Normally this space is reserved for 2011 NHL Entry Draft-eligible players, but recent trades in the NHL have included 2012 draft picks. That has led many a pundit to muse that 2012 draft picks are more valuable due to the depth of that class. Due to the new interest in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, it looks like its time to shed some light on the top American prospects eligible.
The 2012 Draft class for the U.S. is no question deeper than this year’s crop. The 2012 class is particularly deep among defensemen and there appears to be more high-end elite talent than this year’s edition of the draft.
A lot can happen between the end of this season and next, but these are some of the players making a name for themselves a year “early.”
So without further ado, here’s some of the names you should know heading into next season….. After the jump…
Jacob Trouba — D — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — Trouba’s was the first name that popped into my head when thinking towards the 2012 Draft. Currently listed at 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, he may be even bigger than that now. Strong on his skates, Trouba isn’t afraid to get into the physical fray and he’s incredibly hard to get off the puck. His skating is pretty impressive, to say the least. He uses his feet to get out of trouble and he uses his edges well to cut away from traffic. If you’re going to talk about Trouba, you’ve got to mention his shot. When he lets that thing go, opponents will think twice before stepping in front of it. He’s offensively gifted, but defensively responsible and is only going to get better. Another year of seasoning should help him improve his defensive awareness. He was recently named to the USHL’s Eastern Conference All-Star Team, the only NTDP U17 player to earn a nod. I’d expect to see him playing for the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team at the IIHF World U18 Championship coming up in April. A good showing there will continue to solidify his spot as a top prospect for 2012.
Nick Ebert — D — Windsor Spitfires (OHL) — Ebert is in his second season of Junior hockey, having played with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL as a 15-year-old last season. There was some question where he would play this year, but after having his rights traded from Mississauga to Windsor prior to this season, Ebert’s decision became more clear. Since arriving on the OHL scene, Ebert has looked anything, but a 16-year-old. He ranks first among OHL rookie defensemen and 10th among all blueliners with 37 points (10g-27a). An explosive December (4g-10a in nine games) looked like a sign of things to come, but his offensive pace has slowed. Still, he has a high-end offensive game and finding some consistency to his play should continue to propel him higher up the charts. Like Trouba, Ebert is a very strong young man who can skate. His two years of junior experience leading into next season should keep him a cut above much of his competition.
Alex Galchenyuk — F — Sarnia Sting (OHL) — This is a prospect that intrigues the heck out of me. First of all, because of his citizenship situation. Galchenyuk was born in the U.S., raised mainly in Russia, but returned to play midget hockey in North America with the Chicago Young Americans. His father, also named Alex (a native of Belarus), recently became an assistant coach with the Sting and the family resides in Sarnia. Confused yet? Since Galchenyuk is technically American-born, and has yet to play internationally for anyone else, we’ll just call him American… for now. The young sniper is a gifted scorer who is turning all sorts of heads, even with late 1993 birth-date and potential No. 1 overall pick in 2012 Nail Yakupov on the same club. Galchenyuk has posted 63 points (21g-42a) in 56 games, which ranks third among OHL rookies. The former No. 1 selection in the OHL Priority Draft appears a surefire first rounder come 2012. Keep a close eye on him this April as well. Team Russia is very weak in the 1993-94 birth years for the Under-18 World Championship. I’d have to think that Russia would like to have Yakupov and Galchenyuk on that roster, amusing the Russian federation won’t blackball them for playing Junior in North America. Once you play for a certain country in an IIHF event, as far as hockey’s concerned, you belong to that country. However, according to Russian prospects expert Allesandro Seren Rosso:
@AlexSerenRosso Galchenyuk to sports.ru “I think I’ll play for team USA”
If that’s the case, it is likely that Galchenyuk will have to wait one more year before he’s asked to play for Team USA at the World U18 Championship (unless Sarnia makes a run next year). The U.S. contingent doesn’t usually bring in under-age players from outside the NTDP to this particular tournament. Galchenyuk could potentially play at the Ivan Hlinka for the U.S. next year, but that won’t solidify his international eligibility. Should he be available to the U.S. for next year’s U18 Worlds, having a highly-skilled player like Galchenyuk at its disposal would give the U.S. 1994s another deadly weapon.
Nicolas Kerdiles — F — U.S. Nat’l U17/U18 Team — Anytime an underage forward gets called up from the U.S. National Under-17 Team to the Under-18 Team, it’s usually indicative of great talent. Kerdiles has it. He also has size and has built up some strength. Currently listed at 6-foot-1, 183, Kerdiles is very tough to play against. He’s offensively gifted, but has shown that he can be defensively responsible as well. Additionally, Kerdiles offers a sturdy net-front player and he won’t shy away from the hard areas on the ice. Prior to his call-up, Kerdiles had 11 goals and nine assists for the U17s. In 12 games with the U18s, including four at the 2011 Under-18 Five Nations Cup, Kerdiles has put up eight points (3g-5a). At different times during his call-up, he’s skated on a line with 2011 projected first rounder Rocco Grimaldi, which can be a tall order given Grimaldi’s speed. Still, Kerdiles was able to keep up. It’s probably a safe bet that he’ll be skating in the 2011 Under-18 World Championship in April, which will put his skills on display a year early for scouts from every single team in the NHL. Not a bad jump-start on the competition.
Henrik Samuelsson — F — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — Samuelsson is another duel citizen (Sweden), but I think its safe to say he’s chosen his country, currently playing at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. He is the son of former NHLer Ulf Samuelsson, and brother of 2009 Penguins draft pick Philip. Henrik leads the U17 team with 28 points (12g-16a). A chip off the old block, he also has a team high 96 PIM. So… he plays with an edge. Sometimes a little too much. Beyond that, though, he has very good puck skills and can dangle a bit. After a breakout performance at the World Under-17 Challenge, he is on a lot of scouts radars. The biggest of Team USA’s forwards at 6-foot-2, 195, Samuelsson knows how to use his body and can frustrate the hell out of his opponents. His skating needs work, but the rest of his tools are reaching a high level. Consistent production will make him a high pick.
Jared Rutledge — G — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — It appears that Jared Rutledge will be continuing the recent trend of big-time goaltenders coming out of the NTDP. It can’t be easy for the young netminder, coming in on the heels of first-round draft pick Jack Campbell and No. 1 ranked North American goaltender for 2011, John Gibson. Still, the Chicago-native has handled himself well. Under the guidance of NTDP goalie guru Joe Exter, Rutledge has posted an impressive 13-7-0 record, 2.51 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, which actually are far better numbers than Gibson posted in his U17 season at the same point. Despite being smaller than his predecessors at 5-foot-11, 148, the technically sound Rutledge doesn’t often get beat easily. If he continues at his current clip next year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s among the first goalies taken in 2012.
Collin Olson — G — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — Hey now, don’t forget about the NTDP’s other goaltender. There is so much to like about this goalie, but number one is his size. At 6-foot-3, 189, the Apple Valley, Minn., native fits the mold of what NHL scouts are looking for in goalie prospects. A raw talent, Olson has done nothing but put up solid numbers. Particularly, he’s been impressive in international play, having posted a 6-0-0 record, 1.49 goals-against-average and .933 save percentage, with two shutouts. Another year of seasoning under the guidance of Exter and Olson it could be a battle between the big man and Rutledge for the first U.S. goalie selected in 2013.
Jake McCabe — D — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team — A late 1993 birthdate, McCabe will be skating for the University of Wisconsin next year. A steady defensive-defenseman, he is very similar in a lot of ways to current Badger and Calgary draft choice John Ramage. This year, McCabe has increased his offensive output a bit with four goals and 10 assists in just 30 games. He’s also posted a plus-8 rating against a very tough USHL schedule. While his offensive output is a pleasant surprise, it is his keep-it-simple game that will get some scouts excited. McCabe will take care of his own end first and let the rest fall into the place. If he adjusts well to the WCHA pace next season, watch his draft stock rise.
Thomas DiPauli — F — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — DiPauli will need to continue to build strength to garner high-round consideration, but his offensive skill is really outstanding. He’s a playmaker through and through, with great vision. DiPauli can be shifty and he has good speed. He finds ways around defenders and can fit the puck through tight spots. Continuing to add strength should help make him more effective offensively, which should boost production, which in turn should help improve his stock even more.
UPDATE: In my haste to publish this article, I realized I left out a big piece of the 2012 picture. My apologies for the delay, but this post wouldn’t be complete without this young man.
A.J. Michaelson — F — Apple Valley H.S. — Michaelson possesses great speed and uses power to cut to the net. He’s lighting the Minnesota High School ranks on fire this year with 60 points, off of 29 goals and 31 assists in 25 games. Michaelson had an opportunity to play at the National Team Development Program, but chose to stay home. When I saw him at the NTDP tryout camp last year, he reminded me a lot of 2011 projected first rounder Brandon Saad around the same age, just motoring around defenders and winning loose pucks. I will be interested to see if he returns to Apple Valley for his senior year. Has he already outgrown the high-school ranks? Another season like this and you can pencil Michaelson into the first round, however showing similar production at the Junior level and he’s likely a lock to be gone within the first five picks. Odds are, everyone wants a piece of this kid. Michaelson’s rights in the USHL belong to Waterloo, but if there’s room at the NTDP, will they make a second offer? Based on everything I’ve read and heard, it sounds like Michaelson will probably stay put in Apple Valley. Regardless of where he plays, he won’t last long on draft day in 2012.
Looking even further ahead to 2013:
Seth Jones — D — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — I can’t have a futures post without discussing Jones. It wouldn’t be right. If he were eligible in 2012, he would likely be a Top 5 pick. That’s no exaggeration, either. However, a late birthday (Oct. 3) locks him into 2013, which may work out OK, because, barring injury or a sudden and dramatic drop off in development (which is unlikely), he could be the No. 1 overall pick. The big, rangy defenseman (6-foot-4, 183) needs to add strength, but I don’t know what else. He’s tremendous offensively, he’s tremendous defensively, but above all, he sees the game in a different way. He makes plays 16-year-olds shouldn’t be making. He sees things they shouldn’t see. He’s posted 13 points in 22 USHL games this year, often going up against the top lines of opposing teams. He’s also established a plus-4 rating against older, stronger competition. Overall, he has 21 points (4g-7a) and will likely earn a spot on the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team for the World U18 Championship. The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, Seth is a natural born athlete with the brain to match the brawn. He has one year left at the NTDP then will have to choose between playing college hockey or signing with the Everett Silvertips, who selected him in the first round of the WHL Bantam draft in 2009. It won’t matter where he goes, NHL teams will be falling over each other to pick this kid. Know this name. You’ll be hearing it for years.
Ryan Hartman — F — U.S. Nat’l U17 Team — Hartman will miss 2012 Draft eligibility by five days, unless they somehow change the dates on us. Born on Sept. 20, 1994, he’ll likely be one of, if not the oldest first-year eligible player available in 2013. Hartman may be one of the more natural scorers for the U17 team. Currently its leading goal scorer with 15 tallies on the year, he’s been dominant against international competition (nine goals in 14 international contests) for the U17s. He’s committed to Miami University, where his offensive brand of hockey should thrive. He’ll be an attractive option near the top of the draft board in 2013.
The American Prospect Update, featuring players eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft will return to its usual Tuesday spot next week. I’m working on tracking down a few guys for some Q & A’s for the next few weeks so stay tuned for that.