Despite yet another gold medal at the U18 World Championship, this time around in Zug, Switzerland, the U.S. NTDP saw relatively few players taken at the 2015 NHL Draft. To a degree that can be accredited to having a number of key players on the team who will first be eligible for the 2016 draft, including no less than captain Luke Kunin, top scorer Auston Matthews, Matt Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Chad Krys, and Jamie McAvoy. As many as three of these players are looking like surefire first round picks for next summer’s draft.
For the U18 squad, after knocking off the Canadians 7-2 at the U18 WC in the semifinal, the U.S. had its hands full with an upstart Team Finland, scratching up all it could in gaining a 2-1 overtime victory after Sebastian Aho of Finland scored just 17 seconds into the final. Aside from earning 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 six of the last seven years.
First up was heart-and-soul leader Colin White, a solidly built, 6-foot and 183 pound center who scored the game-winner for Team USA in overtime in the U18 gold medal game. Able to read the game at a high level and remaining active at all times whether with or without the puck, White’s true strengths lie in puck possession, management, and protection. White is quite adept at cycling and winning battles along the boards while the sum total of his efforts are boatloads of intangibles, which wouldn’t be possible for a player that didn’t feature his resiliency and work ethic.
Taken in the first round, 21st overall, by the Ottawa Senators, the full-blooded hustler and leader is scheduled to attend Boston College in the fall where it is felt he will automatically take on a top-nine role for a program expected to compete for a national championship. Ranked just 29th in North America by the NHL’s Central Scouting Services (CSS), he was first among U.S. NTDP players as ranked by Hockey’s Future heading into the draft, who expected him to be selected between spots 14-28. For most pundits, it’s not a question of if, but rather when White will be in the NHL, and he looks to fit right in with what Ottawa has been building in recent years. His character and all-around play is a welcome addition to the organization.
The first U.S. NTDP surprise came just a few picks later when Jack Roslovic, a 6-foot, 187-pound forward, was selected 25th overall by the Winnipeg Jets, earlier than most expected. Ranked 39th amongst North Americans by CSS, he was U.S. NTDP player number three for Hockey’s Future heading into the draft. We nonetheless felt he’d be taken between spots 22-45, as the results of his play simply can’t be denied. Much like White, Roslovic is full of intangibles and shows up when the stakes are high.
Roslovic won’t necessarily wow you with his speed, but one would be hard-pressed to find a more complete complementary player. A member of the program’s top line this past winter, Roslovic harmonized perfectly with top 2016-eligible draft talents Matthews and Tkachuk this past winter, which culminated in a gold medal at the U18 World Championship where Roslovic scored an all-important equalizer halfway through the game to get the U.S. to overtime. Strong on his stick, Roslovic shows keen offensive awareness and has an amazing ability to dangle in corners and read oncoming attackers. Adept at protecting the puck, Roslovic looks for just the right passing and shooting opportunities and can bounce back from checks on a whim.
The Ohio native is scheduled to attend the Miami University this fall and will be counted on to provide offense right from the get-go. For Winnipeg, which had two first round picks, he was the second American forward taken after Kyle Connor and should be given plenty of time to bulk up and fine-tune his game. A WJC appearance this winter is not out of the question.
Seven picks later, the Arizona Coyotes kicked off their Day 2 of the draft by taking hulking forward Christian Fischer, a meat and potatoes bull in a china shop who did a lot of the yeoman’s work in helping his country win gold at the U18. A 6’1” and 212-pound bruiser, Fischer was ranked just 37th in North America by CSS and was second among U.S. NTDP players for Hockey’s Future. A player for every situation, Fischer is a package of an imposing physical force with a playmaker’s skill set. Still finding his way through the world of danglers and needle-threaders, Fischer’s bread and butter is his all-round polished game over 200 feet. This is accompanied by a fine ability to score goals and set up his teammates, something he does in an equally strong capacity.
By no means a speedster, Fischer will be suiting up for the University of Notre Dame this fall and will be looked upon to assume the same kind of second- or third-line role he’s had for the U.S. while being a responsible player in all three zones. Obviously a kid who the Coyotes view as having some real potential, Hockey’s Future predicted that he’d go between spots 38-65 in the draft. He was the first of three Americans drafted by Arizona this summer.
The fourth-ranked U.S. NTDP player by Hockey’s Future was the towering 6’5”, 222-pound Jordan Greenway, who was ranked 47th overall by CSS among North Americans and went 50th overall to the Minnesota Wild. A left-shooting forward with the height and weight of a full grown man, Greenway is very noticeable on and off the ice. Still grappling a bit with the awkwardness that a young man his age can deal with at that size, Greenway hasn’t necessarily been developing in the offensive capacity many felt he might this winter. Although he is not shy in applying his size, Greenway seems to often play as though he feels he is a budding skill player, sometimes doing this more than using that size to its optimal effectiveness.
It will now be the Wild’s task to get the most out of his many tools and get that body working for him in all three zones. The areas of defensive zone play and overall hockey sense could use some improvement, and Greenway is well aware of this. A native of New York, graduate of Shattuck St. Mary’s, and older brother to the highly-touted and similarly sized defenseman James Greenway, Jordan is headed to Boston University next fall, likely just missing out on an opportunity to play with Jack Eichel. He will nonetheless hope to make a similar impact, and, along with Colorado Avalanche second rounder A.J. Greer, the duo gives the program a big 1-2 punch on left wing size. Hockey’s Future had predicted that Greenway would be drafted between spots 40-70.
The next program member to be drafted was a kid whose size pales in comparison to Greenway’s, but whose stats were far superior. Going to the Toronto Maple Leafs with the 61st pick was Long Island, NY native Jeremy Bracco, a diminutive 5’9”, 172-pound playmaker who put up three goals and 13 points as well as a +10 rating, naturally assisting on White’s gold medal-clinching goal, at the U18. Ranked 60th overall by CSS among North Americans and fifth amongst U.S. NTDP players by Hockey’s Future, the little tyke has been viewed by the scouting community as being all over the charts. In general, Bracco plays a cerebral game that rarely sees him physically taken out of action, something of importance in light of his size. An above-average puckmover, Bracco constantly finds teammates, often delivering the puck on a silver platter.
Not the fastest skater in the world, Bracco does manage to be very agile with and without the puck. Very shifty, very mobile in an almost awkward manner at times, he just continues to produce without end. The stickhandling and on-ice hockey sense belong to the best in this draft, even if he has the tendency to overhandle or even fall in love with possessing the puck. With players such as Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Johnson making such an impact in the current NHL, it was only a question of time before a team would take a chance on Bracco, who Hockey’s Future saw going between spots 20-65. That he went so late was surely a surprise to some as talk of him being a late first round pick was commonplace.
Along with linemate Colin White, Bracco is heading to Boston College this fall, where he will be expected to take on an immediate offensive role. For Toronto, he’s yet another among what’s becoming a large collection of undersized skill forwards.