After the Entry Draft in late June, the absence of hockey can make for a long, hot summer for many who follow the game closely.
However, as August has given way to September, order is restored as players return to the ice for training camps and the observations of scouts and media types begin as the cycle starts anew.
And while the United States Hockey League’s season will kick off Friday, it doesn’t hinder from talking about some of the league’s more intriguing draft eligibles.
And from the league, the biggest collective of draft eligible talent is on the United States National Team Development Program.
There has been some notable departures, as Seth Jones went to the Pacific Northwest to play for the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League, while forward Ryan Hartman will suit up for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Still, the USNTDP still has an intriguing mix of players.
Forwards JT Compher and Anthony Louis and defenseman Will Butcher were all selected to play for Team USA in the World U-18 Championship in the Spring, an experience that should provide a boost going into their draft years.
There are some hulking forwards like Hudson Fasching and Michael McCarron, but also some diminutive skill players like Tyler Kelleher and Tyler Motte. Joining Butcher on the back end will be notables like Gage Ausmus, Clint Lewis, and Steven Santini.
Speaking of the size differential theme, Waterloo boasts two players who fit that bill.
Defenseman Ian McCoshen will be entering his third year of USHL play, while the tiny Taylor Cammarata is coming off a rookie season where he had one of the best years ever by a 16-year-old.
Questions abound with both.
Will we see an uptick in McCoshen’s offensive output to supplement his mature style of play? Can Cammarata continue to succeed playing ‘amongst the trees’, now that his competitors are familiar with his game? The same question applies to Fargo’s Gabe Guertler, as he enters his second USHL season in a more prominent offensive role for the Force.
With Michael Matheson and Zemgus Girgensens gone, Dubuque’s Michael Downing will be the backbone for the Fighting Saints.
Having represented Team USA for the second summer in a row for an international tournament, the six-foot-three, 185-pound Michigan product has developed into a good two-way defenseman.
Finally, there is also some natural curiosity about the players coming into the USHL; those who opted to spend their draft year playing against USHL competition.
Players like Jake Guentzel, Vinni Lettieri, and Conner Valesano left their respective school teams, friends, and families to join the clubs who had drafted them in either the Entry Draft, or the Futures Draft.
Much like Cristoval “Boo” Nieves last year, scouts and observers are aware of their success at a lower level of play but want to see how they stack up against players two or three years older. It’s not just these players either; there will also be those who are able to join their USHL team occasionally throughout the season during breaks in their school seasons.
Even though they show they have the desire to play against the best by committing to leave home to do so, we will see in time if the necessary adjustments are made and that success will follow, just as we’ll see if the players we expect to thrive will.
There will be surprises and disappointments during the course of the USHL season – which can’t start soon enough.