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USHL Season Preview: The High End is Here

From an NHL first-rounder to a potential top pick in 2024, America's top junior circuit has a lot to offer this year.
Sam Rinzel. Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Rinzel. Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

As we speak, the USHL's annual Fall Classic is taking place outside of Pittsburgh as teams from America's top junior circuit shake off the summer rust and launch into another crucial development year. And, as always, there is a ton of turnover in a league where the NCAA beckons many players sooner than later. But that just means we have a lot of new recruits, many with blue-chip backgrounds. On top of some excellent candidates for this year's NHL draft, we've got a potential first overall pick for 2024 playing in the league this season, too.

Here's a look at a couple of players from each team (listed alphabetically) to watch for in 2022-23.

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: The Riders boast two world junior vets in Latvia's Martins Lavins and goaltender Bruno Bruveris, the latter of whom was a star in Edmonton and will be relied upon heavily in Cedar Rapids.

Chicago Steel: Injuries and illness robbed Nick Moldenhauer (TOR) of games last year, but the talented center returns, while rookie Mack Celebrini (2024) is an offensive wizard who could be the first pick overall in the 2024 NHL draft.

Des Moines Buccaneers: Goal-scoring right winger Joey Muldowney (SJ) makes the jump from the prep ranks; he's a UConn commit. Meanwhile, Providence College commit Michael Stenberg (2023) looks to break out in his second season with the Bucs.

Dubuque Fighting Saints: Some 'Swede' reinforcements arrive in Dubuque with right winger Nils Juntorp (CHI) and his sharp shot, plus 6-foot-5 two-way defenseman and Ohio State commit Theo Wallberg (OTT).

Fargo Force: Notre Dame commit and right winger Cole Knuble always brings energy to a shift, while physical defenseman Leo Gruba is a St. Cloud State commit who can also contribute some offense.

Green Bay Gamblers: Slick University of Minnesota-Duluth commit Jayson Shaugabay (2023) is coming off a monster Minnesota high school season with Warroad, while center Barrett Hall (SEA) is a St. Cloud State commit who can dazzle offensively.

Lincoln Stars: Big goaltender Cam Whitehead (VGK) returns before his next stop at Northeastern University, while huge defenseman Jack Sparkes (LA) comes in with a physical edge and good mobility. He's a Michigan State commit.

Madison Capitols: Talented left winger and Wisconsin commit Quinn Finley (NYI) boosted his draft stock with a great post-season for the Caps. Joining him up front is right winger and Denver commit Miko Matikka (ARI), who knows how to use his size to his advantage.

Muskegon Lumberjacks: All-around solid defenseman George Fegaras (DAL) is coming in after a great season in the OJHL; he's a Cornell commit. Meanwhile, there's a ton of potential in big Harvard commit Michael Callow (ANA) on the wing.

Omaha Lancers: Left winger and Vermont commit Alex Bump (PHI) was a monster in the Minnesota high school ranks and got some experience in Omaha last year. Meanwhile, defenseman Nate Benoit (MIN) had a nice post-season showing; he's a North Dakota commit.

Sioux City Musketeers: Big, solid defenseman Garrett Brown (WPG) returns to defend Sioux City's championship title before heading to Denver, while nabbing skilled right winger Ben Poitras (2023) was a recruiting coup. He's a Northeastern commit.

Sioux Falls Stampede: A game-changer for Slovakia at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, defenseman Maxim Strbak (2023) is a Vermont commit with tons of potential and he's joined by fellow national team product Adam Zlnka (ARI), an offensive threat on the wing.

Tri-City Storm: Right winger Cameron O'Neill (OTT) was a beast in the Prep Hockey Conference last year and he comes in en route to UMass. Elsewhere, center and Clarkson commit Daimon Gardner (VAN) was similarly deadly in the Minnesota high school ranks.

Waterloo Black Hawks: NHL first-rounder Sam Rinzel (CHI) rose up the rankings with his late-season performance in Waterloo after dominating Minnesota high school. He's a big, mobile D-man committed to Minnesota. Back in net is big Emmett Croteau (MTL), the Clarkson commit.

Youngstown Phantoms: Center and Wisconsin commit William Whitelaw (2023) is all the right kinds of feisty, while mobile defenseman Michael Fisher (SJ) is bringing his big shot with him before heading off to Northeastern.

Team USA: The NTDP is literally all prospects every year, but some of the names to watch this season include Minnesota commit Oliver Moore and Boston College commits Ryan Leonard and Will Smith, all of whom are potential 2023 first-rounders.

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