Follow The Leader…

Thunderstorms left USHL commissioner Skip Prince stranded for hours in an airport on Friday until he reached his hotel in Pittsburgh for the NHL Draft.

Prince used every cell phone battery in reach to find out how many players in the USHL had been taken. He was talking about the league’s fruitful exhibition in the first round before talking about the second round, which starts Saturday.

“We have high hopes for those players in the second round,” Prince said. “Like Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota). He’s a guy-”

That’s when Prince was informed Schmaltz, the Green Bay Gamblers defenseman, had been taken in the first round. Prince was blown away admitting he didn’t know Schmaltz had been taken 25th overall.

Prince chalked it up to only checking to the 23rd pick.

It was in that moment where Prince, like many, was surprised yet pleased with the remarkable night had by the USHL. A record seven USHL players/prospects were taken in the first round. Dubuque had the strongest showing of any non-NTDP team as it had three players/prospects selected.

Forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and defenseman Mike Matheson (Boston College) were the bread in the Fighting Saints’ draft sandwich. Prospect forward Ryan Jankowski (Providence) was also taken.

It was then reported by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy that Jankowski, nephew of Montreal Canadiens scout Ryan Jankowski, would play for the Fighting Saints next year. Jankowski will be the second-ever first-round pick to come into the USHL and play a season.

Blake Wheeler was the first when he was drafted by the Green Bay Gamblers in 2004 when he was the fifth overall selection.

NTDP trio Jacob Trouba (Michigan), Brady Skjei (Minnesota) and Stefan Matteau rounded out the seven picks from the USHL to go in the first round. For those wondering, that’s 23 percent or nearly a quarter of the entire first round having ties to a league constantly jockeying against a Major Junior model which is often billed as the faster track to a NHL future.

It is a dominant figure for the QMJHL, which only had one first-round pick this season after having five last season. Werger said this year’s first round surpasses the previous high of four taken in the opening round.

“It is a lot of hard work,” Prince said. “The programs we are talking about needed to be a lot more soundly promoted and delivered to high-end prospects. We think there were others we lost in the last years or so. And hopefully, one of these players taken tonight can show the next 200 or 300 players out there the USHL isn’t the equivalent of the safe school but a power to be reckoned with.”

Prince said repeatedly he hopes what happened Friday is the latest step in showing that the American development model does have its positives.

Depending upon the source, the American development model has had its critics on both sides of the spectrum. Proponents believe the model can compete because it allows players a chance to develop and spend more time in the weight room along with playing against competition which could be anywhere from three to five years older.

Opponents, on the other hand, have said the model should be used for talents who need longer to develop and that the Major Junior model is a more affective plan given its history of producing major stars and the willingness of NHL teams sending their players to junior programs.

“We knew from the beginning of the year this was going to be a strong round for us,” Prince said.

It appeared the USHL could have a strong year as it had a plethora of players listed on NHL Central Scouting’s pre-season watch list with a number which matched that of the OHL, WHL and QMJHL.

Then there was the profile of existing and arriving players.

Girgensons, Schmaltz and Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), a likely late second or early third round pick, were billed as the three players to watch in the latter half of the 2010-11 season by NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee.

The NTDP, a hotbed for first-round picks, were already being considered to have numerous picks given its reputation and the players it already possessed.

Yet the league received a serious jolt when Matheson, a native of Point-Claire, Que., opted against the QMJHL to come to the USHL, a move which was seen as the American model working its way into French Canada.

And of course, came the story of the season when fellow Quebecois Kevin Roy (Brown) chose the Lincoln Stars and went on to have a 108-point season defying the status of the USHL being a defensive-minded league where a 50-point season was considered a success.

Roy is also slated to be taken on Saturday.

“I love what this league stands for,” Prince said. “But like every good Broadway show you need first-and second-rounders who bring sixth-and seventh-rounders in and kids who won’t get drafted but will sign a free agent contract. Today is one of those good days.”

What If…

Nate Arentz can admit this is a subject he and his buddies have certainly talked about on many occasions.

What if there had been no USHL or National Team Development Program? What if there was no Lakeville North or Lakeville South High Schools? What would have happened if everyone stayed together and didn’t bolt at the chance of playing junior hockey?

Could this be the No. 1 team in Minnesota right now?

“Over the summer we always chuckle about if we had one team, it’d be awesome,” Arentz said. “We had a bunch of guys who skyrocketed and left. Definitely would have been a state championship candidate three years in a row and maybe even won a state title.”

The rivalry between North and South is certainly becoming one of the better rivalries in the state of Minnesota even if it hasn’t been around for a long time like other tilts such as Roseau-Warroad or Edina vs. Everyone.

But what can be pondered, with legitimacy, is what if Lakeville never split into two schools and kept all of its kids in one place?

Some of Lakeville’s best talent are playing in the USHL while the rest is split between both schools.

Take the ones in the USHL. Arentz made the jump last season to the Fargo Force after leading North to a state tournament appearance as a sophomore. Arentz has emerged this season having been invited to the USHL Top Prospects Game, which had its players selected with input from NHL scouts.

This would have been Arentz’s senior year if he had stayed and the lineup around him would have certainly been a tough one to deal with.

He could have been joined by NTDP duo Kyle Osterberg (Minnesota-Duluth), a winger who certainly has speed for days and defenseman Brady Skjei (Minnesota), who is easily one of the best American-born players in his age group.

Osteberg and Skjei will more than likely be taken in the upcoming NHL Draft with Skjei being a guaranteed pick potentially going in the second round because he’s rated to be one of the best players in the USHL.

“It is kind of surprising but I guess over the years I played with all those guys, we all bought in as a team and family and on the ice,” Arentz said. “We were happy with each other and off the ice we were fine too.”

But there’s more.

Sioux Falls goaltender Charlie Lindgren by many accounts was the front runner to claim the title of best goalie in Minnesota High School hockey this season before he left for the USHL.

Yeah, he went to Lakeville North too and led them to a state title appearance.

Then there are the guys still there.

Lakeville South has some wunderkind Justin Kloos (Minnesota), who through 15 games this season has already amassed 50 points (22 goals, 28 assists) and his a serious candidate for Mr. Hockey.

Lakeville North’s Blake Winiecki might not have 50 points but he has 38 (19 goals, 19 assists) and was impressive enough in the summer for the Force to take a serious look at having on the team this year.

“There are times we’ve thought about it,” Lindgren said. “We all get along really well, being the North and South kids so you never know.”

The Turn…

NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings on Wednesday morning and there are a few surprises on the list.

NTDP defenseman Jacob Trouba (Michigan) is the highest-rated blueliner in the USHL on the list while Dubuque forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) is the highest-rated forward. None of this comes as a surprise.

Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern) is having the best season of any draft-eligible goaltender in the league and he’s rated as the fourth-best goalie among all North American skaters.

Below is a list of the Top 25 USHL players and where they were ranked:

Skaters:

-Jacob Trouba, NTDP (Michigan), defenseman: No. 9 overall

-Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque (Vermont), forward: No. 12 overall

-Stefan Matteau, NTDP, forward: No. 13 overall

-Brady Skjei, NTDP (Minnesota), defenseman: No. 18 overall

-Nic Kerdiles, NTDP (Wisconsin), forward: No. 27 overall.

-Michael Matheson, Dubuque (Boston College), defenseman: No. 29 overall

-Patrick Sieloff, NTDP (Miami (Ohio)), forward, No. 34 overall

-Jordan Schmaltz, Green Bay (North Dakota), defenseman: No. 35 overall

-Matt DeBlouw, Muskegon (Michigan State), forward: No. 37 overall

-Robbie Baillargeon, Indiana (Boston University), forward: No. 43 overall

-Brian Cooper, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha), defenseman: No. 51 overall

-Thomas Di Pauli, NTDP (Notre Dame), forward: No. 72 overall

-Zach Aston-Reese, Lincoln (Northeastern), forward: No. 76 overall

-Dakota Mermis, Green Bay (Denver), defenseman: No. 77 overall

-Alex Kile, Green Bay (Michigan), forward: No. 82 overall

-AJ Michaelson, Waterloo (Minnesota), forward: No. 83 overall

-Austyn Young, Sioux Falls (Minnesota-Duluth), forward: No. 100 overall

-Gavin Stoick, NTDP (Cornell), defenseman: No. 101 overall

-Cameron Darcy, NTDP (Northeastern), forward: No. 103 overall

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown), forward: No. 106 overall

-Quentin Shore, NTDP (Denver), forward: No. 109 overall

-Frank Vatrano, NTDP (Boston College), forward: No. 118 overall

-Matthew Lane, NTDP (Boston University), forward: No. 133 overall

-Nikolas Olsson, NTDP (Northeastern), forward: No. 136 overall

-Vince Hinostroza, Waterloo (Notre Dame), forward: No. 137 overall

 

Goalies:

-Jon Gillies, Indiana (Northeastern): No. 4 overall

-Collin Olson, NTDP (Ohio State): No. 9 overall

-Alex Lyon, Omaha (Yale): No. No. 19 overall

-Stephon Williams, Sioux Falls (Minnesota State-Mankato): No. 23 overall

-Matt Morris, Dubuque (Maine): No. 28 overall

Shhh…

With the season not so far away (Sept. 30) it is time to start rolling out the USHL previews for the upcoming season.

There will be team-by-team previews that will come out along with some other items too such as Top 10 forward, defensemen and goaltenders to watch. This is the first list looking at the Top 25 Minnesotans to watch in the league this year.

Hockey-rich Minnesota always has talent but this year has a pretty talented bunch in the league. Some could argue that number would be enhanced even more if it wasn’t for the seven Minnesotans (Mario Lucia, Steven Fogarty) that will spend this season playing for former St. Cloud State assistant Fred Harbinson in Penticton in the BCHL.

Even still, there’s a lot to look at with Minnesota players this year. Here’s the list starting with No. 25.

 

No. 25: Dan Molenaar, defenseman, Green Bay: Molenaar was a major, and at times overlooked, member of the Eden Prairie team that won the Class 2A state championship. The 5-11, 170 pounder scored 29 points (6 goals, 23 assists) in 29 games last season and had three points (all assists) in the state tournament. Altogether, he had six points in six playoff games. He’ll be thrown into the Gamblers mix which will return four defenseman and have five with league experience with former NTDPer Andy Ryan coming to the team.

No. 24: J.D. Cotroneo, defenseman, Waterloo: Let’s get this part out of the way. Cotroneo is one of many Waterloo players that will be on this list. He played last season at Hill-Murray helping the Pioneers just trounce everyone in the regular season. Hill-Murray missed out on the state tournament after a surprising 5-4 loss to White Bear Lake. Cotroneo will surely have a chance at the postseason with Waterloo potentially having one of the best teams in the league.

No. 23: Ben Ostlie, defenseman, Omaha: At 6-1, 190 pounds, he is a nicely built defenseman that can deliver a hit. Ostlie played last season at Edina helping the Hornets to another solid showing in the state tournament. He’ll certainly get playing time in Omaha with the Lancers having four incoming defenseman. One of those players is on this list. You’ll find out who it is later, of course.

No. 22: Tyler Heinonen, forward, Muskegon: Heinonen was the state’s regular season scoring champ last season. At Delano, the Michigan Tech commit scored 83 points (44 goals, 39 assists) in 25 regular season games. Including the playoffs, he ended the year with 88 points. Muskegon is going to rely on his scoring touch with the team having seven incoming forwards this season. Muskegon, which is heading into its second year, held its own offensively last year.

No. 21: Vince Pedrie, defenseman, Omaha: OK. So it wasn’t much of a wait to find out that Pedrie will be with Ostlie in Omaha this season. Pedrie played last season at Apple Valley and was part of the exodus of players to leave for the USHL. Pedrie, who would have been a senior, was the third-leading scorer at Apple Valley last season with 34 points (8 goals, 26 assists) in 25 regular season games last year.

No. 20: A.J. Reid, forward, Fargo: Reid was a big part of why St. Thomas Academy walked away with the Class A state title last season. He scored seven points in the four tournament games. In the regular season, he was part of a monster attack that had 48 points in 25 regular season games. He’ll be in Fargo this season with former Cadet teammate Taylor Fleming, who scored the game-winning goal in the title game against Hermantown.

No. 19: Austyn Young, forward, Sioux Falls: The Minnesota-Duluth commit and St. Paul native spent last season with the Stampede on what felt like the all-Minnesota team. He had a decent first season in the league with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 54 games. Young will be counted on heavily this season. He’s only one of five returning players the Stampede have listed on their 25-man protected roster. Altogether the Stampede have seven players with USHL experience. Oh and for the record. They have five first-year players on the team from Minnesota.

No. 18: Tanner Lane, forward, Fargo: Lane heads into his second season with the Force hoping to have a better year this time. At Detroit Lakes, he was a state scoring champ and it led to him getting drafted by the Atlanta, now Winnipeg, organization along with committing to Nebraska-Omaha. Last year, Lane struggled only scoring 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) in 57 games last year. He’s one of those second-year guys the Force need a big year out of if they want to do well.

No. 17: Dan Carlson, forward, Waterloo: The 6-2, 185-pound winger will bring his size and speed to Waterloo after spending the last few seasons with the NTDP. Carlson, who is from Corcoran, Minn., scored 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) in 33 games last season. The Minnesota State commit could put up more numbers this year in Waterloo considering the kind of talent he’ll be playing with.

No. 16: Jonathan Brodzinski, forward, Fargo: Brodzinski helped Blaine to another state tournament appearance last season. But after the Bengals were eliminated, he and his family jumped in a car and drove through nasty conditions so he could play in Fargo and play the 10 games needed so he could stay protected by the Force. He scored five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 10 games last season. But like Lane, the St. Cloud State commit is going to be one of those guys that’s going to be counted on heavily this season.

No. 15: Nick Seeler, defenseman, Muskegon: Seeler is some ways was Mr. Minnesota last season. State champ with Eden Prairie. He was drafted by his hometown Wild over the summer. The Nebraska-Omaha commit will be expected to bring a offensive yet calming presence to Muskegon this season. The Lumberjacks gave up 235 goals last season, the second-most in the league. Having Seeler on the blue line could help reduce that number.

No. 14: Luke Voltin, forward, NTDP: The North Dakota commit burst onto the scene last year as a sophomore at Hill-Murray scoring 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 28 games. At 6-feet, 175 pounds it appears he has room to grow and he’ll certainly get the training he needs in Ann Arbor this year. Don’t be surprised if Voltin is among the U-17′s leading scorers.

No. 13: Adam Wilcox, goaltender, Green Bay: Talk about a guy primed to have a great season. Wilcox is coming off what was a great year for him. The Minnesota commit was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning and he returns to a Green Bay team that could easily make another deep postseason run. He went 16-6-1 last season with a 2.20 GAA with a .922 save percentage while splitting time with Lake Superior State commit Ryan McKay last season.

No. 12: Brady Skjei, defenseman, NTDP: Skjei’s another example of the kind of talent that’s coming out of Lakeville, a place that in recent years has had some good kids. The 6-1, 183-pound Skjei comes back to the USHL for a second season after playing last season with the NTDP. The Minnesota commit scored six points in 36 games for the U-17 team last year. With this also being Skjei’s draft year, this could also be another reason for people to look out for him.

No. 11: Gage Ausmus, defenseman, NTDP: Ausmus, who played last season at East Grand Forks, will spend this season with the NTDP’s U-17 team. He had 12 points in 17 games last season at EGF. After he accepted an invite to play for the NTDP, he then committed to Denver on the same day that Devils Lake wunderkind Keaton Thompson committed to North Dakota.

No. 10: Collin Olson, goaltender, NTDP: The former Apple Valley Eagle spent last season with the NTDP U-17 team where he split time. He went 10-8-1 with a 2.84 GAA. This season, of course, he will be getting a chance to see more international competition along with USHL competition playing with the U-18. At 6-3, 190 pounds, the Ohio State commit is a hulking mass that can consume a net.

No. 9: Charlie Lindgren, goaltender, Sioux Falls: Lindgren was a player quite a few people kept tabs on this summer. Lindgren in many minds was thought to be the best high school goalie in Minnesota heading into this season and could have won the Frank Brimsek for best senior goaltender this season. Instead, he decided to opt for Sioux Falls, a place that’s been a USHL haven for many Minnesota kids. Lindgren last season damn near did for Lakeville North what guys like Kyle Rau did for Eden Prairie. He won games. North outlasted rival Lakeville South in a section final, 2-1, because Lindgren made 51 saves. After North lost the tourney opener against Eden Prairie, they went on to win the consolation title.

No. 8: Alex Lyon, goaltender, Omaha: Lyon was hands down the best goaltender in the state of Minnesota last year. The Yale commit had NHL 11 numbers making 743 saves and managed to have a 1.60 GAA and a .945 save percentage through the regular season and playoffs. Lyon only had one game where faced single-digit shots on goal and wowed many in the state in a 5-1 loss to Roseau because he made 66 saves.

No. 7: Eddie Wittchow, defenseman, Waterloo: Wittchow in many minds was the best defenseman in Minnesota last season. He navigated Burnsville to a solid season despite playing one of the hardest schedules in the state. The Florida Panthers draft pick scored 26 points in 28 games last season. But here’s another thing to like about him. Wittchow is 6-3, 185 pounds and he’ll add size and another offensive presence to Waterloo. He hasn’t committed to a college but something says he will before the end of the season.

No. 6: Zane Gothberg, goaltender, Fargo: If there is one guy that the Force is counting on it is indeed Gothberg. The Boston Bruins draft pick/North Dakota commit/Thief River Falls folk hero will be THE man in Fargo. He split last season with Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Massa and is now expected to lead the Force to the playoffs. Fargo’s success will depend on Gothberg.

No. 5: Tony Cameranesi, forward, Waterloo: Oh here’s another weapon for P.K. O’Handley to play with this year in Waterloo. The speedy Cameranesi dominated last year at Wayzata scoring 63 points in 28 games. He did most of his damage by creating chances with 46 assists. The Minnesota-Duluth commit and Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick spent last season partnered with Lucia. He’ll spend another year partnered with more top talent that’s on this list.

No. 4: Max Gardiner, forward, Dubuque: Yep. Like Dre you forgot about him. Gardiner left Minnesota and it became clear he was heading back to the USHL when the Fighting Saints drafted him in the Entry Draft. He’ll get a chance to play with potential first-round pick Zemgus Girgensons along with the rest of the talented pool they’ve got sitting in Dubuque this season. It’ll be interesting to see what the St. Louis Blues prospect will do this season in the USHL.

No. 3: Taylor Cammarata, forward, Waterloo: Kid has a lot of pressure and expectations coming into the season. Aside from being the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Futures Draft, there are quite a few wondering what he can do on this level. He spent last season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s where he scored 64 goals and 62 assists for the U-16 team. In his bantam year, he scored 92 goals and 78 assists. The talent is there, it is just a matter of how he’ll adjust to the USHL this season.

No. 2: Hudson Fasching, forward, NTDP: The former Apple Valley star will spend this season with the NTDP’s U-17 where he’ll develop into what many expect to be an even better player. He’s already 6-2 and a 190 pounds and with the facilities he’ll be around at Ann Arbor, he’s only going to get stronger. When he was at Apple Valley last year he displayed the kind of skills that made him a hot commodity scoring 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 28 games last season. He has yet to commit to a school though there many coaches after him. He has a year until his draft year, but this could be a huge year for Fasching.

No. 1: A.J. Michaelson, forward, Waterloo: It was a hard choice between Michaelson and Fasching for the top spot. Michaelson wins the No. 1 spot because he will be counted on more heavily this season than Fasching. He comes to Waterloo along with other talent that’s expected to do big things like make the playoffs and be a legit threat for a title this season. The Minnesota commit also heads into his draft year too. The Minnesota commit led Apple Valley in scoring with 62 points (31 goals, 31 assists) last year before spending six games with Waterloo. He was scoreless in those games and was held off the point sheet in one playoff game too. With guys like Wittchow, Cameranesi, Cammarata and Vince Hinostroza, there is a lot expected of Waterloo. And the same can be said for Michaelson.