July 2, 2019
It was quite a draft year for the USA U18 development program – which saw eight players drafted in the first round in Vancouver on June 28, including the #1 overall pick, Jack Hughes, selected by the New Jersey Devils.
The USA can also claim one more, who, while not on the US development team, is a first rounder born in the USA, who played in the USA – Ryan Johnson of the USHL Sioux Falls Stampede; bringing the total to nine American first rounders.
The Euros, if we include Russia (1), saw eight drafted, led by Sweden with three picks. The WHL were third overall, with seven selects (#3 Dach, #4 Byram, #7 Cozens, #17 Krebs, #19 Thomson, #27 Foote, and #29 Tracey).
Only four OHL players and two from the Q made the first round this year. One BCHL player, Alex Newhook, a Newfoundlander playing with the BCHL Victoria Grizzlies, rounded out the first 31, as the #16 selection.
The Top 3, pictured above were: #1 Jack Hughes, center (USA U18); #2 Kaapo Kakko, right (Finland), and #3 Kirby Dach (WHL – Saskatoon).
The US National Team Development Program was started in 1996 by USA Hockey as a way to identify elite ice hockey players under the age of 18, and centralize their training. There are two teams in the program: under-17 and under-18. Both teams are based in Plymouth, Michigan.
Here’s a look at who came out of the USA U18 program this year. Reports courtesy of NHL.com.
1. New Jersey Devils – Jack Hughes, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 1 (North American skaters)
The first player selected in the 2019 NHL Draft also is the best skater and most dynamic playmaker; he can think the game at top speed with or without the puck. Hughes (5-foot-10, 171 pounds) led the the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team with 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games and set the all-time record for most assists (154) and points (228) in 110 games during two seasons with the program.
The left-handed shot is the fifth NTDP alum to go No. 1 in the draft, following Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2016), Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks, 2007), Erik Johnson(St. Louis Blues, 2006) and Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders, 2000). He had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) to help the United States finish third at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. That’s one off the single-tournament record of 21 points set by Nikita Kucherov of Russia in 2011.
NHL.com analysis: The Devils got the best center in the draft and immediately set themselves up through the middle for the next decade with Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, and Hughes as their go-to players at the position. Hughes likely will earn a roster spot during training camp and play a top-six role, average 15-20 minutes of ice time per game, and benefit from the instruction of Devils coach John Hynes, who is a former NTDP coach.
9. Anaheim Ducks – Trevor Zegras, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 6 (North American skaters)
Zegras has good patience with the puck and good on-ice vision, and he was one of the hardest-working players for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team. A left-handed shot, he was third on the NTDP with 87 points (26 goals, 61 assists) in 60 games. The Boston University recruit finds the seams, knows when to shoot, and has deception and fearlessness in his game. Zegras (6-foot, 173), who can play anywhere in a lineup as a center or left wing, had nine assists in five games for the U.S. at the 2019 World U-18 Championship.
NHL.com analysis: Zegras might be the most creative player in the draft. The Ducks need help at center with Ryan Getzlaf 34 years old and Ryan Kesler‘s future uncertain following hip surgery on May 9. Adding Zegras to a talented group of forward prospects, including Max Comtois, Sam Steel and Troy Terry, has the potential to make the Ducks a dangerous team.
12. Minnesota Wild – Matthew Boldy, LW, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 9 (North American skaters)
Boldy (6-2, 196) has an excellent release, an accurate shot and can manufacture scoring chances for himself and linemates by playing an honest, hard, 200-foot game. He had 81 points (33 goals, 48 assists) in 64 games for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, leading it with four shorthanded goals and finishing second with 10 power-play goals.
He’s fifth on the all-time NTDP list with 95 assists in 126 games during his two seasons with the program. He’s committed to play at Boston College next season.
NHL.com analysis: Boldy has the traditional build of a power forward with soft hands that allow him to make strong plays in tight spaces. Two college seasons should be all he needs to be ready to step into a Wild lineup that needs an injection of skill up front.
13. Florida Panthers – Spencer Knight, G, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 1 (North American goalies)
Knight has an excellent presence and balance, and he is very confident with the perfect mental makeup to excel at the position. Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting said Knight reminds him of a young Carey Price. Knight (6-3, 193) was 32-4-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 39 games.
He led the United States to third place at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with a 1.51 GAA, a .936 save percentage and one shutout in six games. He’s committed to Boston College starting next season after setting the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team record for wins (59) in two seasons (78 games) with the program.
NHL.com analysis: It’s rare when a team and a player match this well, but Knight is a potential franchise goalie going to a team that needs one. He is athletic and cerebral, rarely is out of position, and his coach at the NTDP, John Wroblewski, believes Knight has the mental makeup to thrive at the game’s hardest position.
14. Philadelphia Flyers – Cameron York, D, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 12 (North American skaters)
York (5-11, 172) led USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team defensemen with 65 points (14 goals, 51 assists) and 132 shots on goal in 63 games. He’s elusive with the puck, can dominate with his decision-making, and is deceptive in the offensive zone.
York, committed to the University of Michigan starting next season, had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games to help the U.S. finish third at the 2019 IIHF World U-18 Championship and was named to the tournament all-star team.
NHL.com analysis: The Flyers need young defensemen to add to their prospect pipeline and were able to get one of the best in the draft after trading down with Coyotes to No. 14. One attribute that stood out to scouts was how York raised his game when the stakes were highest.
15. Montreal Canadiens – Cole Caufield, RW, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 8 (North American skaters)
Caufield (5-7, 163), who will attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall, set a record for goals (72) this season and career goals (126) in 123 games in two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team. His 282 shots on goal led the NTDP, and his 100 points in 64 games were second to Jack Hughes’ 112.
Caufield’s 14 goals for the U.S. at the 2019 IIHF World U-18 Championship tied Alex Ovechkin (Russia, 2002) for the most in a single tournament. Caufield played on a line with Hughes for most of the season, but when Hughes was playing at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, Caufield scored seven goals in six games.
NHL.com analysis: The Canadiens must have been thrilled that the best pure goal-scorer in the draft was available at No. 15. Caufield’s small frame won’t prevent him from succeeding. Caufield at right wing on a line with center Jesper Kotkaniemi sometime in the next two seasons has the potential to be a productive scoring attack.
30. Boston Bruins – John Beecher, C, USA U-18 (NTDP)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 49 (North American skaters)
Beecher (6-3, 212) was a bit overlooked because of the top talent ahead of him on the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, but his superior speed, especially for his size, allowed him to get up and down the ice and protect the puck in tight.
He had 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 56 games despite not seeing first-unit power-play time. He’ll continue to develop his game at the University of Michigan next season.
NHL.com analysis: The Bruins got a potential top-six forward with great speed, size and the ability to dominate the puck. He didn’t get the attention he might have had he played somewhere other than the NTDP, but he’ll have the chance to showcase all his skills next season at Michigan.
31. Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Johnson, D, Sioux Falls (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 33 (North American skaters)
Committed to the University of Minnesota for next season, the left-hand shot is an elite and elusive skater with a fluid stride with and without the puck. He has good vision and plays a containment-type style with good touch on his passes. Johnson (6-0, 170), the son of former NHL forward Craig Johnson, had 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) and a Sioux Falls-high plus-24 rating in 54 regular-season games and eight points (two goals, six assists) and a plus-6 rating in 12 playoff games.
NHL.com analysis: The Sabres filled a need at forward by taking Dylan Cozens at No. 7, and now add a skilled defenseman who does everything well. With Rasmus Dahlin as the foundation and top prospects Mattias Samuelsson and Oskari Laaksonen close to joining him, Johnson will be allowed to develop his full skill set and become a big piece of a solid top four at defenseman.