Seventeen players from the United States National Team Development Program are eligible for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Ten of the 17 are considered top prospects and were among those invited to the NHL Combine earlier this month. Among those 10, there are two goaltenders, three forwards, and five defensemen. There is no question that the defensemen are the cream of the NTDP crop in this draft year.
Joseph Palmer (6’1, 205) was the National U18 team’s starting goaltender for most of the 2005-06 season. In 47 games, Palmer went 29-14-1-3, with a 2.57 GAA and .910 save percentage. He will be attending The Ohio State University next fall. With excellent balance and flexibility, according to scouting reports, the Utica, New York native has very good low net coverage, stays square to the shooter, and has excellent lateral movement. At the Combine, Palmer did extremely well in the fitness testing. He is ranked fourth among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting, and is expected to be selected around the third or fourth rounds of the draft.
Brett Bennett (6’1, 185) was the US National team’s second goaltender for most of the 2005-06 season. He wasn’t really on anyone’s radar until late in the season, when he returned from a shoulder injury. In 16 games, Bennett was 9-2-0-1, with a 1.69 GAA and a save percentage of .921. A classic butterfly goalie, the scouting report on Bennett is that he is always square to the shooter, with a good lateral movement and an effective glove hand. Bennett performed adequately on the fitness tests at the Combine, but did not stand out in any way. Committed to attend Boston University next fall, Bennett is ranked sixth among North American goaltenders by Central Scouting for the upcoming draft, and is projected to be a late round pick.
Blake Geoffrion (6’1, 190) is the top rated draft-eligible forward who played for the U18 National Team this year. The Plantation, Florida native recorded 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) and accumulated 68 PIM in 54 games in 2005-06. Geoffrion, who plays left wing, comes from an excellent bloodline of hockey players. His father Dan played in the NHL, his grandfather “Boom Boom” Geoffrion had an excellent NHL career, and his great grandfather was the hockey luminary Howie Morenz. Blake is an aggressive forward who likes to crash the net, makes an excellent pass, and an accurate shot. Committed to attend the University of Wisconsin next fall, Geoffrion was not a standout at the Combine, but is expected to be a second to third round selection.
Rhett Rakhshani (5’10, 170) is a deceptively talented sniper, who in 2005-06 played on the right wing for the NTDP. Known for his shifty moves on the ice, the Orange, California native is scheduled to be a student at the University of Denver this coming season. In 2005-06, Rakhshani played in 59 games and registered 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists), while accumulating 65 PIM. The Central Scouting report in Rakhshani is that he has excellent offensive instincts with very soft hands. When those talents are combined with his gritty play, Rakhshani can be considered a diamond in the rough. He still has some maturing to do, which may be affecting his current ranking, but Rakhshani does have the offensive skills to make a splash. He performed well at the Combine and is expected to be selected in the middle rounds of the draft.
Michael Carman, C (6’0, 180), the NTDP’s resident penalty minute accumulator (104 PIM in 2005-06), played center for the U18 team this past season. The speedy, aggressive playmaker is used in all situations. He registered 54 points in 60 games, and of his 21 goals, 11 were on the power play and one was short-handed. Bound for the University of Minnesota this fall, Carman is a great forechecker, who always pursues the puck. Carman performed excellently at the Combine, which should help his drafting position. Although he is ranked 63rd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, it would not be surprising to see him selected much earlier. He could be drafted anywhere from the second to fourth rounds.
Erik Johnson (6’4, 222) was the NTDP’s No. 1 defenseman this past season, and he is widely predicted to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. One of only two U18 National Team players who registered more than a point per game, Johnson recorded 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 47 games. Included within those totals were nine power play and four game-winning goals. The Bloomington, Minnesota native is known to be a powerful skater, with great vision, as well as an excellent passer who plays with an edge. All scouting reports say that Johnson is very well rounded and a natural leader, and as expected, he performed extremely well at the Combine. Johnson is committed to play at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2006, but a lot will depend on the needs of the NHL team that selects him. Without question, Johnson is the closest to NHL-ready of any player in this draft.
Nigel Williams (6’4, 226) is also expected to be a first round pick. In 2005-06, this defenseman, who hails from Aurora, Illinois, played 56 games for the U18 team, and 5 for the U17 National Team. In his U18 season, Williams tallied 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists), while accumulating 59 PIM. The scouting report on Williams is that he likes to intimidate, and loves to move up the ice on the rush. He is considered a late bloomer, who has an unbeatable work ethic. At the Combine Williams looked very good, but not as exceptional as his hype would indicate. Committed to attending the University of Wisconsin for the 2006-07 season, Williams is one of the greater high-risk, high-reward players that will be taken in the first round. His development is much less certain than other players, but his size is so attractive that this question mark may be overlooked come draft day.
Brian Strait (6’0, 200) is a Boston, Massachusetts native who has some of the best hockey smarts in this year’s draft. He is the captain of the U18 National Team, a leader who seems well-liked and respected by his fellow players. During the 2005-06 season, Strait played in 55 games and registered 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists), while accumulating 72 PIM. Not afraid to take a hit, Strait is excellent skater, who rarely gets beaten positionally, either in his own zone or with the puck. He performed extremely well at the Combine and is expected to attend Boston University this fall. The prognosticators have Strait being chosen either late in the first round of early in the second round of the NHL draft.
Kevin Montgomery (6’1, 185), a steady defenseman with a good shot and very good passing skills, is a native of Rochester, New York. In 2005-06, Montgomery played in 59 games for the U18 National Team and tallied 22 points (6 goals, 16 assists), while spending 76 minutes in the sin bin. Montgomery, another late bloomer, needs to continue working on his game, and this coming fall, he will be attending The Ohio State University along with Palmer, where he will continue to get the coaching he needs to develop. He performed adequately at the Combine and is currently ranked 45th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Montgomery is expected to be chosen in the middle rounds of the draft.
Chris Summers (6’1, 180) is one of the wild cards in this year’s draft. The Ann Arbor, Michigan native is ranked 47th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, but some think he will be drafted as early as the second round. He even has been hinted to be an end of first round selection. Wherever he is chosen, Summers has lots of talent and is versatile (he spent part of the year playing on the wing). In 2005-06, Summers played in 59 games and registered 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists), while accumulating 87 PIM. He loves to hit, is an excellent skater, and is very strong on the puck. Summers will be returning home to attend the University of Michigan for the 2005-06 season.
Three honorable mentions will in all probability be selected as well. Minnesotan winger Ryan Flynn, a tough competitor with excellent vision, is ranked 77th among North American skaters; Michael Ratchuk, a small offensive defenseman with incredible speed and a great work ethic is ranked 81st; and Jamie McBain, a defenseman with a sound positional game, is ranked 84th.
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