At spot 81, the Arizona Coyotes tapped the program again in taking Brendan Warren, a player who can do a little bit of everything and possesses the raw skills to make good use of any situation, but who excels in the defensive assignments every coach craves of a two-way forward. A left shot, the 6’0“, 191-pound speedster likes to hound opposition defensemen on the forecheck, rags the puck excellently when time needs to be killed, and gives opposition attackers nightmares in his own zone. Ranked 66th overall among North Americans by CSS and sixth among U.S. NTDP players by Hockey’s Future, Warren put up two goals, four points, and a +6 at the U18. Against USHL competition, he scored seven goals, 13 assists, and a +5 in 20 games. He also had 19 goals and 38 points in 61 program games. All in all, his defensive play doesn’t come without offensive acumen.
The Michigan native will be attending the University of Michigan next fall and is just the type of player the program prides itself in. Hockey’s Future felt Warren would be taken between spots 55-85 and sees him as an optimal addition to a Coyotes team that has been placing an emphasis on finding forwards who can play across 200 feet.
Going in the next round was defenseman Caleb Jones, the younger brother to Nashville Predators star defenseman, Seth Jones. Although not as big or flashy as Seth, Caleb is a player in his own right and brings a very responsible game to the table. Able to read situations well in all three zones, he is very heady with the puck and places an emphasis on being defensively sound and aware, particularly when the opponent possesses the puck. Most impressive is that he has shown a very steady learning curve the past two seasons.
Not one to want to soak in the spotlight, Jones won’t need to now as part of an Edmonton Oilers organization that is filled with a number of other star-studded youngsters. Having gone 117th overall, Hockey’s Future had predicted that he’d be taken between spots 105-190. He was ranked 115th overall among North Americans by CSS and eighth among program players available for the draft by Hockey’s Future. He’ll follow in his brother’s footsteps by heading to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL this fall and will be given plenty of time by Edmonton to continue developing at that level.
Later in the draft, the St. Louis Blues pounced on goaltender Luke Opilka, who despite a decent winter had an underwhelming performance at the U18 and wasn’t ranked among the U.S. NTDP Top 10 heading into the draft. After having committed to the University of Wisconsin, Opilka is now slated to play for the Kitchener Rangers next fall, where he hopes to gain the practice and experience of a longer OHL schedule. Opilka possesses a number of the tools and the aggressiveness you like to see out of a goaltender that is selected to play for the U.S. at any level. A well-sized goalie who displays good mental toughness, both his arms will need to become better at what they do (catch and block) as he continues on, and at some point, Opilka will need to incorporate his stick in a more productive manner. A St. Louis native, it came as no surprise that the Blues added this talented goaltender to the organization.
Taken two picks later at 148th overall was smaller winger Troy Terry, who formed a formidable shorthanded pairing with Brendan Warren for much of the past winter and right on into the U18 tournament. A sneaky player with a solid pair of mitts and some often dazzling creativity, Terry was ranked 107th overall in North America by CSS and as the 7th-ranked program prospect heading into the draft. Now a part of the Anaheim Ducks organization, the Colorado native is heading to the University of Denver in the fall. Hockey’s Future felt he would be drafted between spots 90-160.
The 6th round saw two more U.S. NTDP players taken, namely defensemen Nicholas Boka (171st overall by the Minnesota Wild) and Steven Ruggiero (178th overall by the Anaheim Ducks). Both were part of the gold medal winner in Switzerland, although Ruggiero assumed a strict #7 defenseman role while Boka took a regular shift, providing a lot of the team’s muscle. An extremely competitive player who has all the prerequisites to make a bigger impact offensively from the blueline, Boka is a Michigan native and will suit up for the University of Michigan in the fall. Ranked 117th overall by CSS and 9th among program prospects by Hockey’s Future, we felt he’d be selected between spots 135-180.
Ruggiero, on the other hand, has been a part of the U.S. program for several years now and was a regular in the program all winter long, collecting a goal, 22 points, and a +20 over the course of 88 total games. Never one to be shy of the rough stuff, the Long Island, NY native will attend Providence College in the fall. A defensive defenseman, the 6’3”, 201-pound player is still a work in progress and has a lot of potential in this capacity moving forward. Although on the scouting charts for years, we at Hockey’s Future had given Ruggiero an honorable mention in the draft preview, as he had been usurped in the numbers game within the U.S. NTDP. Both he and Boka will be given plenty of time to develop and be an option for their respective clubs in 3-4 years time.
Hockey’s Future had ranked former NHL forward Tom Fitzgerald’s son, Casey Fitzgerald, 10th among program prospects while CSS had him 148th overall among North Americans. Featuring an average size of 5’10” and 185 pounds, Fitzgerald contributed a goal, four points, and a +12 to the USA’s gold medal run, often on the ice with cousin and 2016 top prospect Tkachuk, serving primarily paired as defenseman number four together with the aforementioned Krys. During the season, Fitzgerald had three goals, eight points, and a +16 to accompany 53 penalty minutes in 22 USHL games and then another nine goals, 25 points, and 67 penalty minutes in 57 program games.
Off to Boston College in the fall, Fitzgerald has very much looked like the type of guy who will always be dependable no matter where he may one day play. His omission came as a huge surprise to Hockey’s Future, but his invite to the New Jersey Devils’ prospect camp last week was anything but. Sound and solid in all three zones, there is no denying his deep hockey roots as he has spent his whole life surrounded by the NHL.
Much like Fitzgerald, U18 gold medalist Joseph Masonius went undrafted despite having taken a fairly regular shift this past winter and spring. The University of New Hampshire-bound, six-foot and 190-pound player can play it any way you want it in all three zones and was one of the USA’s top producers from the blueline this past winter, where he had 10 assists and a +10 in 24 USHL games, and another six goals and 29 points in 65 contests. Able to play with a mean streak, he accumulated 136 penalty minutes in total before contributing one assist and a +9 to the gold medal effort. He too attended a prospects camp this past week, namely that of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last, lightweight (168 pounds) defenseman Grant Gabriele, who CSS had ranked 90th among North Americans, played most of the winter for the program, but missed out on the U18 fun. Seen to have a considerable skill set, he went undrafted and will attend Western Michigan University next fall. Some bulking up and an injury-free winter would do wonders for his career aspects.
At this juncture, one has to think that a solid freshman year in the NCAA will see all three be draft topics again next summer.
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