Monday, May 1, 2017

BLOG: What to look for in this week's USHL Draft

The USHL Draft takes place over the next two days. With the draft, hundreds of players, several committed to Minnesota, and several future commits will be chosen by junior hockey teams in two phases.

It's also at times a bit of mess to untangle. There are two phases with one being much longer than the other. Draft picks don't necessarily have to play in the USHL. Many won't.

Here's what to look for if you're a Minnesota fan trying to follow along Monday and Tuesday.

Simply, the only US Tier 1 league holds two different drafts of players born in different years. One is about the future. One is about the present.

The first, Phase 1, begins tonight (May 1) beginning at 6:00 pm CT and runs for ten rounds.

In phase 1, or the Futures Draft, players that are born in 2001 (so 15/16 year-olds) get selected by sixteen of the seventeen USHL teams. The USNTDP does not participate for obvious reasons.

Four University of Minnesota verbal commits - Kaden Bohlsen (Shattuck-St. Mary's), Jake Boltmann (Edina), Michael Koster (Chaska), and Nik Norman (Shattuck/Ryan's brother) - are eligible. (A fifth, Clay Hanus, de-committed last month.) None were tendered by a team willing to give up its first round pick and guarantee they would play in 55% of next season's games as 16/17 year-olds.

Only two players were given tenders, down from ten a year ago and very low for the age group. Jaxon Nelson (Sioux Falls) in 2016 and Brannon McManus (Omaha) in 2015 are among past players with Gophers ties taking the tender route.

None were also among those announced last week by the USNTDP to join the program. No Gopher commit and only one Minnesotan (Drew Helleson, who verbally committed to BC) were named to next year's U17 team. All four should be selected Monday given their talent, however, this year's crop isn't one to be challenging for the top overall pick.

Minnesotans have typically gone high in the Futures Draft. Two players on last year's Minnesota roster, Taylor Cammarata (2011) and Tom Novak (2013) were the first chosen while Shane Gersich (2012), Riley Tufte (2014), Ryan Poehling (2015) and Gavin Hain (2016) were all #1 overall selections from Minnesota. Cedar Rapids holds the first pick tonight and appears to be taking Edina native and Notre Dame commit Grant Silianoff, who was teammates with Bohlsen and Norman at SSM.

That said, most players chosen in the Phase 1 portion do not play in the USHL right away. Some teams hold on to the rights if there is a chance to get an elite player (i.e. Green Bay selected Casey Mittelstadt late in the 2014 draft and held on to his rights), but often teams give away their rights if it appears they won't. Teams can only protect 18 affiliate players at a time.

One such example is Minnesota signed commit Sam Huff, chosen in the sixth round by Omaha in the 2014 Phase 1 draft and now eligible for this year's Phase 2 draft.

Anyone both not protected by a team and eligible to play junior hockey is eligible for Phase 2. This draft begins Tuesday (May 2, 2017) and goes (and goes and goes) until each team has 45 players.

Huff finds himself in the same position as Luke Notermann a year ago. Both committed to the Gophers as high school seniors (Maple Grove for Huff, Blaine for Notermann). Both spent time after the high school season in the NAHL.

Notermann ended up jumping to college right away after being selected fourth overall in the 2016 USHL Phase 2 Draft and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Huff go high in this year's draft.

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