20 NHL Draft Prospects to Follow in the 2013-14 USHL Season
Unlike last autumn, the United States Hockey League (USHL) does not have the bittersweet task of diverting NHL fans from the top professional circuit’s agonizing inaction. Even so, nothing is to change in terms of the country’s top junior league percolating another influx of prominent prospects for the next NHL entry draft.
The USHL is coming off a milestone in that department, having watched 32 of its past or present players pen their names to the 2013 selection board.
Not long after that, a July press release from the league rounded up the names of 28 then-tentative 2013-14 season participants who are on the NHL’s Central Scouting Services 2014 Future's List. The CSS itself posted 17 names under its USHL heading in a July 10 NHL.com submission.
It bears mentioning that some of the names on either or both lists no longer apply. For instance, Connor Chatham, Kevin Labanc and Ryan MacInnis have all since opted to go the Canadian major junior route.
Still, notable names remain on the immediate radar, whether the CSS has formally acknowledged them or not. In the coming months, they will likely have company in the form of some USHL peers, whether they are from a full-time member of the league or the U.S. National Team Development Program.
With the league’s game schedule set to begin on Friday, here are 20 USHL players to follow this season as they make their case for the 2014 NHL draft.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics and player information for this slideshow were found via eliteprospects.com.
Shane Eiserman could not quite finish this one off, but he started it in otherworldly fashion.
An All-American Prospects Game invitee for later this month and one of the smattering of USHL forwards on the preliminary CSS list, Bjork has his second season with the U.S. National Team Development Program ahead. He is committed to Notre Dame for 2014-15.
After spending 2012-13 with various national teams, Eisermen will join the Dubuque Fighting Saints for his last year of college preparation. The scrutiny over his 2014 draft stock took a tremendous stride this past June when New England Hockey Journal pundit Kirk Luedeke wrote that “with his 6-foot-2 size and two-way power forward style, Eiserman currently projects as the No. 1 regional prospect for next year’s NHL draft.”
Right now, Fiegl is only two pounds shy of an even 200, giving him the build of a nascent power forward. He figures to spend a second season with Team USA in preparation for a college career at Denver and, in so doing, can refine his sheer offensive game after accumulating 27 points in 90 contests last year.
In an interview with usahockey.com this past April, Fiegl himself told reporter Becky Olsen, “I have always been a grinder. I’m starting to learn the finesse part of the game where you make a play.”
If that translates favorably over the next 10 months, performance-wise, it ought to elevate his stock.
Larkin will still not be 18 until July 30, 2014, a full month after the 2014 draft. Virtually anything the University of Michigan commitment can do to build on his 48-point, 88-game campaign in 2012-13 will embolden a beyond-his-years repertoire.
Currently boasting a 5’10” stature and 161 pounds, Malone is defying his size with his flair as he prepares for a long-term commitment to the University of Wisconsin. He made the verbal commitment in March 2012, though it currently projects to take effect in 2015-16.
Nonetheless, Gino Cavallini, Malone’s then-coach with the Chicago Mission travel program, assured the Badger faithful that the wait would be worthwhile. As the skipper told Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal, “He’s very dynamic…The puck just follows him around.”
Since that commitment and that proclamation, Malone has stepped into the USHL with the Fighting Saints, who he helped to a 2013 playoff title.
Last December, the speedy Milano garnered a mention in Sports Illustrated’s Faces In The Crowd section for his performance in the 2012 Four Nations Tournament. More recently, McKeen’s Hockey ranked him No. 22 on their first leaderboard of all 2014 NHL draft prospects.
In 56 installments of non-USHL competition last year, Milano led the 17-and-under Americans in runaway fashion with a 20-27-47 scoring log. He added 22 points in 38 USHL games.
A veteran of two USHL games and two international tournaments, who prides himself on his physicality, Poganski will absorb a full season with the Tri-City Storm in 2013-14. The more telling sample size will make for an intriguing challenge given that he tallied six goals in as many games in the 17-and-under World Hockey Challenge and two points in his initial stint with the Storm.
Nick Schmaltz on display in international competition.
Earlier this month, Schmaltz led the silver medalist Team USA with five goals and eight points in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament. He will now shift back to the Green Bay Gamblers for his second full USHL season, trying to build on a 2012-13 campaign that saw him lead all players under the age of 17 with 52 points.
To amplify his lofty outlook, as of last month’s release, Schmaltz is No. 14 among all draft-eligible prospects in the eyes of McKeen’s Hockey.
A versatile forward who can play either center or right wing, Tuch entered the U.S. National Team Development Program after electrifying the Syracuse Jr. Stars with 44 goals and 101 points in 40 games. He will spend an additional USHL season with the program before enrolling at the NCAA powerhouse Boston College.
At 218 pounds, Tuch easily bears one of the most imposing frames in the 2014 draft pool, where his stock is accentuated by his No. 24 overall ranking by McKeen’s.
Wilkie joins the Tri-City Storm as the second overall pick in the 2013 USHL entry draft. The son of a 167-game NHL veteran in David Wilkie, he has already earned the acclaim of Storm head coach/GM Josh Hauge for “a dynamic skill set” and “how hard and physical he plays.”
Regarding the latter quality, it is worth noting that Wilkie presently weighs in at a modest 172 pounds.
Jack Dougherty scores in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament
Barry Scanlon of the Lowell Sun in Massachusetts dubbed the Bedford, N.H. native a part of “puck renaissance” in terms of his region producing NHL draft-caliber talent. Bliss is embarking on his second year with Team USA, which he will follow up with enrollment at Cornell University in the autumn of 2014.
Along with Jack Glover (more on him in a moment), Collins is sticking with the national junior program for another year before venturing to the University of Minnesota for 2014-15. In addition, he and Glover constitute two-thirds of the three USHL-based blueliners who made the NHL’s CSS preliminary list.
As part of a column for Let’s Play Hockey, where he assessed draft prospects from the Minnesota high school ranks, pundit Tom Lynn wrote that “Jack Dougherty of St. Thomas Academy has all of the skills, size and personality to become an all-around force on the blueline.”
Dougherty stepped up to a more challenging level for this year’s Hlinka Memorial tournament and will stick around with Team USA for its U18 and USHL schedule in 2013-14.
Despite standing at only 5’9” and 181 pounds, Ford dished out enough rough stuff to place third on the Fighting Saints with 94 penalty minutes last season. Not technically an ideal number, but still an encouraging indication that he will not hold back merely because of a size disadvantage.
At No. 18 overall, Glover trails only three other defensemen―all of whom are in Canadian major junior―on the McKeen’s Hockey preliminary leaderboard.
The Indiana Ice blueliner sits one spot behind Glover on McKeen’s list and is bound for the All-American Prospects Game later this month.
Like Ford, MacLeod compensates for a relative modicum of size with competitive ferocity.
In his first of at least two seasons in the U.S. program, that translated not only to a cumulative 182 penalty minutes in 85 games, but also a leadership role. He captained the 17-and-under squad to a 2013 bronze medal in that age group’s World Challenge.
Mantha has no shortage of accomplished hockey roots as the nephew of former NHL blueliner Moe Mantha, Jr. and son of former junior coach Bob Mantha. In his own right, the second-year Sioux City Musketeer already boasts a bulky 207 pounds to complement his 6’4” stature and, as put by Jordan Ercit of the North Bay Nugget, “a nasty mean streak.”
His rookie output in the USHL of seven points in 52 games sets an early tone for stay-at-home status. Nonetheless, Mantha can be quite effective at that, hence his invitation to the Hlinka Tournament and All-American Game, and Ercit’s report for the Nugget also made note of his recently improved skating with the help of instructor Tim White.
One of Minney’s most striking attributes is the way he can take up the bulk of the net with his 6’4”, 201-pound frame, one that he might not be finished filling out.
The Michigan State commitment for 2014-15 is entering his second season with the Development Program and has an invitation to Pittsburgh in the cards. It will be his latest high-profile endeavor at this level, following his participation in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games and the 2012-13 U17 World Hockey Challenge.
Weyrick saw action in one Hlinka Tournament game last month, repelling 15 out of 17 shots to bolster a 5-2 win over Slovakia. He will join his NTDP teammate Minney as another one of the four netminders at the All-American Game later this month in Pittsburgh.
Afterwards, Weyrick will see a longer, more fulfilling campaign after battling injuries for a lengthy portion of 2012-13, his first year in the U.S. program.