It came as little surprise that USHL prospects once again dotted the seven rounds of the NHL Draft last month in Philadelphia. A total of 18 players were taken from the United States’ top developmental league (excluding the NTDP players), with only one of them being a goalie. Of the remaining 17 players, 13 were forwards. Ironically, the Midwest archrivals Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues each selected three USHL players, more than any other team.
Going first amongst them was Hockey’s Future’s number one USHL prospect Nick Schmaltz (picked by HF to go between spots 20-30), who the Chicago Blackhawks traded up to take 20th overall. Not quite having the season for the Green Bay Gamblers that many had expected, he nonetheless led the team in scoring. Nick’s older brother, Jordan Schmaltz, was drafted by St. Louis in 2012, but Nick himself has a great deal of talent and the types of moves many players can only dream of. He’ll be heading to the University of North Dakota next fall, where no less than Jonathan Toews once laced up his skates. The Blackhawks felt very confident that this former Chicago Mission Bantam player will one day be a scorer at the NHL level.
Going 41st overall was Hockey’s Future’s number two USHL prospect Joshua Jacobs (picked by HF to go between spots 45-65), a promising defenseman who’ll play another year of USHL hockey before attending Michigan State University in the fall of 2015. A skilled player who loves to have the puck on his stick, Jacobs has spent time with the USA Hockey program and is considered a very good skater. He’s now property of the New Jersey Devils, who have a long history of drafting players who’ll be going the NCAA route. The organization was surely very keen about his +39 rating in 68 games.
The next USHL player to hear his name called was Hockey’s Future’s fourth highest-ranked prospect, center Maxim Letunov (picked by HF to go between spots 45-65.), who was drafted by the St. Louis Blues 52nd overall. A Moscow native, the very fast and talented Letunov had a real solid rookie USHL season for the Youngstown Phantoms, for whom he’s expected to play next season before attending Boston University. Going quite a different route, it is felt that with natural progression and once the 6’4” Letunov fills out, he can be quite the monstrous hockey player, but there’s no doubt that he’s currently quite a long-term project. The Blues will be happy to wait and see what becomes of him. They’ll have up to five years’ time to let him develop before they’ll need to sign him.
Shortly after Letunov, the Anaheim Ducks didn’t hesitate to grab the Waterloo Black Hawks’ Brandon Montour 55th overall (picked by HF to go between spots 70-120), a defenseman who was quite an offensive dynamo with 62 regular season points this past winter. He was Hockey’s Future’s fifth highest ranked USHL prospect and coming from Canada, had played mostly GOJHL hockey the past three years. He dominated the USHL circuit and is heading to UMass Amherst in the fall. Not the biggest player, Montour has quite a pair of hands to go with an excellent understanding of the game and ability to find his teammates.
The Chicago Blackhawks went the USHL route for the second time during the draft when they picked up Hockey’s Future’s eighth ranked USHL prospect, Matheson Iacopelli, 83rd overall (picked by HF to go between spots 130-210). A good sized winger at 6’2” and 192 pounds, Iacopelli had a big year for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, putting up 41 goals and 64 points to go along with a +12 rating. The Michigan native is a 20-year-old overager who is heading to Western Michigan University in the fall of 2015, so the Blackhawks will have plenty of time to watch this goal-scorer continue to improve his all-around game.
Also going in the third round was Mark Friedman, a defenseman for the Waterloo Black Hawks who is off to Bowling Green State University next fall. A 5’10”, 185-pound Canadian defenseman, Friedman collected 10 goals, 40 points, and a +22 for the Black Hawks this past winter. He’s felt to be a kid who is still growing and who may one day turn into a decent two-way defenseman at the NHL level. He was taken 86th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Despite only six goals and 21 points in 52 games last season split between Green Bay and the Chicago Steel, the Chicago Blackhawks picked Gustav Olofsson’s younger brother Fredrik Olofsson 98th overall. The Ottawa Senators followed suit at spot 100 taking overager and Hockey’s Future’s third highest ranked USHL prospect, Shane Eiserman of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Going 103rd to the Toronto Maple Leafs was J.J. Piccinich of the Youngstown Phantoms, who is heading to Boston University next fall. Going one spot after him was Ryan Mantha of the Sioux City Musketeers, who was selected by the New York Rangers and already measures in at 6’5” and 225 pounds. After these two, Austin Poganski (picked by HF to go between spots 95-150) was taken 110th overall by the St. Louis Blues. Poganski was Hockey’s Future’s ninth highest ranked USHL prospect and will join Schmaltz at the University of North Dakota. The fourth round then ended with defenseman Steven Johnson of the Omaha Lancers being taken 120th overall by the Los Angeles Kings.
Other USHL players drafted last month were:
128th C Dakota Joshua – Toronto Maple Leafs
129th F C.J. Franklin – Winnipeg Jets
145th F Anthony Angello – Pittsburgh Penguins (Hockey’s Future’s tenth ranked USHL prospect, picked by HF to go between spots 110-150)
202nd F Dwyer Tschantz – St. Louis Blues
In all, 35 players that competed in the USHL during the 2013-14 season were chosen at the 2014 draft. This number includes 12 U.S. NTDP players, plus five more players who did not spend a majority of their draft year playing in the USHL. The total of 35 draftees is the highest number of USHL-related players that have been chosen at the NHL Draft.
Hockey’s Future’s sixth ranked USHL prospect was goalie Kevin Reich, a German who was ranked fifth among North American goaltenders by Central Scouting. He was not taken in the draft and that likely had to do with his shorter showing in North America, as he only joined Dubuque after the U20 WJC. Also going undrafted were the 6’2”, 192-pound Finnish winger Waltteri Hopponen, who put up 17 goals and 31 points in 54 games for the Sioux City Musketeers before representing his country with two assists at the U18 WC, and the 5’11”, 170-pound defenseman Neal Pionk, who impressed with his gnarly game this past winter, posting 23 points, a +18 rating, and 93 penalty minutes in 54 games.
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