Welcome to my ramblings, where I’ll be writing down my thoughts on NHL and draft-eligible prospects once a week. I’ll be using the ramblings to keep you posted on the week’s events, or let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.
This time around, I wanted to review the Biosteel All-American Game, a Blue vs. White match in which the USHL’ various American junior prospects are called upon to display their talents. This year’s showcase featured a decent amount of potential first-round picks in the upcoming NHL draft, so I saw fit to review each team’s standouts and write a bit about what I saw.
Starting off with Team White, headlined by a potential top-five pick come July:
Logan Cooley, C — USNTDP (2022)
Cooley’s game tonight was experimental and imaginative; the two-way forward saw this showcase for what it was: an opportunity to try outrageous stuff out and see what works. Most notably, he fired a good amount of behind-the-back spin passes and fired a between-the-legs shot on goal which led to an easy rebound bury for Cole Spicer.
I really like this side of Cooley, when he strays from his comfort zone and puts himself out there; the center has maintained that energy in the USHL, and the hands on Cooley are always evident. He holds both elbows away from his hip and generally keeps his hands above the puck, allowing him to pull, pass or shoot in one movement while extending how far he can handle the puck from his body. His ability to read what’s in front of him and react quickly makes his game tick, as he is often a nuisance on contested pucks and can pick pockets with an impressive amount of consistency.
Although there isn’t a game-breaking element to his shooting, it’s decent enough to beat netminders at this level from short and medium range, which is where Cooley ends up often anyway. His execution at times lacks fluidity; he’s more erratic than graceful, but he has so much energy that he makes up for it by working twice as hard as his opponents.
I’d be shocked if Cooley’s available outside of the top-10. There aren’t many prospects as complete as he is, and he could end up being a top-line center if the stars align. If not, he’s got a vast toolkit to fall back on if the offense doesn’t pop. The only thing that could hold him out is his 5-foot-10 frame, which has the tendency to make teams hesitate to pull the trigger in the top-10.
Lane Hutson, LD — USNTDP (2022)
I could gush for days about this kid. He’s just so elusive, so crafty, an absolute joy to watch in the offensive zone. Did I mention he’s listed at 5-foot-8, 148 pounds, and defends like he’s 6-foot-2? Of course I didn’t. That was the first sentence of the paragraph.
Hutson’s edgework is refined, and he uses very little energy even at full speed. He can close gaps in no time, and his defensive stickwork makes me think he’s gotten used to fending off bigger forwards. His passing is thought-out and purposeful, putting accurate pucks through layers into areas that his teammates can use to create a better chance. He is especially adept at taking pucks from the point to the low slot, moving opponents around to create lanes and deceiving them to give himself the space required to make his play.
Right now, I’ve got Hutson sitting at 28th-overall on my board, and if he keeps showing the defensive abilities required to offset his lack of size, he should climb up a fair bit.
Seamus Casey, RD — USNTDP (2022)
Casey has had an up-and-down season; some games, he’s looked utterly dominant and was by far the best defenseman on his team, and other games he’s been fumbling pucks, firing passes wide and making rash decisions that give the puck to the other team. The one constant has been his skating, which figures among the best in this draft class.
The edgework and elusiveness he shows in tight quarters is very difficult to teach. Combined with his ability to get rid of a forechecker or three with his hands and throw a pass to a streaking teammate, his skating makes him one of the best puck-movers in the draft. Another excellent element of his game is his defensive positioning; he takes away options just by anticipating threats and mirroring their movements within his zone of influence.
His game for Team White was solid; he made a couple of great offensive rushes while his partner Tyler Duke held down the fort, and prevented rush plays by doing exactly what he did in this clip. If there’s a way for Casey to develop consistency and perform as well under pressure as he did in this exhibition game, he could be an outstanding selection.
Honorable Mentions — Team White
Brady Berard, USNTDP (2022) — The forward had an impressive game, cycling the puck well and showcasing both great puck-skills and decent off-puck positioning. Doesn’t gain the middle as often as he should, but he surprised me as the team’s 2C. Scored a goal off a backboard bounce and generally made life easy for his team. He’s not a ranked prospect on any board, so I’ll see what I can find out about him.
Connor Kurth, Dubuque Fighting Saints (2022, re-entry) — Solid performance for the 18-year-old forward. Late July birthday, was only a month and a half away from missing last year’s draft. He was very sneaky, finding space or creating it with his hands before releasing a couple of decently-placed shots. Scored a goal and just looked overall good. I can see him be a late-rounder.
Moving on to Team Blue, who managed to climb back from a 3-1 deficit to win the game 4-3 in overtime:
Frank Nazar, C/W — USNTDP (2022)
Nazar’s stickhandling and puck control was on full display in this game, as the prospect has some of the silkiest mitts in this draft. He didn’t earn any points, but he poked and prodded his way out of problems easily, and showed decent agility and speed built upon great core elements, such as his ankle flexion and weight transfers. His pace of play should only improve as he matures physically.
His transition game is refined, as he throws in rush patterns and cutbacks to open up the play, dictating the game by delaying or accelerating based on the circumstances. He’s a dual-threat offensive play-driver, and while he can take his foot off the gas in his own zone at times, he’s not a liability and can pull his weight, even being used on the penalty kill for the NTDP. He regroups below the puck, and gives his defensemen an easy outlet for breakouts. Just a great mind with great abilities, who shouldn’t be on the board for long.
Cutter Gauthier, LW/C — USNTDP (2022)
The speedy winger played a high-octane game for Team Blue, showcasing his ability to carry the puck and stickhandle out of trouble. He earned an assist on the team’s first goal, as he carried the puck into the offensive zone and kicked the puck out to Jimmy Snuggerud, continuing his route to the net as his winger zipped a perfect shot into the top corner.
Playing as the team’s first-line center in this game, Gauthier managed to connect with his teammates often, but generally preferred to find a way into the offensive zone himself first. He was often found in and around the slot area, where he obtained almost all of his 20 goals for the NTDP so far. One of the more heavily overlooked prospects of the Program, Gauthier could very well build off of his excellent game and bump himself up the draft boards as the season rolls on. He’s 25th on mine at the moment, and could keep climbing.
Jimmy Snuggerud, RW — USNTDP (2022)
Snuggerud is another NTDP forward who has shown up in the first round of many a draft board, mainly due to to his refined goal-scoring abilities as well as his combination of size and intensity. His skating isn’t as high-end as Gauthier’s, but his goal-scoring is much more varied and well-rounded. He can score from almost anywhere in the offensive zone, and can do it in multiple different ways — wrist shot, slap shot, backhander, toe drag, you name it.
The main setback with Snuggerud is a lack of high-end manipulation and deception. He can get stuck in a one-track mind, looking to make the first play he sees rather than evaluating all of his options. Hockey sense is one of the toughest things to teach, which makes me lower on him than I probably should be, but he should be an early second-rounder at worst.
Honorable Mentions — Team Blue
Rutger McGroarty, USNTDP (2022) — the forward managed to score the game-tying goal after Team Blue initially went down 3-1 in the game. Showed great intensity and drive on loose pucks, and was just generally a handful for Team White’s defenders. His lack of speed might be a bit overblown, but the reason he isn’t in my first round is that his vision with the puck leaves to be desired. He shoots when he wants to, not when it’s appropriate. Great goal-scorer though.
Lukas Gustafsson, Chicago Steel (2022 re-entry) — the overage blueliner really caught my eye in this showcase, making some very good reads both on and off the puck to take the play away from his zone. Great skater and stickhandler, with a good mind for the game. He did take an avoidable penalty halfway through the game and was burned by Logan Cooley on a zone entry, but he could be one of the first overagers picked in 2022 based on his abilities.
Vincent “Vinny” Borgesi, Tri-City Storm (2022) — an undersized right-handed defenseman, Borgesi really showed how great he is at reading offensive plays and getting involved at the right moments. He had some great stretches in his own zone, disrupting plays and getting in front of shots with decent regularity. Earned a beauty assist on the 3-2 goal by Cole Knuble to start the comeback.
Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your prospect-related needs!