Prospect Currents December 2019
This is my Prospect Currents column where I talk about various prospect-related topics. See the November and September columns for more of the same. In this edition I focused on the USHL’s upcoming Frosty Cup, some recent recruiting action, the USA World Junior team, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten, the USHL’s top teams, prep and high school hockey.
First off, the big amateur hockey event coming up is the USHL’s inaugural Frosty Cup, where the league will be teaming up with the NHL’s Dallas Stars during the Winter Classic to host one of their own. I spoke to USHL Director of Player Personnel Luke Curadi to get the low-down on the inaugural event which will feature an outdoor game between the Chicago Steel and the Green Bay Gamblers at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas as well as a new youth hockey tournament which will continue over the years to come. The first of two games between Chicago and Green Bay will be played indoors on January 2nd at the Comerica Center, the Dallas Stars’ practice facility, and the next day will be that outdoor game. Both games will count in the regular season standings.
The Frosty Cup also includes a youth hockey tournament, which is likely to continue and evolve over the years. It has a pretty good spread of talent between 32 teams at the 14U, 15U, 16U and 18U levels. Some of the teams that will be there at 14 are Carshield, CT Jr. Huskies, Westchester Express, Washington Little Caps, Dallas Stars Elite, Rocky Mountain Roughriders. At 15: Dallas, Colorado Thunderbirds, Rocky Mountain Roughriders, Chicago Young Americans, Mercer Chiefs, Florida Alliance, Carshield, with many of those teams participating at the 16 level as well, save Florida Alliance and a few others. Also at the 16 level are San Jose, Sioux Falls, Team Maryland and Des Moines.
This year the event is in conjunction with the Winter Classic, but in coming years it is possible that the tournament will be at a different date and not colliding with New Year’s. This year looks to be a strong starting off point for the Frosty Cup, which could become a staple of the scouting schedule for junior and college recruiters. With the youth teams having the opportunity to see the Winter Classic (as well as the USHL’s Frosty Cup), it should be a great experience for all involved.
I’m not going to do a recap of all the recent recruiting news but there are a couple names I’ll talk about here. Specifically the NCHC and Hockey East have seen a decent amount of recruiting action while the Big Ten has only added one player of note since last month’s update. Starting with the Big Ten, Notre Dame added a great piece for their blue line in NTDP U17 defenseman Ty Gallagher, who had been committed to Miami. The big right-shot should help to ease the pain of losing top RD recruit Brock Faber to the Gophers last month.
In the NCHC, North Dakota got a goaltender for the future in former CC recruit Hobie Hedquist. The 6’2 stopper out of the Sioux Falls Power AAA is from southwest Minnesota, a sparsely populated region of the country that has been producing a decent amount of hockey talent in recent years.
Also in the NCHC, Minnesota-Duluth got a top scorer from the Minnesota high school circuit in Ben Steeves (Eden Prairie), who I highlighted in last month’s uncommitted prospect watch list. Both of Steeves’ brothers play for Notre Dame.
One of the biggest recruiting wins this month was Arizona State’s pick-up of North Jersey Avalanche forward Danny Minnehan. Like Steeves, I highlighted Minnehan in last month’s watch list — he is as strong a prospect as any ‘03 still uncommitted at this point. Despite playing out east this season, Minnehan is an LA Jr. Kings product from Cypress, California. In securing the commitment of Minnehan, ASU protects the connection to prospects from the west coast. As the only school that can lay a claim to being located on that side of the country, that’s important. Especially until the Sun Devils can start to pull some top prospects from other traditional hot-beds with consistency, the west coast, which continues to produce their share of talent, should be a top priority for them.
To underline the point, Minnehan’s teammate last season, Aidan Hreschuk, is one of the top prospects on a stacked U17 NTDP team this year, and the Sun Devils lost out to Boston College for him. Had Minnehan, a talented scorer with length and nice upside, committed elsewhere, that would be two top ‘03s from California looking off the only school in the west. ASU secured a win on this commitment competing against a lot of top schools (including Penn State) and in doing so help to sustain a pipeline of western talent that should prove very fruitful over the years to come. If they can help Minnehan realize his potential, he’ll be a skating advertisement for why more top prospects from the west should head to Tempe.
In Hockey East news, Merrimack got a nice pick-up in NJ Rockets defenseman Mike Rubin, a prospect for their blue line with size and two-way potential. I highlighted Rubin’s pending commitment last month in the wake of his teammate Gleb Veremyev committing to Penn State.
BU picked up a solid prospect in Dexter forward Doug Grimes. I interviewed Grimes’ coach Dan Donato for this week’s prep hockey podcast and he provided this quote about Grimes: “Doug is a great two-way player who has great size and can really shoot the puck. He has the ability to change a game by his physicality and has a great touch around the net. His best days are ahead of him as he continues to grow into his 6’3, 210 pound frame. Doug is a first class kid and is an excellent student and member of our community.”
I also asked Donato about another of his forwards, Culin Wilson, who is one of the premier uncommitted prospects in the country and attracting NHL interest ahead of his draft year (2021): “Culin has an elite hockey IQ. He has the ability to create something out of nothing in the offensive zone. He makes his linemates better every shift and has drawn the attention of multiple NHL teams. He is very strong on his skates and is a very smooth skater.” If you want to hear more about both players and Dexter’s team as a whole, check out the prep podcast as we discussed both players on that as well.
BC picked up two of the bigger recruits as far as Hockey East goes in Shattuck forward Will Traeger and USHL veteran Harry Roy. I’ll write more about this Shattuck team soon so I won’t go in depth on Traeger here but both are very solid pick-ups for the future. In my opinion a key for both Comm Ave schools (and recruiting in general, but this applies especially to teams that often pull high-end talent) is getting these non-draft types (and even some drafted players) to keep improving in junior for as long as possible. That way the schools minimize the learning curve for them as freshmen and get as much of an impact player as possible out of each one, whenever they do arrive.
The flip-side of it is, the longer they spend improving in junior the higher propensity there is to leave school early for pro hockey. So it’s not simple, but especially for players who aren’t likely to sign pro contracts early, having recruits who are improving in junior for as long as possible and then keeping them on campus for as long as possible are two major priorities for building a consistent winner from my perspective. Easier said than done obviously.
Traeger (BC), Roy (BC) and Grimes (BU) fit the mold of players who can add a useful element in time but should probably come to campus as junior-seasoned as possible. Roy, who has had that junior experience (and is one year from aging out), will come to campus next season. That fits the template. If BC keeps adding players like Roy and current freshman Mike Hardman (who had 72 points as a 19/20 year old in the BCHL last season), they’ll have the requisite pieces they need to place around their high-end talent and win games for years to come. In Traeger’s case, whether he goes to the BCHL or the USHL, the key for a player like that should be not to bring in said player until they are scoring at a very solid clip.
Sticking with BC here, related to the above, they are one of the teams having serious success with a roster reliant on a lot of talented young players, many of whom I think will stick around for at least another season. To an extent they’re bucking a trend in doing so, but the key to it all for my money is freshman goaltender Spencer Knight, who is putting together a season for the history books. What might have been a first half troubled by freshman and sophomore moments has seemed to lack those, especially in the net where it matters most.
As of December 6th, Knight already has four shut-outs and is on pace for an insane year between the pipes as a true freshman. He’ll be a big part of the World Junior team. Knight is one of the 2019 first-rounders from the NTDP who I think has improved his stock as a prospect by a great deal — potentially the most of them all — in a pretty short amount of time since draft day.
On to the World Juniors, where I’m going to focus on the Americans since those are the players I’m really familiar with. The USA released their preliminary roster and it was essentially what most observers would expect — especially those who had watched this summer’s World Junior Summer Showcase. The only real ‘snubs’ of note from the line-up that I had projected are BC forward Matt Boldy as well as Oliver Wahlstrom and Bode Wilde, who are in the New York Islanders organization. Up front, I find it hard to see where Boldy fits into a pretty good forward group — though there are some named to the roster where I feel the same — whereas Wahlstrom is someone I find hard to leave off, though the Americans should be okay without him.
It’s not that Boldy is having a particularly bad year, at least from the few games I’ve watched, but there are a ton of options up front and whether he lines up at center or wing I think he’d have to fit into the bottom six somewhere. I do think he could be serviceable in that role. Wahlstrom, if he ends up on the team, likely figures into a scoring line role and similar to Boldy, I’m not sure where Wilde fits in with a pretty deep core of defenders who can all play valuable roles. I haven’t watched Wilde this year in the AHL, but I’m pretty familiar with his game and the most appealing aspect I see him bringing here is that he could be an asset on the power play — where the Americans already project to be pretty strong. They could even use four forwards.
As far as the power play goes, there are a ton of options. Cam York (Michigan) is probably a lock to not just make the team but also run the top unit, while we have a few options to run the second unit — the name that pops here is Zac Jones (UMass), though I don’t know if he’s a lock. Some defenders who are likely locks include Mattias Samuelsson (Western), K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin) and Jordan Harris (Northeastern). I don’t think Miller has taken the step he was expected to take for the Badgers this year, but he’s probably done just enough to earn his spot back from last year’s team.
The other players named on defense for the preliminary roster are Ty Emberson (Wisconsin), Ryan Johnson (Minnesota), Spencer Stastney (Notre Dame), Alec Regula (OHL-London) and Christian Krygier (Michigan State). With four out of five playing in the conference I watch regularly (Big Ten), I think they’re all very solid options with unique assets to bring to this team while Regula is scoring at a great clip in the Ontario league.
Looking at the forward group, as noted there are not any names that surprise me. The most interesting thing to me will be who lines up at center and wing. There will be some really great players cut from this forward group — I’ve watched all of the NCAA names on the list here and they’re all worth bringing for one reason or another. If this group had a chance to bring Joel Farabee or Jack Hughes back, it would be off the charts.
Up front, the Wisconsin pair of Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte are basically locks and probably will play on the same line there as well. Michigan’s John Beecher has been a lonely bright spot for Michigan this year and leads them in scoring. BU’s Trevor Zegras adds a high-end playmaking element and could be a major force at this tournament. All four played together on the NTDP last season with Cam York.
I’ll go more in-depth on the rest of this forward group as the tournament edges closer, but here are a couple more takes. Parker Ford (Providence) is a lock (to me at least) and likely at center, could be a top six center even on a team stacked with names who can play there. He plays a big role for a good Friars team this year and he will be drafted this summer in his third year of eligibility. Shane Pinto (North Dakota) is another skater who I have to figure is a lock. Pinto also could be a top six center but I think he would add a lot on the wing too. North Dakota is arguably the best team in the country so far and Pinto is third in scoring, like Ford, playing a critical role for them. That’s already six players mentioned and I have yet to note some other very good NCAA players like Jake Pivonka (Notre Dame), Trevor Janicke (Notre Dame), Robert Mastrosimone (BU), Jack Drury (Harvard), Bobby Brink (Denver) and Curtis Hall (Yale), not to mention those named from the OHL.
There are a couple ‘off-the-radar’ names that I’ve liked a lot this year. While I can’t necessarily argue that they deserve spots over anyone else, I could have seen reason to invite Patrick Moynihan (Providence), Owen Lindmark (Wisconsin), John Farinacci (Harvard), Ryan Savage (Miami) and Gavin Hain (North Dakota). While they aren’t clearly better than any players named to the roster, when it comes to building a team, players like Lindmark, Moynihan and Hain might be classified as the ‘right’ players to play valuable roles whether that would be the penalty kill or just to get the job done in bottom six roles at a unique, high level tournament like this.
In the same vein, I don’t see any big snubs on defense but I’ve noticed a few players this season who I think would have been worth considering for depth roles, like Drew Helleson (Boston College), Ethan Frisch (North Dakota) and Matt Staudacher (Minnesota). It’s worth noting the Americans won’t have any first-time draft-eligibles and that makes sense, there aren’t many worth taking, especially considering the amount of older talent available. There’s a great chance that we will see some draft-eligibles on next year’s team.
Moving away from the World Junior, here are some takes from a few different leagues in my focus at this point, starting with the Big Ten.
Wisconsin (2-7-1 in Big Ten play): I touched on this phenomenon briefly in last weekend’s review of Cornell’s 2-0 win over BU (who have since put together some nice wins), and earlier in this post when talking about BC’s recent recruits. For all of Wisconsin’s high-end young talent, it hasn’t made for a particularly good hockey team. I think to some extent it’s really as simple as I made it out to be in the linked article — teams that are older, properly ‘built’ and execute a team concept are much better (and arguably more fun to watch) than those that rely on a couple young high-end stars. That’s why I kept noting before the season how really good but less highly-touted recruits like Owen Lindmark will be some of the more impactful pieces for this Wisconsin team in the long-run. I felt the same about former Badger recruit Sam Stevens, who flipped to BU over the summer.
If Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte jump ship in the spring — and I don’t think that’s necessarily the right move for them — what will the Badgers have to show for it? As an impartial observer (at least I like to think I am), I have to wonder who benefits more from these high-end young freshmen, the players or the teams themselves?
The sky isn’t falling in Madison just yet. Everyone expects these young teams to struggle first — although perhaps not this much for a team this talented — and they’ve been ‘in’ many of their games this season. At least there haven’t been many games where they got embarrassed and the solid set of results filed away in October will help the record look respectable if they can turn it around in the second half. But this is a lot of lipstick to put on a Badger in an attempt to make things look better than they are. They need to actually be better.
Michigan State (6-3-1 in Big Ten play): I’ll wrap the first half of the Big Ten season after next weekend, but I can’t move on from it without talking about the surprise of the first half. After being picked to finish last by the polls and with basically everyone in the hockey world that I spoke to writing them off, they sit tied for second in the conference with ten games played. Notre Dame has two games in hand (and will play Penn State next weekend), but it’s not a fluke that the Spartans have strung together wins. They weren’t a one-line team last year, but they did have one ‘scoring line’, and in the wake of losing Taro Hirose, arguably the key to that line, everyone has stepped up. It’s great. They haven’t been amazing all year, but they’ve worked their way into the polls at #18 and deservedly so. It’s nice to see this run of results after a very tough off-season where they lost Hirose to the NHL and their top recruit to the OHL.
That’s all for college hockey — I’ll get into the Big Ten more when the first half is properly finished. Here’s a brief glance at the USHL before I get into the prep school and high school hockey circuits, which began in earnest this month. At the top of the Western Conference, Waterloo have continued their run of strong results and 2020 draft-eligible Ryder Rolston (Notre Dame) properly heated up with a run of eight points in five games, finally getting blanked in his final game before leaving for the World Junior A Challenge — another topic I’ll write about separately, very soon. Omaha has made a lot of trade moves and it seems to have served them very well. They haven’t lost by more than a goal since October 12th. Fargo are 7 and 3 in their last ten.
In the East, Chicago continue to roll (9-1 in last ten) despite losing a lot of core players to USA’s World Junior A team and their head coach to AHL-Toronto. Dubuque are also still in form, 8 and 2 in their last ten, outscoring teams at a 3:2 ratio over the course of the year. 2020 draft-eligible Stephen Halliday (North Dakota) scored his second goal of the year last weekend after a month and a half-long cold streak, while BU recruit Braden Doyle got a hat trick against Muskegon on the same weekend.
Moving on to prep hockey, as I’ve mentioned I have a prep hockey podcast which came out today that I plan to continue over the course of the season. For now, it’s mostly interviews with coaches around the league, though I may experiment with the format and include some commentary over time. This week’s episode includes interviews with Exeter head coach Dana Barbin and Dexter head coach Dan Donato. Their teams will face off Wednesday at Exeter. I’ve watched about fifteen games, some more closely than others, some simultaneously, but I have a sense for many of the top teams and some of the weaker teams too. I will come up with a way-too-early top five ranking later this week.
Here are some of my notes on the nascent prep season. Two modern staple New England powers — Kimball Union and Salisbury — have started their seasons with a stumble, Salisbury coming up short against Taft on the road and Kimball Union losing to Kent at Exeter, 5-2. Neither loss is particularly miserable, as Taft and Kent seem pretty good and the Kent loss featured two empty-netters, so they were both basically by a goal. The results are only an indicator that the parity in prep hockey is as strong as ever, at least early in the season. I’ve watched both Salisbury and KUA twice. KUA looked especially deep and very good in their game against Bishop’s College. The name I was really watching for KUA was Adam Fantilli and he didn’t disappoint. He’s going to put up silly numbers this year. KUA, as a whole, will too. Case in point, they got 15 goals on 83 shots against Vermont Academy before dropping the aforementioned game against a very solid Kent team at the Exeter Showcase.
For Salisbury, I watched their early-season loss and a bit of their game against Williston. It seemed to me that the clock ran out before the Crimson Knights could match Taft’s three goals and it was very early in the season. I came away from that game more impressed by Taft than disappointed in Salisbury. Winning that game is perhaps the worst thing Taft could have done to the rest of the Founder’s league as now Salisbury has something to prove and they look pretty scary. One player that really stood out to me is big draft-eligible forward Lucas Mercuri (Vermont), who I suspect will be the key to Salisbury putting together a big run this winter. A couple other games I’ve watched, with players that stood out: Pomfret x Nobles (Fs Sami Hakkarainen and Kyle Tomaso), Avon x Williston (F Paul Davey), NMH x Westy (G Connor Hasley), Loomis x T-P (F Cody Hoban), Berkshire x Taft (F Aidan Thompson).
Some other prep notes: Cushing (2-4-1), at home, took a thumping from Dexter (3-0) where things just fell apart and ended in a 10-2 result. Cushing weren’t as bad as the score indicated, but I’ve watched them play three times and they have work to do to become a force, while Dexter seem to be fairly strong.
At the Exeter showcase, where the Connecticut schools showed particularly well, Gunnery (3-0) outscored Exeter and New Hampton, 13-3.
Kent’s big result at KUA (also at the Exeter showcase) was their first game against a top opponent and they will have three big tests before the holiday tournaments start in Brunswick and Gunnery at home before heading to play at Salisbury.
Exeter are 4-1-1 with something to prove after taking a 5-0 loss and a tie at their showcase. They play Dexter at home Wednesday.
Loomis are 3-0 against three very solid teams — they face another upstart in Pomfret (3-0) at Pomfret this Wednesday. Loomis have a tough month but if they can win out and take a big game against Gunnery in the Avon tournament, they’ll be right up there with the best of New England. Pomfret have knocked off Nobles, Tabor and Albany Academy.
Avon are 2-0 and their first big test of the year looms as Taft comes to campus this Wednesday.
Tilton are 3-0 and will host KUA Saturday after playing an already-stumbling New Hampton team this Wednesday.
KUA, other than that game, only play Proctor before starting the Flood-Marr with a big game against Salisbury on the 20th.
Neither are technically ‘New England prep’, but St. Andrew’s and Shattuck played a series at St. Andrew’s this month and split the games. Prior to that, St. Andrew’s wiped the floor with the Belmont Hill tournament, outscoring three solid opponents 19-3 over three games, before tying Dexter 5-5, which was their fourth game in three days.
I haven’t watched nearly as much Minnesota high school action so far as I have the prep stuff — something I plan to change — but figured I would mention some top teams so far:
Eden Prairie (3-0) have made short work of their early season schedule but the schedule will get much tougher when the holiday tournaments get underway. Ben Steeves (UMD, 4 goals), John Mittelstadt (MN, 1-4-5), Luke Mittelstadt (MN, 0-4-4).
Maple Grove (4-0) are flying through the season so far, like EP things will get interesting towards the end of the month — they have a big game against Andover on the 19th. Kyle Kukkonen (MTU, 5-6-11), Henry Nelson (ND, 2-6-8).
Andover (2-1) split a home-and-home with Blake. Hunter Jones (2-7-9), Wyatt Kaiser (UMD, 1-1-2), Luke Kron (1GP, 4 pts).
Hill (4-0) thrashed Blake and could win out in December — ‘04 born Wisconsin recruit Nick Pierre leads them in goals (5-6-11), tied in scoring with fellow Badger recruit defenseman Joe Palodichuk (3-8-11).
Rosemount (5-0) are another team led by a Badger recruit as Luke Levandowski (8-4-12) is making the most out of his junior year.
White Bear Lake (3-0-1): Lleyton Roed (8-5-13).
Benilde (3-0-1) are led in scoring by CC D recruit Nate Schweitzer (2-6-8). Blaine (3-1): Carsen Richels (UNH, 4-7-11)
Elsewhere in high school hockey, Bergen Catholic (NJ) ‘05 F/D Aram Minnetian has 9 goals (3 GWG) and 3 assists in four games to start the season.
Thanks for reading.