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Draft Preview - Team USA National Team Development Program: FORWARDS

06/20/2019, 10:00am CDT
By USHL

The United States National Team Development Program (NTDP) has one of the most impressive NHL Draft classes of all time, led by five forwards in the top nine spots according to NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings. Included are Jack Hughes (#1), Alex Turcotte (#4), Trevor Zegras (#6), Cole Caufield (8) and Matthew Boldy (#9).

#1 – Jack Hughes (C) | Orlando, Fla.

While the battle between American center Jack Hughes and Finnish left wing Kaapo Kakko has waged on all season as to who will be selected by the New Jersey Devils with the first overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday, June 21, Hughes has made a convincing case with his play in the United States Hockey League (USHL) alone over the last two seasons.

The Orlando, Fla. Native finished the season ranked #1 among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting and has not committed to a college in hopes of becoming the first player in USHL history to go immediately from the USHL to the NHL.

The Toronto Marlboros product recorded 102 points (33-69-102) in 51 USHL games over the last two seasons and was held scoreless in just four of his 51 USHL games with more multi-point performances (32) than zero- or one-point games (19).

The 18-year old center finished this season’s USHL campaign on a 14-game point streak that saw him collect 34 (12-22-34) of his 48 points (12-36-48) this season. Hughes registered a USHL season-high five points (0-5-5) on March 15 against the Green Bay Gamblers.

During the 2017-18 USHL season, Hughes registered seven-, eight-, and 10-game point streaks over the course of the season and recorded a USHL career-high six points (4-2-6) on March 10, 2018 against the Tri-City Storm. Another five-point performance (0-5-5) for the center came against the Youngstown Phantoms on January 15, 2018.

Hughes is a four-time USHL Forward of the Week with two of the awards coming last season and the final this season being a Co-Forward of the Week award shared with Caufield. In their 2019 NHL Draft Guide, McKeen’s Hockey awarded Hughes the best skater, best puck skills, best playmaker and highest hockey IQ among American draft class forwards.

In his NTDP career, Hughes finished with an astounding 228 points in two seasons, far surpassing the previous high of 189 set by Clayton Keller from 2014-16. In the process, his 154 assists also shattered the previous record of 122 set by Jeremy Bracco from 2013-15. With 78 assists this season and 76 last season, Hughes now holds the first and second spots, respectively, among single-season assists leaders in NTDP history. Hughes also potted 74 goals in his career, good for 6th in NTDP history.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

“He’s got a magnetism about his game where he can attract defenders and somehow mesmerize them. Even though they are 6-foot-5 defensemen that can skate, they are afraid to close him out. It’s a Patrick Kane syndrome, where there’s something innate about those kinds of players. This year, teams would key on Jack and run at him to try to take him off his game slightly. The next thing you know, he’d adjust and make sure his attitude was right for the next situation or the next game. I think it’s his constant ability to re-boot and adjust and make tweaks – whether it’s his attitude or mindset – that allows him to push the envelope in very slight ways that makes him special. Look at the way Jack generates scoring chances – the way the ice is tilted when he’s on the ice – and how much he’s a factor in those scoring chances. Jack plays with a fearless nature, and has an ability to avoid hits, while generating scoring chances. (With) Jack’s electric nature, he will find a way next year to impress on people in the NHL that he will be able to play his game. It might not show up every night, but he will find a way. The amount of scoring chances he generates single-handedly will continue in the NHL.”
- John Wroblewski, NTDP U18 Head Coach on Jack Hughes

“In practice, Jack has this drive to just put every puck in the net. Whether or not I make the initial save, he’ll pick up the rebound and fire it in from the corner off my skates and ‘celly.’ It frustrated me in the beginning, but afterwards I learned that is the type of drive the kid has. It made me happy to see he wants to win that badly. I remember the first time he did that. It was basically a full clapper from below the goal line. It hit me in the back of the head and went in. I just looked at him like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He did that, like, six or seven times. So every time Jack was on his forehand below the goal line, I wouldn’t lean because I knew this thing was probably rocketing at my head.”
Cameron Rowe via The Athletic

“Jack is an elite player. He’s so dynamic, and you never know what he’s going to do next with the puck. He’s very hard to defend in the D-zone. Even though he’s little, he is hard to eat up in the corners. Most little forwards, if you get a piece of them, you can put them into the way. He’ll slip away though. He is so hard to defend, and that’s part of why he’s so elite.”
Ronnie Attard via The Athletic

“Hughes had a dominant season, looking like he was toying with opponents at times at the junior level and setting many records at the USNTDP. I think he’s going to be an elite NHL player and a player the team that drafts him (New Jersey) can build around.”
Corey Pronman, The Athletic

NHL player comparable: Connor McDavid
“Both great skaters. Connor is more of a north-south guy, and Jack will beat you east-west. His edges are so good. The similarity for me is how brave both are to bring pucks into the hard areas of the ice. For being burners they’re also both manipulative on the powerplay. … They can slow things down too.”
John Wroblewski via The Athletic

“His blend of speed and agility make him incredibly deceptive and hard to track. His turns are among the tightest I have ever seen. He gets to his top speed within two or three steps and there is literally no one else on the stacked USNTDP team that was more likely to take the puck for a ride. … His puck protection ability is far and away the best in his age group. He can go for a full shift with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone and no one can come close to taking it form him. He will need to get used to playing with NHLers, but his pure skill will be above the majority of theirs as well. He can sense a lane to move the puck and dance through it, no matter how trick the lane. His elite athleticism also helps in this regard as he can contort his body to extremes to receive a pass or make a death-defying play. If there is a path to a scoring chance somewhere, Hughes will find it.”
McKeen’s Draft Guide

#4 – Alex Turcotte (C) | Island Lake, Ill.

NTDP center Alex Turcotte finds himself near the head of the pack in the “who’s next” category after Hughes and Kakko and could hear his named called #3 overall by his hometown Chicago Blackhawks.

The Island Lake, Ill. native put up an impressive 34 points (12-22-34) in 16 USHL games this season for a USHL record 2.13 points per game, surpassing Hughes the last two seasons as well as Auston Matthews (2014-15) who all had 2.00 averages. In his first USHL season, Turcotte registered 32 points (8-24-32) in 31 games giving him a total of 66 points (20-46-66) in 47 USHL games.

Turcotte, a University of Wisconsin commit, was held scoreless just three times this season and registered more multi-point games (9) than games with 1-or-fewer points (7), including six games with three-or-more points. In his first season, Turcotte also had more games with at least one point (19) than games he was held scoreless in the USHL (12).

The Chicago Mission product finished his USHL career with 13 one-point games, 10 two-point games and six three-point games to his credit. In their 2019 NHL Draft Guide, McKeen’s Hockey awarded Turcotte the runner-up for best puck skills and highest hockey IQ among American draft class forwards.

In his NTDP career, Turcotte registered 80 career assists, which is tied for ninth with Andy Hilbert (1997-99). Turcotte finished with 62 points (27-35-62) in 37 NTDP games this season, giving him a total of 125 points (45-80-125) in his two seasons.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

“Alex plays an abrasive style and is a jackknife because he’s got so many different tools. Jack Hughes is our most electrifying player, but Alex is right there as our most valuable player because his game just transcends so much in so many different areas. He has grit, can slow it down, speed it up, bring it to the net or play on the half-wall. When Alex was healthy this year, he was unstoppable – especially on the NHL ice surface.”
- John Wroblewski, NTDP U18 Head Coach on Alex Turcotte

NHL player comparable: Sidney Crosby with a hint of Brad Marchand
“A lot of people are trying to compare him to (Jonathan) Toews. Toews is much sturdier and simpler. (Turcotte) has that pestering ability like Marchand does. Not to that end but I’m not sure that won’t be Turcotte in 10 years when guys have been playing against him for a long time. … Sid’s goals come in tight. Turcotte and he also have that similar skill set, like ‘How did that go in the net from two feet away?’ They both have that capability. And that mentality to win. That’s something that burns.”
John Wroblewski via The Athletic

“He is an immensely talented puck mover and specializes in creating dangerous zone entries that lead to quick strike scoring chances. He is just as liable to cut through multiple layers of a defense as he is to creatively dish off to a linemate in a better position. Sometimes he will skate into the slot himself, and other times he will cycle behind the net and create a scoring chance from there. Turcotte would not be able to turn those skills into so many points were it not also for his high-end hockey IQ and motor. He shows advanced game awareness in all three zones and can be utilized in all manner of game situations, including key defensive zone shifts and penalty kills. He reads plays like a pro and anticipated far more than he reacts.”
McKeen’s Draft Guide

#6 – Trevor Zegras (C) | Bedford, N.Y.

Trevor Zegras also finds himself in the logjam of talented forwards slated to be selected in the First Round of the NHL Draft.

The Boston University commit registered 72 USHL points (25-47-72) in 58 games played over the last two seasons. In 27 USHL games this season, Zegras notched 40 points (14-26-40) and was held off the scoresheet just six times while racking up five-, six- and eight-game point streaks. Zegras recorded 10 two-point nights throughout the season while racking up more multi-point games (14) than one-or-fewer point nights (13).

Zegras, an Avon Old Farms product, put up 32 points (11-21-32) in 31 games during his USHL rookie season and finished with more games with at least one point (16) than games he was held to zero (15). The center finished his USHL career with 26 multi-point games compared to being held scoreless 32 times.

In their 2019 NHL Draft Guide, McKeen’s Hockey named Zegras the runner-up for best skater, puck skills and playmaker among American draft class forwards.

In his NTDP career, Zegras finished with 146 points (46-100-146) over the course of two seasons. His 100 career assists marked just the fourth time an NTDP player has hit triple-digits, while his 146 career points is 9th all-time.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

“NHL teams are getting an A-1 pivot. They are getting a player who can immediately step into a lineup and play on the wing. So he’s going to be able to get to the NHL quicker because he can play on the wing and gain the coach’s confidence. It’s very difficult for a 19- or 20-year-old to break into the NHL and play through the middle of the ice. Trevor’s versatility is off the charts. He’s the best guy we have on the powerplay. Jack’s electric and makes a ton of things happen, but Trevor’s passing efficiency – as far as making seam passes and clean plays, when there is traffic – Trevor can dissect that. His on-the-fly creativity is untouchable. The way he creates is impossible to predict. So NHL teams are getting a real versatile offensive player. His 200-foot tenacity has grown so much. He battles.”
- John Wroblewski, NTDP U18 Head Coach on Trevor Zegras

NHL player comparable: A mix of Clayton Keller and Patrick Kane
“(Zegras’) defining elements are that creativity that bubble up out of nowhere. Kane would be the closest to that. They make the almost impossible plays, they make it look routine. Their improvisation, the saucer passes and spin-o-ramas that happen on a whim. It looks like something that’s been orchestrated or set up. It happens all the time.”
John Wroblewski via The Athletic

“He has better pure speed than (Jack) Hughes (although not the elite agility) and is one of the best half dozen skaters all around in the draft class. … What put him over the top though, was his playmaking. There may not be a more gifted playmaker in the draft. Between his incredibly quick hands, fertile imagination and high-end instincts, no one creates high danger scoring chances for others like Zegras. … He plays a North-South game, although with more than a little wiggle. He is a very shifty skater with great edges that allow him to avoid dead ends. His first few steps are explosive, and he gets from point A to point B as well as anyone.”
McKeen’s Draft Guide

#8 – Cole Caufield (LW) | Stevens Point, Wis.  

Also in the mix with Turcotte and Zegras is #8 ranked North American skater Cole Caufield who is coming off a staggering goal-scoring season with the NTDP and jumped up seven spots in the NHL Central Scouting rankings from his spot at #15 in the Midterm release.

The University of Wisconsin commit became the most prolific goal scorer in NTDP history this season, finishing his career with 126 goals in two seasons, which far surpassed second place Phil Kessel (2003-05). Kessel finished his career with 104 goals and is the only other player to surpass 100 career goals with the NTDP. The pair of Caufield and Kessel are tied for third in NTDP history with 180 career points. Caufield scored an astounding 72 goals this season with the NTDP after he potted 54 last season. His 72 and 54 goal marks are first and third all-time among single season totals in NTDP history. Between them sits a 55-goal season from Auston Matthews (2014-15).

Caufield, a native of Stevens Point, Wis., notched 74 of his career points (52-22-74) in his 60 career USHL games with the NTDP. This season saw Caufield put up 41 points (29-12-41) in 28 games, including 11 multi-point performances. The left wing had a USHL career-high seven points (6-1-7) in a March 15 meeting with the Green Bay Gamblers. The six-goal outburst was Caufield’s fifth and final USHL hat trick and his most goals in a USHL game, surpassing his previous high of four set two weeks prior in a five-point (4-1-5) night against the Madison Capitols on March 1. Those two games came in a stretch of 16 goals (16-4-20) in an eight-game span (February 16 to March 16) for the crafty winger.

The Stevens Point High product broke onto the USHL scene during the 2017-18 season with nine points (7-2-9) in his first four games, registering multiple points in three of those games. He went on to record 11 multi-point games in his first USHL season en route to 33 points (23-10-33) in 32 games. Caufield finished his USHL career with more games with points (34) than without (26) en route to

Caufield is a two-time USHL Forward of the Week, with both coming in March of this season and the latter being a Co-Forward of the Week award shared with Hughes. In their 2019 NHL Draft Guide, McKeen’s Hockey awarded Caufield the runner-up for best shot among American draft class forwards.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

“Purest hand I’ve seen, for sure. When Cole gets a puck, he’s able to prep and snap it so quickly, and it’s a laser every time. He’s so sneaky with the way he uses his body because there’s a lot of core strength that he uses to his advantage with that smaller frame. Cole has speed that is overlooked. He’s been compared to other smaller guys that didn’t skate as well. He can break away from defenders. He can take a two-minute shift and still produce and defend at the end of it. His 200-foot game is outstanding. I trust him in a one-goal game. His positioning and innate ability to find the right places in a defensive zone are excellent. For me, it’s his vision – whether it’s a crossing pattern or a pull-up on a line rush or plays in the neutral zone to advance pucks. He could be a quarterback on the powerplay at the next level. There’s a lot of untapped ability with Cole. His passion for the sport and to play – I’ve never seen anything like it. He burns to be a player. One of the intriguing things for me about Cole is his consistency. You’d be hard-pressed to find a game this season where he didn’t play well, where he wasn’t generating five or six scoring chances a game.”
- John Wroblewski, NTDP U18 Head Coach on Cole Caufield

NHL player comparable: Alex Ovechkin
“He’s a miniature version of Ovi. He’ll score every single way but they both have that campout spot on the back side. If you leave them alone any other spot, they’re equally as dangerous. They’ll both score back door. The difference is 120 pounds or something. But you’ve got a mini-Ovechkin. The similarity is how the puck explodes off their stick. Once you get Cole into the dots and hash marks, they’re similar.”
John Wroblewski via The Athletic

‘He is short, but not exactly small. His squat figure is stocky and well-built. He has a very fast top speed and an explosive first few steps. He has extremely fast, soft hands, without which many of (Jack) Hughes’ lovely feeds would have clanked off his stick and been turned over, instead of being converted into sirens and lights and goals. He is patient with the puck and doesn’t rush his shots. Despite his lack of assists, he can create for others, even though his linemates prefer creating for him. He is attentive when he doesn’t have the puck, in all zones. He is an active part of the counterattack and not just on the ice to finish.”
McKeen’s Draft Guide

#9 – Matthew Boldy (LW) | Millis, Mass.

Matthew Boldy rounds out the list of five NTDP forwards in the top-nine North American skater rankings for the final NHL Central Scouting rankings.

The Boston College commit registered 78 points (29-49-78) in 62 career USHL games with the NTDP in the last two seasons. Boldy was held scoreless only five times in 28 USHL games this season as he amassed 43 points (17-26-43). Boldy ended his USHL career on a seven-game point streak (6-10-16) while tallying multiple points in six of those games. The left wing split his 28 USHL games down the middle this season, recording multiple points in 14 and one-or fewer in 14 as well.

The Dexter School product registered 34 points (12-23-35) in 34 games in his first USHL season in 2017-18. In their 2019 NHL Draft Guide, McKeen’s Hockey awarded Boldy the best shot among American draft class forwards.

A native of Millis, Mass., Boldy finished his NTDP career with 157 points (62-95-157) over his two seasons. His 95 assists is fifth-most all-time for NTDP skaters while his 157 points is seventh.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

“Matt is playing a different sport than hockey on some nights with the way he can juggle a puck, self-flip the puck to himself and chip pucks into areas with self-saucer passes. He never over handles the puck and he’s prepped and ready to attack, whether that’s the big shot, flipping a puck to himself or finding a teammate. To me he’s got to be one of the most exciting wingers of this Draft. He’s a power forward with that scoring touch.”
- John Wroblewski, NTDP U18 Head Coach on Matthew Boldy

NHL player comparable: Marian Hossa
“It’s perfect. It’s a great throwback reference to a guy who plays a modern game but it’s supremely dedicated to 200 feet and works that transition game to his overall attack. His seek and destroy mentality is very unique – the way that he lifts sticks and goes the other way and catches teams off guard. There must be a dozen clips of us scoring off his backcheck in two years.”
John Wroblewski via The Athletic

“He has the size of a burgeoning power forward, but the overall game of a skilled one. There isn’t anything he doesn’t do well, making him a legitimate five tool winger. … He just does everything really well and some things, he does exceptionally. … He is not as prolific at putting the puck in the net as Cole Caufield, but as a projectable tool, Boldy has the superior shot. The wrist shot is heavy and whippy, and simply deadly from all angles. He can score from a distance, or from in tight. I don’t think it is going out on a limb to project multiple 30+ goal seasons in his NHL future. Now his shot would not be as strong as it is without puck skills that are nearly as potent. Towards the second half of this season, Boldy began to experiment with the puck, trying creative passes and dangles. … He can embarrass a good defender with some of his dangles.”
McKeen’s Draft Guide

THE REST:
#35 – John Farinacci (Muskegon Lumberjacks / NTDP)
#49 – John Beecher
#67 – Judd Caulfield
#73 – Patrick Moynihan
#86 – Josh Nodler (Fargo Force / NTDP)
#93 – Owen Lindmark
#97 – Ryder Donovan (Dubuque Fighting Saints / NTDP)
#106 – Garrett Pinoniemi (Lincoln Stars / NTDP)
#110 – Michael Gildon
#119 – Trevor Janicke (Muskegon Lumberjacks / Central Illinois Flying Aces / NTDP)
#166 – Danny Weight (Midterm Ranking, not included on final ranking)

BY THE NUMBERS:
200 – United States National Team Development Program players taken all-time in the NHL Draft
32 – Amount of NHL teams that have drafted NTDP
21 – Most NTDP players taken in one Draft (2016)
9 – Years in a row at least one Team USA player has been taken in the NHL Draft
1 – Highest total pick a Team USA player has been selected at (2016, Auston Matthews; 2000, Rick DiPietro)

For more information, please visit the 2019 NHL Draft Hub

The NHL Draft will be held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver from June 21-22. For continued coverage of the top USHL prospects heading into the Draft, follow the USHL on Twitter (@USHL), Facebook (ushlhockey) and Instagram (@ushl).

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 17th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2018-19. The USHL had a record 45 players selected at the 2018 NHL Draft, more than any junior league in the world, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.

USHL.com

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