If there’s one 2010-eligible prospect who needs to have a good tournament at the U18 World Championships this week in Minsk, it’s Luke Moffatt.
A few years ago, Moffatt was projected to be a top prospect for 2010, but his stock is at an all-time low due to a lack of scoring with the US National Team Development Program.
The winger has offensive talent, but has failed to produce this year, with just 13 goals and 17 assists in 56 games. His scoring rate is down to .54 points per game from .61 last season with the U17 team.
Just two years ago, Moffatt led the Midwest League in scoring, with 37 goals and 19 assists in 30 games with Detroit Compuware. Selected second overall in the 2007 WHL bantam draft by the Kelowna Rockets, the only thing that likely prevented him from going first overall was his preference for the college route.
Beyond lack of output, Moffatt is thought to be inconsistent, and is also a bit undersized at 6’0, 179, though he’s stronger than he looks. He has time to fill out though. As one of the younger players in the 2010 draft, Moffatt won’t turn 18 until June.
Moffatt went from 75th among North America skaters in Central Scouting’s mid-terms to 95th in the final rankings. ISS ranked Moffatt 110th overall in February.
The drop in the rankings is perhaps a bit of an overreaction to high expectations though. Moffatt still possesses the skills he was once praised for, works hard, does the little things right and the puck finds him. His drop in production could very well be due to lack of confidence. Goal scorers need a bit of swagger, and Moffatt hasn’t had that lately.
This season the thing he feels he’s improved the most is "moving the puck a lot better, getting into open ice, and not giving the puck away," he said.
Moffatt attributes his good anticipation to knowing the game well and having good chemistry with teammates. He would put hockey sense among his best attributes along with his strength in the corners and his shot.
If a player isn’t scoring, the best thing he can do is to prevent goals, and Moffatt is doing that from the NTDP’s third line recently. He’s improved his defense to the point that late in the year he was on the penalty kill regularly.
"Coming into the program a couple years ago, I’d say defense was my weak point," Moffatt said. "But the last couple years I’ve really worked on defense and now I feel like I can be out there in any situation and be confident defensively."
Moffatt grew up playing roller hockey as well as ice in Arizona, and was coached by his father, a Vancouver native. Luke played on teams that traveled throughout the western states, sometimes against future NTDP teammates like Jason Zucker (Las Vegas), Nick Shore (Colorado), Jake Fallon (Texas), Matt Nieto and Chase Balisy (both California).
He will attend the University of Michigan, also based in Ann Arbor, this fall. Joining Moffatt at Michigan will be NTDP teammate Jon Merrill.
"I’m super-excited for next year, I can’t tell you," Moffatt said. "I’ve been waiting for three years — I committed so long ago it seems. But I’m not regretting my decision at all, I can’t wait for next year."
Moffatt said he didn’t know much about the school before he visited, but fell in love.
"After touring it, it just felt so right, with Yost and everything, the coaching staff, and the school aspect. It just felt right in my stomach."
Living in Ann Arbor for the past few years, he’ll have a leg up on the other recruits in being acclimated.
"I go to Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and a lot of the kids will be going to Michigan next year, so I’ll know a lot of the guys," he said. "Also getting to keep in touch with the coaching staff will make me more comfortable."
Having his family in Ann Arbor can’t hurt either. His family relocated from Arizona to Ann Arbor when he started with Compuware. It was his sister Cassie, now a freshman in high school, who was instrumental in making that happen.
"She was the one who actually decided, hey, instead of splitting up the family and having me move away, why don’t we just move," he recalled. "That means so much to me for her to pick up her whole life for me."
Their father, Kenny Moffatt, owns a business located near Ann Arbor, so it was easy to justify from that aspect. The Moffatts own several businesses, one that makes doors and kitchen cabinets, and one that makes meat slicers and grinders for commercial use.
At Michigan, Luke is hoping to study business, and follow in his father’s footsteps.
"I feel he’s had a pretty successful life and can really teach me things," Luke said.
Meanwhile, back in Arizona, there is one beneficiary of Moffatt’s falling draft stock — the Phoenix Coyotes. Moffatt grew up going to Coyotes games, as a native of Paradise Valley, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. With the recent turbulence surrounding the location of the team, Moffatt certainly would be a feel-good pick for the team this summer. And low draft stock means he’s more easily obtained.
Moffatt seems unfazed by his draft rankings.
"I’ll just keep working and see where I go," he said.
Moffatt has started the last two seasons slowly, and picked things up in the spring. He’s doing so again this spring. But this upcoming tournament is critical not just as the test of his team’s work for the past two years, but for him to redeem himself and fulfill his potential. He’s an emotional kid, which should help when it’s all on the line.
In an exhibition game against Slovakia on Saturday, Moffatt scored two goals. So far so good.