USNTDP U18 Team prior to a game against the University of Minnesota
After the success of last season’s record-breaking US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) squad, this season’s group hasn’t been getting nearly as much attention. While this year’s team isn’t likely to come close to those records, they still have a lot of draft-eligible talent that makes their team fun to watch. The U18 group has a decent record at 19-12-2 overall, including international competition and games against NCAA clubs such as Boston University and Wisconsin among others.
With how little this year’s team has been covered, we should take a look at the best of the group and look at what players are making a difference. From Thomas Bordeleau to Drew Commesso, the U18 squad should produce a number of draft picks for the 2020 NHL Draft, with a few players having a shot at sneaking into the first round. Who are those players and what do they bring to the table? Let’s take a look.
Center 5-10 179lbs 01/03/2002
Bordeleau has been among the most dangerous scorers for this year’s edition of the USNTDP. He is a volume shooter who cashes in on a good shot and a knack for finding space in the offensive zone. He is a good skater who has high-end finishing abilities. He is a creative player who uses his agility in tight spaces to create separation. He may have the highest ceiling of any of the 2020 draft-eligible players on this squad. Bordeleau has the ability to score from anywhere on the ice with his good shot. Bordeleau likes to pop into space to pick up a loose puck and make a play immediately. He is able to identify how much time and space he has and make use of it effectively. He has shown good defensive ability in the neutral zone, preventing teams from getting into his zone but sometimes chases the puck in his own end. He is a player that may end up on the wing at the next level, utilizing his skating and scoring ability to make a difference at the pro-level.
Right/Left Winger 5-9 152lbs 09/09/2002
Brett Berard is the player that your team drafts in the middle rounds and then you wonder why he lasted so long. Berard has a ton of skill. He leads the U18 team in scoring and has been impressive at both ends of the ice. The biggest issue with Berard is that he is a small player who doesn’t have a lot of meat on him. He is also just a few days away from being eligible for the 2021 draft, making him one of the youngest players in the 2020 draft. Of his 15 goals, only two were scored on the powerplay as well making him a dangerous five-on-five player. Berard has a tendency to be where the puck comes loose around the net and clean up garbage. He has the ability to make plays all over the offensive zone. He has excellent hands, shifty skating, and great vision. Berard is definitely a player to keep an eye on as the season goes on.
Center/Winger 6-1 170lbs 01/20/2002
Coming into the year, many expected Ty Smilanic to be the best forward on the USNTDP squad and he hasn’t been able to quite live up to those expectations due to a few injuries. He hasn’t had any major injuries but he has been in-and-out of the lineup fairly consistently with minor ailments. When on the ice, he has been quite good. His typical high effort play has been there in all three zones. Smilanic has been able to show his skill off in flashes but the inconsistency in his play is likely tied to him being in-and-out of the lineup. He has a very good shot with a good release. The Denver native is an excellent skater who quickly darts through traffic. He is able to find space and use his shot from a variety of scoring areas. Smilanic’s playmaking is improved from last season. He is showing greater offensive awareness and has been more creative for it.
Right Wing 6-4 192lbs 01/08/2002
Dylan Peterson is the modern-day power forward who can match his physicality with skill and speed. His ability to create chances has been noticeable this season even if his production has been underwhelming at times. Peterson has been a bit snakebitten this season with some very good chances going unrewarded. He is a good skater, generating power with a strong lower body. He has shown the ability to protect the puck quite well as he works his way through the offensive zone. He has a heavy shot that can be deceptive thanks to an effortless release at times. He likes to drive to the net and can elevate from in tight. He uses his large frame to help him win battles in corners and along the boards. He is a very good defender through the neutral zone, standing up on opposing players at mid-ice and separating the puck from the carrier. Peterson could end up being a player who falls a bit on draft day but could reward a team if he can start to correct some of the mistakes when finishing.
Left Wing 6-2 203lbs 03/07/2002
Luke Tuch, the younger brother of Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch, has been steadily showing improvements since last season. He has shown a bit more skill this season with some better puck handling and agile skating. The stalky winger has a hard shot that can beat any goaltender but doesn’t have the accuracy quite yet to make him a difference-maker on a regular basis. Tuch shows good awareness on the ice, finding teammates with the puck in transition and finding areas where he can be a dangerous scoring option. He has been inconsistent this season but his tools are very intriguing. A heavy shot, a good skater, and a solid net-front presence can make for a good asset for an NHL team looking for very good secondary scoring.
Matthew Beniers (2021)
Left Wing 6-0 178lbs 11/05/2002
Matthew Beniers is one of the best players on the U18 team but he is also one of the youngest. He may end up having the highest ceiling pf anyone on this squad and could be a high pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. His production has slowed a bit this season as the young American played a decent chunk of games with the U18 team last season and may have benefitted from the elite talent on that squad. This season he has still been among the most productive U18’s and has shown flashes of brilliance. Beniers is a good skater who can blow by opponents in the neutral zone. He has excellent on-ice vision and the ability to make plays all over the offensive zone. He thrives in space and has the agility and edgework to create it for himself. His shot is accurate but it isn’t overly powerful. He has a quick release and because he is a dual-threat as a playmaker and goal scorer, he is able to keep opposing teams on edge and make the plays that he sees. A high-skill and high-IQ player who looks to be among the top prospects available for the 2021 NHL Draft.
Left Shot Defense 6-2 186lbs 07/08/2002
Jake Sanderson came into the year in competition with teammate Tyler Kleven for who the best defenseman is on this year’s squad and Sanderson has left no question. It’s him. He has the ability to affect play at both ends of the ice as a two-way defenseman. He plays a good gap defensively but can be a bit over-aggressive and gets beat at times. He has a long reach and good stick that he uses to disrupt plays and offensive rushes through the neutral zone and along the defensive half-wall. He is a good skater who makes transitions easily and effectively with solid edgework. Sanderson is good in transition and makes crisp passes up the ice to exit the defensive zone. In the offensive zone, Sanderson is active along the boards, pinching and keeping the puck in effectively and efficiently. He seems to understand when to take those chances and doesn’t get caught very often. He is an effective distributor and powerplay quarterback but is likely to be a secondary powerplay option at the NHL level.
Left Shot Defense 6-4 200lbs 01/10/2002
Kleven is a big defenseman who plays a sturdy defensive game. His skating is fairly average but he uses his long stick to break up rushes. When a player is able to get by his stick, he has shown the ability to impose his will physically. When he does get beat wide, he struggles to transition at times, seemingly falling a step behind. At times he can use his long reach to stay effective but the inconsistency in that aspect of his game is a bit of a concern. He has good puck skills and the ability to make crisp, simple passes with regularity. His biggest weapon offensively is a bomb from the point. He is able to leverage his large frame and power the puck to the net with a pro-ready shot. If he can get his feet under him a bit more, he has a chance to be a solid two-way defender who can be a fairly strong weapon on the powerplay thanks to his shot. There’s certainly a bit to work on with Kleven but he could be a very intriguing prospect for whichever team drafts him in June.
Right Shot Defense 5-11 165lbs 05/10/2002
Eamon Powell has been the man under the radar on the backend for the NTDP squad. He is an effortless skater who makes good decisions with and without the puck. Transition is his biggest area of strength. Powell moves the puck up ice effectively with both his feet and passing. He uses his skating offensively to walk the blueline and change shooting and passing lanes allowing him to use his high-IQ to make the right pass to advance the puck to forward in more dangerous positions than Powell is at the blueline. He pinches down the wall and joins the offense at smart times understanding when to take the chance and when it isn’t worth the defensive liability that results in him vacating his positioning. Defensively he relies on his skating to stay in front of opposition players and attempts to out-skill his opposition by taking the puck away with crafty stick work. Powell may be the forgotten blueliner on the club but he may play the most solid and projectable game of the group.
Goaltender 6-2 180lbs 07/19/2002
After the USNTDP produced one of the best goaltending prospects in recent years in Spencer Knight, they have seemingly found a diamond in the rough with Commesso. While he isn’t quite the same level of a prospect as Knight, he has been able to quietly become one of the best goalies in the USHL. He has shown that he can track pucks quite well, always seemingly finding a way to see around screens. His athleticism is good but not to the level of Knight which may truly be the biggest difference between the two. He is solid positionally and does a good job of sealing the ice with his pads while in the butterfly. He moves well laterally and shows flexibility when making side-to-side saves. Commesso is a good skater as a goaltender, moving effectively in his crease and staying square to the shooter. Commesso looks like a legitimate goaltending prospect but hasn’t been getting many of the headlines because he happens to be filling the shoes of one of the programs all-time great netminders in Knight. Watch for Commesso to be a goaltender that teams look to strike riches with, in the mid-rounds of the draft.
Despite not being a record-breaking team, this year’s crop of USNTDP players is an intriguing group of players that should continue a strong run for USA Hockey and their NTDP. They should still see double-digit draft picks and will likely see at least one or two first-round picks. If you haven’t been paying attention to this squad, you should because they play an entertaining brand of hockey against a unique blend of opponents from the USHL and NCAA. If you are in the Michigan area, try to get out to a game at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan where the club plays and trains. It’s a nice facility to enjoy a game without a bad seat in the house!
Thanks to @StarsStripesHKY for all of the video. They are one of the best accounts for following USA Hockey so give them a look! I’ll be back next Monday with another Rambling about whatever is going on in the world of prospects. Be sure to watch out for the NHL Draft Report later this month as well as we kick-off 2020 with an in-depth report on the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft! As always, you can reach out to me on Twitter at @theTonyFerrari! Make sure to reach out if you decide to attend a game at the USA Hockey Arena and if I’m there, I’d love to say hi! Until next time, find a rink near you and enjoy some hockey!