I made it to the Select 17 Festival in St. Cloud last Sunday to catch the first day of games. Per usual, the standard disclaimers that I'm not a professionally-trained scout, it's only one day's worth of games, and I'm positive that I missed some good players all apply. I'm just sharing my thoughts and opinions.
Starting out with an aside, I tried keeping track of the kids with bad hair, but to borrow from Apocalypse Now, it would have been like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. Most of the kids looked like they hadn't visited a barbershop in the past year. To make matters worse, there were quite a few scouts trying to pull off the "I can trick people into thinking I'm not going bald by shaving my whole head" look. It was not a pretty sight.
Speaking of scouts, obviously there were quite a few there. I saw probably half the teams in the NHL represented, as well as some USHL teams, and a couple guys from major junior. I mostly saw assistant coaches from colleges there scouting, with the exception of Scott Sandelin. I saw someone say that Scott Owens was there too. I thought it was interesting because last year, there were a lot more head coaches there scouting while this year it seemed to mostly be assistants. Off the top of my head, the teams I saw represented were: St. Cloud, Minnesota State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Denver, Bemidji, Merrimack, RPI, and probably a lot more that I missed.
For those not familiar with the format of the Festival games, here's a brief rundown. Each game has two 23 minute halves, and they resurface the ice at halftime. Penalties are only 1:30 instead of the normal 2 minutes, and there were a lot of them. USA Hockey was testing out there new rules and it seemed like games rarely went 2 minutes without a penalty being called. Players also weren't allowed to ice the puck while shorthanded. It didn't seem to make too much of a difference, though part of that is because the powerplays were so disorganized on the first day that the shorthanded team wasn't at much of an disadvantage.
Anyway, I think the easiest way to organize all this stuff is to go through game by game. I will point out that Games One, Three, and Five were all played on the practice rink at the National Hockey Center, which makes it a little more difficult to watch because you have to stand right on the glass.
Game 1 Black vs. Purple
I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to get a chance to see Colin Wilson play, but he wasn't out there for the Black team. A late addition for the Black team though, was Dean Chelios, Chris' son. His dad was there to watch him play, and let me be the first to say: Chris, you're like 50 years old now. I think it's time to put the Pearl Jam hoodie back in the closet for good.
Anyway, the player that impressed me the most off the Black team was Bowling Green recruit Nick Bailen. He was one of the best defenseman that I saw all day. Holy Angels' Bryan Brutlag also played very well. He's an excellent skater and good with the puck. I think he'll get a lot of attention from colleges' in this upcoming year.
Cedar Rapids' David Boehm scored two goals for the Purple team. He didn't look like a great skater, but he was always around the puck and always making things happen. I was really surprised to see that New Hampshire recruit James van Riemsdyk hadn't scored a point through the first two games. I was extremely impressed by him. He had a great mix of size and skill. Another guy that impressed me was Dan Durham from Team Illinois. He was an excellent skater and incredibly quick.
Marysville, Michigan's Chad Billins also played well for Purple. He could stand to add some more weight, but he was good with the puck. He also won the award for worst dressed with his purple jersey, bright red Alpena IceDiggers pants, and powder blue and orange Little Caesar's gloves. Trenton's Nick Taurence was another kid that played well.
North St. Paul's Ben Arnt didn't have his best game. With it being the first day, the game was a little more wide open and that didn't play to his strengths. He also got laid out by a nice hit from WHL defenseman Jon Blum. Once his team gets used to playing together a little more and get more organized on the powerplay, there's a lot of potential for him to take advantage of his skills.
Game 2 Green vs. Orange
It was nice to see the Green team being coached by former Merrimack goalie Joe Exter. He should have a great coaching career ahead of him. His Green team was really dominated in this game though.
The only goal for Green was scored by Nico Sacchetti. Sacchetti was pretty quiet for Green in the first half of the game, but made a nice play to score that goal, and created another nice chance.
Shattuck defenseman Ben Blood was the best defenseman I saw at the Festival that hasn't committed to a college yet. I had high hopes for Des Moines' Christian Steingraber, but I wasn't overly impressed. Jack Downing and Rich Manley were two east coast kids that stood out as being pretty good.
The best player I saw for the Orange team was Nick Palmieri, which is unfortunate since Palmieri plays in the OHL, and thus, isn't eligible for college. Michigan recruit Aaron Palushaj was on a line with Palmieri and also looked very good. He scored a goal off a goalmouth scramble and had a couple very nice passes that created high-quality scoring chances.
Michigan State recruit AJ Sturges looks like he has some potential, but I think he's still got a long ways to go before he's ready for the speed of college hockey. His defensive partner was Miami recruit Matt Tomassoni. Tomassoni played well, but he needs to add a lot of size and strength, which probably goes without saying for a 2008 recruit.
Colorado College recruit Tyler Johnson was less impressive than he was at the Minnesota Model Camp, which is to be expected against better competition, but still showed quite a few flashes of his talent. I'm still convinced CC got a steal in this kid. The other two Minnesotans on the team, Dan Vranek and Adam Mueller also played well.
Culver Academy's Corey Chakeen scored a very nice goal with a snapshot over the goalies shoulder. It was one of the better goals of the day. Defenseman Kris Massaro didn't really stand out to me, but he played solid through the entire game and didn't really make any mistakes. Stephen Bozek, from Chicago, was a kid I hadn't heard of prior to Sunday, but he really impressed me. He's fast and has very quick hands. He intercepted a pass from a defenseman in the neutral zone and turned it into a nice breakaway goal. He also created some other nice chances.
Game 3 Teal vs. Red
Blake goalie Kent Patterson made a lot of saves and really helped his team win this game. Patterson is a very solid goalie, but despite his great numbers, I thought he still looked a little shaky. He left a lot of rebounds and loose pucks in the crease. He just as easily could have given up three or four goals. But it's hard to argue against a guy who gets the job done.
Matt White was probably the best uncommitted forward I saw on Sunday. He scored a beautiful goal, and had an assist, as well as creating some other chances. Thankfully, the scout from Sioux City was at the other rink and missed seeing White's goal by like a minute. Otherwise he may have broken down in tears. White is definitely a legit prospect.
Boston College commit Ryan Hayes had kind of an off game. He even passed up the opportunity to take a clear shot on net in order to try a difficult pass which didn't get through, which I wouldn't have expected. Colorado College's Nick Dineen played decent, but the wide open style didn't seem to suit his style of play as well. I disagree with people who questioned whether he or not he could skate well enough for the next level though. He looks fine in that area.
I was very impressed with Boston U recruit Colby Cohen on defense. He was very poised with the puck and didn't make many bad decisions. Another defenseman from out east that I thought did well was Ben Rosen. He had some very nice hits in the game. Benilde-St. Margaret's Chris Student didn't really stand out, but he did play his usual solid, mistake free game.
H.T. Lenz who plays for Shattuck, by way of Virginia, is a good skater and should be a decent college player down the road. CJ Severyn played decent, but didn't really do anything spectacular from what I saw. Robbie Vrolyk is a little guy from out east, but he's a good skater and was dangerous in the offensive zone.
Game 4 Royal vs. Grey
The player I was most interested in watching was Michigan recruit Tristin Llewellyn, and I thought he was excellent. He's had a couple rough seasons playing against older competition in the USHL, but he looked poised and confident on the ice with players his own age. The thing that stuck out most to me was that he was one of the best passers I saw. Every pass was hard, flat on the ice, and tape-to-tape.
Stillwater's Tyler Kieffer wasn't able to control the game like he did at the Model Camp, but he still played pretty well. The defenseman that I really liked from the Royal team was Tommy Cross from Simsbury High School in Maine. He's a 2008 recruit, but he was one of the biggest guys out there and looked very talented.
Brennan Vargas looked very good. He's picked up a few assists in the first two days, and had a few good scoring chances of his own. Some Wisconsin fans have asked me about the possibility of Wisconsin recruiting him, since his dad Ernie played there, and I think if he consistently plays like he did when I saw him, that's a definite possibility.
Matt Carle's brother David skated for the Grey team, and while I doubt he'll ever live up to his brother's legacy, I think he'll be a decent college hockey player some day. Michigan Tech recruit Derek Schooley also played very well.
NTDP player Mike Cieslak stood out as one of the better players on the ice. One thing I thought was interesting was that the NTDP really seemed to have put a premium on picking bigger players last year. Unlike last year, it seemed like most of the taller players, especially at forward, where guys from the NTDP. What's also interesting is that the team USA Hockey picked for the NTDP next year is going to be much smaller.
Minnesota recruit Nick Larson didn't have his best game. I've seen him play a lot better and I know how talented he is, so I'll chalk that up to a bad day or me not watching at the right moment. His linemate, Chris Darnell, however, was very impressive. He's an incredibly fast skater who plays at Culver Academy, but is originally from the south.
The Grey team's goalies were the goaltending combo for the Plymouth Whalers next season; Jeremy Smith and Kyle Jendra. Smith played the first half and only allowed one goal, which came off a shot from the point that was deflected right in front of him for a goal. He got caught scrambling around in his crease a couple of times, but kept the puck out of the net. It's really disappointing he didn't choose to go the college route.
Kyle Jendra also played pretty well. For the first 18 minutes, he looked like the best goalie out there. He made some very nice saves and was very sound positionally. Late in the period though, he got caught out of position and gave up a goal off a rebound. He then let in another goal after that. Despite the two errors, he still looked like an exceptional goalie.
Game 5 Gold vs. White
The big story in this game was White's incredible line of Ryan Hayes, Mike Hoeffel, and Brett Bruneteau. Hayes and Hoeffel dominated the game together. Hoeffel finished off two plays where Hayes used his size and speed to get around a defenseman and threw it in front to Hoeffel, who outbattled a defender for position and buried the puck. I expect Hoeffel to be a first round draft pick next summer, and I can definietly see Hayes going first overall in two years. The Hayes-Hoeffel combo kind of overshadowed Bruneteau, but he was also solid. He made some very nice passes to set up teammates, and almost finished off a nice goal in front.
Nebraska-Omaha definitely lost a good player in Frank Grezeszczak. He's an incredibly smooth skater. He did make a couple mistakes in his own zone which forced him to take penalties, but he's got athletic gifts that you can't teach. Wisconsin commit(albeit with a question mark) Ryan McDonagh also played pretty well. He didn't have to do a lot since his team controlled the play, but he was good when he needed to be.
On the other side of the ice, the more I see Pat White, the more I'm convinced he'll be a first round draft pick next summer. He had another great performance. Even though he was held off the scoresheet, he was still making his presence felt on the ice.
To go off on a bit of a tangent here, Redline Report wrote recently that they could see White potentially being a top three draft pick. I personally don't think he'll go that high. Every year, Redline likes to pick one sleeper type go and put him up way higher than anyone else has them in their rankings. Last year, it was Nigel Williams, this year it seems like it might be Pat White. One thing I've seen after the NHL draft this year is people ripping on Nigel Williams because some places(this site included) had him going first round, and he wasn't selected until the third. That makes no sense whatsoever. It's not his fault where some site ranked him, or where he was drafted. If anyone deserves to be chided, it should be the sites that rated him that high(again, this site included.) I think that's the end of my rant. Now back to the Gold team.
Wisconsin recruit Matt Thurber scored a beautiful goal and overall looked pretty good. Thurber came down the right side of the ice with the puck, and when the goalie came out to challenge him, Thurber cut right like he was going to skate around the net, but then cut back and jammed the puck in the short side. It was a very nice play. Ben Nelson is another forward for Gold that looked pretty good. I like the way the kids from Roseau play hockey.
On defense, Notre Dame recruit Ted Ruth had a very good game. He even managed to score a goal of his own. California defenseman Dennis Brown also looked good. Hopefully he stays away from the WHL, where he was recently drafted in their American draft, and chooses the college route.
Cloquet goalie Reid Ellingson had a tough game, giving up a few goals, but that was mostly due to the competition he was facing. Not many goalies would have stopped the pucks that he let in.
Game 6 Navy vs. Maroon
This was the game I probably played the least attention too, and thus, missed the most.
I was interested to see Colorado College recruit Andrew Hamburg play, though. He looks as though he has a ton of potential. The biggest thing he needs right now is to add some more strength, which he should be able to do over the next two seasons in the USHL. He looks like he has the tools to be an excellent college hockey player though.
Benilde-St. Margaret's Adam Estoclet played much better than he did at the Model Camp. Though I still think he needs to add a lot of strength, especially in his legs so he doesn't get pushed around as much, and can get into position to take advantage of his goal-scoring ability.
Anthony Maiani reminded me a lot of his brother Domenic. He's not going to be a first line center that wows everyone with his talent, but he'll be an extremely effective contributor on the second or third line of some college team.
Kevin Shattenkirk was good, as expected. It still disappoints me that he isn't going to Michigan.
I didn't pay a lot of attention to the Maroon forwards I was interested in like Corey Tropp and Ryan Schnell. On defense though, Joey Lavin, who is going to Providence, was very good with the puck. Moorhead's John Lee, the brother of North Dakota defenseman Brian Lee, was pretty solid on the blueline.
That about covers it. After almost 6 straight hours of hockey, my brain had pretty much turned into mush, but it was great to get to see some quality hockey in the middle of July. It already makes me excited for next season.