The USHL is the top junior hockey league in the United States and the league consists of 16 teams primarily in the mid-western United States. Over the last 10 years, the USHL has become a factory and a pipeline to the NHL. Currently, 213 USHL alumni are playing in the NHL and 211 USHL players have college commitments already this season. The USHL will never be as strong as the CHL in terms of pure firepower and prestige in my opinion, but it has become a viable option for many European players who want to become exposed to the style of hockey played here in North America. More and more Americans are being drafted higher and we can thank the USHL for that. This year the USHL could have four potential first round draft picks.
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1. Nick Schmaltz (C) Green Bay Gamblers
He’s the younger brother of St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Schmaltz and is currently one of the top American-born players for the draft. He’s an excellent skater who glides by his opponents effortlessly on the ice. He’s a creative center who excels in tight areas. He has good shot and is respectable in his own zone. Schmaltz is a player who I can see rising throughout the year and challenge for a top 10 position. Right now I would slot him in the 12-17 range. He’s committed to play at North Dakota for the 2014-15 season but it’s worth mentioning that his OHL draft right are held by the Windsor Spitfires. I don’t expect him to make the jump but you never know.
2. Sonny Milano (C) USA U-18
First off, his name is Sonny. How can you not like him already? The Massapequa, NY native is a finesse playmaker who is a gifted talent offensively. Milano has quick hands and is a real quick skater. He shined at the 2013 All-American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh a few weeks back. His combination of speed, handiness, and overall tenacity for the puck makes him of the most skilled forwards for the draft. He needs to show some more grit as he tends to get pushed around a lot. His size is a concern at 5-10, 159 pounds, but his skill set can overcome any size issues. He’s the top US Developmental Program prospect for the draft. He will play his college hockey at Notre Dame for the 2015-16 season and his OHL draft right are held by the Plymouth Whalers.
3. Dylan Larkin (C) USA U-18
Larkin was given an “A” rating by the NHL Central Scouting. He’s been a consistent and dependable player at every level he’s played at. He creates offense with his speed and his ability to pass the puck with quick precision. Larkin is a smart player, who has a knack jumping back into the play and helping out down below the goal line. If he has a strong year with the National Team, ala Mike McCarron last year, then I could see Larkin going in the first round. He’ll be a top 60 selection no doubt. He’s committed to play for Michigan next fall and his OHL draft rights are held by the Erie Otters.
4. Jack Glover (D) USA U-18
At 6’3, 172 pounds Glover will need to put on more weight to play at the NHL level. For right now, his size is just fine. He’s a good offensive defenseman who shows awareness in his own zone. He maybe a tad bit too high my list, but I like him because of his size. He’s not a good skater at all and will need to work on that to make it in college. His wrist shot and slapshot are subpar at best. Glover is a good passer though. He deserves to go in the second round but somebody will fall in love with him and take him late in the first round. He’s committed to play at the University of Minnesota next fall. His WHL rights are held by the Portland Winterhawks.
5. Alex Tuch (C/RW) USA U-18
Tuch is a big power forward. Offensively, he has good skill set with a real quick shot. He also has the ability to power his way to net using his size. He stands at 6’2, 222 pounds and scouts are already drooling over him. He’s committed to head to Boston College next year where Jerry York will work on his skating. Many BC observers say he reminds them of former Eagle and current Chicago Blackhawk Kevin Hayes. His OHL draft rights are held by the Guelph Storm.
6. Josh Jacobs (D) Indiana Ice
He’s not the most offensively skilled defender, but his size at 6’2, 190 pounds makes him a tough opponent to play against on the ice. He’s good his own zone, blocks shots, and cuts down angles well. When needed, he can contribute offensively. He’s going to play at Michigan State next season but there have been some rumblings he could jump to OHL with Sarnia who hold his draft rights. Only time will tell.
7. Shane Eiserman (LW) Dubuque Fighting Saints
Eiserman has potential to be a big riser this season. He showed some hints of offensive flair last season playing for the US National Developmental Program. However, he played mostly third to fourth line minutes as a 17-year old. The one thing Eiserman does well is use his big frame and body strength to gain leverage and puck possession against his opponents. I would like to see him drive more to the net given his size. He should develop nicely this season with powerhouse Dubuque. The Massachusetts native is committee to play at New Hampshire next fall and his QMJHL draft rights are held by the Sherbrooke Phoenix.
8. Austin Poganski (RW) Tri-City Storm
He’s my sleeper of any USHL prospect in the draft. He appeared in only two USHL games last season with Tri-City. He’s making the full-time jump with the Storm this season and I expect him to contribute right away and play top-6 minutes. Poganski is a good skater, who uses his speed to crash the net off the rush. He’s proven to be a natural scorer at every level he’s played. I love that’s he’s an excellent penalty killer as well. He’s one to keep an eye this season. It’s interesting that he’s committed to play at North Dakota next season and not staying in state to play for the Gophers. His WHL rights are by the Medicine Hat Tigers.
9. Seamus Malone (LW) Dubque Fighting Saints
He’s an average-sized forward who has some downright serious offensive skill. He’ll be called upon right away to produce right away for the defending USHL champs. He’s a raw prospect who is still trying to figure out the game. He’s committed to play at Wisconsin next fall. His OHL rights are held by the Plymouth Whalers.
10. Ryan Mantha (D) Sioux City Musketeers
Mantha is an intriguing prospect. He’s listed at 6’5, 225 pounds, but I think he’s closer to 6’6, 235 pounds. He’s more of a defensive stalwart than offensive minded. He’s going to get a lot of attention purely based on his size along. How he plays with Sioux City this season will have an impact on where he lands for the draft. He will attend North Dakota in the fall of next year. His OHL draft rights are held by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.