Final thoughts on USA World Jr. evaluation camp

The hopefuls for Team USA’s 2016 World Jr. (under 20) squad closed up shop at Lake Placid over the weekend, closing out the event with a 32-player roster (whittled down from the original 39 invites) powering USA to a 6-1 win over Finland.

Here is the final USA roster:

http://worldjuniors.usahockey.com/page/show/1909970-2015-final-u-s-national-junior-evaluation-camp-roster

Here are some random thoughts on players I feel are worth mentioning. Because of my work with Red Line Report, I can’t go into too much detail, but here’s hoping we can give you enough of a tease to get an idea of what some of these players bring to the table for the 2016 NHL draft, and for those players already drafted- more insights into what your favorite (or not so favorite) NHL club might be getting in a few years if not sooner.

2016 NHL draft candidates

Scott Eansor, C- Small, speedy undrafted buzzsaw center out of Seattle of the WHL showed some versatility and tenacity here. Watch for him to boost his production this season and get a look in next June’s draft in his final window of eligibility. He’s got some moxie to go with his opportunistic approach and did not look at all out of place in this setting.

Auston Matthews, C- He made it official last week- the Arizona wunderkind will be skating in Switzerland for the Zurich Lions of that nation’s top pro league. Matthews then gave Zurich fans a glimpse of what is in store against Finland with a highlight reel goal just 53 seconds into the final exhibition contest, skating through three defenders at the offensive blueline and then finishing off the play with a filthy backhand shot that snuck in past the short side post. The 2015-16 hasn’t even started yet, but Matthews is doing everything to justify the pre-season prediction that he’ll be the top overall pick in next June’s NHL draft.

Chad Krys, D- The youngest player on the final roster played well for Team USA, showing some impressive poise with the puck. The BU recruit (his dad also played there) ranges anywhere from being projected as a first- or second-round pick on various public lists, but if he plays the entire season like he did in Lake Placid, he looks bound for a top-30 selection.

Charlie McAvoy, D- New York native is my pick as the top Empire Stater for the NHL draft. He’s got good size, vision and keeps things pretty simple. NHL clubs are looking for two-way players on defense- it’s no longer enough to simply defend or score- the most sought-after guys are the ones who can do both. McAvoy fits that bill and will likely get better as he continues to mature and fill out.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- This winger needs no introduction to American hockey fans who remember how big of an impact his dad, Keith, had as a premier power forward in the 1990s. He led USA with 8 points in the games and he was a shark around the net, pouncing on loose pucks and demonstrating that killer instinct that goal scorers all possess. He’s not one of those coast-to-coast types, but when the play breaks down in front of the net and the puck is pinballing around, he has that natural ease for getting his stick on it and putting it into the cage.

Drafted players

Paul Bittner, F (Blue Jackets)- Big, skilled Portland Winterhawks winger slipped to the second round and Columbus pounced. With his physical tools, he has the potential to flourish as a top-six power winger in the NHL one day- he just needs to be more consistent and use his natural size and strength to his advantage more. But, after camp, you could see why some were projecting him as a first-round pick.

Anders Bjork, F (Bruins)- The 2014 fifth-rounder closed out the event in style, bagging a pair of back-to-back goals in the second period. He’s not a high-end scorer, but there is some natural hockey sense and opportunism in his approach. He takes straight lines to the net, puts himself in areas where rebounds occur and manages to outwork opponents to loose pucks. Bjork has the makings of a solid third-line NHL winger.

Brock Boeser, F (Canucks)- Vancouver’s top selection made his bones offensively in the USHL with Waterloo, and his hot stick carried over. Whenever the offense was flowing, Boeser seemed to be involved, setting up plays or finishing them off. He’s not a dynamic, flashy player who jumps off the screen at you, but you noticed him because he’s smart and made sure he was in the middle of the play.

Jeremy Bracco, F (Maple Leafs)- The final pick of the 2015 draft’s second round is such a skilled offensive player. His vision and creativity is off the charts and he brings such a dangerous element to any line he’s skating on. I don’t even care anymore that he doesn’t have a game-breaking explosion- he looks plenty fast to me when he’s taking pucks to the net or dishing through a maze of sticks to a wide open teammate. Bracco is going to make more than a few teams sorry they passed on him.

Brandon Carlo, D (Bruins)- It was a solid camp overall for Boston’s first of three second-round picks in June. Don’t make him into something more than he is right now, which is a superb defensive player with the size and skating to perhaps develop into more of a threat offensively. I thought he looked very strong in the games he played in, and the B’s desperately need an infusion of size and fluid skating on their blue line. He was a very good value pick at 37, but let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet.

Erik Foley, F (Jets)- If anyone was wondering going in who this kid is, they have a much better idea now. He showed on more than one occasion that his skill level allows him to keep up with some of the bigger names in the draft. Foley’s heart and hustle are what make him such a good prospect- he’s not afraid to do the dirty grunt work along the walls or pay the price in front of the net. But, he’ll also take the puck down the ice and beat the goalie with a wicked shot, too. Winner.

Dylan Larkin, F (Red Wings)- Man, this guy is smooth. If he isn’t tearing it up at the WJC next December/January it will be for one reason only: he’s skating for the big club in Detroit and has bigger fish to fry in the NHL. Larkin’s speed, skill and sense will make him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t imagine the Wings will keep him in the minors for very long if at all.

Jack Roslovic, F (Jets)- This American sniper knows how to finish around the net and showed off his instincts and intelligence throughout. Another example of a player who isn’t going to make the eye-catching play but just finds ways to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets came away with Roslovic, Kyle Connor AND Foley. With that trio, they’re living that Dawes song- it’s a little bit of everything.

Jake Walman, D (Blues)- Providence College standout with dual citizenship really brought his two-way game to the mix. It’s a case of the rich getting richer with Walman, who looks about to emerge as a NCAA force after being a solid value selection in the third round in 2014.

Colin White, F (Senators)- White is looking more and more like a real nice roll of the dice at 21 for Ottawa. There’s a lot to like about him- he can skate, play a 200-foot game, is great on draws…but the offense that went missing earlier in the season is making its way back. Watch for him to be a regular story at BC with the Eagles.

Final thoughts on the New York players from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Jordan Greenway (Canton, N.Y.), 50th overall selection, 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jordan Greenway (Canton, N.Y.), 50th overall selection, 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

I posted previously some thoughts about the 13 players drafted out of New England (Massachusetts and New Hampshire), so I thought I would cover the five prospects taken from the Empire State in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The numbers tell the story- with just five area natives taken out of the 211 total selections and none before pick 50 when the Minnesota Wild chose power winger Jordan Greenway who grew up near Potsdam in Canton, N.Y. before leaving in middle school to play for Shattuck St. Mary’s in the state of the NHL club that drafted him. Overall, it was a down year for New York with no players from New Jersey getting the call, a first since New York Hockey Journal covered its first NHL draft in 2011.

The player I actually had rated higher than Greenway is playmaking forward Jeremy Bracco, whom the Toronto Maple Leafs got terrific value with at 61st overall- the last pick of the second round. Bracco had solid first-round talent, but working against him was size, a lack of dynamic speed and according to some NHL scouts, he didn’t make the best impression during interviews. From my perspective, I didn’t see that– Bracco was extremely accommodating in terms of the pre-draft interviews and work I did with him. What is undeniable is his high-end hockey IQ, vision and creativity- he finished his career at the U.S. National Team Development Program as one of the all-time assists and points leaders in two years there. Bracco is a good fit for Toronto and what they’re doing there as someone who can dish the puck and has the kind of flair in his game and personality to be able to handle the increased scrutiny of that hockey market.

Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.), 61st overall selection, 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.), 61st overall selection, 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Getting back to Greenway- one NHL scout told me that he was easily a top-15 talent, and I have to say that having covered a lot of hockey players in my career, there aren’t many with the sheer size the 18-year-old has at a listed 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. Some kids look big in their gear but smaller when they take it off, others look bigger out of their gear than with it on. In Greenway’s case- he looked massive on the ice, and he’s just as much of a force of nature when dressed in his suit and wearing his Wild jersey at the BB & T Center.

Two things more than any probably conspired to make Greenway’s wait a little longer at the draft: he did not have the kind of consistent performance over the course of 2014-15 that was expected of him after showing a lot from a year ago with the NTDP. When a player brings so much in terms of the size and skating package, you naturally want to see him assert himself and at the very least, generate offense commensurate with his skill level. It just didn’t happen enough for him this year, and that hurt his stock a bit going in. Compare that to the kind of offensive season fellow Wild first pick (and fellow New Yorker) Alex Tuch had a year ago and you begin to understand the disparity. In addition to the disappointing season, there were whispers about Greenway’s conduct off the ice. In fairness to the kid- I’m not going to repeat or substantiate any of those allegations from NHL circles, but it does at least begin to explain how someone with such pure potential dropped down to 50. At Boston University, Greenway will have a chance to learn from the experience and elevate his game in order to make all the teams that passed on him regret doing so.

The reigning Stanley Cup champs grabbed two-way defenseman Dennis Gilbert from Buffalo at the end of the third round, another solid value and typical pick of the NHL’s modern dynasty that has endured as a three-time champion in six seasons because of a great core and smart drafting to keep a solid supporting cast in place even when pricey contracts force pieces to find work elsewhere. Gilbert may be the latest in one of those smart picks by the Blackhawks, as he has a solid, tall frame (6-2, 201); he can skate very well for his size and has the vision and puck skills to move the play forward with authority and quarterback his club when on the man advantage. Although raw, Gilbert showed a lot playing in the Windy City’s USHL entry the Chicago Steel this past season, having a particularly strong second half. He’ll be able to develop gradually in the ‘Hawks’ system, starting at Notre Dame in the fall.

Another Western New York kid who had his name called last month was big defender Joseph Cecconi, who made a positive impression with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. At 6-2, 205 he has size and is a pretty good skater in a straight line, though will need to improve his lateral mobility and pivots/transitions as he continues to develop. Cecconi relishes playing a defense-first style and impressed some people in the playoffs last spring when he battled Kyle Connor hard and effectively neutralized the league’s top scorer and Winnipeg’s top pick. As a fifth-round selection (133rd) of the Dallas Stars, Cecconi is a good value and the University of Michigan-bound player is in a good spot to take his time. He’s been knocked for not playing with enough urgency/pace at times.

Finally, Steve Ruggiero was the area’s last pick, coming late in the sixth round. He had a bunch of family and friends in attendance and I happened to be taking a break from the action nearby in the stands eating a box lunch when his name was called and their section erupted. To me, Ruggiero’s selection underscores what this sport is all about. These kids-  and so few of them at this stage are left to seriously pursue a dream of playing pro hockey- put in so much work over the years to even get themselves in position to be drafted. Their families pay enormous costs to support the hockey lifestyle and give up a normal life (along with their player) to have a chance at one day reaching the NHL, so it was nice to see Ruggiero’s faith that by coming to Florida he would not sit there all day only to be passed over.

A rugged, mobile stay-at-home defenseman with character, the Anaheim Ducks got more solid value at 178 overall, and he looks to be another one of those good character types that Nate Leaman and his staff have done so well to stockpile down at Providence College.

Steven Ruggiero (Kings Park, N.Y.) 178th selection in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Steven Ruggiero (Kings Park, N.Y.) 178th selection in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

All in all- not a great draft haul for New York, but there might be a rebound next season when talented defensemen Charlie McAvoy, Griffin Luce (son of Florida Panthers head of player development Scott Luce) and forward Luke Kirwan are eligible. Kirwan took a step back in the OHL this past season, but the toolsy winger could appeal to teams early if he can get back on track in 2016.