2011-12 U.S. National Under-18 Team: Goalies & Defensemen

There was little drama with the players that went from last year’s U.S. National Under-17 Team to this year’s Under-18 Team at the National Team Development Program. That said, it wasn’t devoid of turnover as USA Hockey officially released the final roster.

Every year it seems, one or two players from the Under-17 Team won’t return for one reason or another. Gone are Henrik Samuelsson and Dakota Mermis from last year’s squad. Samuelsson went to Sweden with his father, Ulf, who will be coaching the MODO club. Mermis was granted a release to play for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL.

The lone new addition to the team was a good one. Riley Barber was named to Team USA earlier in the summer, coming over from the defending Clark Cup champion Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Other than that, Danton Cole is going to have a roster full of familiar faces in his second season as a head coach at the NTDP.

In addition to releasing the roster, USA Hockey announced the schedule for the U.S. Under-18s and it’s a doozie. On top of to 24 games against USHL competition, Team USA will take on a college slate that includes the following Division I schools: Michigan, Denver, Colorado College, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota State Mankato, Wisconsin, Northeastern, Boston University, Lake Superior State and Alabama Huntsville.

That has to be one of the most challenging college schedules the NTDP has come up with in some time, and they’ve played some great schedules. This will be a very challenging year for a very talented group.

Team USA opens its season with a preseason contest against the Youngstown Phantoms in Ann Arbor Sept. 16. The U18s will also represent the NTDP at the USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, Iowa, Sept. 22-24.

With all of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospects on this team, I’ve broken up the roster breakdown into two parts. Coming up after the jump, a look at the goaltenders and defensemen for the U.S. National Under-18 Team.

Annually, the U.S. National Under-18 Team roster includes several top prospects for the coming NHL Entry Draft. This year is no different. With potential first rounders like Jacob Trouba and Nic Kerdiles, there will be no shortage of buzz surrounding this team. Additionally, the squad includes some elite prospects for the 2013 Draft, so there’s plenty to look forward to with this bunch. Odds are, you’ll be seeing a lot of these guys popping up frequently in the American Prospect Update throughout the year.

GOALTENDERS

Over the last three years, goaltending has become a position of strength for the NTDP. Joe Exter’s handy work has been on display over the last two drafts in particular, but his guidance noticeably improved both NTDP goaltenders that will suit up for this club. Though Exter is gone, this pair has all the makings of one of the more dynamic tandems the NTDP has seen. Now under the tutelage of another accomplished goaltending coach in Mike Ayers, the best may be yet to come with these two.

Collin Olson — Apple Valley, Minn. — 2012 Draft Eligible

Olson got off to a shaky start last season, like most U17 goalies do, however he got better as the year went on and put up some pretty solid numbers.

He verbally committed to Ohio State University late in the year and has all the makings of a top prospect goaltender. That was confirmed when NHL Central Scouting invited him to partake in the NHL’s RDO Camp after garnering a B-prospect rating from CSS.

His size is a huge asset, and he’s becoming more technically sound. If he continues on his current development track, he should be yet another elite American goaltending prospect.

2010-11 Stats: 30 GP, 17-9-1, 2.57 GAA, .905 SV%, 3 SO

Jared Rutledge — Chicago, Ill. — 2012 Draft Eligible

Hold the phone, folks. Olson might be getting a few more headlines these days, but the NTDP’s other backstop had a pretty good season himself.

What Rutledge lacks the size of Olson, he makes up for with polish. Rutledge was highly regarded coming into the NTDP and his performance last year did little to rebuke that.

Central Scouting listed him as a C-rated prospect on its 2012 Watch List.

While many colleges are likely hot on Rutledge’s trail, it is believed he’ll be headed the OHL route. His rights are held by the Saginaw Spirit.

Like his fellow USA netminder, Rutledge is certainly developing and when it comes time to name a starter for the World Under-18 Championship, it could be a tough decision. That is a great problem to have if you’re Danton Cole.

2010-11 Stats: 31 GP, 16-12-0, 2.52 GAA, .911 SV% 2 SO

DEFENSEMEN

The blue line is the strength of this team. To have such a diverse group of talented players is a luxury. This group has drawn comparisons to the NTDP’s 1992 birth years that included first rounders Derek Forbort and Jarred Tinordi, along with second rounders Justin Faulk, Adam Clendening, Stephen Johns and John Merrill. Pretty high praise. This group is a bit different though. While the 1992s were stellar during their NTDP tenure, this class of 1994s has a chance to be special.

The departure of Mermis leaves the U18 team with just seven defensemen. Since the NTDP is unable to make trades like other Junior teams, they’d likely try and bring in some support in the form of drop in players, as they have in the past. That’s only if they run into injury trouble. It’s one of those things they’ll have to deal with throughout the season.

Connor Carrick — Orland Park, Ill. — 2012 Draft Eligible

Carrick, a University of Michigan commit, is a really intriguing player. He certainly has offensive ability, but he’s not afraid to bring the pain either. Whether it’s a crushing hit or a fight, Carrick will do what he has to do out there. It’s no surprise he’s from Chicago’s South Side (somehow the stereotypical South Side toughness escaped me. So I write.).

Carrick is actually one of the smaller defenders for Team USA, but he is a very strong individual and makes life difficult for forwards in his own zone. Just when you thought you’ve found yourself a shutdown guy, he’ll do something creative offensively that makes the eyebrows raise. It’s not that he’s flashy, because he isn’t. It’s just nice to see a guy with grit show some touch as well.

2010-11 Stats: 55 GP, 4-16–20, 50 PIM

Matthew  Grzelcyk — Charlestown, Mass. — 2012 Draft Eligible

Some might look at Grzelcyk’s size and write him off as a legitimate defensive prospect. To do that would be foolish. Despite coming in at 5-9, 168, Grzelcyk’s ability on the ice will turn more than a few heads this year.

His poise with the puck in all zones separates him from some of his fellow 1994s. Not only does he have poise, but also skills. His puck skills might be unrivaled on this blue line. I was told by someone who watches Grzelcyk regularly that there’s a whole bunch we haven’t even seen from his bag of tricks.

If he can build more strength to go along with his solid skating and puck-moving abilities, he’s going to be a player rising up draft boards rapidly. Skill may just outweigh size in this instance. Grzelyck is committed to Boston University. Terrier fans familiar with Adam Clendening’s game might get a little overexcited when they see what Grzelyck can do.

2010-11 Stats: 55 GP, 2-16–18, 40 PIM

Seth Jones — Plano, Texas — 2013 Draft Eligible

What’s left to say about Seth Jones that hasn’t already been said? He was the youngest player invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp, and based on his performance there, it’d be shocking if he wasn’t on the team, rather than if he was.

He’d probably be a first-round pick in the 2012 Draft, but he’ll have to wait another year before an NHL team calls his name. Though he is still a year removed from his draft season, the Seth Jones hype machine is going to be in full force.

He’s done nothing but live up to the lofty praise and projections along the way. As long as he continues to build physical strength and pack on some weight, he’s going to be one of the elite prospects to watch for the next two years.

2010-11 Stats:
U17 Team: 37 GP, 4-17–21, 24 PIM
U18 Team:  20 GP, 0-10–10, 8 PIM

Patrick Sieloff — Ann Arbor, Mich. — Draft Eligible in 2012

Sieloff is the definition of a ham and egger. He’s not the biggest guy on the back end, but he might be the toughest. He’s a tremendous body checker and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. This is a kid that just refuses to be outworked.

Sieloff is also a leader on the team. He’s not the most skilled guy out there, but he makes his presence felt in just about every game. He may end up getting overshadowed by some of his fellow blue liners, but he doesn’t seem like the type of kid that’s going to be affected by it.

Sieloff has verbally committed to Miami University, and should be a gem for the RedHawks.

2010-11 Stats: 52 GP, 3-6–9, 76 PIM

Brady Skjei — Lakeville, Minn. — Draft Eligible in 2012

This is not a mincing of words: Brady Skjei might be one of the very best pure skaters in this entire draft class. He can fly from one end to the other untouched sometimes. If he has open ice, he’s probably going to take it and he’s probably going to blow right past everybody.

That said, he’s also pretty defensively sound. He has a great frame at 6-2, 200. His style of play should fit in really well with Don Lucia’s bunch at the University of Minnesota. The big ice at Marriuci plays perfectly for Skjei’s game.

I was shocked when he wasn’t on the CSS 2012 Watch List.

He’s an exciting prospect because he has plenty of tools, but his skating tool is elite. In today’s NHL, speed is at a premium and Skjei has plenty of it.

2010-11 Stats: 55 GP, 5-14–19, 24 PIM

Gavin Stoick — Portland, Ore. — Draft Eligible in 2012

Stoick converted from forward to defense last year and it payed immediate dividends. Coming in at 6-3, 215, Stoick has great size and strength.

Since he’s a recent convert, having a full year of playing defense should go a long way in helping him improve this season. The better he understands the intricacies of the position, the better off he will be.

Stoick will be another interesting guy to watch because of his great size and a higher comfort level in his position.

2010-11 Stats: 54 GP, 1-3–4, 12 PIM

Jacob Trouba — Rochester, Mich. — Draft Eligible in 2012

There will be no more closely-watched prospect on this U.S. National Under-18 Team than Jacob Trouba. He’s an A-rated player on NHL Central Scouting’s watch list and many believe he is a potential top-10 pick. He was also one of 36 players to be invited to participate at the NHL’s RDO Camp.

Trouba has all of the physical tools of a first rounder. He skates well, plays a physical game and can fire a puck. The one area he’ll need to focus on is his hockey sense. He’s often been able to cover up mistakes with his immense talent, but under the scrutiny of a draft year, might not be able to anymore.

Regardless of hockey sense, the tools are there. With another year under the guidance of Danton Cole and his staff, Trouba could become a beast of a player. He’s already gotten incredibly strong while in Ann Arbor. There’s no reason the rest of his game won’t follow suit.

Trouba is going to be an exciting player to track for every scout in 2012. It also appears there will be a year-long recruiting battle for Trouba’s services after this season. Kitchener holds his OHL rights, but there’s no shortage of top college programs seeking out Trouba, namely Michigan and Notre Dame.

Trouba recently told Y! Sports Canada’s tremendous Junior hockey scribe Sunaya Sapurji that he will not make a college commitment unless he’s certain he’ll keep it. Trouba will likely keep his options open until the last possible second, which is never a bad idea.

2010-11 Stats:
U17 Team:  37 GP, 6-13–19, 35 PIM
U18 Team:  21 GP, 2-5–7, 24 PIM

Coming later: A look at Team USA’s talented forward crop.

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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.
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