USHL Prospects Game, Mr. Hockey highlight busy month

Tiffels - Ellen DeLuca

The USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Muskegon, MI provided great exposure for the draft eligibles selected to play in the annual event, and not just the notables that we’ve come to associate with the cream of the crop.

Players such as Taylor Cammarata, Ian McCoshen, Luke Johnson and Michael Downing are known commodities, but the game gave us a good viewing of players like Michael Brodzinski,who leads all defensemen in the league with 11 goals, his Muskegon teammate Frederik Tiffels, John Hayden of the USNTDP and the Green Bay Gamblers duo of Jordan Gross and Gustav Olofsson.

Brodzinski and Gross are both products of the Minnesota High School ranks, and chose to spend their draft year playing in the USHL. Although they are a little undersized standing under six-feet, both have great mobility and blistering shots from the point and their point totals reflect in their ability to get the puck through traffic and to the net. Brodzinski, however, will likely be remembered as the victim of a scintillating highlight reel save by Waterloo’s Eamon McAdam, who dove across the crease and foiled a wide open net shot by the Minnesota committed defenseman.

Gross is able to play like he does in large part to the intelligent and rock steady play of his partner Olofsson, who in the eyes of many has been the best draft prospect in the league this year. Possessing very good size and mobility, Olofsson makes tough plays look routine as he is extremely poised under duress. He is your classic ‘little things’ type of defenseman, whose impact on the ice may not necessarily be represented on the score sheet.

Hayden was the lone representative for Team USA and the first every player from the USNTDP to participate in the event. Hampered by injury earlier this season, Hayden seized the opportunity to showcase not just his game, but his leadership qualities as well. While routinely being involved offensively using his combination of skill and grit, he later locked horns with Lincoln defenseman Justin Woods in an effort to give his team a boost, and the team eventually responded. Already immensely respected in the locker room, Hayden could see his stock take a sharp spike as we head into the stretch run.

Another player who participated in the event is Tucker Poolman of Omaha, although he doesn’t fit the profile of the first year draft-eligible. The June 1993 birthdate has had a great year so far, and has generated some buzz because of it. The University of North Dakota commit spent last year playing the NAHL, and used that as a step to success in the USHL. Second in the league in goals by a defenseman, Poolman is positioning himself for a possible selection as his development curve is trending upward. Frankie DiChiara, like Poolman, followed the same path – an overage draft-eligible who also played in the NAHL and has used that as a launching pad for a great season so far for Dubuque.

We as fans often get caught up in the first year eligibles, and players like Poolman and DiChiara only illustrate that even though they had slower learning curves it doesn’t mean the upside isn’t there.

The USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game wasn’t the honorable action to be announced recently. In Minnesota the finalist for the Mr. Hockey Award were announced.

There are two players on the list who have been receiving plenty of attention this year for their play. Zach Glienke of Eagan High and Jake Jackson of Tartan are both toolsy forwards who have dominated their competition this season. Glienke’s Elite League season was torpedoed by injury, but has used the experience to score over a goal a game. The six-foot-three forward has quite the toolbox; great skating, wonderful hands, and a burgeoning physical game. Although he is still raw from a developmental standpoint, you can see the upside.

Jackson is under six foot, but is so silky smooth in how he operates. Deceptively fast and ultra skilled, Jackson proved to be a very dangerous defensive forward in the Fall league and has since translated his offensive skills into production so far. What really caught the attention of scouts was his play during a weekend stint with Waterloo in November- the likely next step for the Michigan Tech commit.

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