2014 NHL Draft Preview: Tuch, Milano the best of another solid NTDP class

By Chapin Landvogt

Sonny Milano - U.S. NTDP

Photo: U.S. NTDP forward and 2014 prospect Sonny Milano was an offensive force for that program this season as he totaled 86 points in 58 games (courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Another year has come and gone for the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) that has once again seen its work culminate in another gold medal at the U18 World Championship, this time around in Lappeenranta, Finland.

After knocking off the Swedes 4-1 in the semifinal, the U.S. had little trouble with the upstart Czech Republic, seeing a 3-0 first period lead turn into a 5-2 victory to gain yet another championship. Aside from a silver medal in a tough 3-2 loss to Canada in Sochi in the spring of 2013, the U.S. has managed to take gold in five of the last six years. The dominance of the program and its philosophy at this level is undisputed. Still, this almost surprisingly rarely leads to a player finding himself taken in the first round of an NHL Draft, but all indications are that this will change on Friday night when the 2014 NHL Draft takes place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.

This year’s graduating class once again features a number of players who are held in high esteem by NHL clubs and will hear their names called in Philadelphia on the 27th or 28th of June. They’ll be looking to follow in the footsteps of recent graduates such as Justin Faulk (CAR), Seth Jones (NSH), Jacob Trouba (WIN), JT Miller (NYR), John Gibson (ANA), and Connor Carrick (WSH), to name a few, who have at least started to get their feet wet at the NHL level. Last summer, the hulking Mike McCarron was the only program player taken in the first round. That number should increase threefold in this Friday’s first round. As usual, like last summer, 10 or more players from the program are expected to be property of an NHL franchise come Saturday afternoon.

Here’s a look at some of the names to watch for coming out of the USA Hockey program.

1. Alexander Tuch – F – Shoots: Right – 6‘3“, 216 lbs.
CSS North American Rank – #12
May 10th, 1996

One of the program’s biggest players, Tuch likes to use his size to create space and put himself into position to best allow his linemates to make use of their skill sets. He’s a team-first player and doesn’t necessarily rack up the numbers some might think he should, but this may change in the future as the toolbox and hands are available. Furthermore, he’s got some great hockey sense and can show a surprising amount of on-ice intelligence in doing the little things. His understanding of the game is a bit beyond his years and he very well knows how to embody a role. His role this past winter was to help linemates Sonny Milano and Jack Eichel be the best players they could be and that’s exactly what he did. The size, on-ice understanding, and ability to make good use of the space around him have many thinking he has a long career ahead of him in a power forward capacity.

All in all this past winter, he put up 13 goals, 32 points, 36 penalty minutes, and a +18 rating in 26 USHL games. In addition, he added another 29 goals, 64 points, and 70 penalty minutes in 61 U.S. NTDP games. This was capped off by three assists and a +5 rating in 7 games on his way to winning gold in Finland. Not a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, Tuch has no problem getting around the ice and likes to go where it hurts to get the job done. His smooth hands allow him to do great things in the corners and in front of the net.

A New York native, he’s scheduled to attend Boston College this fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 12-16.

2. Sonny Milano – F – Shoots: Left – 6‘0“, 185 lbs.
CSS North American Rank – #16
May 12th, 1996

A dangler if you’ve ever seen one, Milano prides himself on his stick-handling and puck control skills, which he’s got plenty of. Opponents have their work cut out for them when trying to remove him from the puck as he’s a magician on the ice and also knows how to use his body to impede puck losses. A playmaker with an equally astute nose for the net, Milano also shows incredible endurance, just loving to eat up ice time in all situations, most particularly when heading to the opponents’ net and circling the offensive zone. A very elusive player, he oozes a confidence that shows in his play, often leading viewers to think his performance is downright cocky. It is, however, exactly this kind of attribute that saw him pivoting the first line for the program and putting up the type of numbers that have teams drooling.

This past winter was a huge one for the Massapequa, New York native, as he put up 14 goals, 39 points, 21 penalty minutes, and a +21 rating in 25 USHL games while also collecting another 29 goals, 86 points, and 23 penalty minutes in 58 U.S. NTDP games. He finished off his season quite impressively with three goals, 10 points, and a +6 rating in 7 games on his way to winning gold in Finland. Dynamic, slippery, and creative, Milano is likely held in favorable esteem by several teams desperate to add skill to their organization.

Like linemate Tuch, he will be on his way to Boston College next fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 14-19.

3. Dylan Larkin – F – Shoots: Left – 6‘1“, 192 lbs.
CSS North American Rank – #17
Jul 30th, 1996

A meat and potatoes guy with a strong set of hands and good instincts, the scrappy Larkin spent this past winter as a fixture on the program’s second line together with Anders Bjork and Ryan Hitchcock. Featuring good size and a nose for the net, it’s felt that Larkin will be able to grow into a power forward mold over time as his body continues to mature. He already regularly seeks the quickest and most direct routes to the goal, with or without the puck, and also displays good instincts and an understanding of his duties in all three zones. Clever and determined, Larkin looks to one day be a critical character player who can do a little bit of everything, which clubs are always looking to add after seeing those types of players meaning so much for clubs like Los Angeles and Chicago.

The Detroit, Michigan native spent this past winter collecting 17 goals, 26 points, 24 penalty minutes, and a +13 rating in 26 USHL games while also collecting another 31 goals, 56 points, and 56 penalty minutes in 60 U.S. NTDP games. To the gold medal efforts, he contributed two goals, four points, and a +3 rating over 7 games. Over the long run, it looks like he’ll be making a name for himself as a two-way player with a strong drive to the net.

Larkin is scheduled to join the University of Michigan program this upcoming fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 14-19.

4. Jack Dougherty – D – Shoots: Right – 6‘2“, 186 lbs.
CSS North American Rank – #30
May 25th, 1996

A smart player who oozes the type of strong leadership characteristics that organizations place a great deal of value in, Dougherty already features some good height and has a frame ready for the addition of muscle over the next few years. A solid skater, Dougherty isn’t the fanciest player in the world, but does get the job done in all three zones and features the type of understanding of the game and all-area ability that we’ve become used to seeing from U.S. NTDP players.

A defenseman capable of making a good first pass, Dougherty can bring a heavy shot from the blueline and serve there adequately on the power play. Nonetheless, he has spent this past winter working primarily on improving his game in his own zone and showing more of a physical presence. His game is a smart one and he rarely finds himself out of position, even if he can get antsy when oncoming rushes fail to come at a commensurate speed. In general, all indications are that he’ll continue to develop into a strong two-way player who is dependable, if not eventually spectacular, in all three zones.

Dougherty played a critical and regular role for Team USA at the U18 WC in Finland, contributing in all facets of the game to the country’s gold medal run. There he contributed two goals, four points, and a +7 rating, not once wandering to the penalty box, which was a special for Dougherty, who doesn’t shy away from physical and disruptive play. This topped off a very good winter in which he put up four goals, 12 points, 34 penalty minutes, and a +20 rating in 23 USHL contests while also adding six goals, 22 points, and 65 penalty 55 U.S. NTDP games.

In all, Dougherty is yet another prototypical program defenseman who is one of the top NCAA recruits in the country, especially after having pulled out of his commitment to Ohio State once their coach left the program.

A Minnesota native, Dougherty is scheduled to join the University of Wisconsin this upcoming fall, but it is felt that he could be ready to go pro before his junior year begins.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 28-45.

5. Jack Glover – D – Shoots: Right – 6‘3“, 216 lbs.
CSS North American Rank – #38
May 17th, 1996

A package of just about everything you want in a player, Glover is considered by many to be perhaps the best US defenseman available in this draft. This has much to do with his already pro body combined with the strong on-ice instincts he shows, both with and without the puck. A very heady player, his speed moving forwards and backwards is right where it should be and he’s expected to continue improving on his lateral play over the next few seasons. What many scouts like is Glover's confident demeanor and ability to stay cool and concentrated in just about every situation. He reads the play and opponents extremely well, often ready to gobble them up when they make a mistake or take too long making decisions. Impressive is that, despite his size and readiness for physical play, especially in clearing pucks and players out of the crease, he does an above-average job of staying away from the penalty box.

Glover managed to improve vastly this past winter in his defensive qualities. Possessing a great eye and sense of where his teammates are and how to get the puck to them, rarely a power play was conducted without him as the winter progressed. If he doesn’t find a teammate as part of the plan, he gets the puck on net. His current strengths lie in his all-around game, where he applies his size more than efficiently in taking away time and space, then moving the puck to the next immediate station. Another cog in the U18 team’s gold medal, Glover contributed one goal, four points, and a +2 rating. His season saw him make healthy improvements in gathering offensive statistics as he put up one goal, 10 points, 10 penalty minutes, and a +4 rating in 24 USHL contests. He also added two goals, 26 points, and 30 penalty minutes in 59 U.S. NTDP games.

Yet another Minnesota native, Glover is scheduled to join the University of Minnesota this fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 31-50.

6. Ryan Collins – D – Shoots: Right – 6‘5“, 202 lbs.
CSS North American Rank #57
May 10th, 1996

And yet another tall and bruising defenseman, Collins growth is far from finished. Already taller than most skaters you’ll find, he’s added some positive weight this past winter and looks ripe for more in the coming years, having scouts feel he could max out at about 225-230 pounds. That’s an enticing physical package.

Despite not having any noticeable skating deficiencies without the puck, Collins usually needs a few seconds to refocus or get going once the puck is on his stick, almost always looking to keep the play simple. Generally a monster in his own zone, he can have problems with smaller, better-skating forwards, but this is nothing uncommon from a player his age and his height. A good friend to Jack Glover, the two have been playing for a number of years now, taking the same steps from Minnesota to the U.S. NTDP program and right on into college next fall. The height and size are there, but some folks wouldn’t mind seeing Glover’s offensive instincts start to rub off on Collins at some point. Clearly he’s seen as a true defensive defenseman at this point.

Speaking of which, the take-no-prisoners defenseman did a nice job at the U18 WC and became stronger as the tourney progressed. His play was often suffocating to opponents and he also chipped in two assists, six penalty minutes, and a +4 rating in the team’s seven games. During the regular season, he collected two assists, 10 penalty minutes, and a +12 rating in 26 USHL contests while also adding a goal, seven points, and 26 penalty minutes in 59 U.S. NTDP games. One of his finest assets was the ability to stay healthy throughout the whole season.

A Minnesota native, Collins will be attending the University of Minnesota next fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 45-65.

7. Jonathan MacLeod – D – Shoots: Right – 6‘2“, 200 lbs.
CSS North American Rank #44
May 17th, 1996

If you like simple, solid, no frills defensemen, then MacLeod is your man. He likes to play a hard-nosed game and is happiest finding himself in a shutdown role. Chances are that in the course of a game, you’ll see him using his stick more on opponents than pucks, but this is not to say that he isn’t intelligent with the puck. In fact, he has the good ability to make the game at the pace he wants it too once he has the puck, avoiding placing himself under pressure and allowing for a well-made decision. Scouts also enjoy that he doesn’t need a panic button, keeping things safe and regularly separating opponents from the puck physically.

The defense-first bulldog contributed nicely to Team USA's gold medal run at the U18, actually chipping in two goals and three points in seven games despite getting what was probably the least ice time of the seven defensemen who played for the red, white, and blue. Over the winter, he quietly put up one goal, five points, 36 penalty minutes, and a -1 rating in 19 USHL contests while also adding five goals, 11 points, and 70 penalty minutes in 51 USDP games.

Hailing from Massachusetts, MacLeod is scheduled to join Boston University next fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 60-80.

8. Louis Belpedio – D – Shoots: Right – 5‘11“, 192 lbs.
CSS North American Rank #107
May 14th, 1996

Here’s a name unique enough that it’ll stick out at you one way or the other, but Belpedio is a player you’ll want to denote no matter what. He just oozes leadership and has been this winter’s prototype up-and-comer in the program, leaving little doubts about what it means to enjoy the game and being fully confident in one’s capabilities.

Although not the tallest player, Belpedio is stocky and very hard to push off of the puck. Slick in skating and very agile, he loves to go get the puck in his own zone, often by simply taking it away from opponents, and then starting the rush up ice. As a vocal leader who also leads by example on the ice, the organization quickly recognized him as the guy they wanted leading the way. At this point, his poise and maturity is beyond his years. An intelligent player, he can do a little bit of everything, but only time will tell if his all-round game one day translates to the pro level. He’s got plenty of time to make that happen. The tools are there and the toolbox only seems to need a bit of tweaking. He’s simply a heady player who understands not only how to play in all three zones, but how to win hockey games, no matter what the situation is throughout the 60 minutes of play.

In Finland, Belpedio helped lead the team to gold with two assists and a +3 rating. During the season, he put up five goals, 15 points, 24 penalty minutes, and a +5 rating in 26 USHL contests. He also added seven goals, 23 points, and 46 penalty minutes in 61 U.S. NTDP games. Durable and dependent, his offensive output is often not really taken into account, but he has all the tools to continue contributing at a healthy rate in the years to come.

A native of Illinois, the Team USA captain will be joining Miami University in Ohio this upcoming fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 105-130.

9. Anders Bjork – F – Shoots: Right – 5‘11“, 182 lbs.
CSS North American Rank #101
Aug 5th, 1996

Anders Bjork has quite the Scandinavian name, but plays a very North American game. Good both with and without the puck, Bjork serves a strong-skating complementary player who can unpack some skills, but usually keeps his game simple and effective in all three zones. He’s needed to as his defensive game has been a work in progress for the better part of the last year. This said, he has racked up points along the way and it’s a bit difficult to read what type of players he could ultimately be one day. At the moment, it’s felt he’ll wind up serving as more of a lower line player with the ability to take things up a notch when the money is on the line. The hands and creativity are there for more and he has shown a propensity to dangle at times, looking very confident while doing so.

For Team USA, he was a second line cog with the aforementioned Dylan Larkin and Ryan Hitchcock, providing excellent second-line pressure, which went a long way in winning gold. At the tournament, he only managed to pop in two goals, collect four penalty minutes, and register a +4 rating. In the regular season however, he was quite effective on the offensive front. In USHL play, he scored nine goals, 21 points, and went +14 (0 penalty minutes) in 26 games while also racking up 21 goals, 42 points, and 10 penalty minutes in a whopping 61 U.S. NTDP contests.

Coming from Wisconsin, Bjork will be attending the University of Notre Dame in the fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 135-180.

10. Edwin Minney – G – Catches: Left – 6‘4“, 200 lbs.
CSS North American Goalie Rank #6
Mar 29th, 1996

A tall goalie that has been part of the program for several years, Minney has progressed nicely and kept growing while in Michigan. A positionally sound goaltender, he likes to get his big frame into stance and concentrate on facing that all-important first shot, which rarely beats him. He’s also known for his athleticism and quick ability to move both right and left as well as up and down. At the same time, he’s got great poise and manages to stay focused when at work. Although rebound control is not considered an issue in and of itself, it can be improved on as will his ability to calm down his game a bit, avoiding situations with too much flopping. In general, he is very tough to beat down low and covers a majority of the net when he in he goes down butterfly style.

A gold medalist with Team USA, Minney took a back seat to starter and OHL Goalie of the Year Alex Nedeljkovic, but didn’t allow any goals against in his one tournament appearance. During the winter, he put up exactly a 2.63 goals-against average in both his 17 USHL games (.905 save percentage) and 38 USDP games (.900 save percentage). These types of steady numbers are an indicator of how far he’s come in consistency in a short period of time.

A Pennsylvania native, Minney will be joining Michigan State University this upcoming fall.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 120-150.

Further names to denote

The chances are very good that a few other U.S. NTDP players will be taken in the course of the draft. Ryan Hitchcock is a bit of a smaller forward at 5’10”, 170 pounds, but he collected 72 points in a top-six role over the course of the 73 game winter before contributing two goals and four points in gaining gold at the U18. He is scheduled to attend Yale next fall. Forward Joe Wegwerth has assumed primarily a checking line role for the program, but is already 6’3”, 230 pounds. Heading for Notre Dame in the fall, it’s hard to look past a kid this size who is solid in all three zones over the course of seven rounds. Goaltender Blake Weyrick spent several years playing for Shattuck St. Mary’s before joining the program. He’ll be heading to Boston University in the fall and at 6’3” and 203 pounds, takes up a lot of the net. Forwards Shane Gersich and Jared Fiegl are ranked by CSS amongst the top 210 North American Skaters.

Future Watch

In forward Jack Eichel and defenseman Noah Hanifin, this year’s U18 gold medalist featured two players widely considered to be top-three draft picks at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin