I was able to drag myself out of bed on Sunday morning and make it up to New Hope for the final day of the Bauer/Nike Elite League NIT. There was some excellent hockey played between some very good teams, with a lot of scouts in attendance. Here were my thoughts.
Apparently there's no rest for the weary. Less than 12 hours after completing a sweep of Michigan Tech in Colorado Springs, I saw CC's head coach Scott Owens at the tournament. Maybe he just wanted to get out of the germ factory that is CC's lockerroom. Anyway, he was rewarded for his trip. The players at the tournament that had already committed to CC put on a very nice show. 2008 recruit Andrew Hamburg was the best player on the ice in the 7th place game. He's a pretty good skater once he gets going, and his puck control is just phenomenal. I was very impressed. The other CC recruit, Tyler Johnson, is my preseason favorite to win Mr. Hockey this year. His combination of speed and strength totally negates his lack of size. He should be an excellent player at the WCHA level.
I think Dave Hakstol was the only other head coach I saw at the tournament. Other teams I saw included: St. Cloud, Mankato, Princeton, Sioux City, Green Bay, Tri-City, and about a dozen NHL teams. There were a lot more, but I didn't catch them all.
Team Wisconsin finished in 8th place, but they had a few future college prospects on their team. Travis Erstad played on defense. He looked a little uncomfortable back there, but I could see him making the adjustment. Playing back there gives him a chance to use his big shot a little more often. Brett Bower was another kid with a really heavy shot. He has drawn some college interest, but I think he'll need a year or two of juniors before he goes to college. Same with Eau Claire's Justin Johnson. I think he'll play a year of juniors before going to college.
Aside from Hamburg, Dallas had a lot of pretty good players. One guy that stuck out was Chad Hudson. He had a pretty solid game.
The LA Junior Kings against the Michigan Stars was a really good, back and forth game. Michigan ended up winning 9-7. The player I liked the most out of this game was LA's Troy Power. He was absolutely great with the puck down low. He's very strong, and has a solid pair of hands. He's got loads of potential. I think that if the NTDP needs to add a forward next season, he's one of the best candidates.
Max Nicastro was the other big-time prospect for LA. I thought he played a pretty nice game. It's obvious that he's got a lot of talent. There's a lot of very good defenseman born in 1990 though. Nicastro is probably better off playing in LA this year instead of with Omaha in the USHL. The extra year of development at the midget major level will do him good, and he should do well in the USHL next season.
There were a lot of other players from LA that have some nice potential. Michael Juola is a talented player that has a lot of potential. Along with Juola and Power on the Kings first line was Branson Yost. He's an excellent skater. Dustin Nowick is a big power forward that likes to hang out in front of the net. He's a pretty good skater for his size, and should have a future at the Jr. A level. Defenseman Dennis Brown was a player I liked at the Select 17 Festival. He was good on the offensive end yesterday, but I think he could improve a little defensively, though he was also hampered by an ankle injury which slowed him down a little bit.
Michigan's team was better than I expected given that they were made up of Michigan High School players. Defenseman Greg Pateryn was a guy that was selected in the USHL Futures draft this fall. I thought he played a nice game, but again, the '90 born defenseman class is pretty deep, so I wouldn't say he's a top prospect. He'll play the college level some day though. The one kid that stood out hte most for Michigan was East Kentwood's Eric Alexander. He's got nice size and can skate pretty well. He made a lot of things happen out on the ice. The other two players on the team from East Kentwood, Ben Dykstra and Jeff Slusser, were also pretty good. EK should have a solid team this year. Cranbook's Andrew Miller also had a huge game. He's a small player, but very fast and has great hands. LA was about to blow the game open when Miller scored a goal on a beautiful rush up the ice, and then on the same shift, set up a goal with a beautiful rush and a pass to a wide open teammate.
The third place game between the two Minnesota squads was another very good game. It was as close as you're going to get to an all-star game of the state's best high school players. Just about every one of these players is a legitimate college prospect. I was really impressed with the pace that this game was played at.
I didn't watch as much of this game as I would have liked, but I wanted to pay more attention to the game between Shattuck and Team Illinois. The time I did spend watching, I tried to focus on the guys that I haven't seen as much. One kid that I really wanted to see was White Bear's Jake Hansen. He was rated as a top three round pick by the NHL. He's a big power forward with a booming shot. I haven't really heard a lot about him, but I expect there will be a lot more hype surrounding him this season.
I haven't been as high on St. Cloud recruit Jared Festler as a lot of other people. I'm still not thrilled with his skating ability, but he does a great job of getting into good position and being in the right place to score. He played on a line with Tyler Johnson, who set him up with some nice opportunities.
Another St. Cloud recruit, Tyler Kieffer, was an alternate, but got to play in the game. Some experts were surprised that Kieffer only made the team as an alternate, but I think Kieffer proved he belonged in the game. He had a very nice game.
Holy Angels forward Jak Knelman had a very nice game. He should attract a lot of college attention this year, as did his AHA teammate Chase Polacek.
The game I spent the most time watching was Shattuck against Team Illinois. I thought the officiating was good most of the day, but pretty lousy for this game. I counted about 4 penalties in the first period that shouldn't have been calls, and at least two of them led to goals. Shattuck was the much better team though, and it's no surprise that they won.
Anyway, David Toews of Shattuck was the best player on the ice all day. He was just outstanding.
Minnesota State commit Ben Youds played a very nice game. I'm really surprised that Des Moines let him go this season. He's still very poised with the puck, and looks like he's improved a little defensively as well. He would be ready to make the move to Division I if MSU's coaches decided they needed him next season.
Big defenseman Ben Blood also played a nice game. he's got a nice mix of size and skill. I really think he should be playing DI hockey next season. He's got the skating and playmaking ability, and he has the ability to step up and hit someone if necessary.
Stepan Novotny is starting to draw a lot of attention. He looked way bigger than 6'1". I don't think he'll necessarily be a superstar at the college level, but he should be a pretty good player.
Jordy Murray impressed me with the way he played. He came down on a 2-on-1 and scored a goal on an amazing snapshot into the top of the net. Not many kids could finish off a play like that.
Luke Greiner played a nice game. I had seen him play a couple times over the summer, and I always thought he was skilled, but he showed a lot more willingness to go into the scoring area and take a hit yesterday, and he was rewarded with two goals.
The other Shattuck kid that impressed me was Denver-native Brett Kostolansky. He's small, but a very quick skater. He'll have a nice future at the college level.
Team Illinois' Steve Spinell has been recruited by some top college programs and I thought he was outstanding. He played a very solid game for TI.
Chris Bournazos is small, but a very hard worker with pretty good skills. He was making things happen for Team Illinois.
Kurt Akers impressed me a lot more than when I saw him at the Select 17 Festival. He's a nice player that should play at the Jr. A level next season, and have a shot at playing college hockey.
Cody Murphy didn't do a whole lot, but he's also a 1991 birthdate playing against some of the best '89 and '90 birthdates in the country, so that's not a huge surprise. The other 1991 birthdate playing was Sam Calabrese. I thought he played pretty well. He may not turn out to be the superstar people thought he would be when he was younger, but he'll be a solid player at the college level.
Omaha recruit Fredrik Csisar has some nice potential. He's got good skating ability, but needs to add a lot of strength. He got pushed around a little too much to effective.