One of the more intriguing elements to the schedule for the National Team Development Program Under-18 squad is their series of exhibitions against a handful of NCAA teams.
These games give many onlookers a glimpse of where a player is and who they are, so to speak, when they are lining up across the ice from a team full of early 20-something men.
The U18’s played in eight games in October, six of which were against Division I teams – the big boys, if you will – and they were some doozies. Wisconsin, Notre Dame, North Dakota, Bemidji State, Cornell, and Minnesota is a veritable murderer’s row, but the two Division III teams, Oswego State and St. Thomas University, were certainly going to give Team USA all they can handle. After all the dust settled, a handful of players emerged as the players to watch this year.
The mammoth Michael McCarron certainly made some waves during this portion of the schedule. The six-foot-five, 227-pound winger routinely bullied the opposition with crushing checks, trash talk, and all the little things you would associate with a player who is very hard to play against.
One such example would be his first shift against Bemidji State. After finishing his huge, board rattling check, then promptly skated by another defenseman and slashed him on top of the skate. While his physical presence and persistent nastiness can win him a lot of fans, it can get him into trouble, too. He was ejected from both the Minnesota and St. Thomas games, making it a clean sweep for the weekend.
McCarron has some tools that lead Future Considerations to believe he has good offensive upside as well. He has an extremely heavy shot, one he’ll intentionally use to create rebounds, and he will use his size to put himself around the net. Whether he’s setting up screens, crashing the crease, or trying to put an opponent through the glass, McCarron has the ability to make an impact every single shift.
Both are poised, intelligent, and strong skaters; Santini leans a bit more toward the physical end of the spectrum, while Thompson has better puck skills and offensive intuition. Together they formed a very strong pairing. Their collective ability to make crisp passes and keep plays alive under duress allowed them to move the puck up the ice, keep plays going in the offensive zone, and give their collegiate competition fits.
It’s injuries, though, that can give scouts fits and it is no different for Team USA.
JT Compher has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury nearly all month while Hudson Fasching missed the last exhibition due to a big hit he took the night before against Minnesota. That opens the door for injury call-ups to showcase what they can do, and they didn’t disappoint.
Connor Hurley and Ryan Fitzgerald at times outplayed their teammates and Vinni Lettieri, who got the call while packing for a Lincoln Stars road trip, displayed an energetic and rugged two way game in front of family, friends, and his future College coach in Don Lucia.
Meanwhile, in the USHL, there were two draft re-entries that caught the eye of Future Considerations scout Andrew Weiss – defenseman Gavin Bayreuther from Cedar Rapids and forward Austin Ortega of Indiana.
“He definitely played up to snuff,” Weiss said of Bayreuther. “He’s a very mobile defenseman who brings a lot of offensive upside to Cedar Rapids.
“While he didn’t find the scoresheet, I liked a lot of the little things he did from his work on the power play, to his ability to get off a quick shot from the point to create opportunities.”
Having played Prep in New Hampshire last year, he’ll be someone that Future Considerations will keep an eye on.”
Ortega, according to Weiss, has a good chance of getting selected after being passed over last year.
“I am even more impressed with his ability this year compared to last year in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “He does everything and possesses all the skills you want in a small player: he’s fearless, a good skater with wheels that don’t stop, a playmaker, and has the ability to put the puck in the net with a great wrist shot.”
Regardless of if a prospect is getting a second chance in the draft or is in their first spin like members of the NTDP, the United States draft crop is adding depth and expanding rapidly.