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NHL Draft Features USHL Talent

By Zack Fisch, 06/26/15, 12:00PM CDT

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Broadcaster Zack Fisch provides his thoughts on many USHL players who could have their names called at the NHL Draft this weekend


The 2015 NHL Draft begins this evening from Sunny Florida and the BB&T Center, home of the Panthers. This year could be another record-setting year for the USHL, and many players who have skated in Dubuque, for, or against, the Fighting Saints, will hear their names called Friday and Saturday. There is no sure-fire pick from the Fighting Saints this year and in fact, no current Fighting Saints appear on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. However, this year is chalked full of USHL talent. Many of these players who will be selected played in the 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, held on January 13 of this past year in Dubuque.

You can catch the 1st Round of the NHL Draft on Friday, June 26 on NBC Sports Network beginning at 6 p.m. The Draft continues on NHL.com and the NHL Network at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning with Rounds 2-7. Make sure to visit USHL.com and their Draft Hub for tons of great info including highlight videos. 

‚ÄčI've had the pleasure of watching many great talents come through the USHL over the last three years behind the mic. I've made my list and provided my thoughts on some of the many players with ties to the USHL that could be taken in the 2015 NHL Draft. Some are locks, others, like Dubuque's leading scorer Season Malone, are off the board picks. 


POTENTIAL 1st ROUND SELECTIONS


Jack Eichel, Forward, Boston University

-Played for Team USA from 2012-2014
-NHL Central Scouting Rank: #2

Jack Eichel will be a household name in the hockey world for a long time. Eichel is a rare talent that defines the word elite and appears to be poised for stardom. During the 2012-2013 season, the Fighting Saints saw both Team USA's U-17 and U-18 team. Eichel was on the U-17 team at the time and was by far the best talent there was to offer on either roster. His puck skills were dynamic and he seemed to be playing the game at a million miles per hour. He never gave up on a play and just was the guy that I kept finding my eyes glued to. He was young at the time, but you could tell he was something special. After a year at Boston College and much international competition, Eichel has proven to be a clutch player who can score big goals at the key times. Eichel will likely be selected #2 overall behind fellow young gun Connor McDavid. The Buffalo Sabres own that pick, and we're sure former Fighting Saints captain Zemgus Girgensons is smiling knowing Eichel will be on his side next season. 
 

Noah Hanifin, Defenseman, Boston College

-Played for Team USA from 2012-2014
-NHL Central Scouting Rank: #3

 
The Dubuque Fighting Saints have known just how good Noah Hanifin was for a long time. In 2012, the Fighting Saints took a then 15-year-old Hanifin with a 9th round pick in the USHL Entry Draft. Despite being much younger than the rest of the team's prospects, the Fighting Saints staff thought Hanifin would be a top-5 NHL Draft pick in the future and could patrol Dubuque's blue line despite his young age. Hanifin never became a Fighting Saint, but would eventually come to the USHL with Team USA for two seasons. The big defenseman provided to be an astute puck mover with an aggressive and versatile style. He could have played another year with USA, but accelerated to Boston College last season where he put up 23 points in 37 games. Whatever team lands him will get a top-flight defenseman for years to come that will make an immediate impact when he steps into their lineup. 

Ivan Provorov, Defenseman, Brandon Wheat Kings

-Played for Cedar Rapids from 2013-2014
-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 7

 
During his tenure in Cedar Rapids last season, one scout told me Russian defenseman Ivan Provorov saw the ice as well as any defenseman in the world at his age. There was no doubt he was skilled and sound in his own zone, and you could tell he was going to be a fantastic player as he progressed, but his rise this past year to the top-10 of the rankings proves he was even better than expected. Posting 19 points in 56 games for the RoughRiders, Provorov abruptly left the team prior to the postseason. Dubuque would knock out Cedar Rapids in the playoffs, and Provorov moved to Brandon in the WHL, skating along side former Fighting Saint Peter Quenneville. With the Wheat Kings, Provorov flourished, posting 61 points in 60 games. His hockey IQ is exceptional and his offensive upside makes him a very attractive option to NHL teams. While at the time I thought his sudden departure in Cedar Rapids might hurt his stock with NHL teams, his sensational season in Brandon has seen him shoot up the draft boards.

Zach Werenski, Defenseman, Michigan

-Played for Team USA from 2013-2014
-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 9
 
Zach Werenski never got as much attention as fellow NTDP blueliner Noah Hanifin, but NHL scouts know what they are getting with this 6-foot-2 blue liner. Against Dubuque, Werenski helped led his young Team USA U-17 team to several victories and showed flashes of brilliance. Poised and confident, Werenski is a smart player who has the size and the simplicity in his game that will make an NHL goaltender a happy man to have him on his team. After a solid year at the University of Michigan, Werenski looks to go in the top-10 of the NHL Draft. 

Kyle Connor, Forward, Youngstown Phantoms

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 13
-Played in 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque
 
If there is one player in the USHL I'm happy to see out of the league next year, it's Kyle Connor. The reason? In three seasons with the Phantoms, he posted 9 goals, 10 assists for 19 points in 13 games versus Dubuque. He's been a thorn in the side of many USHL teams over the last three years, and probably has been my favorite USHL player to watch over the last few seasons. Connor is a gamer and I would love to see him slide into the top-10. His puck skills are world class and he has the ability to find a way to put the puck in the net no matter the situation. The highlight reel goal he scored in Cedar Rapids this year is one of the best you'll see. Headed to the University of Michigan next year, Connor might need a year or two more development than some of the players listed above. However, I do believe from what I have seen the last three seasons that he will be an major player in the NHL. He led the USHL in scoring this year and took home the league's player of the year award, and it will be a feather in the cap of the league to hear his name called early. I'd be shocked if he was selected after his draft ranking of 13 and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he is off the board much earlier than that. 

 

Brock Boeser, Forward, Waterloo Black Hawks

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 27
-Played in 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque
 
The guys at NHL Central Scouting knows a lot more about hockey than I do, however, I think they have Waterloo's Brock Boeser rated too low. I see Boeser taken several slots higher and probably going around 20th overall. Boeser is a sniper with a hard shot that is deadly accurate, as proven by his 34 goals for the Black Hawks this season. Good in both zones, Boeser will play for Matt Shaw at North Dakota next season where he will develop at one of the top universities in terms of producing NHL talent. While Boeser has proven his worth on the ice, his ability to battle through adversity off the ice shows unbelievable maturity. Boeser recently lost a friend to a car accident that also injured a former teammate of his. He lists his father, Duane, who was in a different car accident recently and has Parkinson's disease, as his hero. Whatever NHL team selects Boeser will be getting a fabulous player and well-rounded young man when he hits the ice in the coming years. 

Thomas Novak, Forward, Waterloo Black Hawks

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 28
-Played in 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque
 
More of the playmaker for Waterloo last season, Novak posted 48 points in 45 games while battling injuries towards the end of the season. A creative player, Novak will make the players around him better with his ability to find an open man and create scoring chances. He and Boeser were always noticeable against Dubuque and when the two played together, it was tough for USHL teams to defend. Some believe Novak might fall out of the 1st Round, but the Minnesota commit certainly turned a lot of heads this year in Waterloo. While I personally think Boeser is the much more exciting player of the two, if I'm an NHL team, I'd not complaining about selecting Novak with one of my top two picks. 

Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson, Forward, Omaha Lancers

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 31
-Played in 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque
 
The man they call "JFK" was coveted by many USHL teams, including the Fighting Saints. He wound up in Omaha where he posted a team-best 53 points last season. The big Swedish forward is committed to Boston University and is more of a playmaker than goal scorer. One of the MVP's of the Top Prospects Game in Dubuque in January, Forsbacka Karlsson's smooth skating impressed this season. Dubuque doesn't see much of Omaha, but Forsbacka Karlsson has moved up the draft rankings and could slide into the 1st Round. He'll likely be a 2nd Round selection, but the team that takes him just might walk away with a steal. 
Other potential players with ties to the USHL who could be 1st Round Picks: Colin White-F, Team USA (Ranked 29), Dennis Yan-F, Shawinigan (Ranked 30, played for USA in 2013-2014), Christian Fischer-F, Team USA (Ranked 37)

OTHER USHL PLAYERS TO WATCH


Erik Foley, Forward, Cedar Rapids

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 57
-Selected to 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Did not play-Injured)

 
Erik Foley is a scoring winger who an NHL team is going to nab likely in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. He took his game to the next level this past year with Cedar Rapids, posting 52 points in 53 games. He protects the puck well and has a fantastic shot. He is a battler on the ice and the type of player who you hate to play against, but really wish he was on your team. The Providence College commit was a player who caught my eye each time Dubuque battled Cedar Rapids. 

Jeremy Bracco, Forward, Team USA

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 60

If Jeremy Bracco was a few inches taller, his ranking would likely be much higher. He had 75 points in only 56 games with the NTDP last season and is a slippery player who possesses amazing playmaking skills. At 5-foot-9, Bracco might get overlooked by a team, but so did former Fighting Saint Johnny Gaudreau and look how well that turned out for him and the Calgary Flames. Bracco was one of the top players against Dubuque for Team USA the last few seasons in my viewings. 

Chris Wilkie, Forward, Tri-City Storm

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 112
-Played in 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque

 
Chris Wilkie has an NHL caliber shot and he proved it at the Top Prospects Game, winning the hardest shot competition. He scored 34 goals last season for the Storm and the puck just zips off his stick and into the back of the net. The North Dakota commit is ranked a lot lower than I expected for someone who has stood out to me as much as he did the last few seasons. 

PLAYERS WITH TIES TO DUBUQUE


Karson Kuhlman, Forward, Minnesota-Duluth

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: 183
-Played for Dubuque from 2012-2014
 
I thought Karson Kuhlman would be drafted last year, but surprising enough, he wasn't taken. After a strong first year at UMD, Kuhlman continues to be on NHL team's radars. His hockey IQ is through the roof and the way Kuhlman practices and competes make him a player who is always prepared. He is a smart player in both zones and his speed is world-class. He deserves a look from an NHL team, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him picked in the later rounds. 

Robby Jackson, Forward, Dubuque Fighting Saints

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: Unranked
-Selected to 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Did not play-Injured)
 
Fighting Saints fans all saw the high-level skill Robby Jackson brought to the ice during his brief time in Dubuque. Speed, skill and flair are all traits of his game. Jackson was never quite the goal scorer in Dubuque like he was in Chicago, but he had an impact on all of his teammates on and off the ice. His hands are some of the best I have seen in my time in the USHL, and despite injuries this year, I wouldn't be surprised to see an NHL team give him a well-deserved look in the later rounds. He is off to St. Cloud State this fall. 

Seamus Malone, Forward, Dubuque Fighting Saints

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: Unranked, Ranked 180 in 2014
-Played in 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque
 
Seamus Malone took exceptional strides this year and was Dubuque's best player in 2014-2015. After not being drafted in 2014, Malone might be a bit off the radar to NHL Central Scouting. However, many NHL teams still may have their eye on the crafty Malone after his strong campaign. He added to his goal total this year, was a good leader, was more composed, and upped his point total to a point-per-game pace. His 58 points led the team and he notched 10 more points in the playoffs. He's only gotten better, and while he might get overlooked, I'm pulling for an NHL team to go off the board and grab Malone. Former Fighting Saint Jeff Taylor, now at Union College, wasn't ranked last year but Pittsburgh grabbed him in the 7th Round. Rankings aren't everything, but either way, Malone will provide immediate help to the Wisconsin Badgers next season. 

Hayden Shaw, Defenseman, Dubuque Fighting Saints

-NHL Central Scouting Rank: Unranked

Hayden Shaw isn't a big defenseman, but his impact was sure felt on the ice for the for the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Plain and simple, Shaw is an offensive defenseman who just has a knack of putting up points. His shots find there way through to the net and he is an excellent passer and skater. He had an unreal year with Waterloo and Dubuque and was All-USHL First Team. Dubuque was bolstered big time when he came over in a trade. His size probably will keep him from being drafted, and if that is true, it won't be a bad thing. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he has great interest from NHL teams in a few years after strong play at North Dakota.