The past couple of years have been the high-water mark for American hockey. Two US-born players have been first overall picks in the past three years, with a record number of Americans being selected. So how does the country stack up in one of the best draft classes ever?
Jeremy Morin, LW
USNTDP U17 (NAHL)
Height/Weight: 5'11, 175 lbs, 26 PIM
2007-08 Statline: 30 GP, 17-17-34
Summary: Two-way forwards rarely pop up on the top of scoring lists, but not Jeremy Morin. When most 15 year-olds would be playing Midget, the diligent but deadly wingewas the leading scorer in a Junior A league. After scoring 54 points in 45 games and being named ROTY in the Eastern Junior Hockey League for the 2006-07 season, Morin headed to the NTDP- where he was the only player to hit the PPG mark. Despite being of only average height and weight, a laser-accurate snapshot from below the dots and a love to play in high-traffic areas remind one of long-time NHL star Mark Recchi.
Future: Initially interested in going the college route- both his brother and cousin were NCAAers- rumored grade issues mean Morin is likely to jump to the OHL for 2008-09. Such a move couldn't be better for his draft stock. The Kitchener Rangers own his rights, and despite the loss of 124-point scorer JustinAzevedo , the team boasts one of the best offenses in the league. A 50-goal rookie season would lock up a top-eight spot at the draft table.
Zach Budish, C
Edina High School (USHS)
Height/Weight: 6'4, 225 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 27 GP, 26-37-63,
Summary: It's a conflict that's confounded some of the best professional athletes in North America: what sport do I play? Gone are the days of Lionel Conacher's three-sport domination; the demands placed upon athletes at the highest level make it impossible for today's stars to play more than one. In the summer draft preview, we told you about Edina High School star Anders Lee, who needed to make the choice between D1 football or D1 hockey. Still undecided, it's looking as though Lee may choose football. But given the chance, any D1 program would rather have teammate Zach Budish. A standout linebacker for his school's football squad, the 6'4 specimen has likely played his last year of elite football. Team USA's lone threat during the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the summer, Budish's heart is firmly entrenched in hockey. Not the greatest skater due to his size and mass, Budish is nevertheless a threat down low due to his immovable frame.
Future: Comparison-wise, Budish plays the game like a grittier, more driven Blake Wheeler. Like Wheeler, Budish will suit for the Gophers for his college career. However, unlike the former fifth overall pick, it's difficult to imagine Budish being taken before the tenth selection. A team will nevertheless get a feared and skilled power winger with the ability to change the face of their attack.
Jordan Schroeder, RW
Height/Weight: 5'8, 171 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 55 GP, 22-31-53, 16 PIM
What We Said Then: "A deft playmaker with elusive skating and hands, there are a great deal of parallels between the '90 born forward and another American offensive dynamo- Patrick Kane. And while Schroeder has more than enough top-end ability to be a better player than Kane by 2009, he may not even go top three."- Underage Action Pt. 2, April 2007
Summary: Better than a Calder Trophy-winning winger who played on the top line and scored 72 points? Okay, to clarify, we meant a better prospect in their respective draft year. But that would make Schroeder a #1 pick. Even if you remove generational talents likeHedman and Tavares, Schroeder still probably doesn't go first overall. And at the same age, Kane had a record 102 points in 58 games for the NTDP- almost double as many Schroeder. While 2007-08 version of the NTDP was much, much weaker than 2005-06, and despite the fact Schroeder lead his team in scoring just as Kane did, it's fair to say the aforementioned projection was a little off.
But Schroeder is still a golden prospect. Style-wise, he is indeed very much like Kane- an explosive, unstoppable skater, a fantasticpuckhandler, and the owner of truly awesome vision. And Schroeder has proven that when given premiere linemates , he can produce like a top-three pick. Playing a stacked U18 World Championships team, the 16 year-old finished with the third-most points among forwards on the Bronze-medalwinners. And at the summer USA WJC evaluation camp, Schroeder had four points to put him right up with draft picks like James van Riemsdyk, Mitch Wahl and Aaron Palushaj.
Future: Schroeder will be a freshman for the Gophers in 2008-09, but his name is already being pencilled in on the top line due to a dearth of scoring talent. With a resume of playing his best when playing with similarly-skilled players, look for thediminutive winger to have a big year in the NCAA. 30+ points aren't out of the realm of possibility, and with that will come a top-ten selection. A gut-based prediction says 7-26-33.
Beau Schmitz, D
USNTDP U17 (NAHL)
Height/Weight: 5'9, 191 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 41 GP, 5-7-12, 84 PIM
Summary: Beau Schmitz is a Marc-Andre Bergeron clone. And we mean that as a compliment. The gutsiest, meanest player on the NTDP in a long time, Schmitz's 5'9 frame is nothing but a number when you see him lay out much bigger players with dandy hip checks. A smart, economical defenseman with good puck skills, Schmitz's uptempo physical game isn't a cover for a lack of skill. The smallish defender is a weapon on the powerplay when used in such a role.
Future: Despite his style of play and high hockey IQ, Schmitz is a niche player whose specialty isn't exactly coveted. That's why in the training camp of the Plymouth Whalers, he's somewhat changed his game. While the devastating hits are still there, Schmitz has begun to rush the puck with greater confidence, leading to a highlight reel goal early in the camp. That alteration will make him a more coveted player, perhaps pushing him from mid-2nd round to as high as 30 or 31.
Seth Helgeson, D
Sioux City (USHL)
Height/Weight: 6'4, 220 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 58 GP, 3-8-11, -4, 41 PIM
Summary: Way, way, way on the other end of the spectrum is Seth Helgeson. The last three years have spoiled fans: each Draft has seen a highly-touted shutdown rearguard considered the next this or that. 2009's is Seth Helgeson. At 6'4, 220, Helgeson has a body most NHL players would kill for. However, unlike other big men, Helgeson has a ton of skill- the night he learned the Gophers had signed him, he scored five goals. An above-average skater and great passer, Helgeson stands out thanks to his IQ; the monster blueliner is sublime at times in making the right play.
Future: No player has the tools to rocket up the draft rankings like Helgeson. An Erik Johnson-esque defender, Helgeson is headed to the same school. However, while EJ's draft year accomplishments are pretty high- 24 points in the NCAA and the first overall pick- it wouldn't be crazy to suggest Helgeson has top-twelve pick potential.
Mike Lee, G
Roseau High School (USHS)
Height/Weight: 6'0, 175 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 27-2-0, 1.10 GAA, 0.936 Sv%
Summary: The usual proving ground for a prospect is the regular season. But for Mike Lee, scouts will have a close eye on how he performs in the 2008-09 post-season. Considered a phenom never seen in high school hockey, Lee had lost just one game during the entire 2007-08 season and was two wins away from leading the Roseau Rams to a Minnesota high school championship. But such dreams came crashing down New England Patriots style in a stunning 4-1 loss to the afterthought Hill-Murray Pioneers during the semi-finals. While a goalie isn't always at fault in a loss, and while the entire Rams team played listless, Lee wasadequately to blame for the collapse.
Future: Despite a shot at redemption, Lee has chosen not to return to Roseau for his draft year. He has instead opted to join the Fargo Force of the USHL, a decision that might be a red flag for some scouts. The loser of less than five games during his entire high school career, most expect a solid or even great regular season from the highly talented goalie despite playing in a more difficult league. But how he responds in the playoffs will be the true test of Lee's mettle. If he can't rise to the occasion again- and really, there's no reason to think he can't- it could nevertheless hurt how NHL teams view him at the draft table. A gifted butterfly goalie with a great glove and quick legs, Lee's mind will no doubt be the most-tested feature of him during the Combine.