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.”

He Got Game…

NHL’s Central Scouting released this morning its final rankings of North American skaters, a list which features six Fargo Force players.

There are 29 listed players from the USHL but the number might be higher when adding players like the Force’s Jay Dickman and Indiana’s Boo Nieves (Michigan), who are now playing in the league after playing for their high schools earlier in the year.

Defenseman and team captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), to no surprise, was the highest-rated Force player checking in at 68th overall. The 5-10 Cooper was touted last season by Jack Barzee, now formerly of Central Scouting, as a player to watch in the USHL this season.

Cooper, 18, has scored 23 points in 54 games while leading the Force to what appears to be a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference.

Forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) is listed at 112th overall. Farley exploded this season as he was on a pace to break every team single-season scoring record until suffering a foot injury. The injury left him out for a month. He has scored 10 points in 12 games giving him 58 points in 49 games.

Fellow Bulldog commit Alex Iafallo came in at 133rd overall. Iafallo was drafted nearly a year ago by the team and made the squad out of camp. Iafallo along with linemates, Dave Gust and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), have formed a partnership that has given the Force a secondary offensive threat to Farley’s line. Iafallo,who has four points in four games, has scored 31 points in 56 games this season. He will play next season in Fargo before going off to college.

Defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame) came in at 144th overall. Wade, in his second season, has been living up to the promise of being a shutdown defenseman. He’s been one of the reasons why the Force are statistically the second-best defense in the entire USHL. Wade’s punishing checks, annoying pokechecks and stay-at-home style has made him one of the league’s best shutdown defenseman. He’s also been able to contribute on offense picking up seven points in 55 games. He’s also a plus-17 on the year. Wade will be back with the team next season before going to Notre Dame.

Five spots after Wade was forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth), who has played the last few weekends with the Force. Toninato played high school hockey at Duluth East this season which went 27-1 heading into the Minnesota state hockey tournament but left with a consolation tournament trophy. Toninato scored his first goal on Saturday in the Force’s 5-1 win over Sioux Falls. Toninato, who wore No. 9, will be with the Force next season.

Forward Jay Dickman, who was still listed under St. Paul Johnson, rounded out the Force’s list at 203. Dickman has five points – all assists – in 11 games with the Force but made his name in high school. Dickman scored an impressive 45 goals this season to become Class 2A’s leading goal-scorer. At 6-5, 228 pounds he has been described as a draft dark horse. Ryan Kennedy, of The Hockey News, tweeted that an NHL scout said Dickman was built like an all-state wrestler but had soft hands to go along with his game.

NTDP defenseman Jacob Trouba (Michigan) was the league’s highest rated player nine while Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) was rated at 18.

Lincoln phenom Kevin Roy (Brown), who has 100 points this season, was rated 78th.

Former Force forward Ben Johnson was rated at No. 52 on the list. Johnson had a short stint with the team playing in five games. He returned to Calumet (MI-HS) where he was Michigan’s Mr. Hockey. Johnson then left high school signing with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL.

Johnson is one of three former Force players to play or intend on playing with a Major Junior team in the last three years. Blake Clarke, who played with the Force earlier in the year, was taken 15th overall by the Brampton Battalion on Saturday in the OHL Priority Draft.

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

Rough Draft…

Great thing about the Internet. Everyone is an expert.

From iPhones to airlines, the web is never short of opinions and the same can be said for hockey. Or in this case, the NHL Draft. The NHL Draft is still six months away but there are quite a few sites and people dedicated to the draft and those who could get selected.

With the USHL resuming its second half tomorrow, here’s a look at a few players in the league who are either draft-eligible or in their second draft year and where some people see them going in their mock drafts.

Don’t worry Force fans. We’ll include a few of your guys too.

-Zemgus Girgensons, forward, Dubuque (Vermont): Just about every website has Girgensons as the top USHL-based pick going in the draft. Some sites have him going as high as sixth. Others have him going anywhere in the middle of the first round. Girgensons, who is Dubuque’s captain, has helped the Clark Cup Champs to second in the Eastern Conference standings. Right now, he’s off on international representing Latvia in the U-20 Tournament. The 6-1 Girgensons has 12 goals and 14 assists through 22 games this season.

-Jacob Trouba, defenseman, NTDP (Michigan): Here’s the other guy extremely high on a lot of lists right now. The 6-1 Trouba will for certain be a first-round pick by the looks of things and like Girgensons he’s getting the Web’s seal of approval. Many mock drafts have him going either in the Top 10 and a few, not many, have him being a middle-round selection. Like Girgensons, he’s is playing at the U-20 Tournament and is the youngest player on Team USA’s roster. Trouba is the team’s only 17-year-old. With the NTDP playing a mix of USHL teams, international competitions and college teams, his USHL stats might be deceiving. He has three points in eight games.

-Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, Green Bay (North Dakota): The opinions on Schmaltz suggest he’ll be another first-round pick and could anywhere in the teens into the 20s. The offensive-defenseman made news earlier in the year when he was traded from Sioux City to Green Bay. He’s been part of the league’s best defense and could very well be a major part of why the Gamblers could return to another Clark Cup Finals. He has 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in 21 games, which is tenth among USHL defensemen.

-Nic Kerdiles, forward, NTDP (Wisconsin): It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Kerdiles the most talent forward the NTDP has at the moment. He has size, stickhandling and knows where to be on the ice. Those merits are why he’s been touted as another first-rounder the USHL and NTDP could have come the summer. He only has two points in eight USHL games. Those two points came here in Fargo where he absolutely stole the show helping the NTDP take the to a shootout before losing. The projection is Kerdiles will go mid-to-late first round.

-Michael Matheson, defenseman, Dubuque (Boston College): Feeling is Matheson could go late first or early second, which isn’t bad by any stretch. Right now he’s helping keep Dubuque very much in the picture for who can challenge Green Bay for first place in the East and a team which could make a run for a Clark Cup repeat. Matheson’s stock could rise in the second half if he scores more. He came into the league touted as an offensive-defenseman. His eight points don’t even register in the Top 20 among league blue liners.

-Stefan Matteau, forward, NTDP (North Dakota): The 6-1 winger has been talked about as a player with quite a bit of upside. Sites are suggesting he could be a third-round pick. He has four points in nine games and is a bit edgy with 57 penalty minutes – the most of any player in the NTDP.

-Jon Gillies, goaltender, Indiana (Northeastern): Gillies is practically fighting it out for Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University) for the league’s best netminder this season. Gillies has been a constant presence for the Ice this season with 13 wins and has logged more minutes and saves than any goalie in the USHL. Very few sites go past the second or third round so it is a bit harder to get a feeling for where he could go. A site called draftsite.com has him being a fifth-round selection.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): Roy was draft eligible last season but no team took a pass at him. Given his season, something says no one will be passing him by. Roy, who played at Deerfield Academy (MA-HS) last season has taken the league by storm topping the scoring charts. Draftsite has Roy going in the sixth round.

-Mike McKee, defenseman, Lincoln (Western Michigan): Similar to Roy, was draft eligible last season. He got a lot of press but in the end, he went unselected. McKee could get taken anywhere past the third round. Draftsite actually has McKee going as a third-rounder.

-Brian Cooper, defenseman, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha): Where Cooper ends up in the draft could be anyone’s guess. A year ago, he was decently high on a few mock drafts and could have gone in the third round. He still could. Draftsite has him going in the fourth round.

-Justin Wade, defenseman, Fargo (Notre Dame): Draftsite actually has Wade going a few spots before Cooper in the fourth round. Wade’s height and size are why so many scouts like him. They also like his defensive-minded approach.

-Austin Farley, forward, Fargo (Minnesota-Duluth): Believe it or not, there really isn’t much to find on Farley in regards to the NHL Draft. It’s pretty surprising given he’s been one of the most offensively-dynamic players in the USHL. He headed into the Christmas break in fourth place in the points race, second in the scoring race and either leads the league or is tied for the league in at least three offensive categories.

Young Americans…

The NTDP’s U-18 Team may have left Fargo with a shootout loss, but they certainly left an impression for sure.

For your Sunday reading pleasure here’s a look at the five players on the U-18 team who were the biggest standouts. Some might not come as a shocker but others could be guys to keep an eye out for.

5. Jacob Trouba, defenseman, committed to Michigan: Trouba had a busy night but was really active in the third. His assist helped Kyle Osterberg tie the game at 2-2 and he helped spearhead the U-18s comeback and sent the game into a shootout. Trouba was physical. He was consistently keeping away from the crease. Trouba didn’t mind using his 6-2, 194-pound frame to finish checks and establish he’s not going to let much get by him. Aside from his assist, he had four shots in the game and was really busy on the power play. It was the second straight game Trouba had four or more shots.

4. Kyle Osterberg, forward, committed to Minnesota-Duluth: Given all the names on this team who are frequently discussed, Osterberg flies under the radar. If he keeps having games like this, it won’t continue for long. Osterberg had a goal and an assist and really came alive in the third period. He scored the game-tying goal to open the third and helped set up another game-tying goal late in the frame. Osterberg has three points in his last two games, which could be a sign. Osteberg could be breaking out of his shell. He only has seven shots on the season. He had one in the game against Fargo. He has two goals on the year. Maybe he should look into shooting just a bit more. That and he’s the kind of player who proves a hypothesis I keep having. If the USHL didn’t exist and Lakeville never split into two high schools, guys like Osterberg would make that community the new Edina when it comes to dominating Minnesota High School Hockey.

3. Stefan Matteau, forward, committed to North Dakota: You know he’s a guy to watch. Matteau shows you why. No.1, he’s just gifted. No bones about it. Guy was always around the net looking for anything. If there was a loose puck, he was nearby. If offense needed to be generated, he was right there. Matteau just does a lot of things to help his team win beyond scoring goals. He has three points in his last four games and is a plus-4 during this stretch. That and dude has hands. He showed it in the shootout making a nice move against fellow North Dakota commit Zane Gothberg. Matteau started his stride and stopped firing a quick but hard shot to handcuff Gothberg. There’s really a lot to like about Matteau especially if you’re a UND fan.

2. Nick Kerdiles, forward, committed to Wisconsin: He came real close to being the No. 1 guy on this list. He was that impressive. Osterberg had two points but he was really the U-18s No. 1 threat. He had a game-high six shots which was as many the Force had in the first and second period. Kerdiles just made people take notice of where he was on the ice at all times. Though his best moment came when he tied the game at 3-3 eventually forcing overtime. Osterberg played a pass to him and from there, Kerdiles went around the net and just quickly threw one by Gothberg on the wraparound. He went around the net virtually untouched. His one blemish on the night was the shootout. With a chance to win the game he put a shot on net, which went way, way wide. Other than that, he was the U-18′s most consistent forward.

1. Seth Jones, defenseman: Remember the scene in “Friday Night Lights” when Booby Miles is going off about how hype isn’t real and how he is? Well, it might be a decent way to describe Jones. It’s easy to understand why so many people are enamored with him. He makes a lot of smart decisions. He doesn’t put himself in position to take not just bad penalties but really penalties period. It’s probably why he has six penalty minutes in just the seven USHL games he’s played this season. His 14 points in 28 games last season could be eclipsed this season. Jones has five points (1 goal, four assists) through seven games this year. He has three points in his last five. Assists may be his forte, but his shot is absolutely killer. The U-18s had an extremely long 5-on-3 chance and it gave Jones a chance to showcase what we can do. He found his teammates with tape-to-tape passes but when it came time to shoot, he had no trouble pulling the trigger. Jones has a straight-line shot, which was really hard and really fast. The only times it didn’t reach net is if someone got in the way of it or if it just missed net. Neither one happened often.

 

Anyways, that’s it for today’s Sunday Funday reading. Check back tomorrow where we’ll take a look back at the Force’s weekend and perhaps a little bit more.

Yankee Doodle Dandy…

Today’s preview is actually different than most and that’s because the focus is on USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

USA Hockey’s program or The NTDP, for short, basically houses, trains and cultivates what is said to be this nation’s top talent. It has two teams – a U-17 and a U-18 – that both play in the USHL and if the program makes the playoffs, it is the U-17 team that will compete in the postseason.

They also play in international competitions as well. Bear with me but here’s what makes this preview different. The players from last year’s U-18 team are either in college or playing juniors somewhere else because they have aged out. The players from last season’s U-17 team just moved up to the U-18 team while new players were brought into the program to comprise this year’s U-17 team.

Although different than the rest - Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Dubuque, Green Bay, Indiana and Muskegon – here is a preview for the NTDP for the upcoming season.

Team USA (2010-11: 30-25-5; lost in the first round of the playoffs)

Coach: Danton Cole (U-18) and Don Granato (U-17)

Who’s New (U-18): Seth Jones, defenseman; Jacob Trouba, defenseman; Miles Koules (North Dakota), forward; Brady Skjei (Minnesota), defenseman; Nick Kerdiles (Wisconsin), forward; Stefan Matteau (North Dakota), forward; Quentin Shore (Denver), forward; Riley Barber (played last season at Dubuque/committed to Miami (Ohio)); Collin Olson (Ohio State), goaltender; Jared Rutledge, goaltender.

Who’s New (U-17): Gage Ausmus (Denver), defenseman; Keaton Thompson (North Dakota), defenseman; J.T. Compher (Michigan), forward; Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio)), defenseman; Mike McCarron (Michigan State), forward; Will Butcher (Denver), defenseman; Hudson Fasching, forward.

What’s Going On: The NTDP got a bit of a shake up over the summer when coach Ron Rolston left the program to become the head coach of the Rochester Americans, the AHL affliate of the Buffalo Sabres. That resulted in the program hiring Don Granato to replace him. Here’s how it all works, per Chris Peters over at the United States of Hockey blog.

Cole will coach players with even-numbered birth years (i.e. 1994, 1996) while Granato has the players with the odd-numbered birth years (i.e. 1995, 1997) so that way both stay with their group and coach at the U-17 and U-18 level.

Another significant change to the NTDP this season was goaltending coach Joe Exter leaving to take the same position at Ohio State. Exter was responsible for developing talent like former first-rounder Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars) and John Gibson, who was drafted last season by the Anaheim Ducks. The program went with former New Hampshire star Mike Ayers, who will look to foster the next crop of high-end American goaltenders.

As for the talent, well, they’re obviously pretty good. There are many names to watch out for in regards to the coming draft. Trouba and Kerdiles have been the two most talked about players on the U-18 team. Jones, who’s father, Popeye, played in the NBA, is a guy that many are high on for his poise and maturity. So basically expect another year of hearing Gary Bettman say (insert team name) selects (insert player) from the Team USA National Team Development Program.

On the U-17 level, there’s also a lot to be excited about. Fasching is a name that stands out for many as he was one of the most gifted forwards last season in Minnesota while playing for Apple Valley.  He scored 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 28 games last season. He also has a hulking and still growing frame as he’s 6-2 and a 190 pounds. Another player to watch is Thompson, who actually spent last season with the Fargo Force before accepting an invite to play with the NTDP. He’s the second North Dakotan-born player to ever play for the NTDP and earlier this summer he committed to the Sioux. He started for Devils Lake, his high school team, as an eighth grader and last season led the state’s defensemen in scoring before jumping to the Force. Thompson might be the only U-17 player with USHL experience but in truth, this will be his first full season with the team.

The NTDP made the playoffs last year and there’s a good chance that the same thing could happen this year. There’s obviously enough talent that lends itself to grabbing one of the Top 6 spots in the East. How far they go in the playoffs, however, that remains to be seen.

 

Friday’s Preview: Youngstown Phantoms

Last Line Of Defense…

Back again this time with the second list of the preseason looking at the five defenseman that could have a major impact in the USHL this season.

On Monday, the focus was on the Top 5 forwards that could make some waves. This may be bad promotion, but don’t be surprised by a few (OK, all) of the names on this list. So here it is, the five defensemen to watch for in the USHL this season.

5. Eddie Wittchow, Waterloo: Wittchow spent last season playing with Burnsville (MN-HS) where he had a more than solid year. His performances made him one of the best defensemen in Minnesota last season. It also resulted in him being drafted by the Florida Panthers. Wittchow will now get a chance to play in what many consider to be a defensive-minded league in the USHL. Though this isn’t his draft year, there still is a lot to play for considering Wittchow has not committed to a college yet. He might be overshadowed because of the other names on this list, but keep an eye out for Wittchow. There’s a very good chance many offenses in the USHL certainly will.

4. Brian Cooper, Fargo: The Nebraska-Omaha commit comes into what will be the most challenging year in his time with the Force. He’s the only third-year player on a team working with its fourth head coach. That being said, there’s a very good chance he’s going to be the team’s captain as he was an assistant captain last year. Also, this will be an interesting year because it is the “dreaded” third year. We’ve all seen quite a few players that have been hyped but once they get into Year 3, they go all Dennis Green and they aren’t who we thought they were. With Cooper being projected to be a second-round pick, many in Fargo are hoping he continues to be consistent and above all things, better.

3. Michael Matheson, Dubuque: Considered to be the crown jewel of French-Canadian midget players a year ago, Matheson heads to the league’s defending champions. He’ll be asked to take on a lot of responsibility and assimilate himself into a team that needed a quarterback on the power play. It was a role he was able to play in midget last season, but this year will be a bit different. The Boston College commit has drawn rave reviews from pundits claiming he could go anywhere between the first and second round. Playing with projected first-rounder Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) will help his stock. So will playing consistent defense, scoring points and helping the Fighting Saints claim a second title will also do wonders.

2. Jacob Trouba, NTDP: Trouba is one of three NTDP players (Cameron Darcy, Nick Kerdiles) to be listed on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary list as a A-List player. There’s a reason for that. At 6-2, 194 pounds he provides a good, strong physical presence and he’s certainly not afraid to use those tools to fight for the puck or set a strong tone for his team. Trouba had seven points last season in 31 games for the U-17 team but he really started to come on in the last few games of the year scoring three points in five games. How he does versus USHL competition this season remains to be seen considering he’ll be playing against a mix of USHL teams and international teams. Like Matheson and the next person on this list, he’s been projected to go in the first round or possibly early in the second.

1. Jordan Schmaltz, Sioux City: Eh, he’s bum. Really, he’s actually the truth and might be the most high-profile player heading into the league this season. Schmaltz is arguably the USHL’s most gifted offensive defenseman and he certainly showed why last season. When Sioux City was looking to edge into the playoffs, Schmaltz went all T-800 series and basically said, “Come with me if you want to live” by scoring 12 points in his last 13 games. That includes a 10-game point streak he used to end the season. In all, Schmaltz scored 44 points (13 goals and 31 assists) in just 59 games. Very few players could control a game last season like Schmaltz and there’s a good chance that it could be that way this year. Some have wondered if the 6-2, 175-pound North Dakota will come out a bit more defensive-minded this year. If Schmaltz is able to do that along with having another electric year on offense, it could be an amazing season for the Wisconsin native.

Strict Machine…

Not sure if you got a chance to check it out but NHL Central Scouting released its’ preliminary Futures List of North American players.

Basically the list is comprised of what’s deemed to be the top skaters in 15 junior leagues and states with high school hockey. The list is broken down into three classes depending on the league. The “A” List are the top-tier players while the “B” List is the second tier and the “C” List is the lowest level.

MN-HS has 15 players with no “A” List players but 10 “B” list players including Moorhead’s Michael Bitzer, who is a potential favorite to win the Frank Brimsek Award for the state’s top senior goaltender.  Shattuck-St. Mary’s has the most representatives on the list with seven players headlined by Zach Stepan (Wisconsin).

Apple Valley’s AJ Michaelson (Minnesota) is on the MN-HS list but will spend this season with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL. Lakeville North goaltender Charlie Lindgren will also spend this season in the USHL playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede.

As for the USHL, it has five “A” List players but it is technically six as Michael Matheson (Boston College) will spend this season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Joining Matheson on the list is Dubuque teammate Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), Jordan Schmaltz (Sioux City/North Dakota) and NTDP trio Nick Kerdiles, Jacob Trouba and Cameron Darcy, who decommitted from Northeastern earlier this week.

UPDATED: Earlier I reported that the USHL is listed with 26 players but technically has at least 31 because of players from other leagues who plan on playing in the USHL this season such as Matheson.

But thanks to Vancouver Canucks scout and Indiana Ice chief scout Judd Brackett, he brought to my attention six players on the list that will be playing in the USHL this season bringing the total to 37 players.

In terms of USHL breakdown, the team with the most players on this list is the, surprise, surprise, NTDP program with nine players including Riley Barber, who is still listed with Dubuque. Next in line is the Fargo Force with five players. The Force are represented by Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), Nate Arentz, Alex Iafallo and Justin Wade. The Indiana Ice are third with three players on the list.

And for those wondering about Major Junior and how the USHL stacks up, here’s the comparisons. The infamous OHL has 29, The Q has 31 and the WHL has 26.

When it comes to “A” List players that’s where Major Junior has the expected edge. The OHL has nine players. The Q and The WHL each have eight “A” List players too.

Granted, this is what’s listed so there could be players from other junior leagues or high schools that are listed that could be playing Major Junior, but it just hasn’t been reflected yet.

Reservations…

Those wondering when the USHL season starts don’t have to worry much longer as the league released its schedule this afternoon.

Opening night is set for Sept. 30 and as for the Force, they will open on the road on Oct. 1 against Des Moines. The home opener will be Oct. 14 against the Muskegon Lumberjacks at 7:35 p.m.

As was promised earlier, here are a look at some of the top home games (in chronological order) that could be worth checking out this season:

OCT. 14: That of course is the Force’s home opener and for any team that is a big deal. For the Force, however, it signals another era behind the bench in John Marks, who was hired last week replacing Jason Herter, who left to become an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth. The Force have been considered in some minds to be a favorite for the Clark Cup because the team could return 11 players and 12 players with USHL experience altogether.

OCT. 20: Sioux City and North Dakota commit Jordan Schmaltz come to town and last year it was one of the more interesting games to watch. Schmaltz is said to be one of the top USHL pro prospects for the upcoming 2012 NHL Draft. He was a player that was coveted by Major Junior but returned for another season before heading off to North Dakota for the 2012-13 season.

OCT. 29: The Force host Dubuque and it will be a bit of a rematch of last year’s second-round series in which the Fighting Saints knocked out the black and blue. Dubuque will have a different look this year but it will still feature stud forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) who like Schmaltz was recently handed an invitation to the NHL’s Research and Development Camp in August. Another name Dubuque will have is defenseman Michael Matheson, who was the top Quebec prospect last season and balked at Major Junior to play in the USHL before playing college hockey at Boston College.

NOV. 11: Unlike last season, the Force really won’t get a chance to play too many Eastern Conference teams like Youngstown or Indiana. In fact, they don’t play them at home at all but the Force do get Cedar Rapids, which is one of the top teams in league year in and year out. There’s plenty to watch with Cedar Rapids, but the big name could be Yale commit Alex Lyon. Lyon, a goaltender, played last season at Lake of the Woods winning the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s top senior goaltender. That game could potentially pit him against Force goaltender Zane Gothberg, who won the award in 2010.

NOV. 12: The Force get the Des Moines Buccaneers and it is also a chance for former Blaine teammates, but more importantly, brothers Michael and Jon Brodzinski to play against each other. This all depends on if Michael took an offer to play with the NTDP’s U-17 team, which consists of players like former Force defenseman and Devils Lake product Keaton Thompson. Should this happen, it’ll put the Jon (a forward) against Mike (a defenseman). Whoever wins gets family bragging rights while second place gets a set of steak knives.

NOV. 18: This will be a homecoming of sorts for the Johnson family and former Force defenseman Brandon Carlson. Stars coach Chad Johnson, who still lives in Fargo, will be behind the bench while his nephew, Luke, who is from Grand Forks, will get a chance to be at home for a weekend series. As was noted, it also marks the return of Carlson, who spent bits and pieces of two seasons with the Force before being traded. Carlson, a fan favorite, was traded to the NAHL last February and was ultimately traded during the USHL Entry Draft a few months ago.

DEC. 9: The U-18 NTDP team will come to town and that’s always a chance to see the future stars of American hockey. Team USA, again, has some good ones but a guy to look for is Jacob Trouba. Trouba was also invited to that NHL Research and Devlopment Camp along with a few Team USA teammates. Here’s some more information on those Team USA players invited to the NHL’s August camp.

DEC. 16: Force face Omaha, which brings the return of Jimmy Murray, who was a popular player among his Force teammates before being traded for A.J. Reid at the USHL Entry Draft.

JAN. 16: Force will be facing a Sioux Falls team with a familiar face to those in the area’s hockey scene in Moorhead’s Eric Brenk. Brenk played last season with the Spuds and a few days after the Stampede’s tryout camp was told he made the team. It’ll be interesting to see how Brenk transitions from Minnesota High School hockey to the USHL but we’ll get a chance to see in his first trip back to the area.

MARCH 2: Another player in forward Joe Rehkamp returns to Fargo. Rehkamp like Carlson was a fan favorite and for many reasons. What is also interesting about Rehkamp returning is it gives him a chance to see family. The Force’s billet coordinator, Dorian Nelson, told me how Rehkamp lived with his grandmother while playing for the team.

 

In all, the Force will play 15 Friday games, 11 Saturday games, two Thursday games, one Monday game and one Wednesday game this season. Below is the rest of the schedule. Home games are in BOLD:

 

 

Date

Home

Time

Saturday, October 01, 2011

@

Des Moines

7:05 PM

Friday, October 07, 2011

@

Omaha

7:05 PM

Saturday, October 08, 2011

@

Sioux City

7:00 PM

Friday, October 14, 2011

vs

Muskegon

7:35 PM

Saturday, October 15, 2011

vs

Omaha

7:05 PM

Thursday, October 20, 2011

vs

Sioux City

7:05 PM

Friday, October 21, 2011

@

Omaha

7:05 PM

Saturday, October 22, 2011

@

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Friday, October 28, 2011

vs

Green Bay

7:35 PM

Saturday, October 29, 2011

vs

Dubuque

7:05 PM

Friday, November 04, 2011

@

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Saturday, November 05, 2011

@

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Friday, November 11, 2011

vs

Cedar Rapids

7:35 PM

Saturday, November 12, 2011

vs

Des Moines

7:05 PM

Friday, November 18, 2011

vs

Lincoln

7:35 PM

Saturday, November 19, 2011

vs

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

@

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Friday, November 25, 2011

@

Youngstown

7:30 PM

Saturday, November 26, 2011

@

Indiana

7:05 PM

Friday, December 02, 2011

vs

Tri-City

7:35 PM

Saturday, December 03, 2011

vs

Tri-City

7:05 PM

Friday, December 09, 2011

vs

Team USA – 18

7:35 PM

Saturday, December 10, 2011

@

Sioux City

7:00 PM

Friday, December 16, 2011

vs

Omaha

7:35 PM

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

vs

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Friday, December 30, 2011

@

Chicago

7:30 PM

Saturday, December 31, 2011

@

Dubuque

6:05 PM

Friday, January 06, 2012

vs

Sioux City

7:35 PM

Saturday, January 07, 2012

vs

Sioux City

7:05 PM

Friday, January 13, 2012

@

Tri-City

7:05 PM

Saturday, January 14, 2012

@

Tri-City

7:05 PM

Monday, January 16, 2012

vs

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Friday, January 20, 2012

@

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Saturday, January 21, 2012

vs

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Thursday, January 26, 2012

vs

Sioux City

7:05 PM

Saturday, January 28, 2012

@

Sioux City

7:00 PM

Sunday, January 29, 2012

@

Omaha

3:05 PM

Friday, February 03, 2012

vs

Omaha

7:35 PM

Saturday, February 04, 2012

@

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Friday, February 10, 2012

vs

Tri-City

7:35 PM

Saturday, February 11, 2012

vs

Tri-City

7:05 PM

Friday, February 17, 2012

@

Waterloo

7:05 PM

Saturday, February 18, 2012

@

Cedar Rapids

7:05 PM

Friday, February 24, 2012

vs

Omaha

7:35 PM

Saturday, February 25, 2012

@

Waterloo

7:05 PM

Friday, March 02, 2012

vs

Waterloo

7:35 PM

Saturday, March 03, 2012

vs

Waterloo

7:05 PM

Friday, March 09, 2012

@

Des Moines

7:05 PM

Saturday, March 10, 2012

@

Des Moines

7:05 PM

Friday, March 16, 2012

@

Tri-City

7:05 PM

Saturday, March 17, 2012

@

Tri-City

7:05 PM

Sunday, March 18, 2012

@

Omaha

3:05 PM

Friday, March 23, 2012

vs

Des Moines

7:35 PM

Saturday, March 24, 2012

vs

Des Moines

7:05 PM

Friday, March 30, 2012

@

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Saturday, March 31, 2012

@

Sioux City

7:00 PM

Friday, April 06, 2012

vs

Sioux Falls

7:35 PM

Saturday, April 07, 2012

vs

Sioux Falls

7:05 PM

Friday, April 13, 2012

@

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Saturday, April 14, 2012

vs

Lincoln

7:05 PM

Light Up…

The NHL for a consecutive season is hosting a Research, Development and Orientation Camp, which takes a look at the players considered to be the best draft prospect for the upcoming draft.

Thirty-six players will be at the mid-August camp in Etobicoke, Ont. and of that last seven of those players will be playing in the USHL this season. The biggest names on that list are Sioux Falls defenseman and North Dakota commit Jordan Schmaltz and Vermont commit and Dubuque forward Zemgus Girgensons.

Below is a list of the players that were invited along with their stats from last season and some additional information:

-Cameron Darcy, forward,  National Team Development Program: The 6-foot, 181-pound Darcy spent last season with the U-17 team in the NTDP fold. He scored nine goals and four assists in 37 games last season. He’s committed to Northeastern and is expected to attend the school in 2012 as he’ll spend this season with the U-18 season where he’ll get a chance to experience something different from last season. Most U-17 players play in the USHL while the U-18 members splits times between league play, college exhibitions and international tournaments.

-Zemgus Girgensons, forward, Dubuque Fighting Saints: Girgensons was a major part of Dubuque’s Clark Cup title run in the team’s first season. At times he was partnered with Northeastern duo Vinny Saponari and John Gaudreau and the trio surely did damage for the Fighting Saints. Listed at 6-1, 182 pounds, Girgensons spent most of his time at center last season creating chances for Saponari and Gaudreau. He scored 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in just 51 games. NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee said in April that Girgensons was one of three USHL-based players to look out for in this year’s draft. He’ll be one of those guys the Fighting Saints will look to in their title defense this season.

-Nick Kerdiles, forward, NTDP: There’s a lot of people that like Kerdiles and the evidence really speaks for itself. He had 20 points (12 goals, 8 assists) in 32 games for the U-17 team last season and those numbers will more than likely be expected to improve. At 6-1, 183 pounds he has a good frame and is another one of these California products that’s starting to make waves. Kerdiles is also a Wisconsin commit and one of the top recruits they have coming into Madison.

-Michael Matheson, defenseman, Dubuque: Considered by many to be one of the top prospects from Quebec, if not the No. 1 in some minds, Matheson being on this list really isn’t a surprise. He spent last season playing Triple A Midget in Quebec where he had a monster season scoring 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points in 35 games for the Lac Saint-Louis Lions. The season before he was named the league’s rookie of the year with 11 points in 30 games. Matheson tore it up even more at the Telus Cup with 8 points in seven games had another stellar effort for the Canadian U-17 team scoring 8 points in six games. Matheson’s profile made him the subject of discussion among many to see if he’d spent next season in The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League or the USHL. The Boston College commit plans to spend one year in Dubuque before heading to college. With Girgensons up front and Maine commit Matt Morris in net, Dubuque was already looking to be solid. Adding Matheson make them that more dangerous.

-Collin Olson, goaltender, NTDP: The Apple Valley, Minn. native comes in that physical mold of recent NTDP goaltender John Gibson in the fact that he has size. He’s already 6-3 and 190 pounds giving him nice size in net. He spent last season with the U-17 team where he went 10-8-1 with a 2.84 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Olson had three shutouts and he was part of the U-17′s two-goalie tandem it used last season to make the USHL playoffs. Olson is an Ohio State commit and once he arrives on campus he’ll be working with former coach Joe Exter who left the NTDP recently to take a job with the Buckeye hockey program.

-Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, Sioux City Musketeers: There were very few players let alone defenseman that could control a game like the offensive-minded Schmaltz, who is 6-2 and a 175 pounds. He scored 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) in 59 games last season. He was the Musketeers’ third-leading scorer but he did more than that. He had a stretch where he recorded points in 12 of his last 13 games and had a 10-game point streak to end the season helping the Musketeers get into the USHL playoffs last season. Like Girgensons he was described by Barzee as one of the three USHL-based players to look out for this season. The other being Fargo Force defenseman and Nebraska-Omaha commit Brian Cooper. Schmaltz this summer was caught in a bit of a tug of war between Major Junior and the USHL/college before deciding to return to Sioux City and he’ll then move onto North Dakota.

-Jacob Trouba, defenseman, NTDP: He stands at 6-1 and a 183 pounds and spent last season with the NTDP’s U-17 team where he scored 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 31 games last season. The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy did a feature on Trouba stating that he’s being considered as one of the top defenseman in the upcoming draft. So far he has not committed to a college, according to Chris Heisenberg’s recruiting list but something says that could change as the season goes along.