It’s a crisp autumn morning in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the front office of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program is jammed with teenagers. Two NHL teams have sent scouts to interview the players, who are getting their schedules for the day from ace manager of communications and marketing Jake Wesolek.
It doesn’t take long before the smack talk about video games begins. The night before, I’d asked Jordan Greenway, a 6-foot-5, 223-pound battleship power forward, which member of the squad was best at NHL 15. He slyly demurred and said to ask two-way center Colin White. Now it’s time to unleash the snare. “So who did Colin say was the best?” Greenway asks in front of the whole crew. White, who admitted the night before that Greenway rules the sessions, nevertheless returns serve as everyone smiles and chuckles: “I never play, but I bet I could grind you out!”
The din grows as the teens shuffle about, until uber-skilled Jeremy Bracco spots the mom of fellow right winger Jack Roslovic entering from outside and runs over excitedly to give her a hug. Behind him is a trophy case featuring almost every championship chalice from the past six world under-18 tournaments, plus a couple from the world juniors.
These aren’t your standard goofy teenagers: they’re the best prospects in the nation. And every year a new cohort signs up for battle. In less than two decades, the NTDP has become a force, counting at least 10 NHL draft picks per year in recent times and helping Team USA go from also-ran to constant threat on the international stage.
And it all started with failure. Read more
Team USA was almost shockingly young at the world juniors in 2015, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the Americans lost to Russia in the quarterfinal, mainly due to a rash of unnecessary penalties. But the wound of that loss could become vital scar tissue for the 2016 squad.
Because USA Hockey just released its preliminary summer camp roster and it is heavy on experience.
As the draft approaches, NHL teams are finalizing their lists and honing in on their favorite prospects. Elsewhere in the hockey world, college programs and major junior teams are also trying to secure talent – often from that same pool. So it’s a big time of year for the kids and once again, it puts the recruiting battle between major junior and the NCAA into focus.
Just this morning, for example, draft-eligible center Sam Miletic of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers committed to the OHL’s London Knights. Miletic put up a ton of points on the same Michigan high school team that produced Buffalo pick (and Boston College commit) Christopher Brown in 2013-14, but put up just so-so numbers with Green Bay, a team that struggled overall.
Given how good the Knights look for next season – they’ve already signed 2016 draft stars Matthew Tkachuk and Max Jones and will likely return top-10 2015 prospect Mitch Marner – playing in London could result in a lot of success for Miletic, who had been committed to the University of Michigan.
Some NHL franchises have preferences for major junior or NCAA, so this might help Miletic’s draft stock if he knows which teams are interested in him (and just to put things in perspective, there’s no guarantee he gets picked this year – Central Scouting didn’t have him on their final rankings, nor did ISS).
Another player who might have to make a Michigan-or-London choice later this summer? Current Wolverines defenseman Zach Werenski.
There’s a petition circulating around the Internet to get Div. I men’s hockey at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and it’s not hard to buy into what the Scarlet Knights boosters are selling.
Right now, there is only one school playing D1 hockey in the state and it’s Princeton – an Ivy League institution that does not give out athletic scholarships. Meanwhile, the state has a solid high school system, several well-regarded junior programs (the Rockets and Avalanche jump to mind) and more than 3,000 registered players between the ages of 16 and 18, according to USA Hockey’s latest stats.
And that’s just in New Jersey. According to College Hockey Inc., the province of Ontario is one of the biggest providers of NCAA talent already and another East Coast school would be attractive to potential recruits. Plus, there’s no reason the Knights couldn’t poach players from New York, Pennsylvania or even under-served Southern states like Florida or Texas.
Plus, Rutgers is part of the Big Ten conference, which has its own cable TV station and a huge national following. Penn State helped the Big Ten get a foothold in hockey when the Nittany Lions started up their program recently and that school has been tremendously successful in a short span of time. Would Rutgers be another domino that would entice schools such as Northwestern (Illinois, incredibly, does not have D1 hockey right now) and Nebraska to follow suit? Read more
Prospects are the lifeblood of the NHL, especially in an era where free agency is dying thanks to talent retention of top stars. But who really stood out this season? Welcome to the first-ever Prospect of the Year awards.
To qualify, a player must still have Calder Trophy eligibility for next season, so excellent youngsters like Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen or Boston’s David Pastrnak don’t count. The winners below have impressed me with what they accomplished at their particular level of development – otherwise, it would just be a list of older prospects from the AHL who are on the cusp of NHL jobs.
Let’s do this:
You can cross Flickertails off the list of potential nicknames for the University of North Dakota’s teams. The school, which has been undergoing the search for a new moniker after a state vote put a stop to the Fighting Sioux name, has cut a list that began with close to 1,200 names down to a select 15.
The Flickertails name was one the school had used prior to becoming the Fighting Sioux, but it appears the school will not revert back to its past. Instead, WDAZ reported the University of North Dakota naming committee is pushing ahead with North Dakota, Blaze, Cavalry, Explorers, Fighting Green, Fighting Hawks, Force, Green Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Pride, Roughriders, Spirit, Sundogs and Thunderhawks. Read more
He might not be Patrice Bergeron quite yet, but the Boston Bruins announced Monday they have signed the NCAA’s Hockey East defensive forward of the year Noel Acciari to an entry-level deal.
Acciari will battle for a spot on the Bruins roster this coming season, but it’s likely the 23-year-old center will spend at least one season with the Providence Bruins. Not to worry, however, because Acciari will be right at home in Providence, as he’s coming off of a three-year stint with the NCAA’s Providence College Friars and is heading to the professional ranks less than one year after helping the Friars to the national championship.
“Growing up in Rhode Island it was a dream of mine to become a Friar,” Acciari said in a press release. “With the support of my friends and family I was able to accomplish that dream. My success at Providence was due to my amazing teammates and coaches. My teammates have been the greatest group of brothers I could have asked for and together, along with the coaches and staff, we accomplished something truly unimaginable, a national championship.” Read more
Connor McDavid is set to go first overall to the Oilers and will likely be in Edmonton’s lineup next season, but Jack Eichel, the consensus second overall pick, isn’t sure if he’ll be playing the 2015-16 campaign in Buffalo should the Sabres select him.
Ahead of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final at Chicago’s United Center, Eichel and a number of other top prospects, McDavid included, met with media and was asked about his future.
“There’s a lot of pros and cons about going both places,” Eichel said Monday, according to NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk. “It’s not an easy decision — that’s why I haven’t really made it yet.” Read more