Keep You With Me…

Whether its the casual fan, the die-hard or someone in between, there’s a fair number of people peering through NHL Draft guides hoping their favorite team can get the next big thing or big find.

Of course you’ll see players from the three Major Junior leagues. You’ll see college players along with players from the USHL. Yet what you cannot help but notice (if you are a USHL fan) is how three former USHL players left the league and are now set to be taken in the Top 60 picks.

We jokingly call it, “The All our-lives-got-better-once-we-left-the-USHL Team”

TSN’s hockey chief Bob McKenzie released his Top 60 rankings and on it were former USHLers Henrik Samuelsson, Daniil Zharkov and Brady Vail. Despite not making the list former USHLer Logan Nelson has also come on as of late to be what might be a third-round pick, a significant jump for someone who was undrafted last year.

Here’s a look at all four players and the circumstances that led them to where they are at:

Henrik Samuelsson, forward (ranked 36th by McKenzie): He spent last season in the NTDP’s program and if he would have stayed, probably would have added to what was a talented U-18 this season. Instead, he returned to his father’s (former Penguins star, Ulf) native Sweden where he played pro hockey. He did fine in the Modo system’s U-16 and U-18 teams before having limited success (two points in 15 games) playing against grown men. He went to the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) where he re-discovered his touch scoring 23 points in 28 games along with having a torrid playoff stretch where he had 14 points in 17 games.

Daniil Zharkov, forward (ranked 47th by McKenzie): Zharkov’s tale is appearing to be a recurring theme with players of his ilk. The theme being: How did a guy like this struggle in the USHL going into somewhat obscurity only to shine in a league like the OHL, which might be the best proving ground for any NHL prospect? He played 36 games in 2010-11 with the Tri-City Storm and did have 11 points to his credit. But he then leaves and goes to the Belleville Bulls putting up 36 points in 50 games. Maybe if he had stayed, perhaps he’d still be a potential second-round pick. We’ll never know.

Brady Vail, forward (ranked 60th by McKenzie): With this one, we are going to give some serious credit to Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey. Peters (as he often does in our phone conversations) pointed out how one of the things hurting the USHL is allowing 15-year-olds to come into the league only to leave and develop somewhere else. Ergo Brady Vail. Vail played 48 games scoring eight points in his lone season in Waterloo. His first season in Windsor wasn’t so hot either playing 61 games and scoring 10 points. This most recent season is where Vail really started to show promise. He put up 52 points in 68 games and in the process did something which Peters said made his value go up. He pointed out how Vail played against the top lines in the league meaning he had to go up against some of the top players in the OHL. Oh and by the way, the OHL is set to have three players (two forward and one defenseman) go in the Top 10 this year.

Logan Nelson, forward: Let’s go ahead and ask the most obvious question when it comes to Nelson. How in the hell does he score 62 points in the WHL a league which has four defensemen set to go in the Top 10 yet he only scores nine points in the USHL? Nelson’s transformation could be chalked up to just a player simply developing over a year. But it is still remarkable how he was able to make the jump from the USHL to the WHL and have success. At the time, Nelson’s decision to play for the Victoria Royals was a bit of a weird one given how there were times he did look invisible. Looking back, however, it appears it could have been the best decision he ever made. It appears he could go in the third or fourth round and that’s a serious jump up from last year when every team passed on him in the draft. Des Moines fans probably don’t want to read the following so the best suggestion is to look away. But imagine if this guy stays. Imagine if he could translate his WHL success onto a USHL platform? That probably would have been the difference between making the playoffs and missing out for a fifth-straight season and having what might have been one of the most embarrassing seasons in team history.

Storm…

Happy Saturday everyone. The USHL season started last tonight our featured team, the Tri-City Storm, picked up a victory in its opener.

The Storm picked up a 1-0 victory over Sioux City to open the season.

Not a bad start to the year for a team, which struggled to healthy and make the playoffs last season. Here’s a look at this year’s group.

Tri-City Storm (19-30-11, finished eighth in the Western Conference)

Coach: Drew Schoneck

Who’s Gone: Bill Eiserman (UMass-Lowell), defenseman; Dan Kolomatis (Merrimack), defenseman; Daniil Zharkov (left for the Belleville Bulls (OHL)), forward; Rick Pinkston (Dartmouth), defenseman; Brian Ward (Dartmouth), forward; Scott Diebold (RPI), goaltender; Jason Binkley (Ferris State), defensemen; Simon Denis (Ferris State), defenseman; Cole Gunner (Air Force), forward; Cody Murphy (Miami (Ohio)), forward; Matt Johnson (Ohio State), forward; Darik Angeli (Ohio State), forward.

Who’s Back: Soren Jonzzon, forward; Kenny Brooks (Penn State), forward; Brad Schierhorn (Dartmouth), forward; Andrew Dorantes, forward; Davey Middleton, forward; Nick Lappin (Brown), forward;

Who’s New: Thomas Nykopp (played last season for the Ohio Blue Jackets (MM)), forward; Tim Bonner (played last season at Osseo (MN-HS)/committed to Yale), forward; Tim Lappin (played at Chicago Mission/played one game last season with the Storm), forward; Trevor Moore (played last season at LA Selects/committed to Denver), forward; Tyler Amburgey (played last season at Dubuque), defenseman; J.D. Peterson (played last season at Des Moines), defenseman; Greg Johnson (played last season at Sioux City), defenseman; Trevor Gorsuch (played last season at St. Louis Amateur Blues (MM)), goaltender; Phoenix Copley (played last season at Corpus Christi (NAHL)), goaltender.

What’s Going On: Truthfully? Optimism. Tri-City wasn’t a bad team by any means last year. The Storm just got infected by the injury bug a lot last season and it showed. A stat that says it all is this. They only had 12 players with 50 or more games last season because they were so injury plagued.

Yet the offseason, for the most part, was pretty good. The team unexpectedly lost Diebold to RPI meaning the Storm had to revamp their entire goaltending situation and managed to pull that off before the season started. The draft also appeared to be good to the Storm too as this year’s team will draw heavily from both the Entry and Futures draft that were held earlier this year.

When it comes to returners, getting Jonzzon back was huge. He was the team’s leading scorer 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) last season and he’ll have some experience around him in Schierhorn, Lappin and Brooks. Tri-City has six returning starters but thanks to some off-season moves, have nine guys with USHL experience. The most recent move the Storm made was getting oft-traveled defenseman Amburgey via free agency from Dubuque.

Now, as for the incoming talent, it’s pretty solid. A guy to watch for up front is Bonner. He played last season at Osseo scoring 66 points (35 goals, 31 assists) in 27 games last season. Bonner was pretty explosive for Osseo last season and the expectations are that he’ll do the same thing for the Storm. The big name, at least on offense, with the new players is Nykopp, who was second overall pick in the entry draft. The 6-3, 190-pound Finn had 35 points (21 goals, 14 assists) in 30 games last year playing in midget minor. His scoring ability along with his size should be a major factor for the storm. As for the goaltending, there’s Gorsuch and Copley. The 17-year-old Gorsuch had a 1.92 GAA last season while Copley opened the season with a shutout last night. Watch to see how the Storm plays these two because it could get interesting.

They’ve got the talent. They’ve got the league experience and if they could get a hospital at the rink, the Storm are in good shape. Expect Tri-City to be one of the six teams competing for a playoff spot. Well, that’s if the injury bug doesn’t come around.

 

Monday’s Preview: Waterloo Black Hawks