Uncommitted Watchlist Release: Fall 2019

Uncommitted Prospects from the 1999-2003 birthyears

After a few months of watching too much amateur hockey (and consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine to do so), I’ve finished the first edition of my uncommitted prospects watchlist. In short, it includes all the players I’ve been able to identify as potential college hockey players (D1, but many will find homes in D3 as well).

Since this was my first few months back to watching prospects of all ages, this list (and preview in general) is in as rough shape as it will ever be, though it will only get better from here. There are many relevant hockey teams for a task like this and the distribution of talent is uneven — if I were to only pay attention to the best teams, I would likely find most of the prospects, but I’ve tried to spread the attention around as much as possible. In doing so I’ve noted over five hundred prospects from the 1999 to 2003 birth years and will in time release my look at the 2004 age group, completing a fairly comprehensive look at all of the prospects ‘in play’ for college hockey recruiters and junior hockey scouts this season. Paid subscribers can click below for the links to my lists, while I’ve done a free write-up highlighting many of the better prospects below. Since I’m not as familiar with these prospects as I will be in time, discerning readers will note that I have not done a ranking but a watchlist. The goal is to help coaches and scouts save time by narrowing their search for players.

From here I’ll be checking out many of the teams I haven’t watched (including some from the NCDC, Canadian Junior, T1EHL, NAPHL, USPHL and others) as well as reviewing those I am already familiar with over the rest of the season. That said, with prep and high school hockey tryouts are well underway for most programs, my watchlist includes many of the top uncommitted prospects that will be playing at those levels, as well as those in full season AAA hockey. There are some top teams I still haven’t reviewed extensively, which means there are likely some major prospects that aren’t on here despite a large number of prospects listed — as noted, my list is still very much a work in progress. Even as far as those I’ve seen, the recruiting game is always in flux — players improve and some plateau, some commit and others drop commitments, so there will be additions and subtractions in time. As we are in the midst of NLI season, this is an especially volatile time of year where commitment statuses are concerned, and some information may be incorrect. On that subject, I’ve identified a number of players who were not publicly known to be uncommitted.

Since the 2004 age group list is still being worked on, I’ve tried not to mention many of them here. This preview is already packed to the brim with prospects to watch and looks at the birth years that can actually be committed as of today — with some exceptions, elaborated on below.

Uncommitted NCAA D1 Prospect Watch List - 1999-2000 (97 players)

Uncommitted NCAA D1 Prospect Watch List - 2001-02 (204 players)

Uncommitted NCAA D1 Prospect Watch List - 2003 (242 players)

Uncommitted Prospects Primer

In the USHL, the majority of the league has a D1 commitment sewn up, as is typically the case at this point in the fall. There are plenty of players for schools to look at, though. The group is led up front by NTDP forward Ty Smilanic, one of two skaters on the U18 national team without a college commitment (the other being Tanner Latsch). A likely first round pick in the NHL draft next summer, Smilanic (at one point a Denver recruit) will be heavily recruited by the WHL’s Regina Pats as well as by potential D1 suitors. There aren’t many other high-end pro prospects in the league still uncommitted, and with the recent commitment of Matt Barbolini (Miami), there aren’t many top scorers without a commitment either. One fairly productive scorer is still on the board: Daniil Gushchin, also a 2020 draft prospect. While it’s unclear whether Gushchin will go to the NCAA, considering his diminutive frame and UConn’s recent penchant for recruiting foreign scorers, it is certainly possible he’ll land there or at one of the many schools in search of a gifted scorer.

A few other uncommitted foreign scorers from the USHL have had great starts as well: namely Chicago’s Elis Hede and Sioux Falls’ Jakub Lewandowski. While Hede may have more offensive upside, Lewandowski’s long frame and capacity with the puck is appealing for both college and pro scouts. Czech forward Ondrej Psenicka (Waterloo) is another tall, hard-working producer who should be attracting college interest and teammate Xander Lamppa has had a pretty good start to the season as well.

As far as the rest of the uncommitted domestic talent goes, there really aren’t many scorers ready to make an impact next year — at least not from the USHL, which I’ve watched by far the most of any junior circuit thus far. Tanner Edwards (Muskegon) is the top-scoring skater still available, while currently uncommitted Omaha forwards Jack Randl, Cole Kodsi and Ross Mitton could each add a lot to an NCAA team in the future, as could Dubuque’s Reggie Millette and Green Bay’s Kyler Grundy. Cooper Fensterstock (Des Moines), Alex Konovalov (Muskegon) and Jimmy Glynn (Dubuque) seem like they have a chance to be sneaky-productive offensively at the next level. As this is the NLI signing period, there may be some commitments broken or altered, which would free up some more talent.

For older defensemen, 2020 draft prospect and one-time North Dakota commit Luke Reid (Chicago) leads off a group of very serviceable blue liners. That includes Dubuque’s Ben Schultheis, Waterloo’s Mason Reiners, Des Moines’ John Driscoll, Fargo’s Colton Huard and Tommy Bergsland as well as Youngstown’s Caden Lewandowski. Surprisingly, a lot of the uncommitted defenders are right shots with size and some offensive capacity — usually a hot commodity in the recruiting world.

Among goaltenders at the older birth years, there are a lot of prospects deservedly getting interest in the USHL. 6’8 Cedar Rapids goaltender Shamil Shmakov (7th round 2018 NHL Pick - COL) has had a solid start to the USHL in his first season state-side. Dubuque’s Aidan McCarthy has looked good for the Fighting Saints from what I’ve seen thus far and is attracting some serious interest. Muskegon’s Noah Giesbrecht and recent Merrimack decommit Christian Stoever (Des Moines) have helped their teams to some success early on this year. Madison’s Simon Latkoczy has had a tough task in the crease this year but the Slovakian rookie ‘02 is performing admirably. Chicago’s Victor Ostman and Green Bay’s Nick Grabko are two others I’ve seen perform well with not even a fourth of the USHL season gone. Omaha’s Jakub Dobes has recently joined the team in the wake of standout Lancer goaltender Akira Schmid going on the shelf - the Czech native looks to be another one to watch this winter. In prep hockey, two senior goaltenders to watch include Salisbury’s Nick Haas and St. Andrews’ Lassi Lehti.

As far as younger forwards are concerned, there are plenty of names buzzing, but the high-end has mostly been locked up. At forward, NTDP U17 skater Liam Gilmartin remains without a future D1 home. After the two ‘02 skaters already noted, he’s all that is left uncommitted for the NTDP’s forward group.

In the USHL ‘proper’, there isn’t much left as far as future collegiate scorers go. Japanese ‘03 forward Yusaku Ando leads the way, a diminutive scorer from well-regarded Canadian Hockey School ‘Pursuit of Excellence’ who has a point-per-game as a go-to scorer for the Phantoms this season. Ando has turned a lot of heads so far. In the CCHL, uncommitted ‘03 forward Dovar Tinling is lighting it up with brother Azzaro Tinling (‘99), a UVM recruit.

Switching gears to the preps: Cole Watson (Kent), Matteo Turrin (Holderness), Cole Eichler (Salisbury) and Shane Lachance (Tabor) are all new forwards in New England prep hockey who will attract D1 interest this winter — but the forward who will attract the most interest among prep prospects is one who won’t even be eligible to talk to coaches until January: late ‘04 Adam Fantilli. His brother Luca, a strong-skating ‘02 defender — also new to prep hockey (KUA) this winter — is already being recruited by major powers in Hockey East. Some uncommitted ‘02s to watch in high school and prep hockey include Blake Mesenburg (Benilde), Sam Deckhut (Salisbury), Jason Siedem (Avon), James Tepper (Proctor), Paul Doré (KUA) and Blake Perbix (St. Cloud Cathedral).

New Hampshire native Ben Steeves, who transferred to Eden Prairie (MN) for this season, was one of the top scorers in Minnesota’s Elite League this fall. Both of Steeves’ brothers play for Notre Dame.

While the purpose of this first set of watch-lists has been to highlight many of the higher priority college-eligible skaters, a noteworthy subset of the 2003-born talents listed are still sophomores and therefore ineligible for recruitment. Selects Academy U16 captain Copeland Fricker is an example of an '03 who is still a sophomore and therefore ineligible to commit to an NCAA school until next August. Fricker, a Texas native, leads his U16 team in scoring alongside fellow ‘03 talent Jake Bongo. Dodge County (MN) forward Brody Lamb had a big fall with the Minnesota Blizzard U16s and is another sophomore ‘03 who will likely be picked up next fall due to already attracting a lot of Division 1 attention. In a less well-known high school circuit, Russian sophomore Adis Ultanbekov has been lighting it up for Bishop McCort HS (PA) in his first season state-side.

The NJ Avalanche have a ton of talent at the U16 level as well — most of it committed. They have a terrific sophomore ‘03 in Jack Musa who is easily one of the best players in midget hockey. ‘03 Avs forward Paul Minnehan, also a top prospect, seems liable to commit to a major program any day now. Avs goaltender Anton Castro is getting a lot of interest too.

The New Jersey Rockets are another U16 team with some nice players. Big scorers Gleb Veremyev and Greg Spitznagel have gotten a ton of attention up front, while tall defenseman Mike Rubin has an appealing upside as well. Forward Matt Brille recently committed to Brown, while ‘03 Evan Brown creates a lot for the team up front. They also have a 6'6 goaltender in Nick von Kaufmann.

Gentry Academy’s U16 team is yet another top program, though they seem to have less players than most teams at this level, and the top skaters are already committed, including Minnesota recruit Cruz Lucius and Miami recruit Bennett Schimek. Forwards Connor Kurth and Jack Harvey have been especially noticeable on the uncommitted front.

On the younger end for blue-liners, there is (predictably) a lot more talent still available, both in the USHL and elsewhere. 2003-born Evan Nause (USHL-Sioux Falls) is one of the top uncommitted blue liners in the country. NTDP U17 defenseman Ty Murchison is still without a commitment as well. Past them, there is a large group of uncommitted defenders outside the USHL with intriguing upsides but a lot of development to go. Skaters like Anthony Cliche (Mount U16), Compuware’s Fin Kilbride, Logan Dittenhafer and practically the entire Jr. Sabres U16 d-corps are prospects that coaches will have a lot of time for.

New to Milton Academy this winter, Toronto-born Ethan Mistry turned a ton of heads this fall for the Neponset Valley River Rats and leads a class of prep school ‘03 defenders who will attract a lot of D1 attention. A sampling of prep defenders to watch, both new and returning: Conner Chalmers (KUA), Chase Ramsay (Avon Old Farms), Pat Morrissey (Dexter), Finn Martin (Kent), Bauer Morrissey (Millbrook), Luke Vardy (St. Andrew’s), Nolan Hayes (Thayer), Eamon Doheny (Deerfield), Zack Morrissette (Bishop's), Jan Olenginski (Loomis), David Overbeek (Canterbury), Silas Van Vranken (Berkshire) and Calum Chau (Salisbury).

Some uncommitted defenders with nice upsides who are currently playing full season U16 hockey include Max Smolinski (Caesars), Therien Thiesing (Mission), Harry Meirowitz (NJ Avalanche) and Gentry Academy’s Zach Reim.

Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN), with the currently top-ranked team at both U18 and U16 respectively, have teams I’ll be looping back to review plenty at all levels this winter. A number of their top players are uncommitted. Prep defenders Scott Morrow and Mike Quinn are the two youngest defensemen on the team and contribute an out-sized amount of the offense -- combining for 49 points on the year. Most of that comes from the 6'2 defender Morrow, who is NHL draft-eligible in 2021. Morrow looks to be one of the top uncommitted skaters in the country.

Many of the top U16 teams obviously have great goaltending as well, though that is not my strength when it comes to identifying talent and many will have to continue to prove their ability in junior hockey. One set of goalies to watch: Mount-St. Charles’ tandem of Tade Carman and Tommy Heaney has been strong. Some of the top goalies coming into prep include Max Donoso to Salisbury and Kellen Beauton to Pomfret, both ‘03. Returning ‘03s Conor Sullivan (Rivers), Robbie Repenning (Nobles), Conor Callaghan (Avon), Greyson Pane (Westminster) and Colin Ronan (Cushing) will be looking to take a step forward in their 16 year old seasons. I’ll be following up to identify more goaltenders over the course of the season.

These are just some of the highlights of this fall’s watch list. Thanks for reading.