USHL Top 20 prospects for the 2005 draft

By DJ Powers

This year’s crop of draft eligible players coming from the USHL ranks, nearly all of whom will be going on to the NCAA either this fall or next, is very deep.

Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at 20 of the best. In addition, players who didn’t make the Top 20 but are well worth keeping an eye on are included in the “Honorable Mentions” section at the bottom of the page. All of the players included in this article were on a USHL team roster for at least half of the season in 2004-05. Players ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service are so noted.

1. Justin Abdelkader, LW (Cedar Rapids)
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 195 lbs. DOB: 1987-02-25
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 25th among North American skaters

Abdelkader’s good size, exceptional skating and unlimited potential are just some of the qualities that have many in the scouting community raving about him. The Muskegon, MI native was a key contributor to the success of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and their capturing of the Clark Cup (USHL Championship) last season. He finished tied for third on the team in scoring with 52 points (27 goals, 25 assists) in 60 appearances. He was also a member of Team USHL at the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game. Abdelkader, a Michigan State University recruit, was recently invited to the US Junior Evaluation Camp for the upcoming IIHF U-20 WJC in Vancouver. Prior to his arrival in Cedar Rapids, Abdelkader played for Muskegon Mona Shores High School where he was named the 2004 recipient of Michigan’s Mr. Hockey Award, which recognizes the top high school player in the state.

Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson’s insights on Justin Abdelkader: “Justin is an excellent skater. He has a great release, good shot and is very good around the offensive net. He’s a good two-way forward who plays well at both ends of the ice. He is also physical. Justin is a very coachable player who is of tremendous character. For Justin to be successful at the next level, I don’t think that he needs to grow more into his 6’1/195 lbs body as much as just the whole maturation process.”

2. Chris Butler, D (Sioux City)
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 178 lbs. DOB: 1986-10-27
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 57th among North American skaters

The University of Denver may have lost some key character players to graduation this spring but they’ll welcome a much heralded new one this fall in defenseman Chris Butler. Butler played a significant role in the Musketeers’ run for the Clark Cup. He finished second on the team among defensemen in scoring with 28 points (6 goals, 22 assists) in 60 appearances. He also led the USHL in plus/minus with a +36. Butler’s outstanding season performance earned him a selection to the All-USHL First Team. He was also a member of Team USHL in the 2005 USHL Prospect/All-Star Game.

Sioux City head coach Dave Siciliano’s insights on Chris Butler: “Chris is an all-around very good defenseman with an emphasis on the defensive side. His strength is that he’s outstanding defensively and can chip in offensively. He is strong one-on-one. He makes that first pass very well. He can carry the puck, especially in the neutral zone and gain that far blue line. In his own zone this past season, he was more aggressive, physical and a little meaner than he was the year before. As Chris’ weight and strength has increased, so has his confidence level. He’s one of these steady guys that sometimes you might not notice because he doesn’t make very many mistakes. Positionally, he’s very sound and he makes very good decisions because he sees the ice so well. Chris has got excellent agility. One of Chris’ other strengths is making the right decision defensively in tight. He prides himself on being one who will get physically involved, regardless of the size of the opposing player. He has a good shot, good offensive instincts, and quick feet to move laterally along the blueline and makes very good decisions with the puck. Chris is a very smart, very focused and very dedicated player. I think he’ll fit in extremely well with Denver’s program because Denver’s program fits his style so well. (University of Denver head coach) George Gwozdecky is meticulous about bringing in quality people and he’s got another here in Chris Butler.”

3. Christian Hanson, RW (Tri-City)
Ht: 6’3 Wt: 196 lbs. DOB: 1986-03-10
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 66th among North American skaters

Christian Hanson may be the son of Dave Hanson, who was one of the Hanson Brothers from the film “Slapshot,” but his game is quite different from what his now-legendary father’s game was during his playing days. “I think a lot of Christian’s discipline definitely comes from his mother but his hockey traits were obviously passed down from his father,” said Tri-City head coach Bliss Littler in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future. The younger Hanson enjoyed a stellar season with the Tri-City Storm last year that culminated with the USHL’s Curt Hammer Award, which is awarded to the player that best reflects the goals of the league and his team. Hanson led the Storm in scoring with 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists) in 60 appearances. He was also a member of Team USHL at the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game. Hanson, a heavily recruited player by many NCAA schools, will be attending the University of Notre Dame this fall.

Tri-City head coach Bliss Littler’s insights on Christian Hanson: “Christian absolutely reeks with character. As an individual, he is an absolutely phenomenal kid who is also great student. As a hockey player, he is a big kid who skates well who has nice and honest skills. He’s got the makings of a good power forward. Christian will go as far as he wants to go. He is a mentally tough kid. He has the skill level, skating ability, size and a bit of a mean streak that we saw here from time to time. He’s a powerful skater with a powerful stride and he’s worked hard at that. As he continues to fill out his body, he’s going to be a force out on the ice and will get better at using it to his body to his advantage. Consistency in the physical side of the game will be an area that he’ll need to continue to improve and develop. When Christian does that it will open up other dimensions of his game. He is very good defensively. His work ethic and discipline are two of Christian’s strong suits. He is willing to give up the body for the sake of making the play. He is a smart player and understands the game very well. Christian does have good hands but he tends to have that pass-first, shoot-later mentality and we would’ve liked to see him shoot the puck more when he was here. I think Coach Jackson will get him to shoot more at Notre Dame. Christian has got everything that it takes to get to next level but he just needs to continue to develop and mature. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes successful at the pro level.”

4. Brett Motherwell, D (Omaha)
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 190 lbs. DOB: 1986-09-11

Brett Motherwell enjoyed an outstanding year with the Omaha Lancers this past season that was capped off with being named the USHL’s Defenseman of the Year. While he may be small in stature for a blueliner, his game is anything but that. Motherwell finished second in the league among defensemen in scoring with 38 points (5 goals, 33 assists) in 60 appearances. Among the many accolades that he earned this season include selections to the All-USHL First Team and the 2005 USHL Prospect/All-Star game. Motherwell, a heavily recruited player that will be playing at Boston College this fall, was also the recipient of Omaha’s Jake Forbes Award for the second year in a row as the team’s top defenseman. In 2003, Motherwell was a member of Team USA’s U-18 Select squad in Slovakia that captured their first gold medal. Amazingly, Motherwell is not ranked by NHL Central Scouting.

Omaha head coach Mike Hastings’ insights on Brett Motherwell: “I think Brett will have an immediate impact at the D-I level with Boston College because there’s just not a lot of holes in his game. He is an offensive defenseman. He’s very good offensively with a fairly heavy shot. He doesn’t shy away from the physical play. Brett’s decision-making process is one where there isn’t a lot of panic in his game. He has the ability to play a quick yet poised game. I think that he’s going to be able to play in all situations right away and eat up the minutes. He might not be 6’2 or 6’3, but he’s a wide body that moves real well. He’s not a thin kid. He’s going to end up playing at around 190 lbs. The future for Brett is going to be determined by whether or not he can continue to carry that weight and maintain his quickness. He’s a powerful skater and his skating has never been a question. His feet allow him to move east and west but his strength allow him to play bigger than he is. Brett’s body strength is definitely one of his greatest assets. His hockey sense, the ability to see the ice and other people are also some of Brett’s greatest attributes. He has a great attitude and a great work ethic. I think he’ll start at BC the way he finished for us. The ability to step up and transition to the college hockey will be almost seamless for him. In my opinion Brett will be a great fit at Boston College.“

5. Joe Finley, D (Sioux Falls)
Ht: 6’7 Wt: 233 lbs. DOB: 1987-06-29
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 32nd among North American skaters

Last season, the University of North Dakota’s defense was noted for, among other things, their size. This fall, the Fighting Sioux defense will get a lot bigger thanks to towering incoming freshman Joe Finley. The Edina, MN native wrapped up the 2004-05 season with 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 55 appearances. Two of his three goals came on the power play. Finley also led the Stampede in penalty minutes with 181. He was a member of Team World in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game back in February.

In addition to his enormous frame, what has gotten many in the scouting community talking about Finley are his high skill level, his tremendous focus and work ethic and his immense potential. He has steadily improved his overall game (of particular note are his puck handling and skating) during the course of the season. Finley has accelerated his studies to be able to attend North Dakota this fall. If the progress he has made thus far in Sioux Falls is any indication, the University of North Dakota will be adding another intimidating and proficient player to their already solid defensive corps.

6. Tom Gorowsky, C (Sioux Falls)
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 190 lbs. DOB: 1986-04-08
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 97th among North American skaters

After winning the state of Minnesota’s prestigious Mr. Hockey Award while at Centennial High School, Gorowsky came to the USHL as a much-anticipated player. In the 2004 USHL Draft, Sioux Falls made him the top overall pick and he hasn’t disappointed. Gorowsky finished the 2004-05 season second on the Stampede roster in scoring with 53 points (18 goals, 35 assists) in 54 appearances. His 35 assists and seven power play goals both led Sioux Falls. Gorowsky’s outstanding rookie season earned him numerous honors including a selection to the USHL All-Rookie Team and Sioux Falls’ Outstanding Offensive Player Award at the team’s season ending awards ceremony. His stellar performance in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game earned Gorowsky Team USHL’s MVP honor.

Gorowsky, a highly regarded University of Wisconsin recruit, is a power forward noted for his excellent play around the net, superb puck skills and his competitiveness. Gorowsky has the ability to elevate his game. The bigger the game is, the bigger he plays. He is also noted for having a great work ethic and his willingness to do whatever it takes for the betterment of his team.

7. Zach Bearson, RW (Waterloo)
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 180 lbs. DOB: 1987-06-13
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 129th among North American skaters

Zach Bearson is a highly touted power forward who helped lead the Waterloo Black Hawks to their first ever Clark Cup championship in 2003-04. The Naperville, Ill native made great strides on the statistical side of his game in 2004-05 doubling his points total from the year before. He completed the most recent season ranked fifth on the Waterloo roster in scoring with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 51 appearances. He was a member of Team World in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game in Grand Forks, ND back in February. Bearson is a University of Wisconsin recruit who will return to Waterloo this fall before joining the Badgers in the fall of 2006.

Waterloo head coach P. K. O’Handley’s insights on Zach Bearson: “Zach is a big, strong power forward with a lot of skill to go with that. He can bang, he can set up plays and he can make plays by his physical play. He’s not afraid to get into the physical aspects of the game. He’ll go into the corners and work for pucks. Zach is a powerful skater who skaters very well for his size. He’s a good playmaker. If there’s a play to be made, he can make it. He has a very good shot with a very quick release. He’s very good at driving to the net. He’s got the ability to carry a defender with him with the way he plays. He goes to the net hard. Zach’s greatest strength is his play around the net. He is very conscientious within the defensive zone. He wants to be a hockey player. Zach is a student of the game that wants to learn and is very coachable. He does have good hockey sense and he’s very, very in tune to the game. He works hard and he is very focus. Zach will captain our team in 2005-06 and his leadership skills will continue to improve and develop there as well. He’s got a big frame and when he fills out his body, he’ll become the whole package. He’ll top out at around 210 lbs. Zach just has a tremendous upside and is a player who is still developing. I think whoever takes him (in the NHL draft) will have a gem there.”

8. Chad Rau, C (Des Moines)
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 175 lbs. DOB: 1987-01-18
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 181st among North American skaters

If there was one player on the Des Moines Buccaneers roster that had just about everyone’s attention in the USHL last season, it was Chad Rau. The Eden Prairie, MN native’s sensational season led to the USHL’s Rookie of the Year honor. He led the Buccaneers in virtually every offensive category including points (71), goals (31), assists (40) and power play goals (12). His 71 points also led all USHL rookies. One statistic that is perhaps the most telling of all about Rau’s importance to Des Moines was the fact that he averaged nearly 1.25 points per game while the rest of the team averaged less than half a point. Rau was the lone USHL player to be a part of Team USA’s gold-medal winning squad at the recent IIHF World U-18 Championship in the Czech Republic. Rau’s season performance earned him numerous honors including selections to the All-USHL First and All-Rookie Teams. He also earned a selection to the USHL Prospects/All-Star game but did not play due to his participation in the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden, where helped propel Team USA to victory. Several WCHA teams heavily pursued Rau, who will be attending Colorado College this fall.

Des Moines assistant coach Brad Frattaroli’s insights on Chad Rau: “Chad is definitely a natural goal-scorer. He has that game breaking ability. He’s got a good and quick release that’s pretty accurate. He’s got a knack for being in the scoring areas and being able to quickly get his shots off. He’s also a creative goal scorer. He can score from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone. Chad isn’t a bad skater but he could improve his first couple of steps. Once Chad gets going, he’s fine, but it’s just that initial burst of speed that he needs to improve on. Chad leads by example and is the type of player who can jump start his team if necessary. He’s very smart and can make things happen.”

Des Moines head coach Regg Simon’s insights on Chad Rau: “Chad has great hockey sense in the offensive zone and around the net. He’s able to put himself in positions to score. There’s no question that he carried our team offensively. We lived and died by Chad Rau for much of last season. He was very durable and, especially being a marked man for us, was able to still carry our team. Chad plays a lot bigger than his 5’11/175 lbs. frame. He’s a strong 5’11. His weight will come with some age and maturity. I don’t see size ever being a factor with Chad. He’s got a big enough heart and he’s a strong enough competitor that the height issue rarely factors in. I would venture to guess that with his tremendous work ethic and the skills that he’ll bring to the team Chad will find a way to get into the Colorado College lineup right away. Several NHL teams have contacted us about Chad, so some of them are looking at him as a possible draft selection.”

9. Brock Bradford, C (Omaha)
Ht: 5’9 Wt: 168 lbs. DOB: 1987-01-07
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 184th among North American skaters

Brock Bradford is a Canadian-born player who played in the BCHL with the Coquitlam Express prior to coming to Omaha. The immensely gifted forward from North Vancouver enjoyed a stellar season with the Lancers where he finished third on the team in scoring with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 60 appearances. One of the highlights of Bradford’s season came at the USHL Prospects/All-Star game back in February in Grand Forks, ND. His game-winning goal at the 12:31 mark of the third period propelled Team World to a 5-3 victory over Team USHL and earned him the Ron Woodey Award for Most Valuable Player. In 2004, Bradford was also a member of the silver-medal winning Team Pacific squad at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in St. John’s Nfld. Canada, where he earned the team’s MVP honor. Bradford is another member of Boston College’s outstanding incoming freshman class this fall.

Omaha head coach Mike Hastings’ insights on Brock Bradford: “Brock is a very special player. His stick skills are some of the best that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. His ability to see the rink and his hockey sense are excellent. Brock’s drive, focus, his God-given talents and his desire to develop those talents are what separate him from so many other players who are trying to pursue college and then professional careers. He’s an ’87 and at that age, he is probably one of the most focused athletes that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. I think he’s a dual threat as far as being both a goal scorer and a playmaker. Brock’s rink vision is just something that separates him from many other junior level players and makes him very special. He’s a quick skater that could use some more power. His first two or three steps getting to various areas of the ice I would say his are his greatest strengths. Brock doesn’t have many weaknesses and all he needs is some time. He needs time to mature, make his body bigger and stronger. Brock is very mature mentally. He gets it. He understands that if you cheat away from the rink that it will hurt you on the rink. The great thing about Brock is that he knows when to get involved in the physical side of the game and when not to. He’ll get involved in the physical side of the game but he’s very calculated about it. I think Brock will be an excellent addition to Boston College.”

10. Tim Miller, LW (Omaha)
Ht: 6’1 Wt.: 180 lbs. DOB: 1987-03-06
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 140th among North American skaters

When the 2005-06 NCAA season opens in October, the University of Michigan Wolverines will welcome in one of the nation’s best freshman classes and among the newest players donning the Maize and Blue will be heavily recruited power forward Tim Miller. Miller could conceivably fill the role that departing senior Jason Ryznar (NJ) has left, depending upon how head coach Red Berenson utilizes him.

Miller finished this past season tied for sixth on the team with 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 59 appearances for Omaha. Miller also finished the 2004-05 season with128 penalty minutes, which was second on the Lancers roster. He participated in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game in Grand Forks, ND back in February as a member of Team USHL.

Omaha head coach Mike Hastings’ insights on Tim Miller: “Tim is the prototypical power forward. I think Tim is a guy that invites physical contact, that’s part of his package. He can intimidate through physical play. When he hits, he hits to hurt. He’s an explosive player that way. I think Michigan is going to look for him to come in and give them a physical presence and do all of the ‘ugly’ things. I think they’ll be looking at Tim to play in all of the tough areas such as in front of the net and along the backboards and still be able to contribute offensively. His contributions to Michigan I don’t think are going to be seen immediately on the score sheet. However, the impact that he’ll have on the team will be felt on day one. Tim is a throwback type of player. Tim is the kind of guy that coaches would love to have on their team because when you go to war with guys like Tim, more often than not you’re going to come out of it on the positive side. I just think that he has a great mind for the game. He is an above average skater who is powerful. Tim’s first couple of steps is one of his weaknesses. His strength is being more of a powerful skater rather than a quick one. He has a heavy shot but it takes him a bit longer to get rid of it. Tim is very good defensively and he is a very conscious player. He’ll block shots, fight, do whatever he has to do to succeed. I believe that his competitiveness and his excellent work ethic are going to be the things that will help Tim succeed at Michigan.”

11. Tim Kennedy, LW (Sioux City)
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 170 lbs. DOB: 1986-04-30
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 162nd among North American skaters

Tim Kennedy was a key factor in Sioux City’s quest for the Clark Cup this season. He co-led the Musketeers and finished tied for sixth in the league in scoring with 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists). His 30 goals and seven game-winning goals were both tied for first in the league. While Kennedy was very good throughout the season, he was even better in post-season play. He led the league in scoring in the Clark Cup playoffs with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists). Kennedy earned Player of the Week honors for the week ending April 6th after posting five points, including a hat trick versus Sioux Falls. His stellar season earned him a spot on the All-USHL Second Team. Kennedy, a Michigan State University recruit, was also a member of Team USHL in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game. At the team’s season-ending awards, Kennedy took home the team’s Most Valuable Player award.

Sioux City head coach Dave Siciliano’s insights on Tim Kennedy: “I thought Tim was maybe the best forward in the league. He’s capable of being a game breaker on any given shift. In one-on-one situations he was always dangerous. Tim has the uncanny ability to be able to read where the pass is being made and pick off that pass to create either a breakaway, an odd-man situation or a scoring opportunity for his teammates. He can set up plays and he can finish. Tim is the ultimate competitor and is very persistent. He is very difficult to knock off of his feet. Tim might be 5’11/170 but pound for pound when he hits, he hits as hard as anyone in the league. Tim checks just as hard as he plays offensively. He’s just mentally and physically a lot stronger than what he appears to be because of his size. He is very good at handling the puck and finding the open man either in the slot or at the point. Defensively he’s very good because he can really read the play well. He has the ability to go to where the puck is going. Tim has got excellent feet. He’s very quick and he’s got that fourth gear where he can get up to another speed and show that burst to either get through or around opposing defensemen. Tim is a great player who is very, very exciting to watch and I see him really being an impact player for Michigan State this coming year. I believe that Tim is a bona fide (NHL) draft pick because he’s got all of the necessary mental and physical tools along with the work ethic to play at the pro level, he just needs time to develop and grow.”

12. Nicholas Kemp, C/RW (Sioux City)
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 202 lbs. DOB: 1986-01-05
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 109thamong North American skaters

When Nicholas Kemp arrived in Sioux City, Iowa prior to this past season, he may have been one of the best unknown incoming players. Kemp played for his hometown Hermantown (MN) High School team, a program not exactly as well known as say Warroad or Centennial.

“Nick had a large learning curve jumping up from a small northern Minnesota high school to the USHL. The idea of preparing for 60 games and practicing every day was a little new to him and it took him some time to adjust,” said Sioux City head coach Dave Siciliano in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future. Kemp did make the adjustment and as a result the Musketeers reaped the rewards. Kemp finished tied for sixth on the team in scoring with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 59 appearances. He played for Team USHL in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game back in February. Kemp is a member of the impressive group of incoming freshmen coming into the University of Minnesota-Duluth this fall.

Sioux City head coach Dave Siciliano’s insights on Nicholas Kemp: “Nick is a player gifted with size and has excellent skills. He has a record of scoring. He’s also got good balance and excellent strength. He can carry the puck and protect it. He’s got a very good shot too. He has very good hands and can beat you one-on-one. One of things that we’ve tried to work with Nick on is driving to the net. I think that if he wants to move forward in the game, it’s an area that he’s going to have to perfect. Nick has tremendous defensive awareness and the offensive skill to finish as well. He was a centerman most of the time in high school and we had to move him over to the wing at times when we had injuries. He may be more of a centerman than a winger. The good thing is that having played wing this year, Nick’s got both positions now. He’s skilled enough where he can play on his off-wing as well as at center. He won’t have a problem playing either center or wing at UMD because he has developed that versatility. Nick’s skating is solid technically, but he needs to get another speed in there. He’s a strong, powerful skater but he hasn’t got that fourth gear to really rev it up to that breakaway level. Nick has a good shot but he needs to work on releasing it quicker and more often. He has come a long way in developing the physical side of his game. He started finishing his checks on a regular basis and he’ll get in there to fights pucks as well. Nick has begun to put all of his tools together but he’s not completely there yet.”

13. Tim Filangieri, D (Waterloo)
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 195 lbs. DOB: 1987-08-18
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 183rd among North American skaters

If Boston College fans like gritty, intense defensemen on their team, then they’ll love watching Tim Filangieri (pronounced “fill-n-gary”) this fall. The hard-nosed blueliner amassed nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 54 appearances for the Black Hawks this past season. His lone goal, scored on the power play, came back on January 11th in Waterloo’s 3-2 loss to Tri-City. Filangieri finished the season fourth on the team with 103 penalty minutes. He was a member of Team World at the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game back in February.

Waterloo head coach P. K. O’Handley’s insights on Tim Filangieri: “Tim is an NHL-caliber stay-at-home defenseman. He keeps it simple, plays with a mean streak and can give a little offense when he has to and is very, very sound defensively. Tim competes so hard that he only knows one way to play and that’s to play hard. He’s a strong and powerful skater. He can bring the shot. It’s a heavy, powerful shot. When Tim does fill out his body, he’ll top out at around 220 lbs. He is a very strong young man. His consistency is an area of his development that I think needs to continue to improve. I don’t think that it’s a weakness but rather part of the development and maturation process. For Tim to make the next step consistency will dictate how far, when and where he’ll go. He’s one tough customer and he’s a great kid. Tim’s upside is absolutely tremendous. I think he’ll provide stability to Boston College’s blueline. With his competitiveness, his work ethic and the way he plays the game, Tim will just enhance the team and add some meanness to their game.”

14. John Mitchell, LW (Green Bay)
Ht: 6’4 Wt: 200 lbs. DOB: 1986-07-10
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 112th among North American skaters

His immense size and raw talent are two attributes that have had the scouting community buzzing over John Mitchell. Mitchell finished the 2004-05 campaign with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 42 appearances with the Gamblers. He was a member of Team World at the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game. Mitchell started last season with the Tri-City Storm before a mid-November trade sent him to Green Bay. Prior to arriving in the USHL, Mitchell played for Neenah (Wisconsin) High School, whose hockey program is relatively unknown in Junior “A” circles. He was named the Gamblers’ Most Improved Player at the team’s season ending awards ceremony. Mitchell will return to Green Bay this fall before heading to a yet to be determined NCAA school in the fall of 2006.

Green Bay head coach Mark Mazzoleni’s insights on John Mitchell: “John is a big kid. He’s got excellent hands and anticipatory skills. He understands the game very well. He has the ability to make a play coming up the rink and in tight quarters around the net. When we had the opportunity to trade for John last year, we didn’t hesitate because we believe that he has a tremendous upside. I say that because when you look at how far John’s game has come in a matter of one year, you’d have to appreciate where it started. He started out in more of a limited role with our team last year. After Christmas, we moved John up to the top line to play alongside Blake Wheeler (PHX) and Mark Stockdale. John complimented that line tremendously well. He can make a play and is a very good support player on the ice. John has the ability to score goals, but he has to develop a more of a shooter’s mentality. He has a very good shot and a quick release. John skates very well for a player his size. What he needs to do is to gain more strength in his legs. That will make him a more powerful skater and a more difficult player to move off of the puck. He’s got nice long strides but I wouldn’t say that he’s a pretty skater. I think John’s best attributes are his feel for the game and his offensive upside. He can make a play and he has very good hands. John’s game has really taken off since coming to the USHL from an obscure high school program. He still has a lot to prove on the ice, but a lot of people know who he is and are tuned into that fact.”

15. Drew O’Connell, G (Waterloo)
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 170 lbs. DOB: 1987-01-01
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 16th among North American goaltenders

Drew O’Connell is the highest ranked USHL goaltender appearing on the CSS’s final rankings. The Anchorage, AK native enjoyed an outstanding year with Waterloo that culminated with a selection to the USHL All-Rookie Team. O’Connell posted some impressive numbers with the Black Hawks last season, going 15-12-4 that included five shutouts in 37 appearances. His 2.53 goals against average ranked third in the league while his .906 save percentage ranked seventh. In the USHL Prospects/All-Star game back in February, he helped guide Team World to a 5-3 victory over Team USHL. O’Connell, a heavily recruited goaltender, is Colorado College bound this fall.

Waterloo head coach P. K. O’Handley’s insights on Drew O’Connell: “Drew is very athletic. He’s very much in tune with whatever the play dictates whether he needs to go down into the butterfly or he just needs to stand up. He has very good management of his net and of his style. Because he is such a good athlete, he’s able to do that. He is very good at following the plays. Drew takes great pride in his position. When there is traffic or scrambles in front of the net, he’s very capable of finding the puck and making the save. When he is mentally focused, he’s very, very hard to beat, not only with just a goal but also a game. He did that for us many times this past season. Drew’s consistency is something that he’ll have to develop and over the course of time will improve. It’s not so much a weakness but rather something that will come with maturity and experience. To be able to stay focused consistently over the course of an entire season is hard and Drew knows that he needs to work on it if he wants to be successful. Drew is very mentally tough and a real competitor. He has a very quick glove and his lateral movement is tremendous. His competitiveness and desire to win are the two things that I feel Drew will bring to Colorado College that will help make the team better. Drew’s a pretty good player and (head coach) Scott Owens has a strong program over there, so I believe he’ll fit in well with Colorado College.”

16. Matthew Vokes, C/RW (Cedar Rapids)
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 175 lbs. DOB: 1985-09-03
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 193rd among North American skaters

Matthew Vokes was an integral part of the RoughRiders’ run to and the capturing of the Clark Cup this past season. He finished the year tied for third on the team with 52 points (27 goals, 25 assists) in 58 appearances. While he was very productive during the regular season, Vokes was an absolutely clutch performer in the post-season. He scored the game-winner in double-overtime of the thrilling Game 3 match in the Clark Cup Finals versus Sioux City before moving on to notch two points in Game 5 in helping Cedar Rapids lay claim to their first ever Clark Cup. Vokes finished post-season play with an impressive 13 points (six goals, seven assists). He also participated in the 2005 USHL Prospect/All-Star Game, where his superb performance earned him the Team World MVP honor. At the RoughRiders’ season ending awards ceremony, Vokes was named the Best Offensive Player as well as took home the team’s Community Service Award. Matthew Vokes, a Brown University recruit, is the younger brother of former Miami-Ohio forward Jeremy Vokes.

Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson’s insights on Matthew Vokes: “Matt has excellent hockey sense and hands. He’s a good leader and has made great strides this year, particularly in his maturation. He is strong on the puck. He is equally good as both a goal-scorer and playmaker. Matt is very competitive and can score the big goals.”

17. Phil Axtell, LW (Cedar Rapids)
Ht: 6’6 Wt: 230 lbs. DOB: 1986-08-13
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 89th among North American skaters

If there’s one attribute that many NHL scouts can’t seem to emphasize enough it is players with size and there aren’t many players out there, USHL or otherwise, who come bigger than Phil Axtell. The imposing New Windsor, MD native finished the 2004-05 season with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 26 appearances for the RoughRiders. He was selected to play in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game but did not participate due to a knee injury. In addition to injury, Axtell also missed time with Cedar Rapids due to a conditioning assignment. His body weight was an issue this past year. However, the good news is he has lost close to 50 lbs. in the last 12 months (230 lbs. as of earlier this week, according to Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson). At the team’s season-ending awards, Axtell took home the Fan Favorite Award. Axtell is a Michigan Tech recruit who will play in Cedar Rapids this fall before joining the Huskies in 2006.

Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson’s insights on Phil Axtell: “Phil has committed to being a player. He has good hands and good hockey sense. He sees the ice well. Phil is a tough, physical player. He skates well for a player his size and he’s a quicker skater than you’d think.
He battled a knee injury this past season. He missed a couple of games because of that but he also missed games due to his conditioning. He was working to get in good shape.”

18. Jared Boll, RW (Lincoln)
Ht: 6’2 Wt.: 180 lbs. DOB: 1986-5-13
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 187th among North American skaters

Jared Boll is the lone player among the top 20 who is bound for the Canadian Hockey League this fall. While the rugged winger had originally committed to attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Boll has since opted instead to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

“I know that Jared was really excited about going to UMD and then when the Plymouth offer came along he thought about his short and long-term goals and what his options were. He decided that he wanted to go to Plymouth because he felt that that was the best option for him and that the CHL fit his style better than the NCAA,” said Lincoln Stars assistant coach Derek Reynolds in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future. Boll finished fourth on the team in scoring with 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) in 59 appearances. He also led the USHL in penalty minutes with 294.

Lincoln assistant coach Derek Reynolds’ insights on Jared Boll: “Jared is a power forward who has a great shot with a fairly quick release. I can see him being the type of guy that once he gets to the NHL level can potentially score around 20 goals a year with about 150-200 penalty minutes. Jared is a Brendan Shanahan-type of player. In my opinion one of Jared’s greatest strengths is his competitiveness. There aren’t too many guys out there who hate to lose as much as he does. His toughness, size and heart are some of his other great attributes. He’s a hockey player who just loves to play. It’s evident every day that he comes to the rink. One of his weaknesses is that he needs to improve is his first couple of steps. His skating has come so far in the last two years. The original knock on him was his skating, but I don’t think that’s the case so much anymore. He just needs to keep working on those first few steps. Another area he can improve is keeping his emotions in check. Sometimes you have to calm him down, so his emotions don’t get the best of him. It’s kind of a fine line because you like to see a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and play with emotion. He does whatever it takes for the team and he plays hard with lots of energy every game.”

19. Justin Bostrom, RW (Sioux City)
Ht: 5’9 Wt: 170 lbs. DOB: 1986-03-20

The University of Minnesota has one of the best, and arguably the most talked about, incoming freshman classes this fall. While players such as the NTDP’s Phil Kessel and Green Bay’s Blake Wheeler (PHX) have been grabbing much of the headlines, one soon-to-be Golden Gopher that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle is Justin Bostrom (pronounced “Boo-strom”). The ultra-competitive Bostrom enjoyed an outstanding season with Sioux City last year posting 47 points (26 goals, 21 assists) in 41 appearances. His 26 goals were second on the team while his 11 power play goals led the Musketeers. He was a member of Team USHL in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star Game. In 2003, Bostrom participated in the U-18 Selects in Slovakia where he helped Team USA capture their first ever gold medal.

Sioux City head coach Dave Siciliano’s insights on Justin Bostrom: “Justin has all the pro habits right now and is a very good all-around forward. He’s got that kind of pro mentality as far as the discipline is concerned and what it takes to become successful both on and off the ice. Justin is an extremely focused young man. Justin is consistent, dependable and tenacious. He is very, very competitive and it doesn’t matter whether it is during a game or in practice. Justin will be that unsung hero who shows up every night and works extremely hard. Justin’s got an outstanding wrist shot with a very quick release. He has the ability to score in tight, particularly in the slot area. He can make things happen out on the ice. He’ll find a way to make the right play at the right time. There isn’t anyone out there that’s too big for Justin to battle with or attempt to steal the puck from because he’ll take on anybody. He’ll contribute to the team’s success every which way he possibly can, whether it’s blocking shot or scoring a big goal. Justin is a player that you’d love to have on your team but you’d hate to have to play against because he never quits. His quickness and the breakaway-type strides that he possesses, his energy level and his ability to finish checks are some of the attributes that will get people noticing him. I think he will surprise a lot of people at Minnesota this fall. I think that he will play an integral role for the team and I can see him becoming their team captain in the future.”

20. Ray Eichenlaub, D (Cedar Rapids)
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 200 lbs. DOB: 1986-07-18

Ray Eichenlaub is an offensive-minded defenseman who is blessed with good size and soft hands. It is the combination of these attributes (among others) that is likely to make him very attractive to many NHL teams looking to shore up their blue line for the future. Eichenlaub finished second among defensemen on the team in scoring with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 60 appearances. His 12 goals led all RoughRiders defensemen while his +30 led the team. Eichenlaub’s outstanding season earned him the team’s Best Defensive Player of the Year honor. Eichenlaub is a Miami (Ohio) University recruit who will join the RedHawks this fall.

Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson’s insights on Ray Eichenlaub: “Ray is an offensive-minded defenseman who is very good defensively as well. If you look at his plus/minus you can see that. He’s a real smart player and has good hockey sense. He is a very good passer. He is very good with the puck and makes very good decisions with it. Ray works hard and is of outstanding character. He’s very big and very strong. Once he fully grows into his body, he’ll top out at around 220 lbs. He’s a fairly good skater and that area should continue to get better with the training program they have at Miami-Ohio. I just think that the greatest challenge for Ray to be successful at next level is that he needs to acclimate himself to the college game and to get in there and get some experience.”

Honorable Mentions

David Meckler, RW (Waterloo) – The Yale University recruit finished second on the Black Hawks with 45 points (30 goals, 15 assists). He is ranked 190th among North American skaters on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.

Dan Riedel, LW (Lincoln) – The Ferris State University recruit took home the USHL/CCM Forward of the Year honor after leading the league with 81 points (30 goals, 51 assists).

Trevor Smith, C (Omaha) – The University of New Hampshire recruit led the Lancers and finished third in the league in scoring with 68 points (29 goals, 39 assists). He also led the league with 17 power plays. Smith is an All-USHL First Team selection.

Garrett Suter, D (Green Bay) – The University of Wisconsin recruit and younger brother of Nashville Predators prospect Ryan Suter finished the season with 13 points (five goals, eight assists). His 171 penalty minutes led the Gamblers. Garrett Suter will be playing for the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks this fall. He is ranked 174th among North American skaters on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.

Brock Trotter, C (Lincoln) – The University of Denver recruit finished the season third on the Stars roster with 58 points (20 goals, 38 assists).

Jeff Zatkoff, G (Sioux City) – The Miami (Ohio) University recruit was part of the Musketeers’ outstanding goaltending tandem that helped lead them to the Clark Cup Finals. He split time with Calgary Flames prospect and Bowling Green recruit Jimmy Spratt. Zatkoff finished the year with a 13-6-0-3 record that included one shutout. Zatkoff is ranked 18th on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings among North American goaltenders.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.