The United States League may have lost its playoff champs in the Indiana Ice, but the junior circuit gained two expansion teams in Bloomington and Madison. The USHL has become a great league for players on the cusp of NCAA careers and this year will be no exception. I surveyed a crew of insiders to get power rankings and added a player to watch for each franchise. As a note, Team USA (the National Team Development Program) is not included in the standings since both the under-18s and under-17s play in the league and because the playoffs are kind of an afterthought; the best of the NTDP are always at the world under-18s at the time, so USHL post-season success is fleeting at best.
1. Dubuque Fighting Saints – One to watch: Edmonton Oilers pick William Lagesson is a strong defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the ice.
2. Muskegon Lumberjacks – Returning right winger Matheson Iacopelli is a Chicago Blackhawks pick with size and sweet hands committed to Western Michigan.
3. Waterloo Black Hawks – Draft-eligible center Tom Novak has a killer wrist shot and can really control things in the offensive zone. He’s committed to Minnesota.
4. Sioux City Musketeers – Anaheim Ducks pick Matt Berkovitz is a smooth-skating two-way defenseman committed to Wisconsin.
5. Omaha Lancers – Washington Capitals prospect Shane Gersich is a speedster with a hard shot who is committed to North Dakota.
6. Tri-City Storm – Los Angeles Kings pick Alec Dillon is a towering 6-foot-6 goaltender with great athleticism, committed to R.P.I.
7. Youngstown Phantoms – Draft-eligible center Kyle Connor is a potential top-10 pick thanks to his hockey IQ, speed and shot. He’s a Michigan recruit.
8. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Draft-eligible left winger Erik Foley is a Providence College commit who brings a combination of grit, speed and deft hands.
9. Sioux Falls Stampede – Toronto Maple Leafs selection Dakota Joshua is a tenacious forechecker with high battle level committed to Ohio State.
10. Chicago Steel – Returning league rookie of the year Robby Jackson is a St. Cloud State commit with great hands and scoring prowess. Draft eligible in 2015.
11. Green Bay Gamblers – Buffalo Sabres pick Christopher Brown was a dominant offensive center in high school; he’s committed to Boston College.
12. Bloomington Thunder – Draft-eligible defenseman Ethan Spaxman is a Merrimack commit who locks down the blueline with his 6-foot-3 frame.
13. Lincoln Stars – Florida Panthers prospect Miguel Fidler is a quick and scrappy left winger committed to Ohio State.
14. Fargo Force – Passed over last year, center Michael Eyssimont made Central Scouting’s watch list this week. He’s an offensive pivot bound for St. Cloud State.
15. Madison Capitols – Wisconsin brothers Cooper and Carver Watson will patrol the blueline; Cooper is a Michigan Tech commit.
16. Des Moines Buccaneers – Draft-eligible center Nikita Pavlychev is a monster Penn State recruit coming in at nearly 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds.
*Team USA – Draft-eligible center Colin White is a two-way player with great character committed to Boston College.