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NHL Draft

5 things learned from All-American Game

Sanderson solidifies first-round projection for 2020 Draft; Commesso strong in goal

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Jake Sanderson of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team was named Most Valuable Player at the USA Hockey BioSteel All-American Game at USA Hockey Arena on Monday.

The 6-foot-1, 186-pound defenseman, No. 11 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters, had two assists, one shot on goal and was plus-2 in a 6-1 win for Team Mike Knuble.

Brett Berard (No. 36), Tyler Klevin (No. 44), Luke Tuch (No. 35) and Hunter Strand each had a goal and an assist and Ty Smilanic (No. 18), Jacob Truscott (No. 78) and London Slaggert (No. 87) each scored for Team Knuble. 

Drew Commesso (No. 2 among North American goalies) made 10 saves on 11 shots; Noah Grannan (No. 8) made 13 saves on 13 shots. 

Alex Laferriere (No. 68) scored for Team Scott Gomez, a club consisting of top-ranked players of the United States Hockey League. Aidan McCarthy made 16 saves on 19 shots; Logan Stein (No. 29 among goalies) made nine saves on 12 shots.

Here are five things learned from the game:

 

1. Sanderson solidifies first-round projection

Sanderson, the highest-rated prospect in the game, showcased shutdown ability and smart decisions on the transition in the win.

"I would never have imagined getting MVP but it's a huge honor to be up there with those big names like [Jack] Eichel (in 2014) and names like that," Sanderson said.

The 17-year-old defenseman wears No. 8, the same number worn by his father, former NHL forward Geoff Sanderson. He's committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2020-21 season. 

"I thought [Sanderson] showed what we know he is and you could easily argue he's the best defender in the world at his birth year (2002) in this draft class," said NTDP U-18 coach Seth Appert. 

Sanderson finished first in the on-ice testing of 10 different categories on Sunday. He placed first in weave agility and in reaction, and second in transition agility and transition agility with puck. Tri-City defenseman Mitchell Miller (5-10, 181; No. 48), committed to North Dakota, finished second in the on-ice testing and center Smilanic (6-1, 177) was third.

 

2. Secret agent man 

Brendan Brisson (5-11, 177; No. 31), the highest-rated player in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters from the USHL, will never need to seek a player agent at any point in his career.

He had one at birth in his father, Pat Brisson, of CAA Hockey.

"I wasn't the strongest guy growing up, but Dad always told me to be patient, study the game and the game will give back," Brendan Brisson said. "I remember when John Tavares stayed at our house when he was younger, and he was always super professional about everything. I also remember Nathan MacKinnon staying at our house, shooting pucks in our backyard. They were hitting the back of the net so hard, they would bounce back and him me and my younger brother."

The 18-year-old center ranks fifth with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) and first with 11 power-play goals in 28 games for Chicago. He'll continue his career at the University of Michigan in September.

"He's been a student of the game for a long time, always paying attention and observing how the professionals were dealing with stuff, being around the business," said Pat Brisson. "He's been working hard, has grown a lot and has gotten physically stronger in the past couple years."

 

3. Tradition of excellence

The NTDP U-18 team offers plenty of high-caliber talent expected to be chosen early and often at the 2020 NHL Draft.

While this year's program probably won't surpass the record 17 NTDP players selected at the 2019 NHL Draft, there are nine players projected as first- and second-round picks on June 26-27 at Bell Centre in Montreal.

"We're different; they were great and we're trying to prove that we are great," Appert said. "We have a lot of guys on our team who are going to make the NHL by being power forwards, being defenders, being top four defenseman who defend really well. They have a lot of guys on their team going to make the NHL because of their stick skill and offensive competitiveness."

In addition to Sanderson and Smilanic, forward Thomas Bordeleau (5-9, 179; No. 26) is a first-round candidate, and forwards Dylan Peterson (6-4, 192; No. 34), Tuch (6-1, 203) and Berard (No. 36), and defensemen Kleven (6-4, 20) and Brock Faber (5-11, 193; No. 40) are second-round projections. Defenseman Eamon Powell (5-11, 165; No. 49) did not play due to an upper-body injury. 

A record eight NTDP players were chosen in the first round of the 2019 draft, breaking the previous mark of three, which had been done seven times (2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018).   

"That team was phenomenal, and they were awesome for our guys to watch and learn from," Appert said. "We win with team defense, toughness and scoring the hard way and that's the biggest difference."

 

4. Calm Commesso 

Commesso, the top-rated North American goalie prospect in the game, made several big saves when the game was tight in the early stages.

"He's calm, easy and cool; that's the beauty of Drew Commesso," Appert said. "His calmness gives our whole bench a sense of quiet and ease so when we're getting leaned on and scrambly, the guys look down and see Drew and he's got everything under control and that's a really nice feeling on the bench."

Commesso, committed to Boston University in 2020-21, is 10-5-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average, three shutouts and .919 save percentage in 19 games for the NTDP.

 

5. No stopping Smilanic 

Smilanic, who will attend Quinnipiac University in 2020-21, has proven his toughness by overcoming much adversity his draft-eligible season.

The 18-year-old center, who missed 10 games because of mononucleosis and a sprained ankle earlier this season and his past three games because of a broken finger, was in the lineup wearing a finger cast for the NTDP U-18 team after being cleared to play on Sunday. He had one goal, two shots and a plus-2 rating.

"I never really had a significant injury before this year, so I guess I saved it all for my draft year," Smilanic said with a grin. "You can treat it one of two ways. You can be negative about it and think the world is against you or think positive and I've tried just to be as positive and use it as motivation."

Smilanic has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) and 47 shots on goal in 21 games. He had 39 points (21 goals, 18 assists) and 111 shots on goal in 55 games for the NTDP U-17 team last season. 

"I think it's impressive that he played in the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden (in November) on a sprained ankle and helped us win [first place], even though he wasn't at full strength," Appert said. "He put himself out there at less than 100 percent, but he did it to help our team."

 

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