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Players to watch at USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

by Mike G. Morreale
There's no question power-forward Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints will be one player on the radar of NHL scouts and general managers during the inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled Tuesday at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.

For more on the big Latvian, who is ranked No. 12 among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, click here.

The USHL Top Prospects game will include 40 of the league's top young players. In addition Girgensons, there's Matthew DeBlouw of the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Robert Baillargeon of the Indian Ice, goalie Jon Gillies of Indiana and defensemen Jordan Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers, Mike Matheson of Dubuque and Brian Cooper of the Fargo Force.

Here's a capsule look at a few other players considered to be first or second-round material when the NHL Draft is staged at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.

Brian Cooper, D, Fargo Force: Cooper entered his third season in the USHL as one of the more intriguing draft eligible prospects on the board from the USHL at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. The Fargo captain plays big minutes and likes to play the body.

"Brian is going to be a real controversial guy because he's another Gary Suter or Matt Carle type where he's not quite 6-foot yet but considered one of those offensive-type defenders like a Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes)," NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee told

A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Cooper was the only draft-eligible player invited to USA Hockey's Junior Evaluation Camp in August. He led all defensemen in scoring on the Force during the 2010-11 campaign with 11 goals and 22 assists and was fourth on the team with 33 points in 51 games. Cooper isn't afraid to shoot the puck, as evidenced by the fact he unloaded 123 shots last season -- fourth most on the team. He will attend the University of Nebraska Omaha in the fall of 2012.

In 28 games this season, Cooper has 4 goals, 15 points and a plus-6 rating. He's also taken 66 shots.

Matthew DeBlouw, F, Muskegon Lumberjacks: Former standout for perennial AAA Tier-1 power Little Caesars (Mich.) in 2009-10, the 6-foot, 185-pound center has already surpassed his rookie totals with the Lumberjacks in 2011-12.

In 33 games with Muskegon during the 2010-11 season, DeBlouw produced 2 goals, 6 points and 51 penalty minutes after missing three months with a lacerated spleen. The long road back to the lineup including an inspiring performance in the Clark Cup playoffs, when he had a team-leading 8 points, including 3 goals, and a plus-6 rating in six playoff games. This year, a healthy DeBlouw has produced 5 goals and 12 points in 25 contests. The Chesterfield, Mich., native was acquired by Muskegon in the second round (No. 21) of the 2010 USHL entry draft.

"I just like his presence on the ice, how he plays the game and how he presents himself," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said.

Jon Gillies, G, Indian Ice: The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder from South Portland, Me., a big admirer of Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, is committed to Northeastern University for the fall of 2013. He won 15 games for the Ice last season with a 2.82 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. This season, he's already 18-5-4 with a 2.29 GAA and .927 save percentage in 28 appearances.

"Jon has shown good poise and great quickness in there," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who specializes in goalies, told "He's shown great potential and will certainly be a top prospect among the goalies this year."

Mike Matheson, D, Dubuque Fighting Saints: The 6-foot, 170-pound Montreal native begins his first season in the league after captaining the Lac St. Louis Lions to a bronze medal at Canada's National Midget Championship in 2011 and was named the top defenseman after notching 3 goals and 8 points in seven games. He participated with teammate Girgensons at the NHL RDO Camp in Toronto and represented Canada at the 2011 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial.

Matheson, committed to Boston College next fall, is a little raw right now as he needs to grow into his body and add some muscle to his frame, but he's a gifted skater with great hands for a defender. He scored his first USHL goal in a 3-1 victory over Waterloo on Oct. 14 and was named the league's CCM Defensive Player of the Week. Matheson, of Point-Claire, Quebec, was selected by the Fighting Saints in the 2010 USHL Futures Draft before joining the team this season.

"He's a player with good size and he skates forward and backward with the same ease," Gregory said. "He's very comfortable on his skates; it's like he's walking or running out there … there's no issue with his skating. His hockey sense is something I really love because he sees the ice and moves the puck to where it should be going."

Jordan Schmaltz, D, Green Bay Gamblers: The 6-2, 175-pound right-hander from Verona, Wis., led all USHL defensemen in scoring with 44 points (13 goals) in 53 regular season games last year en route to earning a spot on the league's All-Rookie Team. On five occasions last season, Schmaltz, who was traded by the Sioux City Musketeers to Green Bay on Nov. 6, was named CCM Defensive Player of the Week.

He finished the regular season riding a 10-game point streak with 6 goals and 20 points, helping the Musketeers to a 9-1-0 record over that stretch and earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. Schmaltz, who participated in the NHL RDO Camp in August, has received plenty of endorsements to back up his great play. He celebrated his 18th birthday on Oct. 8 with a goal and one assist in a 5-2 victory over Fargo and was named the CCM Defensive Player of the Week.

"I like his offensive instincts as he loves to join the rush and has the skating ability to join the rush," Gregory said. "He's a good sized kid but you can see he's still filling out; he's another kid who plays with a ton of confidence and his hands are excellent.

"He's very comfortable with letting someone come at him while he has the puck because he's confident he can get around them or move into a spot and use his ability."

Barzee believes the University of North Dakota-bound Schmaltz, who has 9 goals, 21 points and a plus-5 rating in 27 games this season, will be an exceptional force on the power-play. He has 4 goals and 8 points with the man advantage this season, which includes 2 goals, 4 points, in 18 games with Green Bay.

"I don't know if he's as pure a skater as Matheson, but he's very good  and his game is running the power play, making big plays and those highlight-reel passes," Barzee said. "He's also got a good shot from the top of the point. The thing is, I don't think he'll be drafted as a defensive guy -- he'll be drafted for his high-end offense."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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