Does “All American” mean “not Minnesota high schools?”


By Tom Lynn, with Kyle Kosior

The CCM/All American Prospects Game was held last Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y., purporting to showcase, in USA Hockey’s words, “40 of the top America-born prospects for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.” USA Hockey, the NHL, the USHL and many individual programs with players in the game touted the game as the culmination of years of building U.S. hockey and as a true competitor to the Canadian Hockey League’s annual Top Prospects Game (which is a national television event in Canada).

However, the All American Prospects Game did not have all of the best American-born hopefuls for the 2013 Draft. No American high school hockey player was represented. For some unknown reason, the organizers did not choose any player who opted out of juniors or the NTDP to stay home and play high school hockey.

Of the 39 players rostered for the game, only Will Merchant of Eagan had played for his high school through graduation – but he joined the game from the Maine Black Bears. Presumably, the players were chosen by USA Hockey staffers with consultation with NHL Central Scouting, but there is no mention on the USA Hockey website of the person or persons responsible for selecting the rosters.

In the last four NHL Entry Drafts, 40 players were drafted straight out of high school (this does not include prep schools such as Shattuck-St. Mary’s, which were also snubbed for the Prospects Game). Three Minnesota high school players were taken in the first round, including Nick Leddy, whose 37 points as a 20-year-old last year made him one of the top young defensemen in the NHL. Also, in the last four NHL drafts, 11 more pure high schoolers were taken in the top three rounds, marking them as elite prospects. Yet none of these players would play in the All American Prospects Game under the current criteria.

This year’s crop of NHL draft hopefuls from the Minnesota High Schools includes Connor Hurley, Tommy Vannelli and Teemu Kivihalme. The latter two played for Team USA in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament this August in the Czech Republic. A few NHL scouts have confirmed that all three are expected to go in the top three rounds in June, and may even rise as high as the tail end of the first round. 

There are 13 other high school players from our state that are on NHL Central Scouting’s recently released “Watch List” for the 2013 draft, but none of them are apparently “All American Prospects,” either.  Based on prior years, seven or eight of these players likely will go in the June Draft.

Conversely, nine of the players chosen for the Prospects Game went through the NHL Draft last year, meaning all 30 teams already passed on them – and very few “overage” players get drafted the second time around. How could anyone then claim the top American players for the draft were represented in the game?

There is an unfortunate side to the story. Of the 38 players in the game, 16 of the 21 draft eligible players from the U.S. National Team Development Program (the crown jewel of USA Hockey) were included. Only eight of these players appeared on the NHL Central Scouting watch list.

At the same time, the 16 players on the NHL watch list from Minnesota high schools were left out of the game. What does USA Hockey know about the NHL Draft that the NHL’s Central Scouting does not? It was advertised that players were selected by USA Hockey with input from NHL Central Scouting, yet a look at the Central Scouting Watch List reveals a wide divergence of opinion.

At least three Minnesota players are known to have turned down the U.S. National Team Development Program to play at home in the last year. Is there a message here not to stay home to play? Since we don’t know who selected the game rosters, we are unable to ask why.

In addition, the NTDP and Tier I junior players in the game are seen many times throughout the year by NHL scouts. Does it really help a player who has been seen 24 times to be seen a 25th? Or would U.S. hockey better benefit from having a high school player who will be seen only a few times by NHL teams be scouted once more in a high-profile, high-skill event? 

Why does this matter? For two reasons – it hurts American hockey not to have the best players in the game, and it hurts Minnesota players particularly not to be a valued part of USA Hockey.

First, the damage to American hockey comes from the public, and NHL scouts, being under the impression they are seeing “the best” the U.S. has to offer for the upcoming draft, but in failing to produce the best, U.S. hockey will be under-regarded.  The vast majority of high school players overlooked by the Prospects Game will be from Minnesota, but it certainly does not help USA Hockey to miss someone like Michigan’s Mackenzie Macheachern out of Brother Rice high school (3rd Round, 2012). Many of our high schoolers will be drafted in June, while a number of the Prospects Game participants will not.

Regarding the second reason, it may hurt our hockey here in Minnesota for USA Hockey’s signature exposure event to subtly encourage youngsters to leave home early to play hockey, whether or not that is intentional. Minnesota offers USA Hockey tremendous support by sending more money in dues than any other state, many players to national teams and the National Team Development Program as well as staffers and coaches for USA Hockey programs.

The hockey community here invests an incredible amount time and money in keeping the last true state high school hockey system alive. It deserves better.