American Prospect Update: Winners Get the Edge

Rightly or wrongly, there are going to be times where “intangibles” play a role in how scouts evaluate prospects. The problem with intangibles is that they are immeasurable, which makes them hard to actually evaluate.

Words like “moxie” or “make up” get tossed around in baseball and football scouting rooms occasionally, but the one that most hockey people care about is the word “winner”.

I’m not a scout and I don’t pretend to be one (OK, maybe a little sometimes), however, if I were a scout, a player’s contributions to a winning team and attachment to a championship club wouldn’t be ignored.

Coming up after the jump, I take a look at some of the players that should benefit from a winning track record.

Some people were surprised to see Jack Campbell go to the Dallas Stars at No. 11 last season. He was the first American and first goaltender selected at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. One of the biggest descriptions from the Stars front office on Campbell was that he was a winner.

With three gold medals to his name, it was pretty easy to see.

John Gibson (USAHockey.com)

John Gibson has put himself in a similar category. In the biggest games, Gibson has won. This goes back to his Under-17 season with the National Team Development Program. He backstopped the U.S. to the title at the World Under-17 Challenge, with a stellar effort against Canada Ontario. That’s probably when the Gibson buzz started.

In his under-18 season, he won gold at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship and was named the tournament’s best goaltender.

Goaltenders in particular can benefit from a track record of not only winning, but winning the big games and being a factor for their team. In addition to all of Gibson’s immense talent, he gets the added bonus of being a proven winner. How do other goalies compete with that at the draft? Simply, they won’t.

Rocco Grimaldi and Tyler Biggs have been comprehensively covered on this blog, as you know. However, the pair share similar winning histories throughout their young careers.

The pair were part of both of the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team’s last two gold medals at the World Under-18s, and were instrumental in the U.S. National Under-17 Team’s 2010 World U17 Challenge title.

Over the last two years, the duo has been on the winning end in every big game they’ve played. Biggs scored the OT game winner against Canada in the semifinals this year and Grimaldi had points in each of the last two gold-medal games for the U.S. They’ve stepped up in the big games.

In Grimaldi’s case, his winning history goes back to his youth hockey. He was on two USA Hockey Tier I National Championship teams with Little Caesars at both the Midget Major (2009) and Minor (2008) levels as an under-ager. Each of Grimaldi’s last four seasons has ended with a title. For each of those teams, Grimaldi was a key contributor. So while size may deter scouts, his winning ways can be thrown into the pile along with his speed and skill as to why he might be worth an early pick.

Andy Welinski (Pointstreak.com)

Just Tuesday, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News featured Green Bay Gamblers defenseman Andy Welinski, and his connections to success. Skating for the Gamblers, a team that is in search of its second consecutive Clark Cup, Welinski has been surrounded by successful teammates and is part of a winning organization.

The defenseman’s stock has steadily risen over the course of the season as he has proven he can contribute to a good club as a rookie. With 14 points in 51 regular-season games and a plus-10 rating, Welinski has been a key piece to Green Bay’s run. A good performance in the Clark Cup Finals, and another Green Bay title would add to the Duluth-native’s already impressive resume.

Austin Czarnik (USHL.com/Green Bay Gamblers)

Welinski’s Green Bay teammate, Austin Czarnik, a late 1992 with late-mid-round potential, had his winning tradition highlighted by the Green Bay Press-Gazette recently. Czarnik was the leading goal scorer on the 2010 U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team that won the gold medal at the World U18s. He also skated with the U.S. Junior Select Team at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge, scoring two goals in the championship game to help the U.S. claim its third straight title. Now Czarnik brings his winning ways to the Clark Cup Finals against the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Czarnik was listed at No. 115 on Central Scouting’s final ranking, however adding another title to his list of accomplishments might cause a few folks to forget about his size (5-8, 140) and focus on what he brings to winning teams.

To me, winning consistently brings confidence and an aura of success to a player. Winning organizations want players that know how to win. Meanwhile, struggling organizations want to develop a winning culture. Either way, adding a player with a proven track record of winning and being on winning teams helps. It may not make a difference in what round the player will be picked up, but if a team’s debating on two similarly-skilled players, the proven winner will usually get the edge.

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Other Prospect News:

The National Team Development Program’s final statistics can be found here. Often, news outlets that cover the draft only use U.S. National Under-18 Team players’ USHL stats, which only tells about a third of the story. So, while the numbers won’t look great, they’re far from comprehensive. Getting a look at Team USA’s stats over all 60 games this year probably gives you a better idea.

Quick Highlights from the NTDP Stats:

Rocco Grimaldi totaled 73 points this year. It’s the best season for an NTDP forward since Jeremy Morin’s 80-point effort as a U17 in 2008-09. Additionally, Grimaldi’s 39 goals were tied for the sixth most in a single season at the NTDP all time. All but one of the players on that same list as Grimaldi have played or are playing in the NHL.

John Gibson also had one of the better seasons for a goaltender in NTDP history. Here’s his spot in the single-season record books: 24 wins (7th), .921 SV% (T-3rd), 2.55 GAA (9th).

Robbie Russo had 30 points this year to give him 61 over his NTDP career. Russo’s 61 career points rank ninth all-time among NTDP defensemen.

Reid Boucher had a 32-goal season, which is no small feat in an Under-18 year. 16 of his 32 goals came in 16 games against international opponents, proving he’s a consistent contributor against his own age group.

Switching gears to the USHL:

John Gaudreau (Pointstreak.com)

John Gaudreau, of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, was named the USHL’s Rookie of the Year. There may not have been an easier choice. When a 5-foot-6 forward scores 72 points (36-36), the praise is warranted. I only saw Gaudreau once this year, but what I saw impressed the heck out of me. Ranked 193rd by Central Scouting, I think that’s probably a fair listing.

Unlike the similarly-sized Grimaldi, Gaudreau doesn’t have that break-away speed or that good strength for his frame, but he’s shifty as all get out and has produced against a high level of competition. There may be a handful of teams that would be willing to reach into the late 5th or early 6th round for a prospect of Gaudreau’s skill level and I honestly couldn’t blame them if they did.

Kyle Rau (DanSallows.com)

Eden Prairie star Kyle Rau silenced some doubters with his performance at the end of the USHL season and into the playoffs. Coming off of successful high school season and a Minnesota State Championship, Rau skated in the final 11 regular-season games for the Sioux Falls Stampede. In those 11 games, he posted 10 points.

Rau followed up that performance by leading the Stampede with seven goals and 12 points in 10 playoff contests. Though the Stampede fell to Dubuque in the playoffs, Rau closed his season out on a high.

If a Minnesota high school player is going to stay in school in his draft year, doing what Rau did could be the ticket to a higher draft position, if said player is up to the competition as Rau certainly was. By dominating the high school level and showing similar production at the Junior level, Rau may have earned more respect from scouts and could find himself in a much better draft position than if he ended his season with the state title back in March.

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2012 Prospect News

Henrik Samuelsson (USA Hockey)

If you haven’t seen yet, a Swedish media outlet reported that Henrik Samuelsson, who split time between the U.S. National Under-17 Team and Under-18 Team this season, was going to join his father, Ulf, at the MODO Hockey Club in Sweden. The elder Samuelsson was named the head coach for MODO’s professional team and plans to move his family from Arizona to his home country.

Dean Millard, of The Pipeline Show, covered this on the Coming Down the Pipe Blog, and on Tuesday spoke to Henrik Samuelsson on the radio program (AUDIO). Samuelsson confirmed what most of us suspected, that the decision to move to MODO was a family decision more than a hockey decision. It’s an interesting move in that next year is his draft year.

By leaving the NTDP and heading to Europe, Samuelsson may not get the exposure he would have had if he stayed. However, when there is more to the decision like having a family move halfway around the world, it’s an understandable move.

Samuelsson told Millard and Guy Flaming on The Pipeline Show that he will start with MODO’s under-20 team, but will have the opportunity to join the professional squad if he plays well enough.

Side note: Having skated for the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team at the IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship, Samuelsson can only play for U.S. teams in IIHF play for the remainder of his career, despite his dual USA-Sweden citizenship.

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The American Prospect Update will be found right here on United States of Hockey every Thursday from now until the NHL Draft in June. If there are prospects you want to know more about, let me know in the comments and I’ll try and get to them.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL Draft, NTDP. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to American Prospect Update: Winners Get the Edge

  1. Anonymous says:

    With Henrik Samuelsson leaving NTDP joining his father back home in Sweden, who will be taking his slot on the US U18 squad ? Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Local NHL prospects rank as top American picks | Black and Blue and Gold

  3. Pingback: Welinski season ends; NHL combine and draft ahead | Rink and Run

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