Top 5 Players I saw this year:
1. Jacob Trouba, D USNTDP
2. Nic Kerdiles, F USNTDP
3. Jake McCabe, D University of Wisconsin
4. Zemgus Girgensens, W Dubuque
5. Jordan Schmaltz, D Green Bay
- I think McCabe has been criminally underrated this year, and may have gotten more attention had he spent this year playing for a USHL club. One of the youngest players in the NCAA, and a TRUE freshman (a rarity these days), he's got a wonderful skill set- he's smart, poised, incredibly mobile, has some puck skills...I think by and large he played on the cautious side this year while adjusting to the pace of the collegiate level, but started to show things like this toward the end of the year:
One of the points I've made in terms of describing McCabe is his developmental environment- Wisconsin. Look at the D that have played in that system in the last few years- Brendan Smith, Justin Schultz, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Suter, Davis Drewiske, etc. He should take on a bigger offensive role next year with Schultz' impending departure (I talked to Badger Insider Chuck Schwartz this last weekend and he said we should know more when Finals are done at Wisco) but still saw #1 PP unit time in a trigger man role. I'd be absolutely tickled if he was there at #46 with Minnesota's pick, but honestly wouldn't be shocked if someone took him late in the first. I think that highly of the kid.
- What sold me on Nic Kerdiles' potential was how he played against Minnesota State-Mankato when the USNTDP (minus Trouba and Seth Jones) around New Year's. That's a big step even for the elite group of 17 and 18 year old Americans, playing against older (19-25 year olds) and stronger competition at a faster pace. Kerdiles didn't disappoint, and was arguably one of the best players on the ice for either team that night. A month or so later I saw him in Dubuque and he was quite as good, but is a dangerous player in the sense that he can be stifled or ineffective all night then make one play that decides the outcome- he made a beautiful play in OT to spring Ryan Hartman in for the game-winning goal...
- ...Then there is Brady Skjei. Now, as we know first impressions are hard to shake, and Skjei wasn't very good against Mankato. Puzzling decision-making, weak on the puck, a constant desire to want to rush the puck end to end- now I understand that he may have been straining to dazzle in front of a hometownish crowd, but he wasn't very good. Later in Dubuque he was doing the same stuff, except he was able to get away with it because of the difference in the age of his competition. Ultimately, I think he's a jeans model player of sorts- big kid, skates extremely well- but the lack of hockey sense is worrisome to me.
- I made a big road trip where I caught 4 USHL games in 6 nights, including a (business) trip to Dubuque. The problem was that Mike Matheson and Zemgus Girgensens were battling nagging injuries, so they only played once apiece (on different nights) out of a possible three viewings (both bowed out of the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.) I think the extended workload really wore Girgensens down this year, as he was battling a hip pointer when I was in town- but he was pretty good when he did play. He wasn't as predatory a physical presence as I thought he would be (and what he'll need to be at the next level) but has a great shot and some nice hands. However, I think we're looking at a third liner, and I don't see the same offensive upside as Kerdiles.
- Matheson is an interesting player; lanky as hell, but has some height to him. Good skater, moves the puck well, but you can make him panic with the puck. Even with time and space on the PP. One scout I talked to was adamant about Matheson lacking hockey sense. He'll likely go higher than he should because of the way the depth of the Draft is shaking out.
- Here's my report on Jacob Trouba from the aforementioned Dubuque/USNTDP game:
Jacob Trouba, D 6'2" 184 Pounds 2/26/1994
I see Brent Seabrook in Trouba; a #1 guy on weak to mediocre teams but ideally he's a really high end #2, a horse quality top pairing guy you can play in any situation. The offense will be the question mark, but he makes good passes and has a great shot- he'll get his points.Plain and simple, the best player I've seen all year. Great size, great skater, great poise, great hockey sense. Has excellent feet; footwork is impeccable, and he's very strong on his skates- took the puck out of his end and saw he had space and basically fought through two interference penalties before hitting the post with a wrist shot. Reads the play very well; takes care of his zone first but will join the rush when he sees fit. Anticipates well, gets into lanes to break up passes, block shots, or step into players. Very good acceleration. Willing physical participant. Makes a good first pass, even hit a teammate tape to tape with a long home run pass during the game. I think Trouba is a guy you could pencil into a top pairing for 10-15 years.
- Liked what I saw of Riley Barber too- I think he fits the mold of a Flahr selection in the middle rounds- gritty, fast, skilled.
- Also, if we end up with Jaccob Slavin from the Chicago Steel, we should be really happy about it. Really flies under the radar in Chicago (as weird as that sounds), but does it all. Works really hard and is coachable, turned a weakness of his at the beginning of the season (stick checking) and now it is his best weapon.
- Jordan Schmaltz is similar to Brady Skjei in that there is a contant desire to immediately move the puck north, for better or for worse. We're talking some big time offensive possibilities though- jump ups in the play, and really can QB a PP- is it worth the possibilities of having odd-man rushes going the other on a frequent basis though?
Per usual, if you got any questions, comments, rip jobs, whatever, you can find me on Twitter at @ShraderD