When the National Team Development Program announces its roster for the U.S. National Under-17 Team every August, it’s like a glimpse into the future of American hockey. Several players from the team are likely to go on to success at the collegiate, junior and NHL levels based on the numbers the program has produced for the pro and college ranks of late.
The NTDP has had a strong track record of placing players in positions to succeed and the results have been evident at all levels of hockey. So now this is a fresh group of kids who will put their development in the hands of the national governing body and begin two years of some pretty grueling training.
The 2013-14 U17 roster (which can be found here) is made up of 22 players born in 1997. Yes, there are elite-level hockey players that have never known a world without the Spice Girls.
I haven’t really been tracking the 1997 borns as much as previous classes, but junior hockey scouts I’ve spoken to have very high expectations for a number of players on this roster. Coming up after the jump, a quick look at the roster and some notes on some of the standouts.
Some quick stats on the roster:
The U.S. roster includes two goaltenders, eight defensemen and 12 forwards. Of the 22 players listed, 12 have verbal commitments to NCAA Division I programs. Three players have prior junior hockey experience, while five are coming out of the prep ranks and 13 come from the midget AAA level.
Ten different states and the District of Columbia are represented on the roster, but shockingly, Minnesota is not one of them. This may be a first at the NTDP (based on admittedly hasty and incomplete research). Here’s how it breaks down:
Michigan (4), New York (4), Massachusetts (3), Missouri (3), Illinois (2), Arizona (1), Washington, D.C. (1), Iowa (1), New Jersey (1), Ohio (1), Texas (1).
The 1997 birth year is expected to be a deep one for the U.S., but that’s been said a lot about recent classes. It usually takes two years to really determine the depth, at least in terms of NHL prospect pool, but early indications are good.
Among the top players on the squad is a pair of defensemen that are coming into the NTDP with sky high expectations.
Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski are big blueliners that have scouts really buzzing. Two different junior scouts told me this could be the next edition of the type of dominance displayed by Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba over 2010-12. If that’s the case, know these names now and don’t forget them.
One current NHL scout who went to the NTDP’s tryout camp said Hanifin was the best defenseman (at that point in his development) he’d seen in that camp in many years of attending. That’s high praise considering who’s been in that camp over the last decade. Hanifin, who is committed to Boston College, was selected in the second round of the QMJHL Draft by the Quebec Remparts and courted heavily. Ultimately, he chose the NTDP and retains his college eligibility for the next two years at least.
Regional scouts in Michigan have sworn by Werenski as well in terms of his elite game. Sean Lafortune, who runs TheScout.ca, had Werenski rated as the No. 2 prospect heading into the OHL Priority Draft and told this to the OHL Prospects Blog after the OHL Draft:
“Werenski is without a doubt the best 97 drafted this weekend, and one of the best 97’s in North America. He has the ability to be a top 4 defender right away.”
Werenski does not have a college commitment and was selected in the second round of the OHL Draft by the London Knights (falling due to his NTDP commitment). He will have two years in Ann Arbor and we’ll see where he goes from there, but there’s no question he’s an exciting talent.
Also on the blueline is young Caleb Jones. He’s the younger brother of former NTDP star Seth Jones and there’s plenty of buzz about Caleb as well. Though not as big as brother Seth, I’ve heard good things about Caleb’s upside. His rights are held by Portland in the WHL, same place Seth spent his draft season, so Caleb could be headed that way after his time with the NTDP.
There’s also big Christian Evers, a North Dakota commit, who stands in at 6-4, 194. He played with the Omaha Lancers AAA program last season and is a native of Waukee, Iowa. Not a lot of elite players have come out of the state I currently call home, so good for him.
Casey Fitzgerald has good NHL bloodlines as his father Tom played more than 1,000 games in the league. His brother Ryan was a fourth-round selection by the Bruins in the most recent NHL Draft. Eastern scouts have been very high on Casey and he’ll come into the NTDP with some expectations.
Rounding out the D crop is Nicholas Boka, Joseph Masonius and Charles MacAvoy.
At goalie, the U.S. went with a pair of big bodies in Michael Lackey and Luke Opilka. It’s been really interesting to see the wide array of geographical backgrounds the goalies have been coming from at the NTDP. Lackey is from D.C., while Opilka is a St. Louis native. In recent years, the NTDP has pulled goalies from more traditional locales like Michigan, Minnesota and New York, but the number of guys from non-traditional markets seems to be on the rise in recent years. Both goalies on the U18 Team, Edwin Minney (Pennsylvania) and Blake Weyrick (California) are also from new-traditional locales.
At forward, the U.S. has an interesting group with a wide range of sizes and skill.
Among the forwards is Matthew Tkachuk, who is the son of U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Keith. The younger Tkachuk isn’t draft eligible until 2016, but he’s been rising to the top of his birth class after an 82-point campaign for the St. Louis Blues AAA program last year. A commit to the University of Notre Dame, the London Knights selected Tkachuk in the OHL Draft. In fact, the Knights took a lot of guys on this roster… ya know, just in case.
Tkachuk joins midget teammates Opilka and Luke Kunin, as the Missouri trio to make the roster. More and more top-level players are coming out of the St. Louis area and particularly out of the Blues AAA program.
One of the more intriguing prospects joining the team is Jordan Greenway, he’s pushing close to 6-foot-5 and was a point-producing machine for Shattuck-St. Mary’s over the last two years. Lafortune had this for a report on Greenway, again from the OHL Prospects Blog:
[He] has that raw ability that not many in this draft class possesses. I didn’t get as many opportunities to see him this year as I would have liked, given that he plays in Minnesota at the famed Shattuck St. Mary’s program, but all year long I had excellent reports on him. He has the rare combination of size, mobility and puck skills that make him a real appealing option.
Jeremy Bracco is another intriguing one as he had a terrific campaign in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League last year with the New Jersey Rockets program. He posted 50 points in 30 games with the club, playing against older, stronger players. At 5-7, 130, he’s certainly small, but the NTDP has done well with a lot of their small skilled guys. He’s committed to Harvard.
Another forward with solid junior experience is Luke Kirwan. He spent last season with the Middlesex Islanders in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. At 15, he had a respectable 16 points in 34 games. The year prior, he lit up the Empire Junior Hockey League with 79 points in 39 games. He’s one worth keeping a close eye on.
Dennis Yan is a dual U.S.-Russian citizen and actually played some youth hockey while in Russia. He spent last year with the Belle Tire program in Michigan and had a really solid season. It’s not too often you see a dual with Russian citizenship, but reports I’ve heard about Yan are mostly glowing.
Rounding out the forwards for Team USA are Christian Fischer, Michael Floodstrand, Auston Matthews, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Warren and Colin White.
The U.S. U17 Team will play a schedule of USHL games and will appear in three international tournaments including the 2013 U17 Four Nations Tournament in Slovakia in November, the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Cape Breton, N.S., around the New Year, and the 2014 U17 Five Nations Tournament in Sweden in February.
The 1997 class will be coached by Don Granato, who returns to the NTDP for his third season. He’s joined on the bench by assistant coach Nick Fohr and graduate assistant Josh Brown.
The team’s full schedule is available here.