A record 6 USHL (United States Hockey League) players were selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft this past week, showing a continued narrowing of the talent gap between the US and Canada. Here are a list of the players with bios and breakdowns-
D Jacob Trouba USA U-18 USHL 6-2 196ALLAN MUIR'S TAKE: One of the best athletes in the draft, he's a defenseman in the mold of Dion Phaneuf -- nasty in his own end with the ability to make things happen in the offensive zone. He's quick on his feet and makes the most of his size to intimidate opposing forwards. If there's a chance to make the big hit, he's happy to oblige. He's aggressive with the puck and has a big bomb from the point. There are some questions about his ability to read the game defensively, but if a team thinks they can address this, Trouba could mature into a top-two defender.
C Zemgus Girgensons Dubuque USHL 6-2 198 Pick acquired from Calgary for picks No. 21 and 42. ALLAN MUIR'S TAKE: "I could see him going [top 10]," a scout said. It's easy to see why after a season in which Girgensons was the most effective draft-eligible player in the USHL. There are questions about his offensive upside -- scouts I spoke with pegged his at 15-25 goals and 45-60 points -- but what Girgensons lacks in finishing polish, he makes up for with grit. He always wants the puck and he'll run you over if that's what it takes to get it. "He's a miserable S.O.B. to play against," the same scout offered. Said another, "Relentless, great intensity, loves to compete." Sounds like a Ryan Kesler starter kit.
D Michael Matheson Dubuque USHL 6-1 178CENTRAL SCOUTING'S TAKE: Matheson represented Canada at the 2011 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and played for Team Quebec at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he finished with eight points (2-6--8) in six games. He captained Lac St. Louis Lions to a bronze medal at Canada?s National Midget Championship in 2011 and was named Top Defenseman after recording eight points (3-5--8) in seven games. In 2010-11, he was named to the LDHMAAAQ All-Star Team and in 2009-10 was named Rookie of the Year.
D Jordan Schmaltz Green Bay USHL 6-2 180CENTRAL SCOUTING'S TAKE: "The type of player everybody wants on their team because he's a puck-moving offensive defenseman who can see opportunities, spring forward and make the great pass from any situation. He loves to join in the rush and has that skating ability to sort of take the risk of taking the puck deep, and be able to get back using his skating ability."
D Brady Skjei USA U-18 USHL 6-2 196ALLAN MUIR'S TAKE: Not everyone likes Skjei -- who is slated to play for the Minnesota Gophers next season -- to go in the first round, but someone might have fallen in love with his effortless skating and big frame enough to grab him early. He's not particularly physical, and his transition skills are average. If you feel like he can be taught to address these flaws, then Skjei might mature into a second-pairing defender. If not, he's going to frustrate a lot of folks for doing so little with so much.
C Stefan Matteau USA U-18 USHL 6-1 215CENTRAL SCOUTING'S TAKE: Posted 32 points in second season with US National Development Program. Intends to join Blainville-Boibriand Armada of the QMHJL for 2012-13. Father is former New York Ranger Stephane Matteau, who played 13 seasons in the NHL.
What does this all say about the state of USA Hockey? Personally, I think this says a few things... 1) The USHL is rapidly becoming a league that attracts top worldwide talent. 2) Players are seeing the benefit of maintaining their college eligibility by playing in the USHL, rather than losing it and playing in the CHL, including players born in Europe and Canada. 3) Canada is still producing the greatest number of top flight draftees, but USA Hockey is producing just as much talent as the traditional hockey powerhouses in Europe, evidenced by the breakdown of nationalities of the 1st round selections...
So next time your coach or an uneducated hockey enthusiast raves about competing against a select team from Russian, Sweden or Canada remember that the opponent is probably fearing playing the American team just as much... and rightfully so!