The annual showcase of draft-eligible American kids hit up Buffalo again and there were a lot of great performances. We’ve got the names you need to know
For a contest that has featured Jack Eichel, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, the annual All-American Prospects Game may have actually hit a high point this year. The sixth edition of the clash for draft-eligible NHL prospects took place in Buffalo last Thursday, with Brian Leetch’s team edging out Chris Chelios’ squad 6-5. The special guest coaches said they wanted the kids to play loose and fearless: “We’re not trying to win Game 1 of a seven-game series,” Leetch said. “Some of the moves you saw, they probably wouldn’t do every game, but it shows you the skill level they have.”
And with that, I saw the most balanced competition in this game yet. Thanks to all the notable performances, I’m going to list the top-20 players from the game, in my estimation. While this shouldn’t be taken as a power ranking of 2018 American draft prospects, it should be no surprise that the first two kids do indeed look like top-10 selections right now. Positions are based on the game lineup.
Brady Tkachuk, RW, Boston University (Hockey East) – The incoming freshman was named MVP of the game with two points, including the game-winning goal. Tkachuk’s strength and tenacity were already known, but he really showed off his puckhandling skills in Buffalo.
Quinn Hughes, D, University of Michigan (Big Ten) – Another young freshman about to kick off his NCAA career, Hughes was buzzing all night. His ability to control the play and keep the puck on his stick for long periods makes this rush-happy blueliner a deadly weapon.
Ryan Savage, RW, Fargo Force (USHL) – I liked how versatile Savage’s play was. He won puck battles early and then showed a very good scoring touch, finishing with two goals on the night. Interesting path: Savage played his 15-year-old year for the Red Bull Akademie hot-house team in Austria for a year before returning stateside. He’s a Miami commit.
Jay O’Brien, C, Thayer Academy (Mass. HS) – As the game went on, O’Brien got more impressive. Even though he has mostly played in the New England prep ranks, he did not look intimidated by the more experienced competition. Speedy and highly skilled, the Providence College commit went top-shelf for a goal and looked good on faceoffs.
Ryan O’Reilly, RW, Madison Capitols (USHL) – Not that one. This is a new Ryan O’Reilly and lord, can he shoot the puck. The Denver commit has a wicked release and quick hands that get him into scoring areas. Heck, even when he was at a sharp angle he scored. As a Texas native, O’Reilly is likely going to get a lot of press before Dallas hosts the draft this summer.
Cole Krygier, D, Lincoln Stars (USHL) – So here’s the funny thing: Cole’s twin brother Christian is actually the higher-rated draft prospect and both played in the game. But on this night, I noticed Cole more than Christian (though Christian played a nice, smart game). The Wisconsin commit was physical, never gave up on plays and had nice awareness on the defensive end.
Bode Wilde, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – One of the top blueliners available this year, Wilde is a big, strong kid with nice offensive instincts and the ability to make plays in his own zone. Sometimes his decision-making is shaky, but the tools are all there. Wilde is a Michigan commit and yes, he is named after skier Bode Miller.
K’Andre Miller, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – A converted forward, Miller definitely has a lot of great natural attributes, from his frame to his skating ability. He’s also a big kid that threw some nice hits in the game and he’s confident rushing the puck. Committed to Wisconsin.
Slava Demin, D, Wenatchee Wild (BCHL) – The only BCHLer in the game, Demin proved himself to be tough to play against all night. He showed great playmaking vision to set up a goal and his willingness to play aggressive on defense will help his future stock. He’s a Denver commit.
Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – When he was on, he was on. No doubt Wahlstrom has offensive skill and he showed that with a great give-and-go finish for a score. I was surprised I didn’t notice him more consistently, though. Wahlstrom is a Harvard commit, though I know scouts are keeping an eye on his QMJHL rights – Cape Breton would be his landing spot right now if he chose that route instead.
Joel Farabee, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – Like his linemate Wahlstrom, Farabee’s main highlight was as the passer on that stupendous give-and-go goal. The Boston U. commit is definitely smart and skilled and it’s worth noting that not every high-end prospect can stick out in an all-star game.
Spencer Stastney, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – I wasn’t watching for Stastney, but I kept finding him. The Notre Dame commit had one of the best hits of the night and showed off a nice, consistent physical side. He also did some very smart work on the penalty-kill to clear the zone.
Blake McLaughlin, RW, Grand Rapids Thunderhawks (Minn. HS) – There’s a lot of nice offense in McLaughlin’s game. From passing to stickhandling, he makes things happen and the Minnesota commit was the starter and finisher on a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal.
Mattias Samuelsson, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – The son of ex-NHLer Kjell Samuelsson, Mattias definitely has his father’s reach and he really pursues his man on the puck. He’s a Michigan commit.
Jake Pivonka, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – Another son of an NHLer (Michal Pivonka), Jake kicked off the scoring in the game by showing off his quick shot and willingness to cruise through traffic. He’s a Notre Dame commit.
Alec Regula, D, London Knights (OHL) – There’s a lot to like about Regula, who recently signed with the Knights. Most obvious, there’s the 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, but he’s also a great puckhandler on the back end. He got burned badly on one goal, but there’s time to work out those kinks.
Jake Wise, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – Wise centered Team Leetch’s top line with Tkachuk and McLaughlin, so he had a hand in the offense. But I also liked his defensive awareness, which will serve him well in the future at Boston University.
Jack Perbix, RW, Elk River Elks (Minn. HS) – I watched some of Perbix’s games last year in high school and he really impressed me. Playing with fellow Minnesota high schooler Jack Jensen and Jay O’Brien on an all-high school line, Perbix roofed a great Jensen feed for a goal. Perbix is a Notre Dame commit.
Jonathan Mor, G, U.S. NTDP (USHL) – Goalies can get a rough ride in these games, but I thought Mor had a pretty good showing. The kid has nice flexibility and moves quickly post-to-post. Mor is uncommitted right now.
Jack Randl, LW, Omaha Lancers (USHL) – A smart and skilled player, Randl had three points on the night, leading all skaters. He’s a Michigan commit.