After the splash USHL players made at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, more eyes than ever evaluated the next crop of draft eligible talent in the league’s opening month.
Much went as planned in October for the top USHL draft eligible players as Zemgus Girgensons has carried the Dubuque Fighting Saints atop the Western Conference standings and Jordan Schmaltz continued his dominate play on a struggling Sioux City Musketeer team.
After ending the 2010-11 season with a stellar second half, Jon Gillies began his sophomore season right where he left off. Gillies ended October with a 5-1-0-1 record, a 1.88 goals against average, and save percentage of .932—statistics that currently leads all first year draft eligible goaltenders in the USHL.
I was skeptical to place Gillies in my preseason “Keep an Eye On” feature because of his struggles at this year’s Ivan Hlinka tournament and the uncertainty that he would be able to carry the full workload of being the full-time starting goaltender. Gillies impressed me at the Oct. 28 meeting against Waterloo, looking very confident in route to a 30 save shutout. In fact, of the five wins Gillies picked up in October, all but one has come on a night where he faced less than thirty shots.
Gillies told me this summer that his advisor and family were taking the stance if he did not get draft this year, there would always be next year. If Gillies continues to carry the Ice, the Northeastern University commit will not have to worry about being passed on come late June in Pittsburgh.
Girgensons doesn’t have the question about being drafted, but rather where he will play after he gets picked. Other questions have arose about Girgensons creating his own offense this season have come to an end after a monstrous October. The 17-year-old captain finished the month of October second among the USHL leading scorers with six goals and seven assists in nine games.
Girgensons adjusted quickly to the loss of forward linemates John Gaudreau (Boston College) and Vinny Saponari (Northeastern)—both of whom dominated at the USHL level and are continuing to do so at the NCAA level, averaging at least a point per game. Playing primarily with Max Gardiner and three or so other forwards, it has been “all systems go” for Girgensons.
Dubuque remains tied atop the Eastern Conference and will need the Latvian native to continue his dominate play to remain there. Girgensons’ stock should really benefit from playing with less talented forwards than last year more and more as this season wears on.
While Sioux City has gotten off to a forgettable start with just two wins in October, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz has been a bright spot on the Musketeers’ blue line.
Schmaltz matched his last year’s October point totals with six—three goals and three assists through nine games. His three goals have him second behind only Andy Welinski, Anaheim’s 2011 third round pick. Of those three goals, two came on the power play he quarterbacks.
Schmaltz saw loads of ice time this past month. While there is no time on ice statistic to support my claim, it seems as if Schmaltz is seeing the same number of minutes Youngstown Phantoms and New York Islanders’ second round pick Scott Mayfield was seeing last year in which Mayfield played close to 35 minutes a game.
Schmaltz’s shots have been finding the back of the net early on this season as the power play wizard has a shooting percentage of .250. While his percentage will eventually come back to earth, all indications are that he will come close to matching his 44 points that led all USHL defenseman last year despite playing on a weaker team this season.
Out of all of the USHL freshman forwards, Robbie Baillargeon was placed in the best position to thrive because talented forwards Daniil Tarasov (2nd leading scorer in the USHL last season) and Sean Kuraly (San Jose’s 2011 5th round draft pick) returned to the Indiana Ice this season.
Baillargeon was bounced around on the Ice’s lines throughout the month but managed a fair amount of time playing alongside Kuraly and Tarasov. When I watched him play last weekend, all three were playing together on the team’s first power play unit and played well together.
Baillargeon ends his first month in the USHL with one goal and four assists in seven games—a decent start for the recently turned 18-year-old who is still adjusting to the junior game. All of Baillargeon’s five points came in three games, including a three assist night against Tri-City on Oct. 21. In the games Ballargeon did not record a point, the forward had just three shots and was minus-1. Is it a little premature to criticize inconsistency? Definitely, but it is certainly something scouts and I will be keeping an eye on in November.
After being dealt three games into the season from the Omaha Lancers to the Tri-City Storm, it appears that Adam Chlapik has settled in and is beginning to thrive. The centre had two goals and four assists in eight games between both clubs in October. More impressive, the Czech Republic native had a goal and four assists in the five games he played for Tri-City thus far.
The six-foot forward got a lot of power play time for the Storm and set up two of their four power play goals for the month. Chlapik is in a good position to help his draft stock if he can continue to help Tri-City convert on a power play that ranked second to last in October.
It seemed as A.J. Michaelson had made the seamless transition from Minnesota high school hockey to the USHL after an impressive preseason. Michaelson was tied atop the preseason scoring leaders with five and an assist in eight games, but his success ended shortly after the preseason.
The speedy forward had just one goal and one assist in Waterloo’s 10 October games. While fellow Minnesota natives Taylor Cammarata and Tony Cameranesi stood out, Michaelson was nearly non-existent in the two games against Indiana I attended last weekend. Michaelson was minus-1 both games and looked very hesitant with the puck on his stick. I believed Michaelson would be successful because of his speed, but it seemed to be neutralized in both games.
If Michaelson gets out to another slow start in the month of November, I would not be surprised to see him back at Apple Valley High School in time for the high school season. Sure, the decision to leave the USHL and go back to high school paid dividends for the Florida Panthers’ third round pick Kyle Rau last season, but I think it would be good for Michaelson work through his slump. The University of Minnesota commit has the talent and the supporting forward help upfront to get back on track if he sticks with the Blackhawks.