On Thursday night in Pittsburgh,
40 39 of the best American-born players eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft will take the ice at the CONSOL Energy Center to compete in the 2014 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game. It’s the second year for this event and should be a really entertaining appetizer for the NHL season which begins on Oct. 1.
There are several headliner prospects in the group, as well as a great stage for the second edition of the All-American Prospects Game. Many NHL scouts will be in attendance as the U.S.-born players get a shot to show what they’ve got in an incredibly unique setting.
The thing that makes the AAPG special is the fact that it brings together players from a wide array of teams and leagues and for one night puts them all on the same ice surface. In many ways, it’s a celebration of the vast landscape in which American players develop. There aren’t many opportunities to see prep school players on the same ice as kids from leagues like the USHL and OHL.
The game, which will be streamed live on USAHockey.com at 7 p.m. ET, will give a lot of scouts a good early look at what some of these guys are capable of. It will also give fans a taste of what’s to come for the American Draft Class of 2014.
Coming up after the jump, a look at what to watch for when the American prospects hit the ice Thursday.
For those that are new here, the All-American Prospects Game is split into two teams. They will be led by former Penguins and USA Hockey greats Mark Johnson and Joey Mullen. So, naturally, the teams are designated Team Johnson and Team Mullen.
Team Johnson will be wearing the white jerseys, while Team Mullen will be in blue. Here’s a look at the threads for Thursday’s game, which in my opinion are a nice improvement over last year’s.
Aside from that, it’s a regular hockey game. Since there are four goalies, each will play half the game for his respective team. Everything else is essentially normal.
Penguins and U.S. Olympic Head Coach Dan Bylsma will drop the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff and former Penguin Bill Guerin will hand out the player of the game award.
Tori Holt and Pat Michelleti have the call on the streaming broadcast, which will be powered by FASTHockey.com.
The Headliners (Players with an A rating from NHL CSS)
Blake Clarke (North Bay Battalion) — F — Team Mullen — After bouncing around for a few years from Shattuck-St. Mary’s to the Chicago Mission to the Fargo Force and then his hometown St. Louis Blues AAA, Clarke landed in the OHL and was a standout rookie for the Brampton Battalion last season. Always at the head of his class as a more physically-developed player for his age group, Clarke showed some great two-way prowess last season and never saw his production suffer. This year he comes in with big expectations after a 51-point rookie campaign. He’ll be expected to be one of the more physically dominant players in this game and could be a big source of production for Team Mullen in the game.
Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay Gamblers) — F — Team Johnson — Schmaltz is the biggest non-NTDP prospect in the USHL this year. For a piece I wrote for USAHockey.com, NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr told me Schmaltz “may have the quickest hands coming into the draft season.” He had 52 points in 64 games for Green Bay last year, a pretty remarkable total for a 16-year-old in the USHL. The younger brother of North Dakota defenseman and St. Louis Blues 2012 first-rounder Jordan Schmaltz also led the U.S. Under-18 Select Team with nine points at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka. As one of the more skilled players taking the ice in Pittsburgh Thursday, many eyes will be on the Green Bay forward.
Sonny Milano (U.S. Nat’l U18 Team) — F — Team Johnson — Marr told me he has Milano and Schmaltz grouped together in terms of how skilled the pair are. Milano is a gifted offensive talent out of the NTDP. He posted 47 points in 56 games with the hard-luck U17 team last season and after getting bigger and stronger, could find himself producing at an even higher clip as a U18. The Notre Dame commit has a natural scoring ability and really solid playmaking skills. According to Marr, Milano can make passes and plays off his backhand that most NHL players can’t. That’s high praise. With him and Schmaltz on the same team, it could make things tough for the guys on the other side of the ice.
Thatcher Demko (Boston College) — G — Team Johnson — One of the few goalies to receive an A rating from CSS, Demko is expected to see a lot of playing time for Boston College this season. He’ll get his first taste of game action at the AAPG, however. Demko was sensational for much of last season for the U.S. U18 Team, putting together some of his best performances against NCAA Division I teams. Though he’ll only get in half a game in Pittsburgh, expectations should be high based on his body of work.
Chase De Leo (Portland Winterhawks) — F — Team Johnson — The undersized, but skilled De Leo had a strong season for WHL champion Portland last season. He bettered his 2011-12 rookie campaign by 26 points by posting 56 in 2012-13. With several key players gone from last year’s team, De Leo should be one of the key offensive players for the club this season. As a late 1995, he’ll need to have a big year and is off to a good start with four points through two games. He’s got experience on his side and should be able to put together a solid performance in the AAPG.
Dylan Larkin (U.S. Nat’l U18 Team) — F — Team Johnson — A University of Michigan commit, big things are expected of Larkin this season with an A rating from Central Scouting. He had a decent showing in 2012-13, highlighted by a seven-point performance at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, but now he’s got some big expectations to live up to. With good size and overall ability, Larkin will need to find a way to stand out against some of the other A-rated guys in the game.
Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers) — G — Team Mullen — After his standout performance as an OHL rookie last season and strong play at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka, Nedeljkovic was another one of the few goalies to earn an A grade from Central Scouting. He doesn’t have the size teams covet, but with such a high level success at a fairly young age, he’s going to be a guy worth watching all year. Since he’s on Team Mullen, he’ll be going head-to-head with some of the most skilled players in the AAPG since Team Johnson boasts Milano, Schmaltz and De Leo. He should see some heavy work.
Ryan MacInnis (Kitchener Rangers) — F — Team Mullen — After leaving the NTDP after his U17 season, MacInnis will look to impress in the OHL. He has great size and some solid offensive capabilities. MacInnis uses his 6-foot-3 frame well and isn’t afraid to play physical. Some think he has first-round potential, but Central Scouting gave him a B-rating. The son of Hall of Famer Al MacInnis certainly has some upside and should be one of the more physically able guys in this game.
Jack Glover (U.S. Nat’l U18 Team) — D — Team Johnson — An early favorite of some of the scouting publications out there, Glover is a big, mobile defenseman with solid hockey sense. The Minnesota commit got a B rating from NHL Central Scouting. He has some offensive capabilities with a good first pass and heavy shot, which makes him one of the best defensemen in the U.S. draft class. This will be an interesting setting for him to showcase his wide array of skills.
Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia Sting) — D — Team Mullen — A gifted offensive defensemen, DeAngelo can be a high-risk, high-reward player. He was an early cut at U.S. World Junior camp, but he was the only first-year eligible skater who was in Lake Placid. There are times where he looks dynamic and that flash could serve him well in a low-stakes game like this. As long as DeAngelo doesn’t try to do too much, he should be one of the standout performers on the back end.
Alex Tuch (U.S. Nat’l U18 Team) — F — Team Johnson — One of the biggest forwards playing in the game at 6-foot-4, 213, Tuch could be one of those guys you see climb draft charts this year not unlike Michael McCarron last season. The Boston College commit didn’t put up incredible numbers last season, but there’s some offensive upside in that big body and if he can develop a solid power game, scouts are going to really like him. It’ll be worth watching if he can bring some of that physical strength to the table in Pittsburgh.
Seamus Malone (Dubuque Fighting Saints) — F — Team Mullen — Malone has some serious skill, but he’s still learning to put it all together. An average-sized forward, Malone will need to produce this season for the defending USHL champs and he should be able to. This could be a good early test for the Wisconsin commit, who I think was better than his numbers say last season.
Ryan Mantha (Sioux City Musketeers) — D — Team Johnson — One of the biggest players in the game, Mantha is an extremely interesting prospect. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound rearguard is more defensive minded, so it’s tougher for guys that play like him to stand out in a prospects game. Still, scouts will be watching to see how he handles the high skill level of his opponents. The North Dakota commit is going to get a lot of looks due to his big frame, but there’s enough there to suggest he’s more than just a big body.
— There have been a few injury replacements for the game: Portland Winterhawks forward Dominic Turgeon was replaced by Dexter (Mass.) School forward Ryan Donato, a B-rated prospect by CSS. Plymouth Whalers forward Connor Chatham has been replaced by U.S. U18 forward Ryan Wagner. Defenseman Jonathan MacLeod will be replaced by U.S. U18 Teammate Nathan Billitier.
— Russ Bitely reports Austin Poganski, who would’ve made the “notables” list will miss the game with an apparent injury.
No replacement, nor confirmation of his absence has been announced. USA Hockey Announced Poganski as well as Greg Betzold of the Peterborough Petes won’t participate due to injury. Dylan Pavelek from the U.S. U18 Team has been added to the game.
— I helped RedLine Editorial compile some feature stories for USAHockey.com leading up to the AAPG. Here they are:
Thatcher Demko on making the jump to Boston College a year early and his expectations for the game.
Austin Poganski on the decision to join the USHL and his steps toward an NHL dream.
Shane Eiserman on his nomadic existence over the last three years.
Central Scouting’s Dan Marr on what he’ll be looking for from the players and general thoughts on the game.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|8 Sonny Milano||9 Nick Schmaltz||10 Alex Tuch|
|11 Ryan Hitchcock||14 Chase De Leo||15 Kevin LaBanc|
|16 Jared Fiegl||17 Dylan Larkin||18 Keegan Iverson|
|19 Shane Eiserman||20 Nolan Stevens||21 Michael Turner|
|Left Defense||Right Defense||Goaltenders|
|2 Ryan Bliss||5 Aaron Haydon||30 Blake Weyrick|
|3 Louis Beldepio||6 Jack Glover||1 Thatcher Demko|
|7 Nathan Billitier||4 Ryan Mantha|
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|8 Seamus Malone||9 Ryan MacInnis||10 Blake Clarke|
|11 Anders Bjork||17 Shane Gersich||15 Dylan Pavelek|
|16 Joe Wegwerth||20 Ryan Donato||18 Tyler Sheehy|
|19 Ryan Wagner||21 Jack Ramsey|
|Left Defense||Right Defense||Goaltenders|
|2 Keegan Ford||5 Jack Dougherty||30 Ed Minney|
|3 Tony DeAngelo||6 Ryan Collins||1 Alex Nedljkovic|
|4 Hunter Warner||7 Josh Jacobs|
USAHockey’s AAPG site has more pre-game material right here.
This game isn’t going to make or break anyone’s draft stock, but it’s a solid showcase for the top American talent. The fact that it can get all of the best U.S. players under one roof is a great thing for USA Hockey and it really is becoming an important event on the organization’s calendar.
For more details on how to follow the game, visit allamaericanprospectsgame.com.