For bloggers that don’t regularly write about the National Hockey League, July 1st is just about the worst possible day to post anything of substance. Free agency is the story of the day. However, it is going to be a long weekend in both the U.S. and Canada, so I figure I’ve got to do something, right? So I did. I wrote about teenage hockey players that won’t be NHL Free Agents for at least five, seven years. Smart move. Hope this gets you through your holiday weekend.
NHL’s Central Scouting Services unveiled its list of prospects to watch for the 2012 National Hockey League Draft. The players receive letter grades. ‘A’ prospects are those identified as potential high draft picks by CSS, while ‘B’ prospects are expected to be upper-mid round picks, and ‘C’ prospects are expected to get drafted somewhere come next June.
American players were well represented throughout the watch list, and it’s looking like it should be a much stronger year in terms of the overall draft. Most believed the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to lack star power, 2012 will not. From elite Russian talents like Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov, to Canadian wunderkind Ryan Murray, to Czech sensation Martin Frk, to a host of American kids who could find themselves in the first round led by defensive dynamos Nick Ebert and Jacob Trouba.
So, in order to get you the earliest look at some of the top Americans preparing for the 2012 NHL Draft, I’ve put together a list with some of the names you should definitely know this summer.
The A Players You Need To Know
For many of these guys, it will be their second appearance in the American Prospect Update. If you don’t recall, I wrote a post about 2012-eligible players around the NHL trade deadline as 2012 picks were flying around quite a bit. A lot can happen between now and the 2012 Draft, but picks within the first two rounds are likely going to be overall better than 2011’s first two. That’s why 2012 picks were more highly regarded than those in 2011 in trades. The high end is extremely high.
So here are the A players to know:
Jacob Trouba – D – NTDP – Trouba was called up to the Under-18s and had a chance to showcase himself at the World Under-18 Championship. His booming shot and excellent skating are his most notable assets. He plays a physical brand of hockey in all areas. The only thing that happened to Trouba at the U18s is that a few of his flaws that he’ll need to work on this year were exposed. His hockey sense isn’t where it needs to be just yet, as he made a few poor decisions in Germany. That said, his tools are elite. He scored Team USA’s first goal in the gold-medal game against Sweden on a one-timer. Another year of development, and focusing on making good decisions, and he could easily find himself in, or around the top five.
Nick Ebert – D – Windsor Spitfires – A productive rookie season in the OHL placed Ebert in an elite class as the defenseman available this year are incredibly gifted. His 41 points ranked 12th among all rookies and 13th among OHL defensemen. He has decent size and strength, skates pretty well and has some really solid offensive instincts. Ebert, along with Trouba and our next prospect could easily be battling it out all year for top-ranked American defenseman.
Jordan Schmaltz – D – Sioux City Musketeers – Schmaltz has been in the news for years. He first committed to the University of Wisconsin at age 14. Schmaltz has since decommitted from Wisco and is now slated to play at the University of North Dakota in 2012-13. All of that aside, Schmaltz has blossomed into a tremendous player. A late 1993-birthdate, he’s coming off a fantastic season in the USHL in which he posted 44 points in 53 games. Heck, ESPN Insider prospect writer Gare Joyce has him listed as the potential No. 2 pick in the draft next year. I won’t go that far, but know that Schmaltz is a player who has improved in each of his last two seasons and is becoming an elite offensive defenseman. His defensive play needs work, as does his physical presence, but his offensive ability is incredibly attractive.
Alex Galchenyuk – F – Sarnia Sting – The Belarussian-Russian-American is one of the elite offensive talents available for the 2012 draft. His stellar rookie season in Sarnia was overshadowed only by teammate and potential No. 1 pick in 2012, Nail Yakupov. Galchenyuk was the No. 1 pick by Sarnia in the OHL Priority Draft and payed immediate dividends with an 83-point season including 31 goals. He was born in Milwaukee, spent time in Russia and played midget hockey in Chicago, yet has expressed interest to play for the U.S. internationally. We’ll have a better idea of his international allegiance if he is part of the U.S. Under-18 Select Team for the Ivan Hlinka in August. No matter what country he plays for, he’s looking like a sure-fire high selection in Round 1.
Nic Kerdiles – F – NTDP – Like Trouba, Kerdiles earned a spot on the U.S. National Under-18 Team that won the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship. He played well in Germany in a two-way role. He often found himself with first rounder Tyler Biggs and sixth rounder Travis Boyd and performed admirably. The great thing about Kerdiles is his outstanding frame. As he continues to get stronger, he can be a force at both ends of the ice. He isn’t overly physical, but he won’t shy away from contact and he works hard on the ice. Additionally, he put up 20 goals at the NTDP last year, which is tough to do against the older competition. If he comes back to Ann Arbor in shape and ready to go, he could have a huge season.
Cam Darcy – F – NTDP – One of the more interesting players for the U.S. National Under-17 Team last year, Darcy’s strong second half has turned a lot of scouts onto the big forward from South Boston. Though he battled issues with consistency, Darcy possesses high-end offensive talent. He’s good around the net and has pretty decent hands. As he continues to add muscle to his solid frame, he could have a big season in his U18 year at the NTDP. The stronger he gets, the better he’ll be.
Cristoval “Boo” Nieves – F – Kent (Conn.) School – The University of Michigan commit has wowed many over the last year at his Connecticut prep school. His offensive talent, and tall frame offer a lot to like. The only issue with Nieves is his lack of physical toughness. A player his size cannot afford to be a perimeter player and make it to the NHL. Should he stay at Kent next season, he’ll have to make sure to spend a good amount of time in the weight room and develop a bit more edge. I’ve heard from a few people that Nieves is working on his strength and toughness and is making strides in those departments. There’s no doubt he has the puck skills and skating to be a major player in this draft class. He’s likely one of the best American prep players, so eyes will be on him a lot.
There are several other American preps that I am not yet familiar with that received an A-rating including: Robert Baillargeon (F – Cushing Academy), Devin Tringale (F – Lawrence), Brian Hart (F – Exeter) and Clifford Watson (D – Appleton United).
You may notice a lack of Minnesota high schools from that list. That may change over time, as A.J. Michaelson is among the better players from the state, though he may be headed to Waterloo of the USHL next year. 2012 could be another down year for Minnesota high schoolers in terms of high draft selections, but there should be a number of players who go throughout rounds two through seven.
Some quick hitters on the B prospects:
A.J. Michaelson – F – Apple Valley H.S. – Well, would you look at that. Leading off with a Minnesota high schooler. This is a guy who could make the jump to the USHL next season, and I’m of the mind that he should. Michaelson put up a ton of points for Apple Valley last year, though concerns about his work ethic have been rumored. Should he show well in the defensively stringent USHL, he could raise his stock by proving he can handle the rough-and-tumble game.
Riley Barber – F – Dubuque Fighting Saints – Coming off of a great rookie season with Dubuque, Barber is headed to the NTDP next season to be closer to home and have a chance to play internationally. He skated with the U17s last year at the February Vlad Dzurilla tournament and performed well. The reports were positive from NTDP coaches and obviously they liked him enough to bring him into the mix. He’s a hard worker on the ice and possesses some really solid speed. His size is a concern, but the work ethic may overcome that deficiency. Playing against NCAA and international competition next year could do wonders for his overall game.
Brian Cooper – D – Fargo Force – Cooper turned a bunch of heads with his terrific performance in both the USHL and at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge. So much so that he was one of the few 1993-born defensemen invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid. He’s not very big, and that’s going to be a concern, but the kid can fly. His skating could be what gets him extra long looks this season.
Jake McCabe – D – NTDP – McCabe accelerated his schooling so he could play for the University of Wisconsin next year. He was part of the U18 World Championship team this year and he’s a good two-way defenseman who developed that two-way game more this season. His strengths lie on defense. He’s a physical player with decent mobility. Playing in the fast WCHA might not help his stats, but it will help his development. If he can play regularly as a freshman, there will be a lot of teams very interested in McCabe.
Collin Olson – G – NTDP – Olson, who I reported on Twitter has just committed to Ohio State for 2012-13, is a big goaltender who had a very strong second half. He’s a raw talent with tremendous size. Olson is still learning, but has a grossly high upside for a goaltender thanks to his raw talent and size. Like John Gibson and Jack Campbell, he also has goaltending wizard Joe Exter to work with all next season. Expect big things from the big goaltender.
Henrik Samuelsson – F – NTDP – Samuelsson surprised many when he decided to head to Sweden for his draft year. He’ll play with MODO’s junior club and hope to see time with the professional team in the SEL, coached by his father Ulf. He’s a big, strong forward with great hands and a mean streak. Will he receive the same exposure in Sweden as he would at the NTDP? Well, after the first round the Swedes had in 2011, he might do just fine. Still, it’s a curious decision from a hockey standpoint, but the kid has some serious talent.
Other names of interest among C prospects:
Miles Koules – F – NTDP – Though his season was slightly derailed by injury, Koules showed immense offensive talent with the Under-17 Team last year. He was a scoring machine in international competition with 10 goals in 11 games. Despite a lack of size, Koules finds his way to the scoring areas and makes it count. Additionally, he’s got pretty solid vision and finds his teammates. Like all smaller guys, he needs to bulk up as best he can and produce at a high clip, but could be a sleeper pick come June. He’s a North Dakota commit.
Brendan Silk – F – NTDP – Though his season started late thanks to a serious ankle injury, Silk has shown great speed and solid upside. He only played 14 games last season, so there’s a lot left to be seen regarding Silk. That said, he should get a full season under his belt and we’ll have a much better idea of what he can do.
The rest of the eligible NTDP defensemen, Connor Carrick, Brady Skjei, Matthew Grzelcyk, Patrick Sieloff and Gavin Stoick. I’m not sure why some of these guys weren’t listed, but I’d expect to hear from them throughout the draft-eligible season.
Skjei might be one of the better skaters in this whole draft class. Grzelcyk has tremendous vision and puck-moving abilities, despite being a touch under-sized. Sieloff is one tough customer who hits, fights and plays a solid shutdown role. Stoick is pure upside in his big size and is still learning the position as a converted forward. Carrick has solid offensive abilities to go along with a bit of a mean streak and solid physical game. I like this group of defensemen a great deal. Very reminiscent of the NTDP’s outstanding 1992 class. Hard to believe they’d be omitted based on the other defensemen included on the list.
Another surprise omission was Stefan Matteau, son of 1994 NYR hero Stephane. He’s also at the NTDP. Gare Joyce of ESPN.com’s insider page has Matteau as a potential top-15 pick. He has the size and the skills to be that player, but has yet to put that kind of game together night in and night out. Next year is especially huge for Matteau, who has a tremendous amount of upside. If he can get his game together, we’ll never remember he didn’t make this watch list.
This 2012 Draft class is a really exciting one. With all of these available players with a wide range of skill sets and potential, it’d be impossible to start making predictions now.
That’s why this watch list gives us a great start without putting number values or rankings on these players. I’m certainly not ready to rank them. It’s just a simple way to take a look at the players that stood out last season. It’ll be a long summer for these guys as they prepare for their draft year.
You better believe we’ll be tracking them all closely starting with the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament and right on through to the Draft. Stay close to the United States of Hockey all year long for the American Prospect Update.