The USHL has completed a quarter of its 2013-14 season and there have certainly been a large amount of storylines from September to now; from Omaha Lancers’ goaltender Cole Bruns and his five straight shutouts to open the season, to Team USA’s incredible start to the season which currently has the squad tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.
This year’s NHL draft has also been a major storyline, as the USHL is looking like a league to watch from now until the draft. The USHL has seen several 2014 NHL draft prospecst thrive in the first quarter of the season, and it appears as though the league will send plenty of quality prospects to Philadelphia in June.
Leading the way on my list are three US National Development Team players: speedy centerman, Dylan Larkin; crafty winger, Sonny Milano; and confident, two-way defenseman Jack Glover.
Larkin isn’t leading Team USA in scoring, but the skilled pivot brings the full package to his club. He is one of the top skaters in the draft, possessing with incredible speed and agility. He is strong on his skates and has the ability to maintain possession under pressure. He thinks the game very quickly and is a smart three-zone player. He is a high-compete player, and seems to be at the top of his game on each shift. Larkin has earned ice-time in all situations and seems to be the go-to guy for key draws and key situations. He is reliable at both ends of the ice and will make a good all-around player at the next level.
Crafty winger Sonny Milano isn’t too far behind, and the recent Boston College commit will certainly give Larkin a run for his money as the season progresses. Milano is scoring at a two-point per-game pace, and has recorded two or more points in each of his last four games. Milano is a very skilled possession player, with no shortage of tricks with the puck. He sees the ice well and is a dual threat with the puck as he has shown the ability to score from different places in the offensive zone, as well as the ability to set up teammates off the rush and near the goal-line. He isn’t the biggest forward but he has shown improved strength with the puck from last season, and his willingness to compete for the puck and play hard each shift has been impressive.
Glover trails behind his teammates as the top defenseman on my list entering December, as the lanky defenseman continues to show immense confidence in his game both with and without the puck. Glover is a smart puck-mover who makes a good, quick first pass, and also possesses the ability to take the puck for up the ice himself. There are times where he goes into dangerous areas with the puck, and he can work on that, but his ability to control the puck and make a play has been impressive. Defensively he has played steadily, taking big minutes and playing an important role on the US blueline. One area that could use a little bit of improvement is his physical game. There are times where he could be a little tougher on his man, and that is something to watch this season.
Closing out my top-5 are forwards Nick Schmaltz and Alex Tuch.
Schmaltz (Green Bay Gamblers) is a highly-skilled, highly intelligent player when he has the puck. He is quick with the puck, and seems to be a step ahead of everyone else on the ice. He makes quick decisions with the puck, and has tremendous playmaking skill. Schmaltz also has possesses a lethal wrist-shot that he’ll use from the slot when he works himself into good position to shoot. Where he continues to struggle in his effort and urgency. There times where he seems disengaged from the action on the ice, and that has been an area for concern. During the WJAC in November, Schmaltz showed exactly what he could do when he outworks everyone on the ice, totaling 12 points in four games for a new tournament record.
Tuch is the fourth USNTDP player to hit my top-5, as the big power-forward has impressed in the last few months. Tuch is a strong skater for a bigger guy, and he uses his size to his advantage when battling for the puck and when protecting it. There are times when the 6-foot-4, 213-pound winger could be a little bit meaner on the ice, but Tuch does use his size well along the boards and in front of the oppositions net when setting a screen. He is a tough player to beat. Tuch is a smart two-way player, and knows his responsibilities on defense. He is another one to watch from Team USA this season.
My top-10 entering December:
Tags: Seamus Malone | Johnathan MacLeod | Jack Dougherty | Alex Tuch | Nick Schmaltz | Jack Glover | Sonny Milano | Dylan Larkin | 2014 nhl draft prospects | 2014 nhl draft | USHL | Shane Eiserman | Ryan Hitchcock |
|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|