Just like in the classroom, NHL draft eligible players are tested on a regular basis on the ice. For USHL players hoping to hear their name called this June, midterms are tonight.
The USHL announced in early December the league would be holding the first ever USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game slated for tonight. Early this month, the league invited top rated prospects Jordan Schmaltz, Zemgus Girgensons and Robbie Baillargeon to make the trip to Muskegon (Mich.) Lumberjacks’ L.C. Walker Arena in addition to 33 other 2012 eligible players. Joining the 2012 eligibles will be three players slated for the 2013 draft.
The US National Team Development Program, which saw 11 of their players on the Under-18 team selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, opted not to participate with first semester finals at their high school running all of this week. Nonetheless, the talent pool will still be deep with seven non-NTDP players featured in Future Considerations’ Introductory Top 100 Rankings participating.
Aside from the players receiving a majority of attention from casual draft fans, below is a look at the players who viewers should also keep an eye on tonight.
Team West #10 Austin Farley (Fargo Force)
Austin Farley ranks second among all USHL skaters in points and has gone about his business very quietly in Fargo, N.D. Maybe it’s because he posted just 11 points in 33 games last season or his slow start in which he went pointless in six straight games, but Farley has really flown under the radar until recently. The Minnesota-Duluth commit heads into tonight’s game with a nine game point streak in which he’s collected 18 points over that span.
Farley’s size is a bit of limitation as he stands at just five-foot-eight, but he still finds ways to get the job done. Look for Farley to add a bit of scoring pop, but do a lot of the little things scouts like to see from forwards smaller in stature.
Team West #25 Cliff Watson (Sioux City Musketeers)
It would be easy to overlook Cliff Watson as a top player to watch heading into tonight’s game. Watson plays on a struggling Sioux City team, has no goals, just four assists, and a minus-14. Despite this, Watson is a very good skating defenseman who is not afraid to jump into the play. Like many of the defensemen playing in tonight’s game, Watson is very physical in his own end and at six-foot-two, 195 pounds, makes his presence known in front of his own net.
Look for Watson to hold his own against the good, quick forwards on Team East and cover a lot of ice during his shifts.
Team East #10 Matt DeBlouw (Muskegon Lumberjacks)
Matt DeBlouw is a hard working forward who currently projects to play a bottom-six role professionally by many because of his lack of scoring thus far in the USHL. The Michigan State commit has just seven goals in sixty USHL games over last two seasons. Despite this, DeBlouw has shown scoring pop prior to coming to Muskegon, averaging almost a point per game and leading his Little Caesars U18 team in points despite being sixteen.
Of all the players in this year’s event, DeBlouw may have the most to gain. DeBlouw plays on a struggling Muskegon Lumberjacks team which ranks second-to-last in the USHL in offense. While he benefits from playing a majority of roles, he does not get the help upfront that many draft eligible forwards receive. Playing alongside guys like Baillargeon could really help his draft stock.
Team East #9 Austin Cangelosi (Youngstown Phantoms)
Heading into this season, not much was expected out of Austin Cangelosi. The Youngstown Phantoms returned seven forwards from the 2010-11 season and Cangelosi was just a third round pick in the 2010 USHL Futures Draft. Perhaps scouts should have taken more notice after his great season at Northfield-Mt. Hermon, a Massachusetts boarding school, but they are certainly taking notice now.
It did not take long for Cangelosi to make a name for himself, scoring eight goals and adding three assists in the team’s first seven games. Cangelosi had a good showing for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge with one goal and two assists en route to a bronze medal. Despite the hot goal start, Cangelosi is still considered a pass first type of player, does have a nice shot as well.
Team West #23 Mike McKee (Lincoln Stars)
Despite just making the birthday cutoff for the 2011 NHL Draft and being ranked 69th overall in Future Considerations’ Final Draft Rankings, Mike McKee was not selected by an NHL team in St. Paul, Minn. Because he was passed on, McKee is one of a handful of players who are in their second year of draft eligibility playing in tonight’s game.
McKee loves the physical aspect of the game and at six-foot-four, 230-pounds he has the body to change the momentum of a game. He has not been much of a goal scorer this season, but has an impressive amount of assists with 11. Look for McKee to keep his game simple with smart passes and physical play.
Team West #91 Taylor Cammarata (Waterloo Blackhawks)
Taylor Cammarata has scored wherever he has played and this season has been no exception despite being 16-years-old. Like his age, his size (five-foot-six, 145 pounds) has not limited him from leading all Waterloo with goals (17), assists (18) and points (35). Cammarata, who was the top pick in the last USHL Futures Draft, has great vision and makes his teammates better through his great set-up ability.
While Taylor Cammarata is not draft eligible until next year’s draft and will be returning to the USHL next season, this may be his first and last USHL Top Prospects Game. Cammarata was one of the last players cut from the National Team Development
Program in August and with a forward spot open for next season, Cammarata will likely be the frontrunner for the open position this summer.
It will be interesting to see how effective Cammarata is in this game, especially since Team East’s roster has big, bruising defencemen, but look for the Minnesota commit to do what he does best: find the open man and the score sheet.
The creation of the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game is just another aspect of the league’s commitment to growth. After seeing 28 players selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – a number that will likely be surpassed in this year’s draft, the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game can only help the league continue to gain notoriety for its development of players.
The game will be broadcast live for free at Fasthockey.com at 8pm EST.