The hockey season is certainly in full stride now that the Canadian Thanksgiving and American Columbus Day holiday have past. While the CHL ranks are a month more already deep into their season; the NCAA is just getting its motor started. Really besides the New England Prep Schools and Minnesota High Schools the NHL scouts are already out in full force. The USHL Fall Classic and NAHL Showcase have come and gone, in fact the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) is many games into its inaugural season too. Rankings on the top prospects for the 2014 NHL Draft are often available and the Central Scouting Service (CSS) releases its preliminary, mid-term, and final rankings throughout the year. So I thought, why not break down some American prospects that hope to hear their name called at the poduim in June.
Over the past few seasons, I have spent time in rinks viewing the top USA hopefuls. My live, game-day scouting observations have been from a variety of venues like USA Hockey’s Hockey Nationals, Player Development Camps (Select 17s, 16s, and 15s), National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC), prep games, junior leagues, and Tier I youth play as well. Plus attendance at NCAA Hockey and the National Team Development Program (NTDP) games. I also conversed with several independent scouts, NCAA, prep, & junior coaches, and personnel within USA Hockey on players.
In alphabetical order here are 50 skaters and 5 goaltenders to keep a watchful eye upon this season. I have also starred and given a write-up below on players that would currently make my Top 5 American skaters and top two goalies (1A & 1B) for this year's upcoming NHL Draft in Philadelphia. Of course over the season players will rise up the depth charts while others will unfortunately fall off. Sometimes or maybe often times you just never know, as players are still young being only at 17 or 18-years of age. Regardless, the USA is normally well represented and this year's NHL Draft will be no different.
Anthony Angello (F) – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Matthew Berkovitz (D) – Ashwaubenon HS (WI)
Nathan Billitier (D) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Anders Bjork (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Ryan Bliss (D) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Blake Clarke (F) – North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Ryan Collins (D) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Anthony DeAngelo (D) – Sarnia Sting (OHL)*
Chase De Leo (F) – Portland WinterHawks (WHL)
Ryan Donato (F) – Dexter School Prep (MA)
Jack Doughtery (D) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Christian Dvorak (F) – London Knights (OHL)
Michael Ederer (F) – Buffalo Jr. Sabres (OJHL)
Shane Eiserman (F) – Dubuque Fighting Saints (OHL)
Shane Gersich (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)*
Jack Glover (D) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Aaron Haydon (D) – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Ryan Hitchcock (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Keegan Iverson (F) – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Josh Jacobs (D) – Indiana Ice (USHL)
Kevin LaBanc (F) – Barrie Colts (OHL)
Dylan Larkin (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)*
Darby Llewellyn (F) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Mitchell Lundholm (F) – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Ryan MacInnis (F) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Jonathan MacLeod (D) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Nick Magyar (F) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Seamus Malone (F) – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Dylan Malmquist (F) – Edina HS (MN)
Sonny Milano (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)*
Tyler Nanne (D/F) – Edina HS (MN)
Ryan Norman (F) – Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep (MN)
Dylan Pavelek (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Chase Phelps (F) – Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep (MN)
JJ Piccinich (F) – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Austin Poganski (F) - Tri-City Storm (USHL)
Jack Ramsey (F) – Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Nick Schmaltz (D) – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)*
Tyler Sheehy (F) – Burnsville HS (MN)
Blake Siebenaler (D) – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Nolan Stevens (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Ryan Tait (F) – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Peter Tischke (D) – Chicgao Steel (USHL)
Alex Tuch (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Tyler Vickerman (F) – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Hunter Warner (D) – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
Joe Wegwerth (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Chris Wilkie (F) – Tri-City Storm (USHL)
James Winkler (F) – Portland Jr. Pirates (USPHL)
Nick Wolff (D) – Eagan HS (MN)
Thatcher Demko – Boston College Eagles (NCAA)*
Joseph Lissak – Taft School Prep (CT)
Ed Minney – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Alex Nedeljkovic – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)*
Blake Weyrick – USNTDP-18 (USHL)
Top 5 Skaters (Preliminary) -
Dylan Larkin (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL) – Right now I would say he is the best American prospect on the ice for the 2014 NHL Draft. I first scouted his game two summers ago at USA Hockey’s Player Development Select 16s Camp. He seemed to constantly display his scoring ability and potted goals in a variety of ways too. He is a very intelligent player as he knows where to find the open ice to get the puck at the right times. He can bust away from opponents using his strong skating ability to finish on the break-a-way, shelving them in up high in tight, or greasing them in off the rebound. He is quite elusive with slick moves as he handles the puck well on his stick. Like many 17-year olds, he could add to use a few pounds to his frame. He started out the season well scoring and adding an assist at the All-American Prospects Game last month. His high hockey IQ got him the points and the fact he isn’t afraid to think shoot first. So far he is enjoying another solid season with the National Team Development program (NTDP). He currently leads the team with 8 goals in just 9 games played while totaling 11 points overall. Larkin is a Detroit native and will be headed off to the University of Michigan next season. Not many have tabbed Larkin for the first round as have been favorable to other CHL playing Americans. Although those other USA players have talent they have not showed the consistent producing play over the past couple of years like Larkin.
Shane Gersich (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL) – I recall seeing the opening puck drop in Rochester at the Select 16s just two summers ago and immediately was impressed with Gerisch. Just minutes into the first game of the week long camp, he was already on the score sheet and creating constant offensive pressure. Texts were immediately going out to college coaches. The former Holy Catholic (MN) standout has now joined the NTDP-18 squad this season and his performance has not dropped off. He has nicely scored 4 goals and added 3 assists in 9 games played and was probably the best player on the ice at the All-American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh. Just like Select 16s, he was generating offense with his quick, intangible moves and in all honestly made many defenseman look weak. Although he did not score, one Asst. GM in the NHL agreed with me that he was good and their scouting staff came away with Gersich as their top performer too. Of course he could use some more size and muscle, but he is dynamic with his skills and overall game. I know many don’t have the North Dakota commit even in the first round, but I’m just saying keep your eye on the Chaska, MN native
Sonny Milano (F) – USNTDP-18 (USHL) – The Massapequa, NY local turned the heads of the Notre Dame staff years ago and now is starting to make things happen in his NHL draft year. I heard about his strong performance from a scout at the USHL Fall Classic East in Indianapolis this past September. Milano was showcasing his top speed and stick handling skills that made him one of the top performers on the weekend. His excellent hands and passing abilities give him the added opportunities, but don’t get me wrong, he likes to fire the biscuit first and ask questions later. He was decent at the All-American Prospects Game a few weeks back and ended up scoring off a turnover at the offensive blue line. As he received the pass down low in the slot area from the high-side just inside the blue, he creatively made a couple of quick moves coming across the hash marks to open the opposing goaltender up and gracefully slide the puck 5-hole style for the tally. You would like Milano to be more consistent in his game and make a more dedicated commitment to the defensive side of his game. Several scouting services see Milano going in the first round and it just may happen. Right now he has produced a very solid 9 points on 9 games played with the NTDP.
Anthony DeAngelo (D) – Sarnia Sting (OHL) – I first caught live action of DeAngelo’s game in the Summer of 2012 at USA Hockey’s Select 17s Player Development Camp after his rookie OHL campaign. It is nice to always keep a close on the CHLers that make their way back to the States to compete against the other Americans. You could tell from the get-go DeAngelo had something special with the smooth skating stride and elite puck handling confidence. He seems to want that puck on his stick to make things happen. Some have been judgmental on his off-ice attitude, although there is no question the Sewell, NJ native has game – and a good one at that. Perhaps his defensive aspect could use improvement yet playing in the OHL, the defensive side of the game is not always a top priority. He skates with ease and this offensive-defenseman can go coast-to-coast effortlessness. There is no question he will need to get stronger and “curb” the temper, but his talent from the blue line is just too much to ignore. The late ‘95er DeAngelo shows strong vision, great set of mitts, and can snap 'em home too. Played a solid All-American Prospects game last month in Pittsburgh and actually got better as the game progressed. He made some nifty passes on the night and will get his team’s offense generated. He is the top scoring OHL defenseman right now with 18 points in 11 games played. Many scouts have DeAngelo on the outside looking from the first round perspective, but I say he cracks the Top 30 when it is all said and done -- baring any off-ice set backs.
Nick Schmaltz (F) – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – Like DeAngelo, you hope the talented forward from Green Bay (USHL) does not have his attitude get in the way. He certainly has slick hands and is quite crafty with the puck. While he shows a tremendous amount of poise and confidence with the puck, his on-ice mannerisms from what I have seen and another scout who agrees that he needs to be more of a team player. While on the flip-side, I received favorable reports during Schmaltz’s performance overseas this summer with Team USA’s U18 Ivan Hlinka squad. In other words, you would like to see more of a complete package that’s committed to a strong two-way game and winning those battles over the ice. Schmaltz is no different than most others at this age and with time will hopefully add some more meat to the bones. His game is more of a set-up man with his vision than a true finisher. There is no question the talent is there, now will he shine to his potential on the season before heading off to North Dakota to join his older brother. He currently leads the Gamblers with 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points on the 2013-14 campaign.
Top Goalies (Preliminary) -
Alex Nedeljkovic – Plymouth Whalers (OHL) – Many did not know of the Parma, OH ‘tender until a few months into OHL season last year. But he has burst onto the scene especially in 2013. He played a decent Select 17s Player Development Camp this past summer and in speaking with USA Hockey coaches he elevated his game during the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August. He has already logged the most minutes played in the OHL this season posting a respectable .923 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average on sub .500 team. He plays calm and collected between the pipes and there is no question he’ll seem some rubber this season with Connor Carrick and Tom Wilson both graduating to the pro ranks with Washington. Nedeljkovic was also described to me from a coach as someone who plays solid in his technique and steadily makes the saves throughout the game.
Thatcher Demko – Boston College Eagles (NCAA) – When I first witnessed his game there where already scouts intently watching his skills. Right away you say prototypical NHL goalie with the 6’4” frame. But in all honesty, my scouting report in the summer was that of fighting the puck, leaving rebounds, looks to be having tough time tracking as well. Then again, playing at Select camps can be difficult with ice conditions, various teammates, and perhaps even a lack of physical conditioning. Yet then when I saw Demko live again with NTDP-18 team in the fall against NCAA competition, he was certainly bringing his ‘A’ game. His technique looked solid as he was squaring up and challenging shooters, limiting rebounds, following the biscuit well through traffic, and just making some acrobatic saves when his team needed him the most. Nothing but good stuff is coming out of Chestnut Hill on the San Diego, CA native and the craziest thing is he is that true, true freshman as he does not even turn 18 until December. If things go well in the first semester at Boston College, he might even find himself representing Team USA at the World Junior Championships in January and then hear his name called in June at the NHL Draft.In Demko's lone appearance this season vs RPI, he made 25 saves on 27 shots for the win and a .926 save percentage in 60 minutes of play.
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