season (College commitment in parentheses, 2013 Draft Eligible unless otherwise noted).
Evan Allen (University of Michigan) — The speedy forward showed flashes of high-end scoring ability, but struggled to find consistency in 2011-12. His breakout performance came at the World U17 Challenge where he scored six goals to lead Team USA. Stats tend to be deceivingly low in the U18 year with a heavy schedule against colleges, but Allen should be expectedto be a productive player and earn some serious NHL Draft chatter down the stretch.
J.T. Compher (University of Michigan) — With a tremendous mix of speed, skill and grit, Compher made the jump to the U18 for the latter part of 2011-12. He sure didn’t look like an under-ager at the U18 Worlds, notching five points and dominating the faceoff circle to help Team USA claim gold. He had 55 points total last season, 42 of which came before he made the jump from U17 to U18. Though he lacks pro size, his tenacity at both ends of the ice and knack for goal-scoring should put him firmly in the first-round conversation for much of the year.
Dawson Cook (University of Notre Dame) — Cook has some raw abilities and might have struggled a little bit in his adjustment from Michigan high school to the demanding NTDP schedule. With an added year of experience and a really solid 6-1, 197-pound frame, Cook should be able to make a strong impression in his U18 season.
Shane Eiserman (University of New Hampshire) — A newcomer to the NTDP after spending last year at Cushing Academy, Eiserman immediately endeared himself to his new mates by posting a pair of goals and an assist in the U18s USHL pre-season tilt against Youngstown over the weekend. A potential impact addition to the forward group, Eiserman brings size (6-2, 196) to go along with good strong skating and sound offensive abilities. Draft Eligible in 2014
Hudson Fasching (University of Minnesota) — You could see there is something special in Fasching’s game last season, but the points didn’t necessarily reflect that. However, a year of added strength and experience likely will result in a different story as a U18. Fasching has strong offensive abilities, with good hands and vision to go along with a pro-friendly 6-2, 214-pound frame. He’s far from a finished player, but that hardly matters at this early stage with his highly projectable skill set. He’s already getting first-round buzz and might even find himself in the top half of that round if he takes a big enough step forward from what he showed last season.
John Hayden (Yale University) — This is one hard-nosed hockey player and he has the size (6-3, 221) to bring that style to the pros one day. It’s just a matter of the rest of his game catching up and based on what I saw last season, it’s probably not terribly far. He showed flashes of a power-forward style that can be productive at higher levels. Hayden goes hard to the net and knows how to use his body in the hard areas of the ice. As he progresses, he could garner a lot more buzz than he’s gotten so far.
Tyler Kelleher (University of New Hampshire) — At just 5-6, 154, Kelleher isn’t going to be given a chance by a lot of scouts, but is he ever exciting with the puck on his stick. With tremendous speed and puck skills, Kelleher displayed some creativity and hockey sense that could give him a shot to get picked in June. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but he was able to produce a team-best 48 points as a U17 and scored 26 goals. Being able to produce at a consistent clip at 16 against primarily older USHLers is noteworthy. Doing it again this year against NCAA opponents would be hard to ignore.
Kevin Labanc (University of Notre Dame) — With good vision and puck skills, Labanc has some serious potential. He posted 22 points including 17 assists in 2011-12 as a U17 and if he bulked up a bit in the off-season, he might be able to up that production this year. He has plenty of time to hone his craft a little bit and develop before his Draft year, but he can make an early impression this season if he took a big-enough step forward developmentally. Draft Eligible in 2014
Anthony Louis (Miami University) — Another 5-6 offensive dynamo for Team USA, Louis ended up earning a spot on the U.S. National Under-18 Team for the World Under-18 Championship. Louis replaced Stefan Matteau who was erroneously ruled ineligible for the tournament. Pretty big shoes to fill, but he did so admirably. Another creative speedster like Kelleher, Louis just produces. He scored a team best 27 goals last year and has that make-you-miss shiftiness, finding ways to slip behind the D. There’s no fear in his game either. The size is going to be a big detriment to his Draft hopes, but we’ve seen little guys get snagged before. He might be one of them at the end of the year.
Sean Malone (Harvard University) — One of four newcomers to the NTDP, Malone comes from the Nichols School. The 5-11, 185-pound forward doubled his point production from the previous year in 2011-12, posting 36 points in just 16 games. He was named to the Ivan Hlinka team over the summer and posted an assist there. In recent years, players that came into the NTDP for the U18 season have been able to make an impact after adjusting to the pace. Malone will have to make a big jump in competition, but I’ve heard good things about his character and how he’s improved in the last year.
Michael McCarron (Cornell University) — Six-foot-five. Two hundred and twenty-seven pounds. He knows how to use it, too. Size like this is hard to come by in a 17-year-old hockey player. Harder still to find one with enough coordination to play at this high a level, but McCarron fits that bill. The big guy had 21 assists last season and accumulated a team-high 128 PIM. He can be prone to bad penalties, but he’s also more than willing to stick up for his teammates and lay the big hits. There’s still a rawness in McCarron’s game, but he showed enough improvement to suggest his ceiling is higher than originally thought. He’s a tough guy to project for the Draft, but if the skating improves, there’s going to be a lot of teams that will take the chance on the upside and size.
Tyler Motte (University of Michigan) — After busting out early in the season, scoring in bunches, Motte cooled towards the end of the year. He still managed to put up 25 goals and 41 points in his U17 season and shouldn’t be done yet. Motte has the speed, with powerful skating and the hands to be a scorer as he progresses. Finding that consistency in his game will be key, as he doesn’t have the size (5-9, 184) to overlook other flaws. Based on what he showed last year, he’s more than worthy of a draft selection come June, but it’s tough to pinpoint where just yet. Another big goal-scoring season will help flesh that out.
Gage Ausmus (University of Denver) — A strong skater, Ausmus really started settling in around the World U17 Challenge, where he was named to the five-player tournament all-star team. He only put up six points last season, but Ausmus has the knack for the defensive game and the high-end skating to execute well at both ends of the ice. He has good size at 6-1, 204, plays a good physical game and will likely get a lot of long looks from scouts this season.
Will Butcher (University of Denver) — This offensively dynamic defenseman does a lot of things well. Though not huge, Butcher’s 5-10, 200-pound frame is not prohibitive. He’s able to use his body well, but it’s his decisions and skill with the puck on his stick that make him stand out. Additionally, he has terrific feet and knows how and when to use them. He earned the call-up to the U.S. U18 team for the World Championship and performed well as the team’s seventh Dman, posting two assists. He had a whopping 33 points (8g-25a) in 56 games from the blue line and while his size may keep him on the first-round bubble, he’s in the hunt.
Connor Clifton (Quinnipiac University) — Another newbie for the U18 team, Clifton helps shore up an already sound blue line. He has a full year of junior hockey under his belt after spending last season with the Jersey Hitmen in the EJHL. Additionally Clifton has some solid international experience, joining the U17s last year for a tournament and participating in the Ivan Hlinka in August. Clifton possesses some two-way abilities with a good first pass and enough strength to be tough to play against in his own zone. He might not light the world on fire skill-wise, but he’s a pretty smart, steady player and that could help his chances with scouts.
Trevor Hamilton (Miami University) — After missing about 10 games last season, Hamilton will be hoping for a clean bill of health this season and a chance to make a bigger impact. Despite the missed time, Hamilton put up 10 points and showed some solid two-way potential. He has average size at 6-0, 185, and keeps this simple on the ice. I think there’s a lot left to learn about his game this season.
Clint Lewis (Not yet committed) — At 6-2, 206, Lewis is more of the stay-at-home kind of defenseman and plays the role well. He gets involved in games physically and is able to get the job done mostly in his own end. Lewis is durable, dependable and strong. He showed more offensive capabilities in his days at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, but his commitment to defense makes him an intriguing prospect and should keep him on some teams’ draft boards.
Steven Santini (Boston College) — By the end of the year, Santini could be drawing more than a few eyeballs as his standout skating makes him awfully easy to notice. He has good size at 6-1, 208 and can really wheel. While his point total from last year doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his offense, he showed flashes of puck-moving potential. Santini plays well at both ends of the ice and if his offensive production can increase a bit, he should receive some first-round consideration. Assuming there’s no drop-off from last season, he could position himself quite well in these early months.
Scott Savage (Boston College) — After posting 10 points last season, there’s certainly room for improvement in Savage’s game. He’s shown the capabilities in the past to show some better offensive prowess and we could see that this year. Savage is a sound defenseman and is pretty strong in puck pursuit. He has average height and is a little below average on the weight, but there’s some potential in his game. Savage could be due for a breakout season if he’s able to take another step forward this year.
Keaton Thompson (University of North Dakota) — After posting 22 points last season and displaying some advanced two-way capabilities, I’m beginning to look at Thompson as a guy with the potential to possibly sneak into the top 40 selections of the NHL Draft, maybe even the top-30. He has good offensive instincts, but has defensive maturity and physical strength. Thompson moves the puck well and makes pretty good decisions. He has a pretty good shot on him, too. It’s one of those situations where he has to find that next gear, because he did a lot of good for himself as a U17. If he finds it, he could be an impact defenseman next year in all facets of the game. Thompson beats the 2013 Draft deadline by one day, so he’ll be one of, if not the youngest player eligible to be picked in June.
Thatcher Demko (Not yet committed) — Goaltending was an issue for this squad all of last season and the addition of Demko is welcome. The big netminder, with a calm demeanor between the pipes and good athleticism. He spent last year with the Omaha Lancers, mostly buried behind Alex Lyon, but performed well when he saw the ice. Demko also saw a lot of rubber during the U.S. U18 Selects’ disappointing Ivan Hlinka, but showed flashes of his vast potential. Though Team USA is carrying three goaltenders, Demko should have a good opportunity to shine in some big games. Draft Eligible in 2014
Curtis Frye (Not yet committed) — It was a bit of a struggle for Frye last season. He’s got some potential and some raw talent, but he may not have been quite ready for the level he needed to be at in 2011-12. There’s obviously room to grow. That extra year of specialized coaching could go a long way for a kid who has the pieces to put it together eventually.
Hunter Miska (Not yet committed) — It’s really hard to believe Miska is relatively new to goaltending. He has some stunning athleticism, but the rawness in his game was evident much of last season. He’s still learning the position a bit. That said, Miska, whose father Todd is a noted goalie mask artist, managed a winning record and 3.22 goals-against average. Another year of development should go a long way in helping Miska excel in the position because there’s certainly something there.
Coming soon: A preview of the NTDP’s U17 team and extensive USHL season previews (coming after the Fall Classic), breaking down each of the league’s 16 teams and which players to watch in a two-part series.