USHL eligibles set to push in the East

Andrew Weiss2013 Draft Center0 Comments

For the entire regular season, the old cliché the “beasts of the east” fit the mold of NHL draft eligible players in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.

Elite talents like Zemgus Girgensons, Jon Gillies, and Jordan Schmaltz have all had great seasons for their respective teams and look to continue their success for the next month in the 2012 Clark Cup Playoffs.

This year’s USHL Eastern Conference could have as many as seven first round NHL draft picks—four of which are playing in the playoffs that begin this week. Look for top seeds Dubuque, Green Bay and Indiana’s success to ride largely in part to the play of their draft eligibles.

#6 Team USA @ #3 Dubuque Fighting Saints
Game 1: 4/16, Game 2: 4/17, Game 3 (if necessary): 4/18
Last year’s Clark Cup Champions have a very different look to them as last year’s playoff leading scorers John Gaudreau and Vinny Saponari have moved onto the college game. This year’s team will rely on draft eligible players Girgensons and Michael Matheson on the front and back end, respectively, to try and defend the Clark Cup. Girgensons had a great playoff last year scoring three goals and five assists in 11 games. Matheson is no stranger to playoff success as well, as he had 25 points in 15 games in the LHJAAAQ playoffs last season. Matheson’s had made great strides with his game and a good showing in the Clark Cup playoffs would help his draft stock.

With the IIHF U18 World Championship taking place overseas, the Under-17 team will represent the National Team Development Program in USHL postseason play. Gavin Stoick, Miles Koules, and Brendan Silk, who were left off of the USU18 World Championship roster, are all draft eligible and will play in the playoffs.

#5 Cedar Rapids RoughRiders @ #4 Youngstown Phantoms
Game 1: 4/16, Game 2: 4/17, Game 3 (if necessary): 4/18
This series lacks the draft eligible talent that the other first round matchups have, but there are still several players to keep an eye on. Youngstown’s Austin Cangelosi has been great in his first year for the Phantoms, averaging more than a point per game. Cangelosi is a player that the Cedar Rapids defense corps will have to shut down or they could find themselves down quick. The RoughRiders know this all too well as Cangelosi had four goals and an assist in the four meetings between the two teams this season.

While both are longshots to hear their names called on draft day, Ian Brady and Dennis Kravchenko could be players who could draw NHL scouts’ attention in years to come. Brady, who was the sole RoughRider player to play in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, has improved his offensive game dramatically this season. Brady quarterbacks the power play for Cedar Rapids and has done a great job in doing so as their power play was ranked fourth best in the USHL regular season. Kravchenko was added to the team midseason and made an impact immediately with 13 points in his first two months. Despite his five-foot-seven 155-pound frame, Kravchenko brings a lot of grit to the RoughRiders up front.

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

#2 Indiana Ice
First Round Bye
Draft followers looking to see the elite talents that the USHL has in this year’s playoffs should direct their attention to Indiana. The Ice have Robbie Baillargeon, Christoval “Boo” Nieves, and Gillies—all of which should be off the board by the end of the third round in Pittsburgh. With a grueling schedule, the Clark Cup Playoffs will be a big test for Nieves as scouts have questioned his consistency throughout this year. Baillargeon has been quite the playmaker with whoever he has played with the entire season and displays a great two way game up the middle.

Gillies has been stellar as the first year starter and ended questions about his poor conditioning playing in all but seven games in the regular season. Along the way, Gillies posted a 2.77 goals against average and .915 save percentage. If all goes according to plan in the second round, the depth at forward with Baillargeon and Nieves with Gillies tending the pipes could give Green Bay quite the battle in the Eastern Conference Finals.

#1 Green Bay Gamblers
First Round Bye and Regular Season Champions
Green Bay enters the playoffs with two duos of players who have already been drafted in Andy Welinski and Alex Broadhurst and players who will be drafted this year in Schmaltz and Dakota Mermis.

Schmaltz and Welinski’s work on the power play is a thing of beauty as both are great puck moving defensemen. Not to be out done, Mermis is a great skating, physical defenseman who has also been a great addition for the Gamblers after playing for the National Team Development Program last season. Forward Alex Kile is another player to watch during the Clark Cup Playoffs as he has a chance to be drafted in one of the later rounds this year.

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