When the USA Nationwide Improvement Program was began in 1996, it was an American prospect fan’s dream.
The concept was to showcase the most effective expertise from across the nation in a condensed style, placing a showcase on elite gamers that may not have gotten the identical recognition in the event that they had been unfold out usually. It took some time for issues to catch on, with USA not snagging a medal at a significant occasion till they gained gold on the 2002 U-18 World Championship, however they’ve been the crew to beat on the worldwide stage ever since.
That makes them simply must-watch leisure yearly, even when the expertise stage fluctuates. This yr, there’s no elite expertise to talk of – that’s coming subsequent yr – however there’s nonetheless some immense high quality this yr. A lot in order that this system is off to among the best begins in franchise historical past, holding a 19-3-0 document heading into the weekend. They primarily play towards school and USHL groups, so placing up outcomes like that is extremely notable.
Essentially the most noticeable participant proper now’s centerman Will Smith. He slapped the competitors on the U-18 5 Nations in Plymouth, and leads all U-18 NTDP gamers with 43 factors in 22 video games. That’s nothing to sneeze at – an 80-point marketing campaign is wanting probably, which might put him in some pretty elite firm. He began the season as a mid-first-rounder however has shortly earned reward by scouts as a possible top-five decide.
Smith is a terrific aim scorer, can pull off pretend passes higher than anybody and is constant to show himself as among the best slot passers within the draft class. Smith handles the puck confidently, has a fast launch on his wrist shot and may deke with the most effective of them. One concern I’ve, although, is how quiet he will be if his teammates aren’t getting the job finished. I’m not saying Smith wants good linemates to provide, however he can float round a little bit of occasions, which knocks him down a bit. Nevertheless, Smith’s recreation is filled with talent, and a crew needing a dependable middle that wins a ton of faceoffs and may generate offense on his personal can be thrilled by touchdown Smith.
Then, there’s Ryan Leonard, one other centerman. He’s the crew’s main goal-scorer, enjoying at slightly below a goal-per-game tempo after the 20-game mark. A high-end sniper, Leonard owns a shot that mixes a pleasant mixture of velocity and accuracy that enables him to get it off shortly with out hesitation. When given room on the ability play, he can let his shot completely fly, and he can maintain his personal across the web in bodily conditions. The youthful brother of Nashville Predators prospect John Leonard has professional pedigree written throughout him and ought to be a stable secondary scorer within the NHL.
Oliver Moore is one other many count on to go within the first spherical. Moore’s offensive output is a little more muted in comparison with different prime prospects, however he’s a fast two-way ahead who ought to be capable to slot into an NHL’s crew’s center six. He’s energetic with a fast stride and high-end footwork in tight areas. Moore wins so many puck battles in consequence, and he can play with nearly anybody within the lineup with related outcomes. If the College of Minnesota ahead doesn’t find yourself being a high-end level producer, his worth as an power ahead will give him loads of alternatives.
There are another notable American forwards, equivalent to Ryan Tremendous, Will Vote, Alex Weiermair and Danny Nelson. However the final one we’ll contact on right here is Gabe Perreault, the son of former NHL middle Yanic Perreault. When Gabe is on his recreation, he will be an unstoppable pressure at this stage. Perreault’s potential to outthink opponents will get him far, even when his recreation is a bit flawed away from the puck.
On the blueline, it’s a little bit of a combined bag. However the one defender receiving a ton of reward lately is Aram Minnetian. The offensive blueliner had a superb 5 Nations match with eight factors and is basically beginning to look snug. He spent numerous time as a ahead as a youth, and you may discover that in the way in which he pinches in and helps drive performs. Minnetian does a superb job of dashing the puck down the ice and his excessive offensive IQ permits him to search out teammates via his peripheral imaginative and prescient, which will be extremely misleading. Minnetian should not have any situation discovering a job within the NHL at some point as soon as he finishes at Boston Faculty.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the crew’s two goaltenders stack up going ahead. Trey Augustine has a near-perfect document this yr and was USA’s starter on the U-18 World Championship as an underager final yr. He has misplaced simply as soon as in regulation in 21 video games over his profession and has all the important thing goalie attributes nailed down – besides dimension. He’s 6-foot-1, which continues to be somewhat small by NHL requirements. So long as he can compensate for it, although, he’ll earn draft consideration. On the flip facet, there’s Carson Musser, who stands tall at 6-foot-4. His numbers aren’t as nice as Augustine’s and he isn’t excessive up on many draft boards. Musser nonetheless feels rawer, although, and there may very well be untapped potential.
It’s nonetheless very early, however a protected assumption might see round 12-14 USNTDP gamers chosen this yr. 5 of them – Smith, Leonard, Moore, Minnetian and Perreault – shouldn’t have to attend too lengthy. They’ll simply be favorites to win gold on the U-18 World Championship in April and can proceed to play nice hockey this yr. It’s not the strongest class we’ve seen, but it surely’s a stable one, and one with greater than a handful of high quality future NHLers.
However subsequent yr, look out for Cole Eiserman and James Hagens. They’re going to be game-changers.
Not too long ago by Steven Ellis