There’s a large sign at the entrance of the Holiday Inn in Dubuque, host city of the 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, that lists the number of NHL Draft picks that have come out of the United States Hockey League (USHL) in recent years. In 2010, 22 players were selected. Last year it was 35, plus 16 alums that were drafted out of NCAA hockey. This year, 54 USHL players, plus six alums, are listed on NHL Central Scouting’s “Watch List” and have the potential to be selected this year.
The message is clear: If you’re from North America and want to get drafted, you have to play in this league. More specifically, you’ve got to be playing in this game.
There are three “A” rated players according to NHL Central Scouting — Kyle Connor (Youngstown), Tommy Novak (Waterloo) and Brock Boeser (Waterloo) — and seven “B” rated players taking the ice tonight in eastern Iowa. Many of these players are committed to the best Division I programs in the country, others are waiting on their decision, and many have NHL aspirations.
Connor and Novak are ranked among ISS Hockey’s current Top 30, with Connor at No. 15 and Novak at No. 26. The U.S. Under-18 team, which competes in the USHL, also has three players ranked in the ISS Top 30, but only two National Team Development Program players will be participating in this game.
Joe Cecconi (Muskegon), Cooper Marody (Sioux Falls), Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Omaha), Brent Gates Jr. (Green Bay), Erik Foley (Cedar Rapids), Nikita Pavlychev (Des Moines) and Chris Birdsall (Youngstown) round out the “B” rated skaters, although Foley and Gates Jr. are scratched due to injury. In addition, Tory Dello (Tri-City) is ranked No. 98 on TSN commentator Craig Button’s “Craig’s List” and will play in tonight’s game.
The teams are divided East and West. Team East is coached by Mark Carlson (Cedar Rapids) and Matt Shaw (Dubuque), and Team West is coached by Jay Varady (Sioux City) and Cary Eades (Sioux Falls). Carlson earned his 500th USHL coaching victory in October, and his team leads the league with a 24-8-0 record. Shaw coaches the hosting Dubuque Fighting Saints. Varady played two years for the Fighting Saints, serving as the team captain in his second season, and currently has Sioux City on top of the Western Conference with a 20-10-3 record. Eades (Sioux Falls) was named the USHL Coach of the Year in 2012-13.
The game will be hosted at the Mystique Community Ice Center, which is located along the Mississippi River and borders Wisconsin. Players from around the country are descending on the eastern Iowa city, and while the typical hockey hotbeds of Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts are well represented, kids from California to Georgia, Colorado to Alaska are playing in this game, as are players from Finland, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and of course, Canada.
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