(Ed. Note: Dan here. We’re super excited to add Jake to our line-up this season for prospect articles, analysis and more. Please welcome him to LHH and follow him on Twitter, if you don’t already, at @baskincase.)
This is my first post for Lighthouse Hockey, so I’ll start with an introduction. I’m Jake, and I’ll be covering the Sound Tigers, college hockey, and the NHL Draft for this site.
Last Thursday, I took a trip up to Buffalo to watch a bunch of 17- and 18-year-old kids play hockey. On the surface, this seems kind of creepy, as I’m not a scout and in late September, I shouldn’t be in full hockey mode yet. But I had a reason, I swear.
Thursday was the sixth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, a contest pitting two teams of first-time draft-eligible American talent against each other, coached by retired American players. This year, USA Hockey outdid themselves with their coach selection, picking Hall of Famers Brian Leetch and Chris Chelios. A number of Islanders prospects have participated in this game, like Eamon McAdam, Taylor Cammarata, Kieffer Bellows, and 2017 draftees Ben Mirageas and Logan Cockerill.
I attended the game last year in Philadelphia, and I was lucky enough to get to the KeyBank Center an hour early this year and get a seat up against the glass (you can see me at brief points in the game highlights on YouTube) to see the All-American Prospects Game’s most exciting incarnation yet.
The players that were supposed to dominate at this game did exactly that in the early going. Potential first-rounders Joel Farabee and Oliver Wahlstrom (the latter of whom you might recognize for a lacrosse-style shootout goal he scored during the intermission of a Bruins game when he was 9) hooked up for a nice goal for Team Chelios early in the second period. Two more potential first-rounders, Jake Wise and Brady Tkachuk, started a tic-tac-toe play that Minnesota high schooler Blake McLaughlin finished off to give Team Leetch a lead in the second period.
There were also some contributions from less-heralded players. USHL rookie Paul Cotter, who I knew little about before the game, took advantage of a blown edge by potential top-ten pick Quinn Hughes for a nice goal for Team Chelios in the first period. Ryan Savage, the Arizona-trained son of former Canadien Brian, put up a pair of goals for Team Leetch in the second period, and could have made a case for game MVP honors. Chicagoland natives Jake Pivonka and Jack Randl also scored to add to Team Leetch’s 5-2 lead, which they carried into the third period.
Looking for some goaltending? Well, all-star games aren’t really the best place to look, but USNTDP starter Drew DeRidder (playing for Team Chelios) was the one who stood out most to me during this event, stopping 11 of 13 shots. His size may be a deterrent for NHL teams come draft day, though.
But like the great Team USAs of old, Chelios’s bunch started clawing their way back in the third period, and they did so in rapid succession. Goals from Jay O’Brien, Jack Perbix, and Ryan O’Reilly (no, not that one) within 2:55 of each other tied the game at 5 a quarter of the way through the final stanza.
But at the end of the day, it was a big name that took over when it mattered most. Brady Tkachuk, who as you may have guessed, is the son of Keith and brother of Matthew, finished off a sweet give-and-go with Christian Krygier with 5:07 left for the decisive tally in Team Leetch’s 6-5 win. That play combined with his primary assist earlier in the game (and, I may mention, his status as a possible top-five pick) was enough to earn Tkachuk the game’s MVP award (putting him in the company of Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt).
It does look like a strong group of American players for the 2018 NHL Draft, especially on the blue line. The first round looks like it’ll be about average by U.S. standards (5-8 players), but I feel there are a lot of players currently slipping under most draft radars who could make an impact in the NHL someday. Who knows––maybe a couple of them will be Islanders in the future.