Top 5 USHL prospects for 2008

By Jeff Dahlia

The USHL had a strong draft last summer in Columbus, as a total of 21 players were selected NHL teams. While this does not include previous players who have moved on to other leagues and/or educational institution, the upswing in talent continues to help build the USHL as a quality development place for the NHL.

This year’s group is not as deep, but there are a handful of names who could quite possibly make an impact in the future.

1. John Carlson, D
Indiana Ice, 18, 6’3, 212

Carlson got himself on the radar two seasons ago while playing for the New Jersey Rockets in the AJHL. Last season, he joined the Indiana Ice, where he was a standout on the blueline. He was named to Eastern Division team for the USHL Prospects/All-Star Game this season and was named to the All-USHL Second Team and was also a member on the Center Trophy USHL All-Rookie Team. He was the top defenseman of his class in the USHL heading into the NHL Entry Draft. Carlson finished the season with 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists), 72 penalty minutes and was a plus-11 in 59 games for Indiana.

Noted for his size, strength and skating ability, Carlson is a very talented blueliner who processes an NHL skill set. He is a great playmaking defenseman, who’s very responsible in his own end. He plays a very controlled, smart and methodical game. He has developed a good habit of sticking to the system and playing within reason. The rearguard works the opposition hard, can play in tight situations, and was one of the team’s top penalty-killers. He’s a high quality defenseman who is fast and agile on his skates for a player of his size.  Carlson has great instincts and times the game effectively. He’s said to be very coachable and willing to do what it takes to win. Over his last few seasons, Carlson has gravitated to the top as a defensive scorer showing his ability as a strong offensive-defenseman.

Carlson was headed to the University of Massachusetts for next season, but around the time of the NHL Combine it was learned that he maybe heading up north to the London Knights of the OHL to supplement his development.

2. Nick Larson, LW
Waterloo Black Hawks, 18, 6’2, 185

Many mistake this Larson for the other Nick Larson, the one who played for the Omaha Lancers last season and who was selected by the Washington Capitals in the 7th round in Columbus. Even though they bear the same name, this late-89 version appears to be an upgrade of the latter.

This Larson played his junior high school year, the 2006-07 season at the St. Thomas Academy and helped the Cadets go 22-0-1. Also that year, the Waterloo Black Hawks selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 USHL Entry Draft. This past season, he joined the Waterloo where he finished fourth overall in team scoring with 38 points (19 goals, 19 assists) in 57 games. Larson also played for Team USA at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge. He was named to the Eastern Division team for the USHL Prospects/All-Star Game. Larson was a top-six forward who saw time on the special teams. He was a key component to the Black Hawks power play.

Larson is a classic power forward who plays a hard game. He’s a very intense player who finishes his checks and goes to the net hard as well. For a player of his size and stature, he has good feet and can move really well. He’s a good player who adds size and an edge to any roster. He has matured immensely on ice, which has helped him read the game and make better decisions. On the physical side of things, Larson needs to continue to grow into his frame.

He will have enough time and a good program to continue to develop in as he heads to Notre Dame next fall.

3. Patrick Wiercioch, D
Omaha Lancers, 17, 6’3, 180

While there was a lot of interest in Patrick Wiercioch from the Portland Winter Hawks in the WHL leading up to last season, he choose to play in the USHL instead with an eye on Division-1 college programs. He joined the Omaha Lancers as an import player for the 2007-08 season. He broke his right thumb late in November and missed 20 games as a result, but came back and fit right in. In 40 games, he had 21 points (3 goals, 18 assists) 24 penalty minutes and was a plus-12. Wiercioch was also one of the team leaders in Omaha’s Anderson Cup run, where he was the team’s second leading scorer with 11 points (2 goal, 9 assists) in 14 postseason matches.

The blueliner has a nice blend of size and skill. He’s a good all-around defenseman who can play in many different situations. A mobile puckmoving defenseman, he has very good hands but needs to better his skating. Wiercioch needs to add some size and strength to become effective down the road. Has the smarts and know how to be effective.

Wiercioch has committed to the University of Wisconsin, and he’s waiting to see if he’ll enroll this fall or wait to join the Badgers for the 2009-10 season.

4. Seth Soley, C 
Omaha Lancers, 18, 5’11, 185

After a successful career at high school career back in Wisconsin, Seth Soley decided to forgo his senior year at Eau Claire Memorial and join the USHL for the 2007-08 season. Even though the Green Bay Gamblers selected him in the 2006 USHL Entry Draft, he asked the Gamblers to trade him. Soley was shipped out to the Omaha Lancers and reported there. However, he didn’t put up strong numbers as many hoped for. It took him some time to adjust to the speed and skill of the league, where he finished with 15 points (7goals, 8 assists), 50 penalty minutes and a plus-5 in 43 games played.

Soley has decent size and is good on his skates but could improve his quickness. He’s very aggressive on the forecheck and is very good one on one. He works well in corners, around the net, and can execute in traffic. He plays with a visible edge and does not shy away from contact. he possesses good hands and moves the puck well but at times holds onto the puck too long.

Soley will continue his career at Michigan Tech next fall.

5. Max Nicastro, D
Chicago Steel, 18, 6’2, 189

The Southern California native was selected by the Indiana Ice in the sixth round of the 2006 USHL Entry Draft with the 68th overall pick. Before joining the league for the 2007-08 season, the Ice traded his rights to the Chicago Steel. Nicastro finished as one of one of the top rearguards for the team. He collected 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists), 78 penalty minutes and a plus-7 rating. He also was a member of Team USA at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge.

The young defenseman has taken some big steps to play effectively with in the USHL. He plays a very good all-round game, but is first and foremost very responsible in his own end. He’s good puckhandling blueliner, who can make a great first pass or join the rush when needed. He makes good reads at both ends of the ice. He has showed that he is able to get on the right side of the opposing player and attack effectively, causing turnovers with his stick work. He’s good at closing up lanes and stealing passes. He was used in all situations for the Steel and played on top power play and penalty-kill units. Nicastro has good offensive upside, plays the puck well, has good vision and big shot.

Nicastro will return to Chicago in the USHL next season before joining Boston University in the fall of 2009.

Other Notables

Mitch Bruijsten, RW – Sioux City Musketeers
A late bloomer who has the size and skill, Bruijsten lacked exposure playing in the German junior leagues prior to joining Sioux City and the USHL. As a power winger, he is effective driving off the wing and crashing the net. Is noted to be hard to move off the puck and hard to move in and around the net.  In a short time in North America, he has learned to play with a lot of intensity and has become fairly physical. He possesses a very good skill set, which gives him the ability to either set up plays or finish with positive results. He has also been used at center ice, where he is good taking face-offs and creating opportunities. In 56 games, Bruijsten finished with 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists), 28 penalty minutes, and was a plus-12.

Brady Hjelle, G – Cedar Rapids Rough Riders
Hjelle played for U.S. Under-18 Select Team at the August 2007 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic before joining Cedar Rapids for his first season in the USHL. Three-time goalie of the week last season, he also played for Team USA at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge. Named to Eastern Division team for the USHL Prospects/All-Star Game. Hjelle has good poise, is very competitive and is also very athletic. Is good at challenging shooters, working well in traffic and picking up the puck. Does well with his rebound placement is able to handle the puck effectively. He finished the year with a 22-15-4-3 record, a 2.50 goals-against-average, and a .921 save percentage.

Jordan Samuels-Thomas, LW – Waterloo Black Hawks
Played with the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack in the AJHL before joining the league this season. Took time to adjust but picked up his play in the second half of the season. In addition to regular shifts, saw time on the power play. The big power forward registered 11 points (8 goals, 3 assists), 65 penalty minutes and was a minus-3 in 56 games. Samuels-Thomas is a power forward with size and skill. His biggest asset is his hands and working with the puck in tight situations. He can protect the puck and works hard down low.

Steve Quailer, RW – Sioux City Musketeers
The winger is another late bloomer who got a chance to play in the USHL with Sioux City this past season. Ended the year tied with Joe Miller for the team lead in scoring with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 60 games. He also had a plus-16, which was third best on the squad. Quailer has excellent breakaway type of speed and a good stride. He has good hands and shoots the puck well. He has good playmaking ability, good vision and is able to play any one of the forward positions. He utilizes a very quick release, not generally winding up but is able to snap the puck from all areas of the ice. Quailer is very strong on the puck and is able to protect in the corners.