One of the most helpful new NHL draft scouting events of the past decade has been the annual All-American Prospects Game and we now have rosters for the 2021 edition, which will be held at USA Hockey Arena in Michigan on April 7.
The AAPG has changed formats over the years and the current incarnation will once again feature the under-18s from USA Hockey's National Team Development Program against an all-star squad of players from the USHL. The rosters can be found here and here, so let's break down some of the notable story lines for the game.
In terms of dynamic forwards, it's hard to beat the NTDP's Chaz Lucius. The University of Minnesota commit has missed most of the season due to knee surgery, but he's been on fire since returning to the lineup in February. Lucius is one of, if not the, purest goal-scorers in the 2021 draft class and it will be fun to see him let loose on the big stage. If the puck is within two feet of the net, watch out for Michigan commit Dylan Duke; that's where he does a lot of damage.
Team USHL will be armed too, however, and I wouldn't mind seeing Chicago Steel lineys Matt Coronato and Mackie Samoskevich playing with Fargo ace Tristan Broz. But the USHL's top threat is Cole Sillinger, a dual Canadian/American citizen who has been playing for Sioux Falls this season instead of his usual WHL squad in Medicine Hat. Sillinger has been an absolute beast for the Stampede.
Two others of note: Chicago's Josh Doan and Muskegon's Cam Berg. Both were passed over in the 2020 draft and both are trying to prove the scouts wrong by lighting up the USHL this season. Doan is Shane's kid and an Arizona State commit.
There's gonna be some fun puck-rushers in this game and the top name on the list is Luke Hughes from the NTDP. He's the younger brother of Jack and Quinn, but also the biggest of the three and also an excellent skater. Scouts love his offensive abilities and still-growing potential, and they also love fellow NTDPer Sean Behrens. He's a bit undersized at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, but NHL talent hawks love his elusiveness, his transition game and his ability to play in all situations.
On the USHL side, all eyes will be on Jack Peart, the Fargo D-man who is back in Minnesota right now trying to win a state high school title with Grand Rapids. Peart is just a natural back there and he boasts elite hockey IQ. There's also tons of potential in Denver commit Shai Buium of Sioux City, while Chicago's Ryan Ufko may be one of the most underrated players in the 2021 draft right now. Brent Johnson of Sioux Falls has also turned it up a notch lately.
The Goalie Situation
OK, so the netminding situation here is an odd one. The USHL has been turned upside-down this year and for the most part, it's been a good thing: players from the WHL and NCAA schools that cancelled their seasons meant a flood of talent, but that severely pushed down younger goalies, many of which are now in the NAHL. So the USHL is rolling with Remington Keopple and Colin Purcell, a pair of 2002 birthdays passed over in last year's draft. Meanwhile, the NTDP's best goaltender is Gibson Homer - but his December 2003 birthday means he's not eligible until the 2022 draft. That leaves the NTDP's Kaidan Mbereko as the only first-time eligible goalie here and at 5-foot-11, he'll really have to put up an incredible performance for the scouts.
Speaking of goalies, there was one 2003 birthday that Team USHL could have gone with and that's Hobie Hedquist of Dubuque. It's been a really tough year for Hedquist and his numbers aren't great - but he's shown some light recently and I'm surprised he isn't on the initial roster. Another interesting omission is defenseman Luke Mittelstadt, younger brother of Casey. Mittelstadt is at Eden Prairie high school right now, going for that same Minnesota title as Peart, but he started the year in Lincoln.
Most to Prove
The AAPG is a spotlight game and some players need it more than others. NTDP defenseman Aidan Hreschuk came into the season with a lot of hype from some corners but scouts have yearned for more. The Boston College commit's 30 points in 38 games does rank second among team defenders (behind Hughes' 34) and he has been improving of late, so maybe the AAPG can seal the deal. On the other end of the puck, Tri-City's Matthew Knies has been absolutely snakebitten this season and scouts are wondering if it's just bad luck or an omen. Knies actually took part in Team USA's summer world junior camp and almost went straight to the University of Minnesota this year, but instead has struggled to just six goals in 32 games with the Storm. But with his big body and past performances, scouts wonder if he can be like Brandon Saad: a player whose numbers go soft in his draft year, but turns out to be what was originally expected nonetheless.