Muskegon's Matheson Iacopelli (Photo courtesy of Brandon Anderson/USHL)
The United States League welcomes two new teams into the fold this year, but how will they fare in America's best junior circuit? Our prospect expert sorts it out.
The United States League may have lost its playoff champs in the Indiana Ice, but the junior circuit gained two expansion teams in Bloomington and Madison. The USHL has become a great league for players on the cusp of NCAA careers and this year will be no exception. I surveyed a crew of insiders to get power rankings and added a player to watch for each franchise. As a note, Team USA (the National Team Development Program) is not included in the standings since both the under-18s and under-17s play in the league and because the playoffs are kind of an afterthought; the best of the NTDP are always at the world under-18s at the time, so USHL post-season success is fleeting at best.
1. Dubuque Fighting Saints – One to watch: Edmonton Oilers pick William Lagesson is a strong defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the ice.
2. Muskegon Lumberjacks – Returning right winger Matheson Iacopelli is a Chicago Blackhawks pick with size and sweet hands committed to Western Michigan.
3. Waterloo Black Hawks – Draft-eligible center Tom Novak has a killer wrist shot and can really control things in the offensive zone. He’s committed to Minnesota.
4. Sioux City Musketeers – Anaheim Ducks pick Matt Berkovitz is a smooth-skating two-way defenseman committed to Wisconsin.
5. Omaha Lancers – Washington Capitals prospect Shane Gersich is a speedster with a hard shot who is committed to North Dakota.
6. Tri-City Storm – Los Angeles Kings pick Alec Dillon is a towering 6-foot-6 goaltender with great athleticism, committed to R.P.I.
7. Youngstown Phantoms – Draft-eligible center Kyle Connor is a potential top-10 pick thanks to his hockey IQ, speed and shot. He’s a Michigan recruit.
8. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Draft-eligible left winger Erik Foley is a Providence College commit who brings a combination of grit, speed and deft hands.
9. Sioux Falls Stampede – Toronto Maple Leafs selection Dakota Joshua is a tenacious forechecker with high battle level committed to Ohio State.
10. Chicago Steel – Returning league rookie of the year Robby Jackson is a St. Cloud State commit with great hands and scoring prowess. Draft eligible in 2015.
11. Green Bay Gamblers – Buffalo Sabres pick Christopher Brown was a dominant offensive center in high school; he’s committed to Boston College.
12. Bloomington Thunder – Draft-eligible defenseman Ethan Spaxman is a Merrimack commit who locks down the blueline with his 6-foot-3 frame.
13. Lincoln Stars – Florida Panthers prospect Miguel Fidler is a quick and scrappy left winger committed to Ohio State.
14. Fargo Force – Passed over last year, center Michael Eyssimont made Central Scouting’s watch list this week. He’s an offensive pivot bound for St. Cloud State.
15. Madison Capitols – Wisconsin brothers Cooper and Carver Watson will patrol the blueline; Cooper is a Michigan Tech commit.
16. Des Moines Buccaneers – Draft-eligible center Nikita Pavlychev is a monster Penn State recruit coming in at nearly 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds.
*Team USA – Draft-eligible center Colin White is a two-way player with great character committed to Boston College.