It’s that time of year. Higher stakes. More drama. More excitement. Everything gets turned up a notch in March and April. It’s also getting to the point of the season where NHL Draft prospects are running out of games to showcase themselves for the watchful eyes of scouts.
Pretty much all of the prospects in high school or prep hockey have already seen their seasons come to an end. The CHL is winding down its regular season next week, while the USHL still has around a month to go before its playoffs begin. Some college prospects have already seen their seasons come to a close, but a few are still alive with a few weeks left to play.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some standouts from the Minnesota State Tournament including Benilde hero Grant Besse and Mr. Hockey award winner Justin Kloos. Also some info on Boo Nieves (Kent School/Indiana Ice), Danny O’Regan (St. Sebastian’s/U.S. U18s), Jimmy Vesey (South Shore Kings), Alex Galchenyuck (Sarnia Sting) and Jake McCabe (University of Wisconsin).
The Minnesota State High School tournament was full of drama and ended in storybook fashion with Benilde-St. Margaret’s claiming the title.
Grant Besse, a 1994-born Junior, was the hero for Benilde, scoring five goals in the championship game including three shorthanded. You don’t get drafted just because you scored five goals in one game, but what it can do for you is raise some eyebrows and at least get you a few extra looks.
Besse is not a top-end draft talent, however he has a draftable skill set. Besse showed pretty good speed, good hands and obviously some really strong finish. He doesn’t have great size at 5-10, 175, and not much of a physical presence, but his offensive tools might be enough to overlook that.
The Junior finished the regular-season fourth in the state with 75 points. He posted 18 more points in the section playoffs and state tournament. Besse finished the entire 2011-12 season with a staggering 93 points including 53 goals in just 31 games.
In the few games I’ve seen him play, he’s often been the most noticeable player on the ice, because he seemed to be involved in everything. In addition to his five-goal title game, Besse also forced a turnover and assisted on the game-winning goal (scored by Christian Horn) that put Benilde over Edina with just 24 seconds to play. He showed more than just goal-scoring ability.
If NHL Teams didn’t have scouts in the X, they’ll likely be seeking out video just to get an extra peek at this intriguing talent.
Besse was not listed by NHL Central Scouting on its mid-term ranking, but as one NHL scout told us last week, it’s going to be a struggle to find value in the later rounds. Besse is probably worth a look in those late stages of the draft.
Side note: BSM fans might prefer it if Besse goes undrafted this year, as whatever team selects him would likely request Besse spend his senior season in Junior (his USHL rights are owned by Muskegon) as opposed to going back to high school where he has nothing to prove.
Justin Kloos was part of one of the great upsets in the state tournament as his Lakeville South Cougars knocked out No. 1 seed Duluth East. Kloos had a pair of points in that game. While South got bounced the next day by eventual champs Benilde, Kloos’s week ended on a high note as he was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey.
Every Mr. Hockey since 2005 has been selected in the NHL Draft. Kloos will likely keep the streak alive, even though he won’t be added to the list of five of the last seven Mr. Hockey honorees that were taken in the first round.
The senior forward eclipsed 100 points in just 31 games this year with 41 goals and 62 assists. He was the leading scorer among Minnesota’s Class 2A schools. In addition to his standout high school season, Kloos had a very positive showing in the Minnesota Elite League with 50 points in 24 games.
Kloos, a November 1993 birthdate, is not a big guy at 5-9, but he has skills, good vision and decent enough hockey sense. Like Besse, Kloos was left off of Central Scouting’s mid-term ranking. He’s given himself a chance to earn a selection and should hear his name called on Day 2 in Pittsburgh.
Two of the top players in Prep School hockey this year were Boo Nieves and Danny O’Regan. Both saw some USHL action over the weekend.
Nieves, who starred at the Kent School and still has an outside chance at earning a first-round selection, made a rousing debut for the Indiana Ice on Friday. Nieves registered a pair of assists in a 5-2 win over Youngstown. The following night, Nieves was held off the score sheet in a 5-3 loss to Green Bay, the top squad in the USHL this year.
These next few weeks are going to be critical for Nieves, which means he’ll have to adjust quickly to the USHL, though he’s off to a good start.
The biggest hurdle all high school and prep school players need to overcome when stepping into the USHL, especially at this point of the season, is adjusting to the pace and physicality. On top of that, the older, more veteran players in the USHL don’t give up a lot of time and space. The decisions need to be made that much quicker and are able to pounce and capitalize on mistakes better than their high school counterparts. It’s not just that the players are older, bigger and stronger in the USHL, it’s that they’ve had a season to learn all the little tricks to give them the advantage over a less-experienced opponent.
Nieves has the benefit of playing on one of the best teams in the USHL in Indiana. The Ice is currently tied for second place in the East and could be poised for a deep playoff run. How Nieves adjusts and how he performs will be watched closely by NHL scouts. If he shows he can hang in the league and contribute at a high level, Nieves very well could end up sneaking into the bottom of the first round.
Danny O’Regan, who was a standout at St. Sebastian’s School, recently joined the U.S. National Under-18 Team, which is currently finishing out the USHL portion of its schedule.
O’Regan, who is vying for a spot on the U18 squad for the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, jumped right into the fray and put up three points over the weekend. He posted an assist in a big OT win over Youngstown. The following night, O’Regan notched a goal and an assist in a 5-1 rout of Chicago.
He is expected to stay with the NTDP through this week. I’m headed to the U.S. U18s game at Dubuque on Thursday, so expect a more detailed report in next week’s update.
Another prospect from out East that I think should probably be getting a little more talk is Jimmy Vesey.
Vesey is in his second year of eligibility and has utterly lit up the Eastern Junior Hockey League. With 91 points in 48 regular-season games for the South Shore Kings, most scouts won’t ignore his production. NHL Central Scouting ranked Vesey 164th in the mid-term ranking and that is a good projection where he could end up.
He got left behind last year due to the depth of the draft, but could benefit from this year’s shallower player pool. It might be late, but Vesey gets selected and could bring a lot of value to whichever team takes a stab at him.
The biggest news in the prospect world right now is the return of Alex Galchenyuk. The Sarnia Sting broke its own story when the team announced that Galchenyuk will be in the lineup tonight in Saginaw.
It’s great news for the Sting, but even better news for the scouts. Galchenyuk’s been out the entire regular season, but has remained a consensus top-10 pick based on his incredible rookie campaign last year.
Galchenyuk has said many times that he wouldn’t come back unless he was able to come back strong, so he must feel pretty good to give it a go. There’s bound to be a little rust, so don’t anticipate him to set the world on fire right away, but he’s got an impeccable skill set.
If he can contribute and show signs of his old self, that should be enough for scouts. Galchenyuk can further calm injury concerns with a strong performance at the combine in the off-season.
Only three games remain in the regular season, but Sarnia has a decent chance for a pretty strong playoff run. That all depends on if consensus No. 1-pick Nail Yakupov recovers from his undisclosed injury. He’s been shut down for the week after falling victim to a heavy hit (video). If he’s not healthy, Sarnia’s chances for a deep run might decrease a little bit.
That said, Galchenyuk is going to have a little more time to showcase himself over the next few weeks, which should help ease the few doubts. He’s a special talent. Had he not gotten hurt, he likely would have been a lock for the top-four picks. That he’s still getting mostly top-10 consideration is a testament to how good people think he can be at the next level.
I decided to close this week’s American Prospect Update with a little video.
The Wisconsin Badgers fell short in trying to upset the Denver Pioneers in the WCHA playoffs, but not without a few fireworks from freshman defenseman Jake McCabe.
The Eau Claire, Wis., native has shown vast improvement in the offensive areas of his game over the last two years, but here’s something I didn’t know he had in his bag:
McCabe went end-to-end, but finished off the play with a delightful toe-drag around a BU defenseman and delivered a perfect pass to Sean Little for what turned out to be the game-winning goal in this game.
The freshman’s skill set is continually improving, which is going to be a big reason someone takes him early in the second round. He is strong, defensively responsible, and is showing offensive upside.
Sadly for McCabe, Sunday’s OT loss to Denver ended the Badgers’ season. That said, McCabe can now focus on training for the scouting combine and should have a really strong showing there due to his physical strength and athleticism.
Coming up next week on the American Prospect Update, I’ll have some reports on players from Thursday night’s USA U18-Dubuque Fighting Saints game, which I’ll be attending in Dubuque. Also, you can expect more World Under-18 Championship coverage, as the tournament is now under a month away.