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.

Let It Loose…

North Dakota commit and forward Luke Voltin has been added to the Chicago Steel, according to league sources.

Voltin, 16, was dismissed from the National Team Development Program late Tuesday night and the NTDP confirmed the news on Wednesday morning.

Voltin was playing with the U-17 team and was dismissed for what is believed to be a violation of team rules. NTDP spokesman Jake Wesolek could not discuss the reasons for Voltin’s dismissal from the program.

USHL Director of Hockey Operations Tony Gill said this morning there is a process in which a team could add Voltin to its roster but declined to further describe how it all works although with Chicago obtaining his rights, it could be determined the process allows a player like Voltin to go to whoever is first in line in the league’s waiver wire.

Chicago, which is 9-21-1 this season, has the worst mark in the league.

Voltin tweeted prior to the news breaking he was not going to play in the Western Hockey League and would honor his commitment to North Dakota along with playing in the USHL quickly.

He could realistically play this weekend when the Steel having three games agianst Indiana, Youngstown and Cedar Rapids.

Voltin, 16, played in 11 league games this seasons scoring six points for three goals and three assists. He was part of the United States team which won its third consecutive Four Nations Title.

In Voltin Chicago is getting a forward considered to be among the best American-born forwards in his age group.

He played on varsity last season as a sophomore at perennial Minnesota power Hill-Murray, scoring 31 points (18 goals and 13 assists) on a team which had been favored to make a serious run at a state title before losing in the section finals.

Before going to Chicago, Voltin had two other options which didn’t include the USHL.

Voltin’s Major Junior rights are owned by the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, who lately have had a knack for getting and seriously tempting players from North Dakota and Minnesota to join their team.

Portland recently signed Minot, N.D. native Alex Schoenborn to a contract for next season and are believed to be in the hunt for Breck freshman defenseman-turned-winger Keegan Iverson.

There have also been more Minnesotans going to play Major Junior as of late. Voltin’s former Hill-Murray teammate, defenseman Travis Wood, signed a contract to play this season with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League.

Edina’s Ben Walker left the Hornets, another Minnesota perennial power, to sign with the Victoria Royals, which also play in the WHL.

Another possibility would be to return to Hill-Murray but now he is going to Chicago he will be expected to help jump start what has been one of the league’s most beleaguered offenses.