USHL eligibles hoping West is best

Andrew Weiss2013 Draft CenterLeave a Comment

It is tough not to overlook the 2012 crop in the USHL Western Conference with the loads of 2014 talent on the same clubs, but this year’s eligibles will have a huge impact on the 2012 Clark Cup Playoffs.

Some Western Conference players could use an impressive playoff performance to regain some of their original draft stock. Others, like Kevin Roy, can continue to improve their stock with continued dominance against the league’s best.

The impact the Clark Cup Playoff can have on one’s draft stock was extremely apparent last year. Then-Sioux Falls forward Kyle Rau, who had already helped his draft stock with a great second half, helped himself even more, leading all players in scoring in last year’s playoffs. The same can be done this year when the playoffs begin Monday.

#6 Tri-City Storm @ #3 Waterloo Black Hawks
Game 1: 4/16, Game 2: 4/17, Game 3 (if necessary): 4/18
Waterloo’s Vince Hinostroza has been on fire as of late with 11 goals and 15 points in the last month of the regular season. When watching Hinostroza, it is obvious he displays a high hockey IQ in both ends of the ice. Look for the Notre Dame commit to continue his torrid pace in the Clark Cup Playoffs. After being ranked 21st in Future Considerations’ preliminary rankings, A.J. Michaelson has trended the opposite way of teammate Hinostroza. Michaelson can flat out fly, but has struggled mightily in the point department. While it is too little too late for Michaelson to regain his preseason draft position, a good playoff performance would help his cause.

Up until mid-March, the Tri-City team lacked draft eligible talent that other USHL teams possess. After the Minnesota High School Tournament had completed, protected players Eli May and Grant Opperman joined the team, adding talent on the back end. Both defensemen were highly touted coming to the Storm—especially Opperman who was a Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist. Opperman has played well for the Storm defensively while May has only dressed for six of the team’s regular season games. May is an exceptional skater, but by many accounts had a lukewarm season for Eagan High School. Both will look to improve their draft position as they are likely on the outside looking in at the NHL Draft right now.

#5 Sioux City Musketeers @ #4 Fargo Force
Game 1: 4/16, Game 2: 4/17, Game 3 (if necessary): 4/18
Bruising defenseman Cliff Watson, who was ranked 77th over by Future Considerations in the preliminary rankings, is the player to watch in this short series. While his stock has taken a tumble this season, Watson does a lot of the little things right and has been important to the Musketeers’ midseason turnaround. The six-foot-two Ohio State commit will be called upon to shut down Fargo’s top line this series.

Fargo’s success this season has been largely in part of the play from draft eligible players Austin Farley, Brian Cooper, and Justin Wade. 2010 Boston pick Zane Gothberg has been the best goaltender in the USHL this season and credit needs to go to Cooper and Wade for their goaltender’s successful year. Both defensemen love to play physical and take care of their end first. Farley has improved in all facets of his game this season in comparisons to last season with the Force. After having 11 points in 33 games last season, Farley improved to be the Force’s only point per game player this season. Another large plus that the trio bring to this year’s playoffs is that all three played in the Clark Cup Playoffs last season. Look for all three to rely on their experience and continue to have an impact for the Force in this year’s Clark Cup Playoffs.

(The victorious first round teams will meet the top two finishing teams in the USHL in the Green Bay Gamblers and Indiana Ice)

#2 Omaha Lancers
First Round Bye
Similar to the Tri-City Storm, the Omaha Lancers’ success has come from others than first-year draft eligible players for much of the season. Much like Opperman and May, defenseman Jake Bischoff joined the Lancers after his Grand Rapids High School team missed the Minnesota State High School tournament in late February. Bischoff is one of the highest regarded defensemen playing in Minnesota this season because of his play with the puck on his stick. That being said, Bischoff has only played in ten USHL games this season. The University of Minnesota commit should be ready to make an impact on the blue line for the Lancers during the Clark Cup Playoffs.

#1 Lincoln Stars
First Round Bye
It has been quite the storybook season for Roy who was passed on in his first year of draft eligibility last June. Roy, who is one of the true goal scorers in this year’s draft, tallied 54 goals and 50 assists this season and was the league’s first 100 point scorer since the 1998-99 season. Roy has a tendency to float and is a habit that many scouts see as a huge negative to his game. Look for Roy to try and play a more complete game at center over the next month. Roy’s stickhandling ability is best in the league and has shown to be effective even in the most physical of games.

Defenseman Mike McKee is another second year draft eligible to keep an eye on starting in the second round of the playoffs. McKee was ranked 69th in Future Considerations’ Final Draft Rankings last season but was not drafted. McKee brings an extremely physical element to the rink night in and night out and led the USHL in penalty minutes this season. It is uncertain whether or not McKee will be passed over entirely again this June, but his play in the playoffs could be a determining factor.

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