In little under a decade, the United States National Team Development Program, or US NTDP, has risen to the forefront of advanced training for American hockey athletes. Since players became eligible for the draft in 1998, a total of 92 participants in the program have been drafted by an NHL team. Fifty of the 92 have been selected over the last three drafts. The program set a record of four players taken in the first round in the 2003 draft.
This year the program graduated a total of 18 players, 15 of which are draft eligible. The remaining three were late ‘87’s and will be considered for the 2006 draft. Here’s a look at what the US NTDP has to offer for the 2005 draft.
1. Jack Johnson, D
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 201 lbs. DOB: 1987-01-13
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 4th among North American skaters
It should come as no surprise that Jack Johnson heads the list of prospects coming out of the NTDP this year. Scouts and GM’s alike love his overall abilities because he can score points from the blueline and because he can shutdown the opposition with authority. During his prime, New Jersey Devils rearguard Scott Stevens was the measuring stick for skilled two-way defensemen. Johnson fits that mold and could quite possibly be the heir apparent to Stevens’ throne.
Johnson is a bona fide two-way blueliner who is a consensus top three pick. Signed on to play with the Wolverines at the University of Michigan this fall, with the departure of four defensemen from the Wolverines squad, he will step in this season and make an immediate impact. After that, the sky is the limit for him.
Johnson is also an early shoo-in to lead Team USA’s group of blueliners for the 2006 WJC in Vancouver, B.C.
Comments from Michigan Wolverines associate head coach Mel Pearson
On Johnson as a player…“Anyone who has seen Jack understands that he is first and foremost a ferocious competitor. He really has a passion for the game, and he enjoys being out there. To go along with that, he has a great skill package and is a good offensive defenseman.”
On what he brings to the table at draft day… “I think it is the combination of his size and the intensity he plays with. Jack has the hockey sense and the vision, with an offensive flair to go along with that. I think they already see a player who brings a complete game to the ice. It’s not just one small thing, rather it is a combination of many things he does well.”
On the keys to Johnson’s development at Michigan...“In this case where you have a fierce competitor like in Jack’s case, sometimes he’ll get stuck over-analyzing a situation. We want to help get to the point where he feels it is okay to make simple and safe plays and not worry about having to strike gold every time.
“The other thing that I think would benefit him greatly would be able to find a little more self-discipline in his game. Being the physical and punishing type of player he is, you’re going to want to keep him out of the (penalty) box and on the ice. It’s a good dilemma to in be in for our case. You have a young man who shows the passion and gets up for shift and every game.”
On how Johnson should fit in with his new team… “He will have the opportunity to earn time in all situations. He definitely has the skills to play on the power play, and he did a great job killing penalties for the NTDP. The great thing for us and Jack is that he came out of the NTDP. Having already played about 20 to 25 college games, he has played at this level and he won’t be intimidated with the competition. This is going to help when we have to go into the top rinks and play the top teams. I expect him to step in a play in every situation and be a huge addition to our team.”
2. Jack Skille, RW
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 200 lbs. DOB: 1987-05-19
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 11th among North American skaters
Jack Skille is a high-octane type of player who finds ways to get things done and is not afraid to get his nose dirty. He led all draft eligible forwards with 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 54 games for the U-18 squad. He was also a big part of USA’s success in international U-18 competition this past calendar year. It seemed that when it matter the most, Skille was one of the team’s top go-to guys.
Skille is a well-built power forward who uses his size and skill to his advantage. Using that blend of power and skill makes him very hard to defend against. He can go around you or go right through you. He is extremely strong on his feet, and he is a good skater.
After he picks up a new sweater and cap this weekend, he’ll be on his way home to Madison to play for the University of Wisconsin. Skille will be another one of the headliners for Team USA’s 2006 WJC team.
3. Ryan Stoa, C
Ht: 6’3 Wt: 200 lbs. DOB: 1987-04-13
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 13th among North American skaters
It seems that the camps are split on Ryan Stoa. While some feel that he won’t live up to the lofty expectations that lie ahead, others see tons of potential just waiting to be tapped. Although he wasn’t shy in the offensive zone (4th in team scoring) for the NNTP’s U-18 team for 2004-05, the biggest test remains ahead of him when he reports to the University of Minnesota in the fall. Head coach Don Lucia is just the right person to guide him. Not only will Minnesota be a loaded team, but Stoa will have familiar faces in Nate Hagemo, Phil Kessel (2006 eligible), and Jeff Frazee to help adjust.
Stoa will likely prove to be a late first round steal. He has the plenty of upside and raw potential to develop into an effective power forward. Given his size, he’s a good skater who possesses good speed. His fundamentals are second to none, and he can stickhandle with the best of them.
He has been not a consideration for Team USA’s 2006 WJC. Regardless, his best is yet to come and he’s a true star in the making.
Comments by Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia
On what Stoa brings to the Golden Gophers… “He’s a big skilled forward. I just saw him in the weight room, and he’s a solid 210 pounds and is 6’3 tall. It is not that easy to find a combination of a player with that size and who is highly skilled. We like the fact that he could play center, or he could play the wing. He’s a versatile as far as that concern goes. He could be that power forward or that skilled centerman. On top of that, he is a good skater and he sees the ice very well. I think when he fills out, you couple that with his skill and you get a combination that will suit the NHL and even us.”
On the keys to his development… “Using his overall ability and even using the body down low a little more. He’s going to learn how important it is to be competitive night in, and night out. Stuff like that is all part of the process.”
On where he fits in with the current roster…“It’s too early for us to tell just what kind of role he will fit into best. Once we get a chance to coach him we’ll get a chance to see whether he is going to be that skilled forward, if he can work on the power play, kill penalties or even play four-on-four. If we like his overall versatility, then we’re going to give him that chance to play in those different situations.”
4. Jeff Frazee, G
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 180 lbs. DOB: 1987-05-13
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 7th among North American goalies
With much of the hype focused on the firepower up front of the U-18 team had during the 2004-05 season, it’s easy to forget netminder Jeff Frazee. While the team’s overall record last season was an impressive 37-12-5, Frazee turned in an impressive 22-7-0 record of his own, while five of those wins were shutouts. His 2.29 goals against average and .927 save percentage were an all-time single-season records last season. He was also unstoppable in the international forum with the U-18 National team, putting up even better numbers against the best of his peers worldwide.
This fall Frazee will be donning the maroon and gold for the University of Minnesota along with several NTDP players for the 2005-06 season. Currently, the Golden Gophers have Kellen Briggs (junior), who did a great job last season, splitting between then senior Justin Johnson. Frazee could easily step in next season and be the team’s starter.
Comments by Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia
On what Frazee brings to the program… “He’s a very competitive athlete. What intrigues me the most about him is his ability to play big in big games. He has shown this as far back as high school and continued with it through the NTDP. He came up big in the international tournaments where Team USA took home all those gold medals. He has already proved himself against the college teams last year as well. Overall, he has a great attitude and we’re eagerly waiting to see him battle Kellen (Briggs) for the starting job.
“He’s going to have to earn the starting job because Kellen was our starter. I have years where I played one goalie, and then there have been years where I have had goaltenders alternate. How they play will determine who gets the starts. If they’re both playing good then they rotate and conversely.”
On the keys to Frazee’s game…“He’s got good size, and he is very athletic. He stays square to the shooter, he has good reflexes and he stops the puck. I’m not the expert when it comes to goalies, but he has a certain look.”
On what is going to for Frazee to succeed with the future in mind…“First, we want him to concentrate on being a good college goaltender here with us. Hopefully, he will develop into an all-league goaltender. Then we’ll go from there.
“He’s going to have the opportunity to work with Rob Stauber, our goaltender coach. Rob understands what it takes to play at such a highly competitive level. Frazee will have him as a mentor throughout the whole process. It’s great because he’ll have someone there to show him what it will take both physically and mentally to make it to that next level. The ideal situation over the next few years, I hope, would to have him become our No. 1 goalie and help lead us to a championship.”
5. Jason Bailey, RW
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 206 lbs. DOB: 1987-06-04
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 56th among North American skaters
Jason Bailey played the entire 2004-05 season with the U-18 team, including all three of the big international tournaments this past year. He put up a total of 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in a total of 47 games played. Bailey proved to be the sparkplug the team was looking for. And it is no coincidence that his 172 penalty minutes ranked first overall on the team.
Bailey is a versatile, high energy, two-way winger who plays with an edge and is a pure competitor. Although he is not much of an offensive threat, he isn’t afraid to get dirty on the forecheck to get things done. You see him as one of the first players in on forecheck to help create offense. He is relentless down low in the corners and along the boards. His skilled linemates will benefit from that greatly. Bailey is a good two-way player, is very accountable and who will support the backcheck. He can play both ends at equal strength and will only continue to improve.
He’ll be headed to the University of Michigan in the fall of 2005, where he’ll join fellow NTDP graduates and play for the maize and blue.
Comments from Wolverines associate head coach Mel Pearson
On what Bailey will bring to the Wolverines program… “Jason is a typical power forward who has very good size, is strong and is a great skater. He can skate with speed, and he can skate with power. He will help our forecheck because of his ability to get in on the opposition quickly. He is obviously going to complement our skilled players with his hard work on the down low.”
The keys to Bailey’s development…”He has the raw skills, and he will have to fine-tune his approach. He will have to develop his scoring touch again. He needs to get his overall offensive prowess back. I feel that Jason will improve vastly if he can focus on one or two areas of his game. If he can exploit those traits, then I feel that he can become a good player.
“Generally, we get young men coming in from great programs and have had past success, but they’re not used to playing a specific role on a team to get them to the next level. That is something I feel Jason will do. He’s going to have to carve out his niche and define what role he will bring to the team. Looking at the big picture right now, I‘m not sure what that is going to be, but we’re committed to helping him develop as a player and as a person, to find that spot.”
On what scouts see in Bailey… “I think they notice his size, the fact that he plays with emotion and his overall skating ability. You need people like Bailey who can help out on a forecheck and with the penalty kill. I think that those are some of things that he’ll bring to a team. I honestly feel he has a lot of potential and that he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his full potential.”
6. Zach MacVoy, RW
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 214 lbs. DOB: 1987-03-07
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 99th among North American skaters
While playing with the NTDP over the last two seasons, Zach MacVoy has brought an equal amount of consistency to his game. During the 2003-04 season, he put up 26 points (8 goals, 14 assists), and 85 penalty minutes in a total of 63 appearances for the U-17 team. Playing with the U-18 squad for the 2004-05 season, he would went on to tally a total of 26 points (7 goals, 19 assists) in a total of 54 games played. His 127 penalty minutes ranked third overall on the team. He also played with Team USA at the Compuware Four Nations tournament and the Five Nations tournament during the last calendar year, where they took home two gold medals.
MacVoy is an average skater who displays a good center of gravity. It wouldn’t hurt him to polish his overall skating fundamentals. He is an extremely poised player who can be a very effective forechecker. He has good hands and is very effective with the puck in traffic. MacVoy shows some prowess in the offensive zone, though he needs to find his touch to be a consistent threat. He will most likely be a more effective two-way player rather than an offensive threat.
MacVoy is headed across town, to the University of Michigan, where he’ll play for the Wolverines.
Comments from Wolverines associate head coach Mel Pearson
On MacVoy’s potential… “For a big kid he has something you just can’t teach, and that is great hands. His offensive vision and overall instincts are very good. I think that he’ll be a very effective player from the blueline in and that is where is strength is. He’s very good down low cycling with the puck and down low in the corners. He does a great job protecting the puck. He’s another forward that is going to complement our highly skilled players, by bringing balance to a line.”
On what scouts see in MacVoy…“His size will jump out at you the most. He’s a big player and very rarely do you find someone of his size who has such good hands and vision. Teams have shown interest in him because of his size. Zach is the type of player that will be able to help an NHL team match up against a division or conference foe, who would otherwise have a size advantage. Again, he brings a lot of those intangibles you just can’t teach.”
On his future development with the Wolverines program… “I think he will continue to bring his offensive game and his desire to play. One thing that he will have to work on from the get go, is his overall skating and his speed. Because the NHL is set on changing their rules to open up the game, the bigger kids will have to be able to get up and down the ice a little bit better.
“Playing in the NCAA is definitely going to help him. To open up the game, college hockey as a whole, has really dealt with the obstruction issues. You just can’t hook a man a hold on. Zach will have to skate to get involved in the forecheck and in the backcheck. There is no question that being on the ice four years with Michigan will help his skating. We work very hard with all the players to help them accomplish their goals. In his case, that is something that we will focus on and help him develop and improve. There will be many opportunities for him to grow whether it is in the games or in practice, and we’re committed to his development.”
On maintaining his offensive consistency from the NTDP to the Division 1 level… “When we looked at Zach, we felt that his size, ability and consistency down low definitely distanced himself from some of the other recruits. Hopefully, we can continue to harvest that out of him so he continues to do what he does best. You know head coach Berenson has always had a way for getting the best out of his players. We love what he brings to the table and as long as we all work together, I feel develop Zach into the player we envisioned from the get go.”
7. Zach Jones, D
Ht: 5’10 Wt: 187 lbs. DOB: 1987-01-14
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 148th among North American skaters
Zach Jones began playing with the U.S. NTDP during the 2003-04 season, where he appeared in a total of 64 games for the U-17 squad. He was called up to participate with the U-18 National team at the 2004 IIHF World U-18 Championships where he helped Team USA take home silver in Minsk, Russia. He went on to play with the NTDP U-18 squad for the 2004-05 season, where he was the team’s assistant captain. In 52 games played, he scored a total of five points (two goals and three assists) and racked up 120 penalty minutes, which was second highest total amongst the defensemen.
Jones also appeared for the U.S. National U-18 team at the Compuware Four Nations Cup (Ann Arbor, Michigan), the Five Nations Tournament (Tjorn, Sweden) and the 2005 IIHF World U-18 Championship in Plzen, Czech Republic.
There is a lot to like from this defensive-defenseman. Jones is a typical, stay-at-home defenseman who is very competent in his own end and is a good positional player. He is a good skater with patience and skill. Jones is small for a defender, which might cause NHL clubs to shy away from selecting him, but he plays as if were a big man. Even though he will not be looked to for offensive punch, Jones has enough ability improve his offensive output.
He’s already among a group of 43 players invited to the 2005 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp this summer. Jones is poised to step in and take a spot in the top two pairings at the University of North Dakota. This comes as a relief for Fighting Sioux fans, since his older brother, Matt Jones (PHO), graduated the program at the end of the 2004-05 season.
8. Jason Lawrence, RW
Ht: 5’10 Wt: 183 lbs. DOB: 1987-02-02
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 110th among North American skaters
During the 2004-05 season, Jason Lawrence was the U-18’s fifth leading scorer with a total of 45 points (26 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games played. He played on a line with wunderkind Phil Kessel and was used in all situations. He got off to a slow start in the program, but has progressed tremendously over the past two years and has earned a lot of praise because of his work ethic on and off the ice.
The Saugus, Massachusetts native is returning home to play for Boston University. Not only is he a big fan of BU, but he will be a great fit for with the team. Guided by head coach Jack Parker, the Terriers play a fast tempo attacking-style game. He is ultra competitive and has showed to come up big in the past when it mattered most. He’ll mature into a leader and good point producer over the next few years.
Lawrence is a smart player who uses all his skill and ability to his advantage. He is a good skater with exceptional speed. He can catch an opponent off guard with his deftness and his skill. Lawrence is a very disciplined player, who has seen his time increase in all situations. He plays with some bite and is not afraid to go up against the bigger guys. Lawrence is very strong on the forecheck and possesses a bit of a scorer’s touch.
9. Justin Mercier, C/LW
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 171 lbs. DOB: 1987-06-25
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 114th among North American skaters
Justin Mercier came to the NTDP after spending the 2003-04 season in the USHL, with the now defunct St. Louis Heartland Eagles. He joined the U-18 squad for the 2004-05 season where he put up 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists), and 73 penalty minutes in 53 games played.
Mercier is a good all-around player who is ultra competitive, and who is noted for his unparalleled sense of urgency and willingness to play a very physical game. He makes the most of his ice time and works hard at both ends of the ice. He is tenacious on the forecheck and a monster around the net. He is very effective in tight situations and can battle through traffic. He has great anticipation and foresight, which makes him just as dangerous with the puck as he is without it. Mercier is a good positional player who is very reliable and will also work very hard on the backcheck.
Making great strides over the last two years, he brings consistency to the table and should project to be a good third centerman through the next few years of his development. He will get a chance to further his career at the University of Miami-Ohio, starting this fall.
10. Brandon Gentile, D
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 200 lbs. DOB: 1987-04-23
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 163rd among North American skaters
Brandon Gentile has made a steady progression from USA Hockey’s Selects program, into the NTDP and onto the collegiate level, where he’ll play for the Spartans of Michigan State for the 2005-06 season.
While excelling through the lower ranks of youth hockey in Michigan, he showed the ability to be a great offensive defenseman. Over the past two seasons, Gentile has actually turned into more of the opposite. Where he came into the NTDP as an elite offensive driven rearguard, he left a polished defensive-minded prospect.
The ability to score is still there, however it is going to depend on what role head coach Rick Comley will want him to fill. Junior Spartan Ethan Graham was last year’s top scoring defenseman with 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in 50 games played. If given the chance to find his scoring touch again, Gentile could prove to be reliable from the blueline.
Nathan Gerbe, C (CSS #160) – Gerbe will be overlooked because of his size, standing at only 5’5, 160. He’s a little feisty for his size and will not back down to bigger competition. He was the teams’ seventh leading scorer, putting up 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists). He came up big at the Five Nations Tournament and was the Team USA’s second leading scorer at the 2005 IIHF World Under-18 World Championship. He will continue his career at Boston College.
Jimmy Fraser, RW (CSS #172) – The U-18 team captain appeared in 52 games during the 2004-05 season, scoring a total of 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) and racking up 80 penalty minutes. He was invited to the to the 2005 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp this summer as consideration for Team USA’s 2006 WJC squad. Fraser will play for Ted Donato at Harvard during the 2005-06 season. He’s a versatile winger.
Kyle Lawson, D (CSS #188) – Lawson was drafted in 2004 by Tri-City in the USHL, but chose to join the NTDP instead. While playing the 2004-05 season on the U-18 squad he put up 23 points (3 goals, 20 assists) in 39 games played. He’s an offensive-minded defenseman that needs more time to develop into the role. He will play for the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame in the fall.
David Inman, D (CSS #198) – Some see two-way potential when it comes to Inman, but he didn’t put up the numbers many would have expected from him. He has improved over the years but lacks consistency in the offensive zone. Inman will be one of seven incoming freshman at Yale University for the 2005-06 season.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.