AAPG to feature top American prospects for 2014 draft
Wednesday, 09.25.2013 / 9:00 AM
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- The second CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game will be a great opportunity for the finest 2014 NHL Draft-eligible players to showcase their talents in an all-star setting before hundreds of scouts in search of the next best American-born player.
"What it also allows for, and why it's different, is because it's a prospects game that has players coming from all sorts of levels and leagues," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "We'll have players from prep school, the NCAA and [United States] National Team Development Program, and from major junior in the Canadian Hockey League, playing with and against each other."
The AAPG, which is slated for 7 p.m. ET on Thursday at Consol Energy Center, features 40 of the top American prospects eligible for the 2014 draft, which will be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
"I think our scouts have a pretty good read on many of these kids, but it'll be nice to see them in a different setting," Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero said via during a conference call Tuesday. "We'll get to meet them off the ice, but we're looking for hockey sense and their compete level. We're also keeping in mind that kids have good games and, like NHL players, have off games. We're not going to put too much into this game [from a scouting perspective], but from a coaching standpoint you hope they'll enjoy the opportunity and try to make the most of their chance here."
The game will consist of three 20-minute periods, and if necessary a five-minute overtime. If a winner still hasn't been determined, the game will enter a shootout.
"They say the cream rises to the top and here the scouts get to see those kids among the high school ranks playing against the 18-year-old or major-junior players, something you can't normally assess," Marr said. "That's a dilemma facing scouts, figuring out how a player in high school stacks up against a player from the Ontario Hockey League. It provides a little more insight."
There were 24 players selected at the 2013 draft who played in the inaugural AAPG last year at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. Two players were chosen in the first round: Defenseman Seth Jones, who went No. 4 to the Nashville Predators, and forward Ryan Hartman, taken at No. 30 by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres each picked four players who were chosen for last year's game.
"I enjoyed last year's game immensely," Marr said. "The players get up for the game and are well-prepared for it even though some may be playing out of position or out of their element because they aren't bound by regular team systems."
Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey's executive director, is again looking forward to witnessing many of the finest young prospects from the United States.
"This game is a showcase of players who are just on the cusp of being great and drafted and being better known, and it is a hot house of the best American hockey talent about to blossom on the national scene," Ogrean said. "You will see on the roster for the AAPG players from 13 different states, so that's quite a contrast to what it might have looked like a decade or two ago."
Seven players taking part in the AAPG are ranked as "A" prospects on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list: centers Dylan Larkin (USNTDP Under-18 team, United States Hockey League), Chase De Leo (Portland Winterhawks, Western Hockey League) and Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay Gamblers, USHL); left wings Sonny Milano (USNTDP U-18, USHL) and Blake Clarke (North Bay Battalion, Ontario Hockey League); and goalies Thatcher Demko (Boston College, Hockey East) and Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers, OHL).
"I'm anxiously awaiting the All-American Prospects Game," Demko wrote in his September blog for NHL.com. "I've heard great things from the players that participated in last year's game in Buffalo. Aside from the game I am very excited to meet and play with some elite American prospects. It's always fun to play with fellow American hockey players."
Mark Johnson and Joe Mullen, both former players for the Pittsburgh Penguins, will coach one of the teams.
The game will feature two players from Pennsylvania: defenseman Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia Sting, OHL) from Philadelphia and goalie Ed Minney (USNTDP, USHL) from Wind Gap. Both players, who are considered "B" prospects, will star for Team Mullen.
"It's amazing how far the growth of hockey in the U.S. has come," Johnson said. "To be part of the 40 best young, upcoming draft-eligible players and showcase them in an energetic place in Western Pennsylvania is exciting; Pittsburgh is where I got an opportunity to start my pro career a long time ago. I know the talent is there seeing the rankings, and I have a big interest because two players, Keegan Ford and Nick Schmaltz, will be part of the 40 playing. Those are two [Wisconsin] kids and I'm anxious to coach them and watch them play against great players."
Johnson, drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round of the 1977 draft, played three seasons for his coach and father, "Badger" Bob Johnson, at the University of Wisconsin.
Ford, a defenseman, is one of three players representing the 2013 USHL Clark Cup champion Dubuque Fighting Saints. He'll be joined at the AAPG by forwards Seamus Malone and Shane Eiserman.
Mullen never was drafted, but went on to become the first American-born player in the NHL to reach 500 goals and 1,000 games during his 17-year career.
"The perception nowadays is that the American player can compete at any level; they can be a No. 1 draft choice and can be one of the elite players in the League," Mullen said. "Back then, there weren't a whole lot of Americans in the League; the perception wasn't good. There might be one player here or there, but now we're getting kids first overall. It's changed with regard to the quality of player we're bringing up now."