With the season nearly at the halfway mark, top USHL draft eligible players continued to show their worth in the month of December.
Indiana Ice forward Robbie Baillargeon and Dubuque Fighting Saints forward Zemgus Girgensons continued to impress while Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Matt DeBlouw caught my eye in scouting trips during December.
Baillargeon impresses me more and more every time I watch him and games against Dubuque were no different. Baillargeon was the best forward on the ice and continued to show much more confidence with the puck in all areas of the ice. Another aspect of his game I particularly like is his effort without the puck. Indiana’s first goal was caused by Baillargeon’s hard work on the fore check and he continued to cause problems for Saints’ defensemen without the puck all weekend. The Boston University commit ended the weekend with one goal and three assists and ended the month with four goals and eight assists in ten games.
I felt like I was not getting a good view of Girgensons in Dubuque’s games against Indiana because of an injury in his first shift Friday night. Girgensons sat for almost half of the first period, but was then back centering the first line. The “Latvian Locomotive” looked tentative all night, but did play very physical which was nice to see. Girgensons had chances in the two games, recording 12 shots in the two games and set up his line mates numerous times but returned to Dubuque pointless.
The Indiana-Dubuque was my first live viewing of Dubuque defenseman Michael Matheson who I believe had a mediocre weekend despite his great skating. Matheson was easily the best skater on the ice both nights. Matheson covers a lot of ice in his own end and makes skating look effortless.
A cause for concern in Matheson’s game was his ability to make a good breakout or regroup pass. Matheson’s passes were frequently intercepted, including a breakout pass that lead directly to Indiana’s final goal Friday night. Matheson was much more successful when he skated the puck himself and then found the open man.
I went up to watch the United States U18 National Team Development Program play Muskegon on Dec. 17 and while the top draft eligible players in the game were from U18 team, DeBlouw was impressive. DeBlouw has the advantage of playing on a bad team and, in turn, plays a variety of roles he otherwise would not on a better USHL team. DeBlouw played more than 20 minutes for the Lumberjacks, centering the first line, playing on the first penalty kill unit, and the first power play unit.
DeBlouw is a very good skater and never stops moving his feet. Though DeBlouw did not record a point against the U18 NTDP, he had some very nice passes to set up line mates. He will likely never translate into a big goal scorer at the next level, but he does a lot of the little things right that will get him get drafted come June.
With the absence of Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba, NTDP defensemen Pat Sieloff and Brady Skjei played larger roles against Muskegon than I am accustomed to seeing. Both were paired together all night and played well. It was different seeing both play together exclusively as the NTDP teams typically dress seven defensemen and run a rotation. Skjei quarterbacked the power play and got a lot of work doing so as the NTDP had 11 power plays. Skjei set up the team’s second goal, which came on the power play, and added another assist on the game winning goal with 37 seconds remaining.
Riley Barber was on the receiving end of Skjei’s assist against Muskegon, scoring the game winning goal after redirecting Skjei’s shot from the point. While I believe Barber’s goal should have been waived off as I thought he redirected Skjei’s shot with a high stick, the five-foot-eleven forward was in a great position to tip the shot.
With that said, Barber continues to leave me wanting more every time I watch him. The Miami (OH) University commit had two goals and no assists in six and added another goal in the two of the U18 NTDP’s college games. Against Muskegon, Barber played right wing on the top line of Matthew Lane (Boston University) and Thomas Di Pauli (Notre Dame)—a line that should have complemented Barber nicely against a sub-par Muskegon team. Instead, Barber did not stand out and served two penalties for head coach Danton Cole during the game.
I was disappointed not to see Stefan Matteau play live for the first time this year on my trip to Ann Arbor, Mich. The night before against Cedar Rapids Matteau got undisciplined. After the game had ended, Matteau accumulated 40 penalty minutes—including slashing and cross-checking majors. While the linesman attempted to break up the altercation, Matteau earned an unsportsmanlike gross misconduct. Matteau was suspended by the USHL for seven league games and is eligible to return on March 2 against Youngstown.
Will this hurt the QMJHL-bound forward’s draft stock? It certainly will not help it. The incident is not Matteau’s first run-in with the USHL disciplinary committee as he was suspended near the end of last season for eight games after Matteau picked up a charging major and an attempt to injure match penalty. One would think this will be a hot topic during Matteau’s meetings with NHL executives come June at the NHL Combine.
Lincoln’s Kevin Roy continues to torch USHL teams and remain atop the USHL Scoring Leaders with 48 points in 31 games. Roy’s production remained fairly consistent with seven goals and six assists in 10 games in December. The most impressive statistic the Brown-commit may have this season is his plus-21 plus/minus. Putting this into perspective, fellow Lincoln Stars’ forward and top USHL prospect Zachary Aston-Reese is a minus-6 on the season.
Equally impressive may be Roy’s consistency. After going pointless in his first three USHL games, Roy has yet to go back-to-back games without recording a point. In fact, the Quebec-native recorded a point in every December game except the New Year’s Eve game in which the Stars were shutout by Sioux City.
Non-NTDP draft eligible players have a major stage to showcase their skills this month as the Muskegon Lumberjacks host the first ever USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Players like Baillargeon, Roy, and DeBlouw will all have the chance to compete against the more popular, well known prospects like Girgensons and Matheson. As for the U18 NTDP, two college games against Northeastern and Boston University and five USHL games give players another month to showcase their own talent.
Though January marks midway point of the USHL season, much is still to be decided in the next four months of play for 2012 NHL Entry Draft eligible players. Will DeBlouw put on a show in his home rink at the Top Prospects Game? Will Roy string together another month long point streak? Surely the month of January will be very telling.