A trip through their NHL draft season is a journey many USHLers have been ready to take.
That journey will start with the Fall Classic from September 19-22 in Sioux City, where the league’s eligible talent will begin their march to the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey.
And what a showcase the Fall Classic will be for the likes of Ian McCoshen, Taylor Cammarata and others.
This year’s crop of first year draft eligible players is a special one with many already settled into their USHL team having played the year prior.
For the second season in a row, the 15 member franchises have many of the top prospects on their respective rosters with Waterloo’s McCoshen leading the way. Waterloo’s Cammarata, Fargo’s Gabe Guertler, and Dubuque’s Michael Downing went one through three, respectively, in the 2011 Futures Draft and look to build on very successful first seasons in the league.
As for the National Team Development Program’s U18 team, their lineup resembles a similar mold of the 2010-11 team that saw 11 players selected. A potential top line of Tyler Motte, J.T. Compher, and Hudson Fasching could draw more attention than the line of Reid Boucher, J.T. Miller, and Rocco Grimaldi from two seasons ago. The defensive corps for the U18 team is deep with top talent as well, led by Will Butcher and Steven Santini.
While it is too early to determine whether or not the USHL will break the records they set for themselves in the 2011 and 2012 drafts, below is a look at the players who will be making the noise at the 2013 NHL Draft for the league this coming season.
#1 J.T. Compher – Center, NTDP U18
2011-12 Stats (NTDP U17 & U18): 58 GP, 23 G, 32 A, 55 PTS, 57 PIM
It seemed as if every night J.T. Compher would take the ice last season, he would put on a show for all in attendance. Compher is a great two-way forward and has a little bit of everything in his arsenal. From great set-up ability to fearless play on the ice, Compher brings a lot to the table. Compher’s defensive ability, through sharp awareness and physical play, is very under rated part of his game. The six foot Compher had a U17 team best plus/minus of plus-seven in USHL games last season which stood as the only positive plus/minus on the U17 team.
Compher was moved up to the U18 NTDP team in March and did not look one bit out of place. In eighteen U18 games, the center had 13 points—five of which came in the U18 World Championship. Assuming he can continue to get stronger, the sky is the limit for the University of Michigan-commit. Even a trip to Ufa, Russia in December is not out of the question for Compher.
#2 Hudson Fasching – Right Wing, NTDP U18
2011-12 Stats (NTDP U17): 56 GP, 16 G, 20 A, 36 PTS, 52 PIM
The National Team Development Program has had their share of power forwards selected in the first round in June and it appears Hudson Fasching could very well be the next. Fasching is a freak physically standing at six-foot-three and 195 pounds and loves to use his body to create plays on the ice. From driving through the middle to the net or creating turnovers, when watching Fasching it is quickly apparent he takes full advantage of his size on the ice. Fasching is also a very powerful skater who has above average speed for his size.
Fasching still needs to fill out more and when he does, he will have even more of an impact on both ends of the ice. The Minnesota-native has a great attitude and will likely be one of the captains on this year’s U18 team. Fasching will head back home next season to play for the University of Minnesota.
#3 Tyler Motte – Left Wing, NTDP U18
2011-12 Stats (NTDP U17): 55 GP, 26 G, 16 A, 42 PTS, 62 PIM
Tyler Motte comes back to Ann Arbor after having a very impressive first season with the National Team Development Program. Motte is slightly undersized at five-foot-10 and just 165 pounds but does play bigger than his size—especially with the puck. Motte is very quick and has a motor that will not quit once he gets going.
Motte has an above average shot and loves to let it go—having registered a shot in every game last season except one. Motte also displays an underrated ability to set up his teammates and find the open man. The University of Michigan-commit could work on the defensive side of his game, but the main knock on Motte is strength.
#4: Will Butcher – Defense, NTDP U18
2011-12 Stats (NTDP U17 & U18): 56 GP, 8 G, 25 A, 33 PTS, 10 PIM
There are a lot of very skilled defensemen on this year’s National Team Development Program’s U18 team, but Will Butcher is the top blue liner out of the eight. Butcher displays puck moving abilities much like NTDP alum Jacob Trouba and has very good hands for a defenseman. Much like Trouba, Butcher also knows how to set up teammates on the power play and is fun to watch when running the power play.
Though Butcher is not the fastest defenseman, he has a very fluid stride. What he lacks in speed he makes up for with sound defensive positioning. The one knock on the five-foot-11 blueliner is he could play more physical in his own end. Butcher is a Denver-commit and has an outside chance of challenging for one of the seven defensemen spots on the USA’s World Junior team in December.
#5 Ian McCoshen – Defense, Waterloo Black Hawks
2011-12 Stats (Waterloo): 70 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 37 PTS, 49 PIM
Ian McCoshen has made great strides since his entrance into the USHL as a 15-year-old in 2010. He may have been a bit over his head entering the league from Shattuck St. Mary’s, but the decision to bring McCoshen in early has paid dividends for both Waterloo and himself. At six-foot-two 190 pounds, the Hudson, Wis. native could be the best all-around defenseman in the USHL this season.
McCoshen had 12 goals and 15 assists in 70 games last season and there is no telling how much of an increase scouts could see this season. Another feather in McCoshen’s cap is that he will be captain this year’s Black Hawk team despite older, drafted players playing alongside him. The defenseman remains uncommitted, but has narrowed his schools down to Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, and North Dakota.
#6 Taylor Cammarata – Center/Left Wing, Waterloo Black Hawks
2011-12 Stats (Waterloo): 75 GP, 35 G, 50 A, 85 PTS, 12 PIM
Last season was a special one for Taylor Cammarata. His season began after being selected with the first overall pick in the 2011 USHL Futures Draft and ended with collecting the USHL’s Rookie of the Year award. Cammarata is a great skater though his best strength is his ability to create opportunities in the offensive zone. Cammarata plays both center and left wing, but will likely be drafted with intentions of having him play wing full time because of his lack of size. On a positive note in terms of his size, Cammarata did put on 10 pounds this summer and is now up to 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds.
Cammarata got the hang of the USHL quick and was especially apparent in Waterloo’s Clark Cup playoff run to the finals. Look for the University of Minnesota-commit to make a run at the USHL scoring title this season and show scouts, despite of size, he is worthy of a first round selection.
#7 Steven Santini – Defense, NTDP U18
2011-12 Stats (NTDP U17): 2 G, 8 A, 10 PTS, 69 PIM
Steven Santini is the second of two defensemen from the National Team Development Program who could very well go in the first day of the NHL Draft in June. Santini is a very physical defenseman with a body that can punish opposing players. At six-foot-one and 201 pounds, Santini also displays above average mobility for a defenseman his size. Santini will probably never put up many points at the next level, but his game looks to translate well into becoming a shutdown defenseman.
Santini had certain instances where he struggled with defensive positioning last season though many of these lapses could be blamed on the transition to the USHL. Santini also recorded the program’s worst plus/minus last season at minus-28. Look for Santini to be much more defensively sound this season. The New York native will head to Boston College in 2013.
#8 Michael Downing – Defense, Dubuque Fighting Saints
2011-12 Stats (Dubuque): 59 GP, 5 G, 11 A, 16 PTS, 72 PIM
Michael Downing had the chance to see how a successful draft season is played playing alongside Florida first round pick Michael Matheson last year. This season, Downing will be expected to carry the back end with Matheson and two other top six defensemen from last season’s moving to the college game.
Much like Matheson, Downing displays a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses in his own game. Downing is a very mobile defenseman with good size at six-foot-three. Downing makes good decisions with the puck though he has less offensive upside than his former teammate. The University of Michigan commit is being held back by suspect play in his team’s own end. Right now, Downing projects as a low second round pick, but his ability to improve his defensive play in his second year in the USHL will be a large determining factor in where he goes come June.
#9 Ross Olsson – Right Wing, Lincoln Stars
2011-12 Stats (Williston Northampton School): 24 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 PTS
Ross Olsson is this year’s wild card in terms of top draft eligible players in the USHL. As a senior, Olsson played well against some of the top prep schools in Massachusetts last season which was also his first season at the prep level. Olsson benefits from having a man’s body at six-foot-four and 205 pounds and uses it to his full advantage when handling the puck. Olsson is also a very powerful and mobile skater for his size.
Olsson is the lone player from the top USHL prospects to not play in the league last season. This is noteworthy because there have been some highly touted players enter their draft year and struggle to adjust to the USHL. While there may be some growing pains for Olsson early on, look for the Northeastern-commit to get the hang of the league quickly and challenge for the USHL’s Rookie of the Year award. It is fairly safe to say Olsson is a very raw talent and will have to prove himself in Lincoln this season.
#10(a) Gabe Guertler – Center, Fargo Force
2011-12 Stats (Fargo): 63 GP, 12 G, 21 A, 33 PTS, 54 PIM
With a year of experience under his belt in the USHL, the University of Minnesota-commit could be slated for a big draft year in his second season with the Fargo Force. Gabe Guertler has always played above his age level, playing Midget level hockey at 14, so playing more at his age level this season should be a good test for the Florida native. Guertler has already gotten his draft year underway with an impressive Ivan Hlinka tournament where he notched three goals and three assists in four games.
The five-foot-nine center plays much bigger than his actual size through his gritty two-way play. As for his offensive ability, Guertler plays a set-up first game but is not afraid to shoot the puck if the opportunity presents itself. Though some would blame the transition from midget level hockey to the junior game as a 16-year-old, Guertler needs to work on being a much consistent player this season.
#10(b) Luke Johnson – Center, Lincoln Stars
2011-12 Stats (Lincoln): 63 GP, 21 G, 36 A, 57 PTS, 54 PIM
The Lincoln Stars liked Luke Johnson enough they drafted him twice—once in the USHL’s Entry Draft in 2009 as a 15-year-old and then again in the 2010 Futures Draft. The decision is certainly understandable as there is a lot to like about Johnson’s game especially with his offensive upside. Johnson does not favor shooting or passing over the other and makes the smart play more often than not. Johnson is an above average skater as well.
Johnson struggled at the end of the season—recording just two points in eight playoff games. Look for Johnson to bounce back after his playoff struggles and break the one point per game mark this season despite a many new faces upfront for the Stars. Weighing just 165 pounds at five-foot-11, Johnson must get stronger, especially adding strength to his upper body. After two seasons in Lincoln, Johnson will head back to his hometown and play for the University of North Dakota in 2013.