Broad Strokes: Fall Classic sets stage for fun draft season
Hockey is back in all corners of the world, and it feels good that things are starting to feel somewhat normal again.
In the USA, high school hockey is underway, the United States Hockey League’s season began with the USHL Fall Classic in Pittsburgh, and NCAA schools are either starting exhibition games or kicking off their seasons.
It’s been a busy month for draft eligible players in the US region and even though it’s early, so here are some of my early season storylines to follow.
The USHL Fall Classic
When the USHL kicked off its season in Pittsburgh with the Fall Classic, it was the first time in a long time that scouts and fans alike got to be in the building and watch high level junior hockey being played.
The event was a success, filled with great games featuring a ton of goals in every game. More so, it allowed us to get a good glimpse at some of the best 2022 NHL Draft eligible players that the USHL has to offer.
A lot of teams featured some talent that has the potential to hear their names called in July.
It also gave the hockey world a chance to see how far the USHL has come over the years. The USHL is quickly becoming a high-level league capable of producing NHL caliber talent on a yearly basis. It is more than just a steppingstone to the NCAA, the league now offers a chance for it’s players to get drafted before heading off to college.
Quinn Finley of the Madison Capitols has gotten off to a strong start in the USHL this season. The 2022 draft eligible has three points (two goals and an assist) through his first three games of the season. He isn’t ranked in FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft, but it’s hard to ignore the start he’s had. With a strong 2022, Finley could be setting himself up to hear his name called on draft night.
The Chicago Steel continue to produce NHL talent and are one of the better junior organizations in North America. Jake Livanavage looks to be one of their next NHL caliber defenseman and has been a huge bright spot through the early parts of the USHL season. Livanavage has three assists in four games and logs a ton of minutes on the backend for the Steel. He may not be of the same caliber as Steel alumnus Owen Power, but he is a name to watch for the 2022 NHL Draft and could be a really sneaky pick for the team that selects him.
The USNTDP has loads of first round talent on their roster this year. With the likes of Logan Cooley, Rutger McGroarty, Seamus Casey and more, but Frank Nazar has really stood out in the early parts of their season. Nazar, 21st in our Preliminary Rankings, is the sixth ranked American but if he continues to score goals the way he has early on, he might have a chance at challenging to be one of the first Americans taken in the draft.
A player I’d like to see more from
Michael La Starza
Michael La Starza ranked sixth amongst 2004-birth year players in scoring during the 2020-21 USHL season, trailing only Matthew Savoie, Nazar, Adam Fantilli, Isaac Howard and Cooley. I expected big things right out of the gate from the No. 85 ranked skater in our Preliminary ranking, but he hasn’t quite had the hot start I hoped he would. Through the first three games of the season, La Starza has only one assist.
It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, he’s a gifted offensive player that has the ability to be one of the best players on his team. But it is time to monitor his play and see if he can elevate it to the next level that I think he has.
The USNTDP has an immensely talented roster and could see a lot of its players drafted and drafted early. I highlighted Nazar because he’s been scoring goals early and often, but I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t highlight a few other players from the team who deserve some recognition.
Jimmy Snuggerud (No. 53) leads the team with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six games and has been really fun to watch early on. Howard and McGroarty have also gotten off to hot starts. These are two of my favourite American born prospects in the class and I think they have a really strong chance to both be taken in the top half of the first round. With their talent, the points they’ve put up early are expected, but still deserve some recognition.
There are a lot of talented right-handed defensemen in the 2022 NHL Draft, and Casey seems like the cream of the crop in the American region. His start to the season has been dynamite, and he’s must watch hockey every time he gets the puck on his stick, whoever grabs him in the first round will be getting a really fun defense prospect.