As the USHL season nears its halfway point, Hockey’s Future is offering a look at 10 players that you should have your eye on for this year's NHL Draft. All 10 players are currently on USHL teams and are eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft. Players from the U.S. NTDP squad competing in the USHL were not included in this review.
Ian McCoshen, D – Waterloo Black Hawks
A 6’3”, 207 lbs. defenseman from Hudson, WI, McCoshen has played in Waterloo the past three years after a stint at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, MN.
After a breakout season a year ago, when he scored eight goals and tallied 20 points in 55 games for the Black Hawks, McCoshen has only played in 21 games this season. Despite his absence, however, he has broken the 10-point plateau and could match his total from last season.
“Great size, reach and gap control,” said one scout. “Booming shot from the point and soft hands.”
Although McCoshen is a scoring threat from the blueline, he has been criticized for shying away from physical play even though he has so much size.
“Showing his true colors as of late though,” says one scout, “and has demonstrated more of a cowardly presence on the ice, rather than a tough one as his size would lead you to believe.”
He is currently committed to Boston College.
Luke Johnson, C – Lincoln Stars
Committed to the University of North Dakota, Luke Johnson is a Grand Forks native that will return to the Roughrider State after two years of playing under his uncle, Chad, in Lincoln.
Named one of only four “A List” prospects by the NHL's Central Scouting, there is anticipation that the 5’11”, 178-pound pivot who scored 20 goals (55 points) in 55 games last season could be an impact player at the next level.
While Johnson excites many talent evaluators, the decrease in his point total has become a red flag for a couple scouts.
“Average skater with a penchant for slinging the puck on net and does so with a deceptive, quick shot,” says one scout. “Does not engage himself across the sheet as much as he should and comes off a bit lazy more times than not. Does have a nose for finding open ice. Do not understand all the hype behind this prospect.”
Michael Downing, D – Dubuque Fighting Saints
A native of Canton, MI, Downing is another player that will be returning home after his time in the USHL. His commitment to Michigan means that the 6’3”, 185-pound rearguard will be playing his college hockey 15 minutes from home.
The youngest player on the Fighting Saints’ roster last season, Downing joined the team as a 16-year-old but did not shy away from physical play on the ice, racking up 68 penalty minutes in 54 games.
“Outstanding skater and physical tools,” says one scout. “Effective at skating the puck up and out of the zone. Downing does some work to do in his physical and mental game, though.”
“Lacks a physical presence in his own zone,” continues the scout, “and has questionable hockey sense.”
Like McCoshen and Johnson, Downing also is considered an “A List” prospect and expected to go in the first or second round.
Vinny Lettieri, F – Lincoln Stars
Grandson of Lou Nanne—a Minnesota hockey legend who served as a defenseman, coach and general manager for the defunct North Stars—Lettieri made a name for himself by accruing 60 points (23 goals, 37 assists) in 28 games at Minnetonka High School before joining the Lincoln Stars for 15 games last season. He had eight points last season (4 goals, 4 assists) and played in seven playoff games for Lincoln.
This season he has got off to a fast start with 23 points in his first 28 games.
“Explosive skater with an unrelenting work ethic,” says one scout. “Engaged across the sheet – a smart, details player that is reliable in most situations. Offensive upside with his vision and distribution skills.”
Gabe Guertler, F – Fargo Force
Described by some as the “Little Engine that Could”, Guertler is the first Floridian to commit to the University of Minnesota. The 5’9”, 170-pound forward has ties to the Land of 10,000 Lakes – his father played high school hockey in the Gopher State – but was born and raised in Plantation, FL.
Located near Ft. Lauderdale and, perhaps most pertinently, 15 minutes away from Sunrise, FL, home of the Florida Panthers, Guertler grew up in the Sunshine State and played for three teams in South Florida: the Lions, Golden Wolves and Florida Jr. Panthers.
A notoriously hard-worker, Guertller's lack of size is the only thing that might hold him back.
“At one point I thought he had reached his ceiling but he managed to punch through and continue to fight and claw his way to the net or out from the corners,” says one scout. “Not sure if his size translates to the pros, plus he has not made any significant adjustments to his skating in some time. Also has a temper and has been known to get into penalty trouble.”
Guertler currently has 44 penalty minutes, two shy of his total from last season, but also has topped his point total (28) by netting 19 goals and chipping in 12 assists in 31 games this season.
Taylor Cammarata, F – Waterloo Black Hawks
Chosen first overall by Waterloo at the 2011 USHL Draft after scoring 71 goals (139 points) in 54 games at Shattuck St. Mary’s, Cammarata is another small, aggressive player that is committed to Minnesota.
Unlike Guertler, however, Cammarata is native to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and does not rack up serious penalty minutes (he had only six in 60 games last year).
“Never quits and plays a hard-nosed, gritty game despite his size,” says one scout of the 5’7”, 156-pound forward. “Unpredictable with the puck due to his elusive skating skills and craftiness with the puck. Will battle in the trenches and has a wicked ability to finish a play. Size is a draft factor, however.”
Alex Smith, D – Indiana Ice
Not to be confused with the forward of the same name and birth date in the AJHL, or the San Francisco 49'ers quarterback, the Alex Smith we’re talking about plays for the Indiana Ice following a year with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Born and raised in Brownstown, MI, half an hour outside Detroit, Smith won a National Championship with the Honeybaked hockey program and played 47 games in Muskegon. He has struggled in his first year away from the Mitten State, however, having only totaled two points in 12 games after a 15-point season last year.
“Decent physical defenseman with some offensive upside,” says one scout. “Works a great stick and is for the most reliable in his own zone.”
There is some question, however, about his hockey IQ—something that may keep his name from being called come draft time.
Charlie Pelnik, D – Fargo Force
Raised 15 minutes outside of Raleigh, NC in the city of Cary, Pelnik is a 6’4”, 190-pound defender that could well be the best prospect to come out of the Research Triangle. Committed to the University of North Dakota and a Plymouth Whalers selection in the OHL Priority Selection, Pelnik was described as a player with a Pronger-esque nasty streak, but the former Jr. Hurricane may have mellowed out after his time at Shattuck St. Mary’s.
“Used to love this kid when he played for Carolina, so nasty and mean,” said one scout. “Softened a bit with Shattuck. Smooth skater with Pro size, though. Not trustworthy with the puck and to be honest, lost the intrigue factor once he took the nasty factor out from his game.”
Pelnik only has 13 penalty minutes in 10 games with Fargo this season.
Frederik Tiffels, F – Muskegon Lumberjacks
An international presence in the USHL, Tiffels is from Cologne, Germany and came to Muskegon knowing little English or American culture.
His game has translated, however, and while Tiffels has yet to score a goal in the USHL, his 14 assists and plus-10 rating suggest that he’s an asset to the team.
“Has acclimated well in Muskegon and has great mobility, speed and vision,” says one scout. “Potent playmaker with soft, dangerous hands. Surprises with his two-way engagement and willingness to battle, especially when protecting the puck / advancing the play.”
As with any international player, there is some question as to whether he will play NCAA hockey, try the CHL circuit or play internationally. Regardless of what he chooses, Tiffels is likely to hear his name called on draft day.
Ross Olsson, F – Lincoln Stars
One of New England’s most hyped prospects, Olsson is a Billerica, MA native that starred at Williston Northampton High School and committed to Northeastern University before joining the Stars this season.
Hailing from the same city as two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, a fourth round selection of the Los Angeles Kings in 1984, and Tom Fitzgerald, a first round draft pick by the New York Islanders two years later, Olsson has the potential to be the next big name to come out of Billerica.
His transition to the USHL has been tough, however. He only has four points in 20 contests this year, although he has racked up 48 penalty minutes.
“Big forward and plays an agitative role on the ice as he is very good at getting under the opposition's skin,” says one scout. “Eats up ice quickly but his skating strength and technique is very poor. Soft overall presence when it comes down to it and seems to be lazy away from the puck. All he has in his favor is his size and shot.”