SIOUX CITY, Iowa
"He's an outstanding underage player with a very bright future. "He's good at all facets of the game and has them down pretty well."
-- NHL scout Jack Barzee
-- Here's what is already known about Seth Ambroz of the United States Hockey League's Omaha Lancers.
He possesses a cannon for a shot, has size and grit, and will stick up for teammates.
What is less certain is his untapped potential because, after all, Ambroz is still only 16-years-old.
While there's plenty to get excited about in regard to the number of prospects competing at the USHL Fall Classic this weekend, the name "Ambroz" elicited one unanimous response -- awe-inspiring. Don't believe it? Just ask Omaha coach and general manager Bliss Littler.
"He's a freak," Littler told NHL.com. "He's a special kid. To think, he started on our third line last year and ended up on the top line with Louis Leblanc
and Pat Mullane. He's on one of our top two power-play units and he's killing penalties."
With so much ability and exuberance at such a young age, you can bet Ambroz will be atop many NHL draft cards in the summer of 2011 when he is draft eligible. He's already committed to attend the University of Minnesota.
Opposing teams and players are starting to get wind of Ambroz' skills. During Omaha's opening game against Youngstown in the Fall Classic, he was repeatedly challenged. When the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Ambroz came face-to-face with Andrej Sustr (6-6, 195) in front of the Youngstown net, he stood his ground. When he felt teammate Michael Chiasson was taken down by a Youngstown forward in front of his net, he picked up a penalty defending his teammate.
"He's an outstanding underage player with a very bright future," NHL scout Jack Barzee told NHL.com. "He's good at all facets of the game and has them down pretty well."
For Ambroz, the last three years have been a virtual whirlwind. After scoring 35 goals and 68 points in 22 games at New Prague High School in Minnesota, he joined the Lancers as a much-heralded rookie in 2008-09 and scored 14 goals, 31 points and 88 penalty minutes in 60 games. He was the youngest player in the league.
"He's a lot of fun to coach," Littler said. "He's a sponge -- anything you ask him to do, he'll do, and he's one of those kids always looking for an extra workout and extra time on the ice. We watched him mature from a year ago to where he is now and it's like two different players."
Another reason for Ambroz' rapid ascent up the 2011 draft charts may be the fact he had an opportunity to perform with Leblanc on the top line in Omaha last season.
Leblanc was the first of 17 USHL players drafted last June in Montreal. Leblanc, who had 28 goals and 59 points for Omaha last season, was chosen 18th overall by the Montreal Canadiens
"The transition from high school to the USHL was hard since it's a much faster game, but you just have to get used to it," Ambroz said. "Playing with Louie (Leblanc) and Pat (Mullane) helped me a lot though. Louie just had that attitude of wanting to play hard and he would never quit. Being with him every day was a great thing for me to have."
But don't think for a second that Ambroz wasn't earning his own stripes. It's been told that while playing for New Prague High School, Ambroz actually had one of his blistering shots go straight through the back of the net.
"It happened, but I don't want to make a big deal out of it," he said. "All I can say is that I work on my shot a lot."
It happened in a 6-3 victory back in February 2008 and ever since, his scholastic teammates have referred to his shot as "The Rolston," in honor of the hard slap shot possessed by New Jersey Devils
forward Brian Rolston
"He's a big rugged tough kid and skates well and has those great hands in front of the net," Littler said.
The hockey lineage in the Ambroz family runs deep. His sister, Kacy, is a sophomore at the University Minnesota-Duluth and his brother, Matt, is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Matt actually played two seasons with the USHL's Tri-City Storm and was coached by Littler during that period.
"My brother definitely got me started in hockey and opened up some doors for me," Seth said. "He told me about Bliss and he liked him a lot as a coach. He told me he was a tough coach, but also a great teacher."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com