Evaluating NHL prospects of U.S. U-18s
It's widely thought to be a soft year for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in terms of draft-eligible talents, but that's not altogether fair. The 91s and 92s, both world championship squads, have been unusually strong classes. Last year one scout told me that the USNTDP's group of defensemen compared favorably with AHL teams -- not long-term. Right then. Those teams are an awfully high standard to hold any group to. That's like saying a team isn't much compared to the late '70s Canadiens. You can still have a strong class and not be in the same bracket. Still, the 93s in Ann Arbor aren't inspiring the same sort of high praise.
According to scouts I spoke with this week, only two skaters and one goaltender seem like safe bets to go in the first two rounds. To the scouts, though, it's not just the numbers but the type of talent. Said one scout this week: "As a sum of the parts it's a good team and you'd have to rank them as the favorites going into the (world) under-18s, but compared to recent teams you don't see either the big, finished D-men or forwards with high-end skills." In other words, if you're looking for Patrick Kane or Cam Fowler, come back next year.
Two players are out in front of the class of USNTDP skaters by a significant margin: Tyler Biggs and Jonathan Miller. We'll leave goaltender John Gibson out of the picture until we dedicate a blog entry to all the netminders of interest. For now, here are representative takes on Biggs and Miller from scouts who've seen them in the last month:
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