If you listened hard enough, you could probably hear a collective cheer emanating from the NHL offices last year when the U.S. National Team Developmental Program announced it would be joining the United States Hockey League.
"It's a win-win situation and good for both the USHL and USA Hockey," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee said at the time.
In February 2009, USA Hockey announced that its Under-17 and Under-18 teams would leave the North American Hockey League and become full members of the USHL. It would signal the second go-round for Team USA in the league since the last of back-to-back seasons in 1999-00.
The move provided the club an opportunity to match skill with the nation's only Tier I league -- the highest classification of junior hockey (ages 16-20) in the United States.
In addition to being a huge benefit for the developmental program and those 13 other clubs in the USHL, the move was also a boon for evaluators from NHL Central Scouting.
"It gives us a chance for a whole weekend to sit in on the NTDP and watch them three games in a row and there's nothing better than seeing guys on their good days and bad days -- as a scout that's what you need to see," Barzee said. "You get to learn how established these players are and can put their ingredients in order. How do they use their size and their speed? Does he use that great shot he has? It gives you a greater sense of the players. I found it to be a benefit for me in my evaluations for sure."
"It's a win-win situation and good for both the USHL and USA Hockey."
-- Jack Barzee
E.J. McGuire, Director of Central Scouting, admits having the NTDP in the USHL provides the best of both worlds.
"The whole design of the program has given us the selfish benefactor of comparing the Under-18 team on one weekend against the University of Michigan and older players, and then watching them against their group peers the following weekend. But because this is such a select team, an elite team, we think that the elite 18-year-olds should be able to compete against the 21- and 22-year-olds who were not selected in the draft. Those players are older and more savvy but for some reason were passed over."
Barzee, who specializes in scouting college and USHL clubs, said he's been able to evaluate more games, and as a result more players, since the NTDP joined the USHL. He feels the USHL also is reaping the benefits as they are playing against many of the country's elite 17- and 18-year-old performers.
"I'm sure it gives individual teams a different perspective in judging what they have when faced against the NTDP, but it'll be nice to get some feedback following this year's draft to hear what NHL scouts have to say," Barzee said.
In previous seasons, NTDP players were ranked separately by Central Scouting since the club played an entire independent schedule. This season, the team was grouped with USA West when the scouts congregated for their annual meeting to determine the final rankings of North American skaters prior to the Entry Draft in June.
Six players from the NTDP Under-18 team were ranked among the top 50 North American skaters on Central Scouting's midterm report in January. Those same players -- including the highest-rated NTDP player on the midterm report, defenseman Derek Forbort
(No. 11) -- were discussed in great detail by just about every scout this week.
"The defensive corps of the NTDP is their strength this year and their goalie (Jack Campbell
) is great," Barzee said. "There are no Phil Kessel
-types at forward this year, but that group will probably dominate next year's list."
McGuire feels the benefits have outweighed the negatives with regard to the NTDP playing against collegiate and USHL programs.
"The unfair advantage is this is a kind of a national all-star team competing in a regular league, so as long as the scouts are cognizant of the opposition, it gives them various barometers to evaluate," McGuire said. "It gives them a barometer against old kids, mature kids, and even some kids who have already been drafted."
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