Although it isn’t as necessarily sexy as the CHL or USHL Top Prospects Game, fans and hockey types alike still make it a point to go to the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
The event, which takes place annually in Troy, Michigan, is a three day event in late February which features six teams – five of them are based off of the geographical divisions in the NAHL, and the last being a draft-eligible U18 squad. Nearly every NHL team is in attendance, along with Major Junior and NCAA programs.
There were two main draws for the U18 team although a third stole the show, leaving everyone talking about and scheduling viewings in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Goaltender Evan Cowley of the Wichita Falls was the headliner, already having exploded onto the scene at September’s NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota. The lanky six-foot-four netminder has not only impressed scouts with his play, but with his off-ice demeanor as well.
Future Considerations has heard many reports of how well his interviews have gone, and Cowley has committed himself to a slower development path than his counterpart and often comparison, Anthony Stolarz (now of the London Knights.) The self-awareness and dedication to maximizing his potential is just as attractive as his calm on-ice demeanor and positional play.
As of now he does a wonderful job of maintaining his composure and focus when the play becomes frenzied in front of him, but struggles some when the development of the play is at a much slower pace. In drafting goaltenders now, the key is not rushing them- and with a long self-imposed development window, Cowley will have the chance to polish and refine his skills and reads.
The other draw was the massive six-foot-six, 205-pound Tyler Andrew.
The Topeka Road Runners forward has really gained some steam since the New Year as a legitimate pro prospect, although he is seen as a project. He recently committed to Ferris State University, although he’s likely to move up to the USHL level next year. For now, he’s is focused on getting Topeka to the Robertson Cup and rounding out his game- and adding a physical edge to make his giant frame all the more effective. He’s been praised by his coach for his professional attitude and work ethic and how well he’s developed since the beginning of the year. Andrew may be someone who your favorite team takes in the later rounds this June.
While scouts came to Troy to watch Cowley and Andrew, they all left talking about Janesville Jets defenseman Ruslan Pedan.
If the name sounds familiar, he is the younger brother of Andrey Pedan, a defenseman for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. The younger Pedan wasn’t able to be on the Jets’ roster at the Fall Showcase of visa issues, since his arrival has put up 28 points in 38 games. Standing at a healthy six-foot-one and owning strong skating ability and the ability to move the puck, Pedan comes with some sandpaper as well, as his 109 penalty minutes are a testament to that.
A Bemidji State commit, there is some speculation that Pedan could be wavering from that, and his name will likely come up when CHL Import Draft time rolls around.
A player who would have likely made the NAHL Top Prospects game is Cedar Rapids RoughRiders’ Mark Evan Auk.
It’s been a season of adjustments for the defenseman, as he started the season with the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, skating in 27 games, but was summoned to the USHL by Cedar Rapids in early December and has been there ever since.
Auk’s poise, vision, and hands make him a great quarterback on the RoughRiders power play. He effectively distributes the puck around the zone and when is challenged, uses his lateral agility on more than one occasion to stutter step around the oncoming defender and walk down into the slot. The knock is his heavy boots; his north-south speed can really cause him some struggle with the pace at times, so much that he was used sparingly at even strength but saw time on every power play, but he showed he’s got the edgework and agility to make evasive maneuvers to create space or a lane to move the puck up the ice. Still a bit raw in his own end, Auk has shown he has the mental capacity to adjust and perform at higher levels- this time last year he was playing high school hockey back in Michigan.
Speaking of high school hockey, we’re almost at the point where those seasons are ending, and we’ll see the influx of players heading out to their USHL clubs to finish out the season; its a chance to continue playing hockey but also showcasing their talents to NHL teams as the scouting season starts to wind down.