As the season continues to dwindle for many draft-eligible players, the opportunities to shine for scouts are becoming fewer. That tends to ramp up the pressure, the competitiveness and in some cases, the stress. How these players handle the next few weeks of the season could be a big part of determining draft position. With the NCAA conference playoffs underway, the USHL and CHL postseason in the near future and events like the World Under-18 Championship looming int he background, there’s a lot of great hockey left to be played.
Coming Up: Rocco Grimaldi, Reid Boucher, J.T. Miller, Seth Amrboz, Jamie Oleksiak vs. Scott Mayfield, and links.
If the season ended today, few players could be happier than U.S. National Under-18 Team forward Rocco Grimaldi. The 5-foot-6 offensive phenom has put on a show this year. Grimaldi leads Team USA in every offensive category, and despite seeing a variety of opponents (NCAA D1, D3, USHL, International), has remained consistent from start to finish. At the National Team Development Program it is sometimes harder to produce in the Under-18 season due to the amount of games against NCAA Division I schools, featuring players that are up to five or even six years older, but Grimaldi has yet to show he’s been overmatched this year.
Grimaldi has 60 points in 46 games. In 15 games against NCAA opponents, Grimaldi has 14 points (7g-7a). He’s posted 23 points (11-12) in 19 USHL contests. Against international competition, Grimaldi has been dominant with 17 points (9-8) in eight games. The numbers here show that Grimaldi can hang with the big boys just fine, but he’s at the top of the class when he’s against his own age group. Having played a year to two years up for much of his youth hockey, Grimaldi has never had a problem. This bodes well for University of North Dakota fans as the forward will take his water bug act there next year.
With 33 goals this season, Grimaldi is having one of the better U18 seasons in NTDP history. It’s not just that Grimaldi is scoring goals, he’s scoring big ones. The California-native has 13 power-play tallies, two shorties and four game-winning goals. Most recently, Grimaldi scored both the game-tying goal (nine seconds into the third period) and the game-winner against the Des Moines Buccaneers to preserve the U.S. National Under-18 Team’s 11-game winning streak. The GWG came on a penalty shot after Grimaldi was hauled down on a breakaway. Here’s footage of the rare overtime penalty shot courtesy of Darren Winkler at thevideoscout.ca, a popular site used in the NHL scouting community. Thanks, Darren, for providing the link:
Nothing fancy about the goal, but in a high-intensity situation like that, Grimaldi’s the guy you want taking the shot. He always has been. Calm under pressure and always rising to the occasion. That’s what you want from your star forward.
During the 11-game winning streak for the U.S. Under-18s, Reid Boucher has continued scoring, with each goal helping him continue to climb the draft charts. The future Michigan State Spartan is second on the U.S. squad with 42 points including 23 goals. He was listed incredibly low by CSS at the midterm, but perhaps he’s found some motivation in that. It doesn’t appear Boucher will crack the top three rounds, but whoever finds him in the middle of the draft is going to have a gifted goal scorer on their hands.
J.T. Miller was thought more of a natural scorer when he first joined the NTDP, but his play this season indicates that he has rounded out his game some. His 26 assists are second only to Grimaldi for the U.S. under-18s. While Miller has shown an ability to dish this season, it’s his strength and ability to create space for teammates that separates him from just another offensive weapon. He’s always been a strong kid, but he is truly beginning to understand how to use his 6-foot-1, 198-pound frame. As he continues to grow and learn the game, he’s going to be a force. Not every draft ranking has him in the first round, but he should have a very good shot if he continues his dominating international play at the World Under-18 Championship in April.
Omaha’s Seth Ambroz hasn’t really had any breakout games this year, but one thing is for sure, he is important to the success of his team. The Lancers are 6-10 in games where Ambroz doesn’t register a point. While his stats don’t jump out at you for a player in his third year in the USHL, it’s still been a solid season for the forward. With 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points, Ambroz tops Omaha’s scoring chart and sits at 21st overall in the USHL. A late-season push and a solid performance in the playoffs could go a long way in solidifying Ambroz as a top-20 pick.
Scott Mayfield and Jamie Oleksiak appear to be in a battle for which American defender will be selected first. Both are big defensemen that have continued to climb the charts all season long.
Oleksiak may hold the edge on Mayfield, as his 6-foot-7 frame is going to be hard to pass up. Mayfield’s not tiny at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, but three inches is three inches. Oleksiak has drawn Chara and Myers comparisons often.
Additionally, Oleksiak has the advantage of playing in the highly competitive and speedy Hockey East, playing against older players. Proving he can play at that level and be a major contributor already is going to go a long way.
The best part about both of these defensemen is that there is still some work to be done on their game. Being as good as they are now, with room to grow as a player, has to be an exciting thing for GMs looking for big blueliners. Both defensemen will find themselves in the first round, almost certainly. These next few weeks may determine which one goes first.
American Prospect Update Links
Chase Balisy and T.J. Tynan, both in their second year of draft eligibility, added a little something to their draft resumes. Western Michigan’s Balisy and Notre Dame’s Tynan were each named to the CCHA’s All-Rookie Team. Additionally, Tynan was one of three freshmen named Second-Team All-Conference for the CCHA. Neither Balisy nor Tynan are guaranteed to get selected in the draft, though. The pair led their respective squads in scoring as first-year players, but will it be enough for either to earn a selection?
James D’Amanda of USHL.com got some comments from Tyler Biggs, Rocco Grimaldi, J.T. Miller, Scott Mayfield and Jamie Oleksiak on thinking about the draft.
For those of you with ESPN Insider access: Gare Joyce takes a look at top draft-eligible college players including Oleksiak, Matthew Nieto, Adam Clendening, Nick Shore, and Michael Mersch.
Additionally, Joyce has his Top-50 prospects for this year’s draft updated as of March 8. Joyce is very high on Brandon Saad, Oleksiak, Biggs and Mayfield, but seems to be in the minority in thinking Grimaldi won’t be a first-round choice.
A look to the future: Kirk Luedeke of Bruins 2011 Draft Watch, has a full scouting report on 2012 Draft-eligible forward Boo Nieves, currently skating for the Kent School. Nieves is big and speedy and has drawn comparisons to New York Rangers prospect Chris Kreider. Not a bad guy to have your name next to. Nieves was on the outside looking in when the NTDP selected it’s Under-17 Team this off-season and the knock has been he’s too much of a perimeter player. Still the upside is there. Many eyes will be on Nieves this off-season to see if he stays at Kent, heads to the USHL (Indiana owns his rights) or jumps to the OHL (Niagara), meaning he’d leave behind his verbal commitment to Michigan.
A look even further into the future: If you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out my post on the 1995-born players invited to try out for next year’s U.S. National Under-17 Team. It’s the first close look at the top 45 players in the birth year. Some 2013 and 2014 draft eligibles in the mix.