The skills of the new breed were on display in Buffalo, NY on Thursday night when 42 of the best American draft eligible players took to the ice in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Team Plante, led by former Buffalo Sabres forward Derek Plante, topped Team Roenick 6-4 in what turned out to be a coming out party for some and an opportunity for others to showcase their play in front of hundreds of scouts and media.
“I let them know how much fun I had and how proud I was of them at this stage of their careers and their lives,” said Jeremy Roenick, coach of Team Roenick. “This is the most exciting times of their lives so far and (I told them not to) waste it by not seizing the moment. I thought a lot of them played really well tonight.
“It’s continuing to get better and better. You gotta remember that the best player wasn’t even here, and that’s Auston Matthews. You see that talent out there and know that there is a kid that is head and shoulders above the kids that are out here, that says a lot about USA Hockey and where it’s come from.”
Despite an embarrassment of riches in terms of premier prospects on the ice, there was one noticeable absence.Auston Matthews, Future Considerations’ top-ranked prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft, did not participate as he is currently playing with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland’s NLA.
While there were bigger players who made an impact, such as Max Jones, Logan Brown and Matthew Tkachuk, there were some smaller players that made impressive plays and showed that size is no issue in their game. Players such as Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, and Chad Krys all displayed pure skill and ability throughout the game.
Team Plante’s top line of Keiffer Bellows, DeBrincat, and Keller were impressive much of the night, combining for 11 shots on goal.
“The way those smaller guys can really think, and with Bellows, I think if those guys (Plante’s top line) played together long enough, they would have a lot of shots and a lot of goals probably,” Plante said post-game.
With the surge of skill throughout USA Hockey, it wasn’t hard to see who stood out for all the right reasons.
So who impressed the most?
Matthew Tkachuk, Forward, Team Roenick (London, OHL)
Easily the most impressive player on the ice, Tkachuk picked up a goal and an assist as he displayed incredible vision, a gritty presence, and his gifted playmaking. Playing on a line with a former teammate in Kunin, Tkachuk has the innate ability to see the game and knows where to be on the ice to have an impact.
Luke Kunin, Forward, Team Roenick (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)
Kunin displayed amazing speed, a quick release, and a goal scorer’s vision in and around the net. Has the ability to get creative with the puck and can do so at top speed. A late 1997-born, Kunin is poised to have a big year off a strong start to his season in Buffalo.
Andrew Peeke, Defence, Team Roenick (Green Bay, USHL)
This strong skating defenceman showed why he was a reliable option at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August. Peeke played a strong shutdown game and provided Team Roenick with strong puck moving capability from the back end.
Michael Campoli, Defence, Team Roenick (USNTDP, USHL)
Campoli assisted Tim Gettinger’s goal in the first period as the defender unloaded a heavy wrist shot toward the net that Gettinger deflected. A smooth skating rearguard, Campoli was making good decisions with the puck all night and used his slick hands and quick feet to his advantage.
Chad Krys, Defence, Team Roenick, (USNTDP, USHL)
Krys has an incredible read of the game and is a driver of the play up ice. He processes the game at a very high level and possesses high-end speed to match his strong passes and smart decision-making.
Keiffer Bellows, Forward, Team Plante (USNTDP, USHL)
Quiet at times, Bellows contributed to Team Plante offensively and was a force on the outside. Bellows plays a heavy game and isn’t afraid to go out of his way to be an intimidating winger when needed.
Max Jones, Forward, Team Plante (London, OHL)
There isn’t a lot of bad to say about Jones after this contest. A team first player, Jones used his size to his advantage, displayed patience with the puck, and made key plays offensively. Two goals were enough from Jones to push his squad over the top as he scored off a deflection less than five minutes in and unloaded his patented heavy shot five-hole on Stephen Dhillon in the third.
Willie Knierim, Forward, Team Plante (Dubuque, USHL)
A three point night, all of which were primary assists, Knierim showed off his incredible playmaking ability and a knack for using his size to gain space on his man. Knierim sees the ice exceptionally well and can hit his target with a crisp pass without thinking twice.
Charlie McAvoy, Defence, Team Plante (Boston University, NCAA)
Setting up the game-winner with under a minute left capped McAvoy’s impressive night on Team Plante’s blue line. The Boston U freshman plays a strong two-way game, exudes confidence, and displays excellent puck skills to match his smooth skating. McAvoy is quick to close the gap and gives attackers no breathing room below the hashmarks.
Article by Daniel Deschenes
Ryan Lindgren, Defence, Team Plante, (USNTDP, USHL)
A strong shutdown defender, Lindgren is the kind of player you want to play a defensive game with the ability to move the puck into open ice on the rush. He displayed patience and a penchant for throwing the body on the wall when warranted.
Logan Brown, Forward, Team Plante, (Windsor, OHL)
The towering power forward made those in the crowd do a double take when watching the 6’6” center move fluidly across the ice in all directions and handling the puck like a player nearly a foot smaller than him. Brown scored a remarkable goal thanks to his read of the play and ability to get his strength into his shot. Can stickhandle in tight very well and quickly showed why he has first round quality written all over him.