Each season the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League has attracted many of the top scholastic standouts eligible for the upcoming NHL draft.
"I have watched the Elite League for eight years and I don't think I've seen a bad game," NHL Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen told NHL.com. "The players really compete hard knowing there are many junior, college and NHL scouts in the stands."
Two players creating quite a stir in the league this year are left wing Mitchel Slattery of Hill-Murray High School and right wing Tyler Sheehy of Burnsville High School. Slattery, who is committed to St. Cloud State for the 2015-16 season, recently was upgraded to a "B"-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list for Minnesota high school players. Sheehy is a "C"-rated prospect.
Slattery, a 5-11.5, 185-pound senior for Team Northeast (12-9-0), finished the regular season second in goals (18) and third in points (31) in 21 games. He had nine multiple-point games. The league playoffs are scheduled Friday through Sunday at New Hope (Minn.) Ice Arena; the championship game is Sunday.
"Mitch has very good puck skills and offers a quick release," Rajanen said. "He has shown a nice short passing game down low and can finish. He has good awareness on the ice and manages his skating well while knowing when to slow the rush down."
The Elite League schedules games on Saturdays and Sundays during seven fall weekends from September through early November in an attempt to give high school athletes time to compete in other fall sports at their high school. The league basically is a high-level supplement to the high-school season. The league usually features five teams from Minnesota, one comprised of North Dakota and Minnesota players, and Wisconsin's top prep team. Shattuck St.-Mary's and other top midget AAA teams also participate.
"Playing with and against the best allows the players to challenge themselves and also evaluate where they are and where they need to go as hockey players," Rajanen said.
Sheehy, a 5-9, 180-pound senior, won the regular-season league title in goals (21) and points (37) for Team Southeast (11-6-4) in 21 games. He recorded 10 multiple-point games.
"He's a quick, darting-type player," Rajanen said of Sheehy. "He's not a real big player, but is quick, smart and elusive down low. His puck play is solid and he has a nose for the net and can finish."
Rajanen said it's rare to be at an Elite League game that has fewer than 30 NHL scouts in attendance.
"I used to hear complaints as a part-time scout for Calgary that the Minnesota high school kids only played 25 games," Rajanen said. "Now they're playing 25 additional games in the fall [in the Elite league], so 50 games played sounds much better to the NHL teams from a developmental standpoint."
LOTZ TO LIKE
Everett Silvertips goalie Austin Lotz hasn't allowed the disappointment of not being picked in his first year of NHL draft eligibility to get the best of him in 2013-14.
Despite being No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American goalies eligible for the 2013 draft, the 6-foot, 188-pound native of Winnipeg never heard his name called.
While splitting time with Daniel Cotton last season, Lotz finished 15-19-4 with a 3.37 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. He also was the third goalie for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Central Scouting's Al Jensen said he saw enough of Lotz to project him as having a "very good chance" to play in the NHL with further development.
He entered this season as a "C"-rated goalie on Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch among Western Hockey League goalies.
Through 10 games this season Lotz has excelled, going 7-2-1 with two shutouts, a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage.
"He's playing well again [in 2013-14]," Jensen told NHL.com. "He's got great instincts, reads and reacts to plays very well and is a very smart goalie. He's very capable of making the key save at the right time with very good quickness and athleticism. He's still a good goalie prospect for this season."
USHL RESCHEDULES GAME
The United States Hockey League announced late last week that the regular-season game between the Dubuque Fighting Saints and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, which was suspended Oct. 12 following a player injury, will resume play Nov. 12 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The league decided to suspend play 8:02 into the second period when Fighting Saints defenceman Dylan Chanter was injured after striking his head on the ice following a fight. Chanter, who was transported to a local hospital, sustained a separated shoulder and concussion on the play and is sidelined indefinitely. The game will resume Nov. 12 from the point at which it was stopped -- with 11:58 remaining in the second and Cedar Rapids holding a 2-0 lead.
"As they were on the evening this unfortunate incident occurred, the RoughRiders and Fighting Saints organizations have shown a measure of true dignity and professionalism in working together to find a way to finish the game," USHL President and Commissioner Skip Prince said in a statement. "These teams are rivals on the ice but true partners off it."
Plymouth Whalers coach Mike Vellucci is not overly concerned with the fact youth will be served for his team this season in the Ontario Hockey League.
What has been a bit overwhelming, however, has been the Whalers playing 10 of their first 13 games on the road to open the 2013-14 season. Still everything is a learning experience and Vellucci is confident it will help strengthen his group in the long run.
"It's early in the year and we usually start off slow because we play all of our kids right away in order to allow them to get used to the league," Vellucci told NHL.com.
The Whalers are loaded with high-end talent that happens to be eligible for the 2014 draft.
Plymouth players among the "A"-rated prospects on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list from the OHL are goalie Alex Nedeljkovic and left wing Matt Mistele. Mistele returned to the lineup Wednesday after serving a five-game suspension for a slew-footing incident in a victory against the Saginaw Spirit on Oct. 5.
Nedeljkovic, who Vellucci said likely will play 60 games for the Whalers this season, is 6-6-0 with a 2.94 GAA and .923 save percentage in 12 games.
The "B"-rated prospects eligible for the draft include defenceman Alex Peters and right wing Connor Chatham, who is scheduled to return to the lineup this week after missing the past 12 games with a hand injury sustained Sept. 21 in a fight with Erie's Cory Genovese.
"[Peters] is a big, strong guy [6-3.25, 207] and the sky's the limit for him," Vellucci said. "He played a ton for us as a 16-year-old and I think he's a prototypical NHL defenceman in the making for sure."
Vellucci also has one "C"-rated prospect on his roster, defenceman Yannick Rathgeb. The 6-0.5, 189-pound right-handed shot has one goal, six points and 16 penalty minutes in 13 games, was chosen in the second round (No. 113) of the 2013 CHL import draft.
"He's a Swiss defender with offensive skill," Vellucci said. "The one thing we didn't realize about him was how tough he is; he's had a couple of fights already. But he plays on one of our power-play units and moves the puck well. He's working on that one-timer and I see a top progression from him already."
One other 2014 draft-eligible player Vellucci will rely upon is 6-3, 195-pound defenceman Josh Wesley, the son of former NHL defenceman Glen Wesley. The younger Wesley starred for the United States National Team Development Program under-17 team last season.
"Josh moves the puck well and plays a lot like his dad," Vellucci said. "The only difference is he's a right-handed shot instead of left-handed. He's playing among our top four and has played well."
PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
1. Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): The 6-1.75, 208-pound center has seven goals and 18 points in 13 games this season. An "A"-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list in the WHL, Draisaitl was a pleasant surprise for the Raiders as a rookie in 2012-13 when he had 21 goals and 58 points in 64 games. He also finished with a team-best plus-22 rating. There's a good chance Draisaitl will be the second player from the WHL, behind Kootenay's Sam Reinhart, to be chosen at the 2014 draft.
"Leon plays a big, power forward-style game," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "He goes to the net and the opposition has a hard time stopping him from getting there. He's a big presence in front of the goal and skates well with deceptive speed. He can shoot the puck and overpower goalies with it. I like his style and attitude."
2. Joshua Ho-Sang, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): The "A"-rated skater from the OHL is creative and highly skilled. He has seven goals and 14 points in 11 games for Windsor this season after totaling 14 goals and 44 points in 63 games as a rookie in 2012-13. The 5-11, 166-pound center, who takes pride in making his teammates even better, was chosen fifth by the Spitfires in the 2012 OHL priority draft.
"He handles the puck very well at top speed and sees the ice well," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "His skating is excellent and his first step is explosive. He cuts to the middle often and can split the defence with surprising speed. He just needs to control his temper; he has the tendency to take undisciplined penalties."
3. Jonathan MacLeod, USA U-18 (USHL): Scouts have liked what they've seen in the 6-1.5, 200-pound defenceman, who is committed to Boston University next fall. He played high school hockey with Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire in 2011-12 before joining the USNTDP. MacLeod, who has one goal and two points in eight games, was given a "B" rating on Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list from the USHL.
"He closes gaps quickly and is tough to play against," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He's a good, mobile skater who likes to move the puck. He'll finish his checks and knock you through the boards if he could. He's a guy for me that probably will push to earn an 'A' rating this season."
DRAFT DANDY OF THE WEEK: PERLINI
Niagara IceDogs left wing Brendan Perlini has been gaining the attention of NHL scouts during his second season in the Ontario Hockey League.
The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who was acquired by Niagara in a trade with the Barrie Colts in January, had seven goals and 10 points in 27 games to close the 2012-13 season. He recently was upgraded to an "A"-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list for OHL players. NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said Perlini plays a game similar to that of Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter.
"He plays an unselfish game, moving the puck around and he gets his stick on pucks and arrives on time for chances," Marr told NHL.com. "He's a good shooter and has a good touch finishing chances. He's moving up in the ranking."
Perlini currently is second in the OHL with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists). He has eight goals and 20 points in eight games for the IceDogs in October.
"He's a skilled offensive player with good size [6-foot-2.5, 205 pounds] and is off to a great start," Marr said. "His strength has improved and he's working and competing hard, playing with a lot of confidence. He's got good hockey sense, good anticipation and a quick read-and-react game."
DATES TO KEEP
Oct. 25-27: Upper Midwest High School Elite League playoffs (New Hope, Minn.)
Oct. 26: Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff (Vermont vs. Penn State), Wells Fargo Center
Oct. 28-30: Canada East selection camp (World Junior A Challenge), Oakville, Ont.
Oct. 28-30: Canada West selection camp (World Junior A Challenge), Calgary, Alta.
Nov. 4-10: 2013 World Junior A Challenge, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Nov. 30: Boston University vs. Cornell, Madison Square Garden, N.Y.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer