It’s been a bit of a long layoff here at United States of Hockey, but with the NHL Entry Draft less than two weeks away, things will be kicking into high gear right through the big weekend in Pittsburgh.
For the next two weeks, there will be wall-to-wall coverage, including my ranking of the Top 15 American-born players for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, a draft-eligible All-America team identifying players for each position, individual prospect profiles and some last-minute thoughts from NHL scouts.
Kicking things off today is a look at some of the lesser known and lesser-talked about prospects in this year’s draft. Some are second-year eligible players, while others are first-year guys that just haven’t gotten much attention.
In a draft year that is near impossible to predict, find out which players you should be excited about if your team nabs them in the mid- to late-rounds of the NHL Entry Draft.
Shayne Gostisbehere — Defenseman — Union College
First up is a guy that pretty much no one is talking about, but absolutely should be.
Shayne Gostisbehere is coming off a sensational freshman season for the Union College Dutchmen, which made it to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history. Though a bit undersized at a listed 5-11, 160, Gostisbehere (pronounced GOST-is-bare) has high end offensive tools and a poise with the puck that is beyond his years.
He wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen of NHL scouts during his first draft-eligible season last year despite a 36-point season for South Kent School as a senior. Size concerns and lack of competition may have turned scouts away from the 1993-birth date defenseman last year.
No one was talking about him at the beginning of this year as a potential second-year eligible guy who could get a shot. That was until Union put together its best run in school history. Despite his freshman status, Gostisbehere played a top-four role for the Dutchmen and put up 22 points, including five goals from the blue line.
As Gostisbehere showed in the NCAA regionals, he has a calming presence at the back end. He isn’t overly physical, but he has good defensive awareness and doesn’t put himself in a bad spot. His offensive instincts are pretty sound as well. He’s not a risky player like some offensive-defensemen can be. If he takes a risk, it appears to be well-calculated.
Gostisbehere is a good skater, who can use his feet to get out of some tight situations and buy him some space. That goes well with his good vision and distribution skills.
Gostisbehere definitely needs to bulk up if he’s ever going to make it to the NHL, but he thinks the game at a high enough level that there’s reason to believe it will translate at the next level.
I’d expect the Margate, Fla., native to be a candidate for next year’s World Junior Championship and we should see him invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp.
Central Scouting did not list the Union freshman in its mid-term ranking, but put him at No. 148 in its final ranking. NHL clubs might not want to wait too long to pick up this defenseman who might not last past the mid rounds.
Austin Czarnik — Forward — Miami University
After his performance as a freshman at Miami and his strong showing in the early goings of the World Junior Championship for Team USA, I’m amazed that Austin Czarnik hasn’t gotten more attention.
Though Czarnik is small by just about every standard at a listed 5-8, 152, his competitiveness, speed and puck skills should force some team to give him a long look. Central Scouting did not list the second-year eligible in either of their midterm or final rankings.
Passed over in last year’s draft as a late-1992 birth date after a somewhat underwhelming USHL season, Czarnik showed much more the player he was at the National Team Development Program. As a freshman at Miami, Czarnik averaged nearly a point-per-game with 37 points in 40 games.
Czarnik’s tenacity will make other scouts look twice, as he is unafraid to play the body despite his small stature. At the World Juniors, he was often playing the body against much bigger players and managing to win battles along the boards. He goes into corners hard and can be a pest.
The main bugaboo with Czarnik is that he isn’t going to get a whole lot bigger, making his ceiling is a little difficult to project. That said, his speed and puck skills are at a high enough level to be considered above the average player in this draft year.
He could take advantage of a weaker player pool and earn a selection in the late rounds.
Danny O’Regan — Forward — St. Sebastian’s School
O’Regan’s draft stock was already on the rise before it, but his performance at the World Under-18 Championship for Team USA is going to keep it trending upward. Though he hasn’t received a ton of draft chatter, O’Regan was ranked the 76th North American by Central Scouting.
Despite his flying under-the-radar, O’Regan is a lock for a mid-round selection, particularly after what he did at the World Under-18s.
O’Regan is another guy who isn’t very big, but one that has a lot of tools that are going to give him a shot to make it to the NHL.
First off, O’Regan is offensively creative. He has good puck skills and vision that allow him to find seams and exploit defensive mistakes. He scored Team USA’s second goal against Sweden in the gold-medal game at the World Under-18s on a move that completely fooled top goaltending prospect Oscar Dansk. It was a tremendous move with not a lot of space to make it.
O’Regan also has good defensive awareness and can play a two-way game. He doesn’t exactly get engaged physically, but is not one to shy away from the dangerous areas of the ice. He’s good on faceoffs and plays a dependable game in all zones.
O’Regan played with potential first-round pick Nic Kerdiles and notable 2013 prospect Ryan Hartman at the World Under-18s. O’Regan made both better, particularly Kerdiles who shifted to the wing and put up nine points in the tournament as a result.
O’Regan is likely a later mid-round selection that will need time at Boston University to bulk up and round out his game, but he’ll be worth waiting for.
Matt Grzelcyk –Defense — U.S. National Under-18 Team
I’ve been beating the Grzelcyk (pronounced GRIZ-lick) drum for most of the year. After not being ranked in the Central Scouting midterm rankings, he was listed at 177 in the final.
Again, it appears size is the biggest concern, but it really shouldn’t be, as he is a high-end skater, a very smart player and a steady puck-mover. Grzelcyk also has a pretty underrated shot, as it is both heavy and accurate.
In an age where possession skills are at a premium, Grzelcyk is a strong defenseman in possession. He handles the puck well, distributes well and makes very few mistakes in the way of turnovers.
The big thing about Grzelcyk is that he got stronger over the last two years and is headed to BU next season, where he will be in a strength and conditioning program that is world renowned. You look at what BU was able to do for Adam Clendening who just signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, and you see a chance for similar results for Grzelecyk. If he were three inches taller, he’d be getting first-round consideration, undoubtedly.
He should be drafted unless teams want to pay more in free agency down the line.
Other Notable Sleepers
Justin Wade — Defense — Fargo Force — Wade had a very up and down season beginning at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka, where he was part of Team USA’s porous defense. Despite bad numbers in that event, Wade had a pretty nice season for the Force and seemed to get better as the year went on. He’s still on the fringe of getting drafted, but there are going to be some teams that are willing to take a shot with an athletic defenseman at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, with plenty of time to get to his ceiling yet. Central Scouting has him listed at 144.
Vince Hinostroza — Forward — Waterloo — It’s a shame that Hinostroza got injured before the USHL Playoffs. The Black Hawks went to the Clark Cup finals without him, but it would have been a great opportunity for Hinostroza to put in one last effort before the draft. He’s ranked 115 by Central Scouting and will certainly be drafted, I’m just not sure when. He had a very nice year before the injury with 20 goals and 44 points, but I think his on-ice work ethic is what makes him an attractive prospect. He seems like the type of player that will work hard enough to give himself the best chance to make it.
Connor Carrick — Defense — U.S. National Under-18 Team — Connor Carrick quietly put together a very strong year offensively for the U18s. He played very well in the World U18 Championship, with Matt Grzelcyk as a D partner. Carrick put up four points including a goal in the gold-medal game. He has good instincts to jump into the rush. He’s definitely a risk taker, but with good enough speed and solid puck skills he’s one to watch for the late rounds. Central Scouting has him at 124.
Dominic Toninato — Duluth East H.S. — Toninato, who is expected to play for the Fargo Force in the USHL next year had a strong season, posting 73 points in 31 games for a very strong Duluth East squad. Central Scouting put him from 198 at the midterm to 149 in its final ranking. Of the Minnesota high schoolers, he’s the one I’ve been hearing the most chatter about, in what is a week year for the State of Hockey’s high school ranks. He has the type of skills that you take a chance on late and let him keep developing against tougher competition.
Matthew Lane — Forward — U.S. National Under-18 Team — After the World Under-18 Championship, I was completely sold on Lane as a potential NHL talent. He likely projects as a third- or fourth-line energy guy at the next level, but he showed quite a bit of offensive flair at the World Under-18s with his three goal, seven point output. He was consistently Team USA’s most threatening player at the tournament, but beyond that he shows such tremendous speed and tenacity. I don’t know if he lost a single board battle in the entire tournament against much larger players. His size is a concern, but his strength might make up for it. Central Scouting has him at 150. The U18s might change his draft fortune though.
As one NHL scout told me earlier in the year, this is going to be a draft where finding value late is going to be a challenge for most staffs. Guys like these are worth a long look from teams trying to find those diamonds in the rough. All could be hit or miss prospects, and it is likely all take a while to make it to the next level, but there’s something there worth taking a chance on.
Coming up Tuesday on USofH, “The Curious Case of Alex Galchenyuk,” a look at the top American prospect’s nationality confusion, his IIHF eligibility and what makes him such an intriguing, yet risky prospect.