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2021-22 USHL Season Preview

Our exclusive look at America's top junior circuit features NHL prospects and names to watch for the 2022 draft and beyond.
Michael Mastrodomenico. Photo by Brandon Anderson.

Michael Mastrodomenico. Photo by Brandon Anderson.

The USHL regular season is upon us and it will be a poignant start for the league and two teams in particular. Last year, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders were forced to cancel their season after a derecho storm destroyed the team's arena. Meanwhile, the Madison Capitols also had to cancel their campaign due to local Covid restrictions. Both those squads are back on the ice and they will re-join their rivals from across the American Midwest for what promises to be an intriguing 2021-22 season.

Forecasting the standings in the USHL is very difficult as the roster turnover is so high, so instead of attempting that, I prefer to focus on individual players who may be of interest to the average hockey fan. Some of these players have already been drafted by NHL teams, while others will hear their names called soon. There's also the potential for some of the younger players on this list to return to their high school teams in the middle of the season, but those decisions can be fluid. And just to be fair, I'm listing the teams in alphabetical order. Let's get to it.

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: Returning to the ice, the RoughRiders have a couple of intriguing new faces in right winger Zaccharya Wisdom (2022), the younger brother of Flyers prospect Zayde Wisdom, and Liam Lesakowski (2022), a big two-way D-man committed to Maine.

Chicago Steel: The reigning champs will once again be dangerous thanks to playoff MVP Adam Fantilli (2023) and the feisty and creative Jackson Blake (CAR) up front. Fantilli is a Michigan commit while Blake is destined for North Dakota.

Des Moines Buccaneers: Defenseman Jackson Dorrington (2022) looked great in the USPHL bubble last year; he's a Northeastern commit. Meanwhile, returning right winger and Ohio State commit Davis Burnside (2022) brings smarts up front.

Dubuque Fighting Saints: The Saints return a lot of players from last year, including goal-scoring Minnesota commit Connor Kurth. In terms of new recruits, goaltender Paxton Geisel (2022) has a ton of potential and is committed to Denver.

Fargo Force: If you're a Bruins fan, Fargo is your team this season. Big and swift defenseman Mason Langenbrunner (BOS) comes over from Sioux City before he heads to Harvard, while Andre Gasseau (BOS) showed a lot of potential up front with the NTDP last season. He's a Boston College commit.

Green Bay Gamblers: Speedster and Michigan commit Jackson Hallum (VGK) is back after a successful 15-game stint last year, while Brody Lamb (NYR), a talented Minnesota commit, looks to build off his 10-game stint. Both played Minnesota high school last season.

Lincoln Stars: Notre Dame commit Michael Mastrodomenico (2022) got his feet wet as a rookie D-man last year and has the tools to be an impact player. New on the blueline is Joaquim Lemay (WSH), a two-way player from the BCHL who is bound for Nebraska-Omaha.

Madison Capitols: A star in the Minnesota high school ranks, Kyle Kukkonen (ANA) has already brought his offensive pop to the pre-season; he's a Michigan Tech commit. Meanwhile, highly-touted North Dakota commit Trey Ausmus (2023) brings offense from the back end.

Muskegon Lumberjacks: Veteran blueliner Noah Ellis (VGK) comes over from Des Moines before heading out to UMass, while big Owen Mehlenbacher (2022) returns for a second season up front en route to Wisconsin.

Omaha Lancers: Minnesota high school star Alex Bump (2022) joins the team on the left wing, while linebacker-sized Cade Ahrenholz – who led Lakeville South to the Minnesota state final last year – comes in before heading to Colorado College.

Sioux City Musketeers: A skilled kid with a lot of raw potential, Owen McLaughlin (PHI) joins the squad from the prep ranks; he's a Penn State commit. Rookie Jimmy Clark (2023) is a goal-scorer who played for Team USA at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament.

Sioux Falls Stampede: Two-way center Jack Smith (MTL) is back for a second season with the Stampede while defenseman Ryan Healey (2022) brings smarts to the blueline after a seven-game stint last season. Healey is a Harvard commit.

Team USA: The NTDP is always loaded with talent, so for the sake of brevity I'll keep it to a top three: Logan Cooley is a fantastic center and Notre Dame commit; Rutger McGroarty is a power forward bound for Michigan and Ryan Chesley is a very talented defenseman headed to Minnesota. All three are 2022 draft prospects.

Tri-City Storm: Defenseman Nate Benoit (MIN) brings physicality and a great release to the table; he's a North Dakota commit. In net, the Storm get a nice one in Arseni Sergeev (CGY), who starred in the NAHL last season and is committed to UConn.

Waterloo Black Hawks: Up front, left winger Michael La Starza (2022) looks to build off a solid offensive rookie campaign before he heads to Boston University, while goaltender Emmett Croteau (2022) has been hot in the pre-season. He's got NHL size and is committed to Clarkson.

Youngstown Phantoms: Big left winger Shane LaChance (EDM) has a ton of raw potential which he'll hone in Youngstown before heading to Boston University. Elsewhere, playmaking right winger Stiven Sardarian (BUF) comes over from Russia with a future commitment to New Hampshire.

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