Prospect games are typically more pomp and circumstance than substance, but the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game offered at least a little more than your average showcase game. It was a mismatch at times, but the game remained moderately fun to watch with a higher intensity and a solid pace all game long.
What happened on Saturday night is not going to make or break any prospect participating. It’s merely another sample to pull from for scouts and really it’s just another game for the players themselves. Still, when there’s 150-plus NHL scouts and numerous general managers in attendance, the desire to make an impression remains and it was evident in Buffalo Saturday.
Team McClanahan was victorious, downing Team Housley 5-2, dominating at certain stages of the contest.
Goals were scored by Hudson Fasching, Seth Jones, Jacob Montgomery, Dakota Mermis and Quentin Shore for Team McClanahan, while Evan Allen had both of Team Housley’s goals.
Ryan Fitzgerald, with three assists on the night, was named the game’s most valuable player.
Coming up after a jump, a look at who stood out and who (surprisingly) didn’t in the first edition of the All-American Prospects Game.
A lot of players had really sound games, but here’s a look at the guys that stood out to me in the All-American Prospects Game.
Ryan Fitzgerald - F – Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL) — With three assists on the night, Fitzgerald was the statistical leader of the AAPG. His feed to Hudson Fasching on the game’s first goal was his best of the night, showing patience and vision while setting the table perfectly for the big forward. Fitzgerald was also solid on faceoffs, winning 10 of his 14 draws. Fitzgerald actually grabbed one of his assists by setting up Seth Jones’s goal with a clean win on the draw to the Dman. Fitzgerald has good wheels and puck skills, but his size will give scouts pause. If he can put some strength on his frame, his skill-level is upper-mid-round worthy.
Seth Jones – D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL) — With a pretty goal off a one-timer in the second period, Jones got his name on the score sheet. With a game that had no bearing on the standings, it appeared Jones was looking to show off what he can do offensively in addition to his well-known elite defensive game. Rushing the puck, jumping into plays and looking more like a shoot-first defenseman, Jones was interesting to watch. One thing I and others tend to forget is that Jones is pretty good with the puck on his stick. His length allows him to get around opposing defenders with relative ease and his footwork is tremendous in all zones. Showing that versatility will prove important in his quest to unseat Nathan MacKinnon as the consensus No. 1 overall pick for this year’s draft.
Cal Petersen – G – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) — One of two Waterloo goalies in the game, Petersen got the better of his usual teammate and Team Housley starter Eamon McAdam. Though he only saw seven shots, Petersen showed some good athleticism, making some key saves that could have led to a different score line had he not stretched out. Petersen and McAdam will likely split duties all season and there’s a very strong possibility both Black Hawks netminders are getting their names called in June.
Sean Malone – F – U.S. National Under-18 Team — Though he didn’t appear on the score sheet, the West Seneca, N.Y., made some of the game’s most exciting plays in front of a local crowd. A continual threat offensively for Team Housley, Malone showed tremendous skating ability and high-end puck skills, with some offensive creativity that I was unaware he possessed. After spending last season tucked away at Nichols School, Malone may have attracted more attention to himself than before. He’ll get a few more looks playing at the NTDP after that performance.
Will Butcher – F – U.S. National Under-18 Team — Playing most of the game with Seth Jones, Butcher had a chance to open things up offensively himself. He’s strong on the rush and can lead a transition out of his own zone. He has make-you-miss puck-handling ability and good vision to find the open ice or the right teammate. He looked just fine defensively as well, playing responsibly in his own zone and showing good skills in pursuit. Butcher isn’t very big, but he’s effective in his own end. Still, it’s that offensive game that is going to give him a shot at a second-round selection, at least.
Michael McCarron – F – U.S. National Under-18 Team — The big 6-5, 227-pound forward has come a long way since last year. So far in fact, he could end up garnering an earlier-than-expected selection come draft day. For a player his size, McCarron moves well and has above average hands. He doesn’t shy away from the physical game and has an imposing net-front presence. McCarron does the things a big man is supposed to do well and surprises you with his skill level.
Jimmy Lodge – F – Saginaw Spirit (OHL) — One of the surprises from this game was the play of Jimmy Lodge. Thought of to be more of a bottom-six, grinder kind of player, Lodge showed better skills than he has in the past. His set up of Jacob Montgomery’s goal was nothing short of pretty, making some nice moves at the offensive blue line to open up a lane for his feed to Montgomery. Lodge has a nice frame, but could stand to put on some more muscle. If he can continue to show these solid offensive tools with his already sound physical game, he could be in for a breakout season.
Jacob Montgomery – F – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) — Perhaps scoring the game’s prettiest goal, Montgomery showed off some quick hands with his tally, going backhand-shelf on Eamon McAdam. Montgomery also looked to have decent wheels and possesses a nice frame. I wasn’t as familiar with him coming into the year, as he is a second-year eligible, but a strong season in Sioux City could lead to some late-round consideration for this forward.
Evan Allen – F – U.S. National Under-18 Team — With a pair of goals, Allen was the leading scorer in the inaugural prospects tilt. Both were a bit opportunistic, but you still have to bury the chances and he did. He also led all players with six shots on goal, showing his ability to create offensively. Allen looks like he got a fair amount bigger from last season, which allowed him to establish good position near the net and capitalize on rebounds. He’ll be an intriguing guy to watch this year as he has shown good goal-scoring ability before. Consistent offensive production will be key for this high-upside forward.
J.T. Compher – F – U.S. National Under-18 Team — How Compher didn’t put up any points, I’ll never know. He certainly looked threatening for much of the game and showed such tremendous strength and speed all game long. He plays ahead of his age, knowing where he needs to be and how he needs to get there and just does it. This game merely confirmed what was already known about Compher. He’s a horse.
Ian McCoshen – D – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) — McCoshen plays a game you almost never notice, which I think is probably the best compliment I can give him. He’s just plain steady. McCoshen plays like a veteran out there and does a lot of the little things right. The big Dman also did a nice job of getting pucks to the net and keeping pucks in the zone to help Team Housley sustain more pressure, particularly in the third period. He is easily the best Draft prospect in the USHL this year. The size and mobility are both attractive and as long as he continues to play up to those lofty expectations, he should hear his name called on Day 1 of the draft.
Clint Lewis – D – U.S. National Under-18 Team — Lewis is a guy that can be easy to overlook, but not in this game. He did a lot of little things well and showed excellent mobility and a good first pass. He played sound defensively and used his big frame well. He doesn’t jump out at you with any one thing, but there were more than a few occasions I wrote his name in my notes.
Steve Santini – D – U.S. National Under-18 Team — Though the game’s physicality was a bit lower than a normal game, Santini took the opportunity to play the body a few times in the game and showed he has a physical side. The added edge to his game is important as he has the size to play with some nastiness. Santini also did a nice job with the puck on his stick and showed off some of his improved skating.
Cole Cassels – F – Oshawa Generals (OHL) — The son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels acquitted himself well in this All-American prospects game, showing some good puck skills and a knack for finding the open ice. He was good on the rush and played with pace. A guy who has been under-the-radar after a quiet rookie year in the OHL made himself noticeable in this game. With an added year of experience and his decent frame, Cassels should be able to put up a few more points in the OHL this year while advancing his solid two-way game.
Hudson Fasching - F – U.S. National Under-18 Team — The more I see Fasching, the more I become convinced that he could be a strong power-forward at the next level. He has terrific size and good hockey sense. His puck skills might not be where they need to be just yet, but his upside is prevalent. His hard-charging goal to open the game showed one aspect he’s never had trouble with and that’s getting to the net and making things happen. He has the ability to be productive, the size to be a physical presence and the hockey sense to be a great all-around forward.
Trevor Hamilton – D – U.S. National Under-18 Team — It was a pretty strong showing overall for players with NTDP connections, but Hamilton may have helped himself the most. Having missed time last year with injury, Hamilton showed a good physical game, receiving credit for five hits, a game high, and two blocked shots. He also put three shots on goal Saturday. He isn’t as heralded as some of his fellow NTDP defensemen, but perhaps its time more took notice. He had a really strong game.
Evan Cowley - G – Wichita Falls Wildcats (NAHL) — Coming into the AAPG as a late addition, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Cowley, but it was clear why he received a B rating from NHL CSS. Cowley has a pro-ready frame for a goalie and showed some confidence between the pipes. He made some great saves with the leg pads and glove. Both goals he allowed were on second chances, but made 15 saves on 17 shots. For a guy who plays all the way down in Texas, he showed why some scouts will travel to get more looks at him as the season progresses.
Perhaps its unfair to have any expectations coming into a prospects game, but when you’ve been designated by NHL Central Scouting as an A-rated prospect, expectations are part of the gig. This game isn’t going to make or break these players’ draft season, but these A-rated prospects left me hoping for more.
Mike Downing – D – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) — Coming off an injury sustained at the USHL Fall Classic, Downing was ineffective and indecisive in this one. He’s a bit of a raw talent, so some of his mistakes were indicative of that rawness. It’s tough to adjust to new players and this type of setting, but this was a great opportunity for Downing to show off his skill set. I just didn’t see enough of it Saturday.
Luke Johnson – F – Lincoln Stars (USHL) — After his big rookie campaign in the USHL, Johnson has some high expectations this year and for this game. It’s hard to rag on a performance on what amounts to an exhibition game, but Johnson didn’t do much to show why CSS thinks he has first-round potential. No question there are some nice skills there, but he looked a bit over-matched at times against bigger players and that’s going to have to change. Luckily, there’s a long season to go and he has plenty of time to show he’s taken a step forward from last season.
Ryan Hartman – F – Plymouth Whalers (OHL) — Another guy with some first-round buzz, Hartman should have been one of the more dominant guys in this game, but he really wasn’t. Taken off the puck a little too easily for a player of his talent, Hartman had trouble getting engaged offensively. Also, the game was a little lighter on contact, which kind of takes away a big part of Hartman’s overall game.
For a complete breakdown of the game’s stats, click here.
Based on what we saw in Buffalo Saturday, it is pretty clear that the All-American Prospects Game was a great idea and hopefully it becomes an annual event. Next year, it might be better to make it a game exclusive to first-year eligibles as most of the players who had the best games were first-year guys. It’s noble to give guys in their second year an opportunity to showcase their skills, but there were plenty of players not in the game that probably deserved to be.
In terms of the quality of the game and professionalism in the execution of this event, the All-American Prospects Game was pretty impressive. It was a great event for both USA Hockey and the Buffalo Sabres and one they can be especially proud of.