For years, the CHL has held a Top Prospects game in January to showcase some of the best NHL draft-eligible players. Always packed with NHL scouts, many of the top American prospects have been shut out of that event. USA Hockey decided to rectify the situation, and in September 2012, held its first All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, where any American could be selected to participate and show his skill set.
The 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game was held this past Thursday at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Thirty-nine players participated, including 22 from the United States Development Team Program, and they were divided into two teams, Team Johnson (Mark Johnson was the head coach) and Team Mullen (led by Joey Mullen).
Although the game started slowly, at 37 seconds into the second period, Team Johnson's Keegan Iverson intercepted a clearing attempt and fed Dylan Larkin, who put the puck past Team Mullen's Ed Minney. After no further tallies in the second period, the third period turned out to be a scoring bonanza. Team Mullen defenseman Jack Dougherty tied it up at 4:27, firing the puck from the right circle, through traffic, past Johnson netminder Blake Weyrick.
The tied score was shortlived, however, as at 6:57, Larkin and Iverson connected again to put Team Johnson ahead 2-1. At 10:54, Sonny Milano increased Team Johnson's lead to 3-1 on a beautiful move through goalie Alex Nedeljkovic's five hole. Although Joe Wedgewerth closed the gap to a one-goal lead with 3:42 left in the game, Team Johnson then added another score on a slick move by Chase DeLeo at 17:17 of the period, and an empty netter by Shane Eiserman at 19:32.
As much as a win was nice to get, the NHL scouts were there to watch the players individually. After watching video of the game and consulting with NHL scouts, here are my notes about the individual players (with NHL Central Scouting's recent preliminary ranking category included):
Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (CS Category A)
Although he only faced six shots in 28:23 (and stopped them all), Demko was very impressive. The scouts I spoke to said that if a goalie goes late in the first round of the 2014 NHL draft, Demko could be that netminder. A big goaltender, he has good lateral movement, and in this game, he challenged the shooters well. This was not the first time that Demko was very impressive; he had an excellent showing in Sochi at the U-18s.
Ed Minney, G, US National Development Program (CS Category B)
Minney faced 16 shots against outstanding shooters, and only one got by him. Committed to Michigan State, Minney impressed scouts with his coolness under pressure and play when the pucks were shot up high.
Ryan Mantha, D, Sioux City Musketeers (CS Category B)
A very solid two-way defenseman with excellent size and a bomb of a shot, Mantha really impressed here and at the U-18s. He is committed to play at the University of North Dakota, and is potentially a first round pick in the 2014 NHL draft.
Aaron Haydon, D, Niagara Ice Dogs (CS Category B)
Haydon is a big defensive defenseman who can mix it up if the situation requires. A decent skater for his size, he has a pro shot.
Jack Dougherty, D, US National Development Team (CS Category B)
Dougherty arguably had the best showing among all of the defensemen in the prospects game. Excellent on the power play, with a big shot and decent size, he scored one of Team Mullen's two goals. He also played extremely well at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer, where he was considered by scouts to be one of the best blueliners. Don't be surprised if Dougherty's stock rises and he becomes an early round selection in the draft.
Ryan Collins, D, US National Development Team (CS Category B)
At 6'5", 202 pounds, Collins is a very large presence on the ice. Not afraid to go down and block shots, he can skate and has good hands. Scouts loved his overall package and think that the University of Minnesota recruit may still be growing taller.
Nick Schmaltz, F, Green Bay Gamblers (CS Category A)
Schmaltz did not have the most impressive game, but you could clearly see his incredible stickhandling talents and outstanding hands. A top prospect for the upcoming draft, he had an outstanding Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer. Schmaltz is committed to play for the University of North Dakota.
Shane Gersich, F, Omaha (CS Category C)
Gersich, also a University of North Dakota recruit, was very impressive in this appearance. His speed and his stickhandling were excellent. Scouts loved his vision on the ice, as well as his decision making. He needs to get stronger, but Gersich should be a prospect on the rise this winter.
Dylan Larkin, F, US National Development Team (CS Category A)
A very good team player, Larkin is a top prospect who showed excellent speed and stickhandling skills. A University of Michigan recruit, Larkin had a goal and an assist in the game.
Keegan Iverson, F, Portland Winterhawks (CS Category C)
Awarded the Player of the Game award, Iverson had a goal and an assist, playing with top prospect Dylan Larkin.
Blake Clarke, F, North Bay Battalion (CS Category A)
Clarke knows how to drive to the net, and he has good size and good hands. Scouts were impressed with the whole package and think that he will go early.
Alex Tuch, F, US National Development Team (CS Category B)
Scouts liked Tuch's size and strength, as well as his pro-style shot. He had an assist in the game and is committed to attend Boston College.
Chase DeLeo, F, Portland Winterhawks (CS Category A)
DeLeo is a dynamic undersized forward, who won 14 of the 18 faceoffs he took. He also made a slick move on the opposing netminder to poke the puck past him for a goal.