In the seven rounds of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, a total of 13 players were taken from the 2012-13 US National Development Program. Michael McCarron led the group, being taken 25th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, while forward J.T. Compher (35th, Buffalo) and defenseman Steven Santini (42nd, New Jersey) followed in the second round.
Last week, USA Hockey released the rosters of its U17 and U18 programs. On the U18 roster, all but forward Jack Eichel (born in October of 1996, making him a 2015 draft eligible) are 2014 NHL draft prospects; and like last year, there are some very intriguing names to watch for.
The left-handed shooting winger did a lot of scoring last season, producing 10 goals and 22 points in 38 games against USHL clubs, which ranked fourth-best on Team USA and first when you only consider the U17 roster. He also contributed four goals and 10 points in six games at the U17 World Championships. Milano is arguably the top 2014 draft eligible from the US Development Program entering the season and his speed and quickness with the puck, along with his ability to score on a consistent basis, have him poised for a big season. He has the ability to set up chances for his linemates as well as create chances of his own, and has the mindset of a goal-scorer. His size is a bit of a red flag, as he is listed at 5-foot-10, 159-pounds, but he has the skill to overcome any concerns there, making him a player to really watch this season.
Hitchcock is another small winger, listed at 5-foot-9, 151-pounds, but he has a tendency to play as if he is much bigger. Hitchcock was a player that did it all for the U17 team last season. The winger ranked second on the U17 team in points against USHL clubs, scoring eight times and adding 11 assists for 19 points. Hitchcock appeared in two games with the U18 club last season and recorded one assist. He was also a point-per-game player at the U17 World Championships (six points in six games). Hitchcock plays with a lot of energy in his game, and despite his size, he doesn’t back away from grinding on the forecheck, or throwing his body around and getting involved on the boards. Hitchcock was also used on the top penalty-kill unit, often with center Ryan MacInnis who just recently signed with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Hitchcock is a reliable two-way forward, with a competitive edge and as he fills out his frame, his size shouldn't be a major concern.
Gersich joins the US Development Program with six games of USHL experience as a member of Omaha Lancers last season. Gersich scored once in his six game stint with Omaha, the team that drafted him first overall in the 2012 USHL Futures Draft. Gersich is a skilled winger who dominated the high school hockey scene before jumping to junior hockey. He registered 60 points in back-to-back seasons for Holy Catholic Family Prep, including one 30 goal season. Gersich stands at 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, giving him a size advantage over the previous names mentioned. During his time with Omaha last season, Gersich showed some good flashes of offensive ability. He skates well and showed the ability to control and move the puck at high speeds. Gersich goes to the right areas on the ice to give himself an opportunity at scoring. His goal came in a 6-1 loss to Green Bay, but he scored it by driving the net and finding a rebound on the top of crease which he buried. Gersich should receive an opportunity to play top-6 minutes with some of Team USA’s more talented scorers, and that could open the door for Gersich to have a very impressive season. He could be a riser over the course of the year.
He’s by far the smallest defenseman on the U18 roster, but he is arguably the most offensively-gifted defenseman on the team. Fortunato is only 5-foot-9, 150-pounds, but his skill set and competitive playing style make him a very intriguing prospect. As one would expect, he is quick skater and very mobile with the puck. He only posted nine assists in 38 games last season against USHL clubs, but his offensive skill doesn’t match the numbers, and he should be able to contribute more than he did last season. He is a good puck-mover, and he is smart with and without the puck. Away from the offensive game, he works hard in his own end and doesn’t allow his size to dictate his physical game and aggressive edge. Obviously his strength limits how far he sends the opposition on a body-check, but Fortunato showed no issues getting involved on the boards and battling for pucks last season. He could work on his defensive game a bit, as well as his strength, but Fortunato is a prospect to keep tabs on this season.
MacLeod is a solid all-around defense prospect with the potential to be a riser this season. The 6-foot-1, 178-pound forward has a mean streak, and he let it show from time to time last season, earning him the honors of third-place on Team USA with 71 penalty-minutes in 33 games. MacLeod will play physically, and he threw the occasional ‘big hit’ last season. When he wasn’t throwing his body around, he was quietly patrolling the defensive zone, playing safely and making most of the right moves. His offensive game also came along nicely as the season progressed, and that is an area worth noting this season. He isn’t the greatest skater, but he moves well enough to get the job the done. He makes the smooth outlet pass, and usually seems more inclined to set up a breakout rather than join the rush. In the offensive zone, he moves the puck well from the point and he’s also shown-off a hard slap-shot, though his accuracy could use some work.
Those are just a few of the noteworthy names on the U18 roster. Others include forwards Anders Bjork, Dylan Larkin and Alex Tuch; and defenseman Jack Glover, Ryan Collins and Louie Belpedio. Blake Weyrick and Edward Minney are the goaltenders this season. Eichel—who I mentioned earlier—is definitely a player to keep an eye on this year, as the 2015 draft eligible looks to lead Team USA in scoring for the second year in a row.
|1. C Sam Reinhart||Kootenay Ice|
|2. D Aaron Ekblad||Barrie Colts|
|3. C Michael Dal Colle||Oshawa Generals|
|4. C Leon Draisaitl||Prince Albert Raiders|
|5. C William Nylander||Rogle|
|6. LW Nick Ritchie||Peterborough Petes|
|7. D Haydn Fleury||Red Deer Rebels|
|8. D Roland McKeown||Kingston Frontenacs|
|9. LW Sam Bennett||Kingston Frontenacs|
|10. C Jared McCann||Soo Greyhounds|