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Talented crop awaits scouts visiting USHL teams

by Mike G. Morreale
As continues its year-round coverage of prospects who will fill out the wish lists of the 30 NHL teams come June, it should be noted that 17 players from the United States Hockey League were chosen at the 2009 Entry Draft, led by John Moore, who was the 21st pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Moore, Jake Hauswirth (Washington Capitals) and Michael Forney (Atlanta Thrashers) all came out of the only Tier I hockey league in the U.S. to sign NHL contracts over the summer. On top of that, an all-time high 78 former USHL players skated in the NHL in 2008-09.

"I don't think people realize this is the highest caliber of amateur hockey, below college, that there is in the United States," Versus and NBC analyst and former NHL forward Ed Olczyk told "I don't think it gets enough credit or support. But I do think it's great to see the (U.S.) National Team Developmental Program now a part of the league."

Last February, USA Hockey announced that its Under-17 and Under-18 teams would leave the North American Hockey League and become full-fledged members of the USHL, marking the second go-round for Team USA in the league. Both programs will count as one team in the USHL standings as a member of the East Division. Should the NTDP finish among the top four squads in the division, the under-17 team will compete in the Clark Cup Playoffs.

"Now that the NTDP is a part of the USHL, our league is rounded out," Green Bay Gamblers coach Jon Cooper told "Now we have the top players in the United States playing in one league and that's the way it should be. USA Hockey has done a nice job to create that ladder of development so that when you get to the top, you're playing in the USHL."

Here's an early look at one 2010 draft-eligible player from each team competing in the USHL this season. It's too early in the season to decipher a complete list from each club, but the following players certainly commanded some attention during the USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, Iowa.

Cedar Rapids -- Nolan Zajac: The younger brother of New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac was the second-highest scoring defenseman on the team with 3 points in three games in the USHL Fall Classic. Cedar Rapids went 3-0 over the three-day event and was declared champions by virtue of its superior goal differential (plus-12).

"He comes from a great family, and when you meet mom and dad, you can tell why all the kids have been successful," Cedar Rapids coach Mark Carlson told "I think Nolan will follow in those footsteps. He's a great young man, works really hard and has tons of ability and he'll keep getting better every game."

Carlson had Zajac listed among his top four along the blue line during the Fall Classic.

Zajac, 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds, played with the AAA Midget Hockey Club Winnipeg Thrashers last season, posting 12 goals and 49 points in only 37 games. In his first two games this season, he has 1 assist and a plus-4 rating.

"I played for a couple of years with Winnipeg, but I felt I wasn't improving playing in the league so I moved on to the USHL," Zajac said.

Chicago -- Kevin Lind: Lind, a 6-2 1/2, 202-pound defenseman, is committed to play at the University of Notre Dame where his brother, Matt, just graduated. The Homer Glen, Ill., native scored the overtime game-winner as a member of Team USA's Under-18 team against Slovakia in round-robin play of the 2009 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August -- helping lead the club to a fourth-place finish.

Lind wants to be "mean" in front of his cage. During the USHL Fall Classic, he exhibited a lot of tenacity while creating some space for teammates.

"Being from Chicago, I love the Blackhawks and appreciate how Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook play the game, but I also try and emulate a guy like Chris Pronger -- a big, puck-moving defenseman," Lind told

Chicago coach Steve Poapst feels Lind has plenty of upside.

"He's got big potential because he's a strong kid and very good one-on-one," Poapst said. "He has all the attributes of a player who can play in the NHL one day, so we'll work to fine-tune his game and make sure he gets some things corrected."

In his first four games this season, Lind has 2 assists and is tied for the League lead with a plus-7 rating.

"He's strong on the boards, loves to forecheck and completes his checks. Maybe he likes to give more than receive, but he's big and has great skills."
-- Pierre Leduc, director of hockey operations for the QMJHL

Des Moines -- Yasin Cissé: At 6-2 and 205 pounds, the Westmount, Que., native certainly doesn't lack size. Prior to the 2008 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, the International Scouting Service regarded Cissé the best warrior, second-best hitter and second-hardest player to compete against.

"Yasin has very good skills and good skating acceleration," said Pierre Leduc, director of hockey operations for the QMJHL. "He's strong on the boards, loves to forecheck and completes his checks. Maybe he likes to give more than receive, but he's big and has great skills."

As a 15-year-old, he would always rely on his skills and huge frame, but he's discovering it takes a lot more against equally skilled players.

"I found out that if you work your hardest and you want to win more than anyone else, then the points will come," Cissé told The Gazette of Montreal. "It's the guys who think about the points that don't get them."

The QMJHL's Lewiston MAINEiacs drafted Cissé in the second round after he was the top rookie scorer in the Quebec midget AAA ranks in 2007-08 with 20 goals and 58 points in 44 games. Cissé and Louis Leblanc, the 18th pick of 2009 draft by the Montreal Canadiens last June, led the Lions to the Quebec AAA midget finals. But Cissé never reported to Lewiston, and instead began making plans to attend Boston University. In his first season with Des Moines in 2008-09, Cissé had 2 goals, 8 points and 46 penalty minutes in 31 games.

Fargo -- Cody Campbell: As a backup to USHL Goalie of the Year Mike Lee in 2008-09, Campbell finished 6-7-1 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in 17 appearances. He also appeared in one playoff game when the Force advanced to the Clark Cup Finals last season. His performance was good enough to earn him a spot on the U.S. team for this past summer's 2009 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament.

This season, Campbell, who is headed to the University of New Hampshire in the fall of 2010, is regarded as the go-to guy between the pipes for the Force. He's started two of the Force's first three games, going 1-1-0 with a 3.04 goals-against average.

Green Bay -- Ludwig Karlsson: Gamblers coach Jon Cooper, the USHL General Manager of the Year last season, is a big believer in the Linkopings, Sweden native because of his overall skill set, good speed and puck-handling ability.

Karlsson (6-2 3/4, 200 pounds), who patterns his game after fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings, also exhibits some grit along the boards. After spending the 2008-09 campaign in the Swedish Elite League, posting 5 goals and 12 points in 23 games, Karlsson became the first Swede to lace up the skates in Green Bay since Joakim Nettlebladt in 2004-05.

In his first four games this season, Karlsson has a pair of assists.

"I think Cab is going to be a terrific Division I goalie and I have little doubt he's going to play at the professional level as well."
-- Chico Adrahtas

Indiana -- Cab Morris: The 18-year-old goalie, who was eligible but went undrafted last June, was the youngest of 53 players invited by the Chicago Blackhawks to their prospects camp in July.

Morris, who hopes a nice season with the defending USHL champion Indiana Ice will help spark some interest from a few NCAA Division I schools, performed admirably at the camp and should no doubt stir some interest at this June's draft.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Morris starred for Hotchkiss Prep in Connecticut last season following three years with Mission Hockey. He was ranked 12th among North American goalies in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies.

"Cab is one of the most dedicated and serious students of the game I've ever worked with," said Chico Adrahtas, Morris' coach for Team Illinois. "He has earned every bit of his success thus far. Getting to work with (Indiana) Coach (Jeff) Blaishill on a regular basis will be a tremendous boon to his career. I think Cab is going to be a terrific Division I goalie and I have little doubt he's going to play at the professional level as well."

Lincoln -- Jared Coreau: Stars coach Jimmy McGroarty actually has two quality goalkeepers at his disposal in the 6-5, 195-pound Coreau and 6-1, 174-pound Steven Racine. For now it appears McGroarty will rely on Coreau, who has started all four of the Stars' games, going 2-2 with a 2.29GAA.

"Jared is athletic and scary," McGroarty told "I would hate to be a shooter coming down on him. He's so athletic and tremendous at controlling rebounds, is competitive and is the first guy here and the last guy to leave."

Coreau, who is committed to Northern Michigan for next fall, stopped all 25 shots he faced in a 2-0 shutout of the Sioux City Musketeers and was named the game's first star in Lincoln's second game of the season.

Omaha -- Mathieu Brisson: Omaha coach Bliss Littler may have the best underage skater in the USHL in Seth Ambroz, but the 6-2 1/2, 202-pound forward isn't eligible until the 2011 Entry Draft.

A player who is draft-eligible is the slick-skating right defenseman Brisson, who was recruited by Cornell. The Lancers had three players selected in the 2009 NHL draft, including Louis Leblanc, last season's USHL Rookie of the Year, who was taken at No. 18 by the Montreal Canadiens.

Brisson was Omaha's top draft pick (No. 8) during the 2009 USHL draft and the top-scoring defenseman in the Quebec Midget AAA League two seasons ago for College Charles Lemoyne.

The Montreal native is a strong skater who will play a big part as quarterback of Omaha's power-play unit this season. He is scoreless in two games, but has a plus-2 rating.

"His junior-hockey experience (with the NAHL's Marquette Rangers) certainly helped him and he's progressed into a position at which he'll play right away. As a young guy, his body will continue to develop, and when it does, he'll become a special package."
-- Sioux City coach Luke Strand

Sioux City -- Kevin Gravel: The 6-foot-4, 175-pound defenseman committed to St. Cloud State ahead of Michigan State and Northern Michigan, where he'll follow in the footsteps of his father, Jim, who played forward at St. Cloud in the late 1970s.

"Both (Michigan State and Northern Michigan) are in the CCHA and, nothing against them because they're great programs, but I just think the WCHA is the best conference in college hockey," Kevin Gravel said. "Every weekend you're playing in some of the best buildings and in front of the best fans in the country."

First-year Sioux City coach Luke Strand knows he has something special in Gravel.

"His junior-hockey experience (with the NAHL's Marquette Rangers) certainly helped him and he's progressed into a position at which he'll play right away," Strand said. "As a young guy, his body will continue to develop, and when it does, he'll become a special package."

Gravel will spend one season on the blue line with Sioux City before enrolling at St. Cloud State in the fall of 2010.

"My points don't show it, but I like to jump up in the play," Gravel said. "I'm a defense-first kind of guy, but I think I can add something in a lot of areas."

Sioux Falls -- Clark Cristofoli: Cristofoli, a 5-9 1/2, 160-pound left-shooting skilled defenseman, is committed to Ohio State for the fall of 2011. He played with the Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets in the midget hockey ranks during the 2008-09 season and is the first Triple-A Blue Jackets player to commit to Ohio State.

"He is a skilled player who moves well and distributes the puck like a seasoned hockey player," said Sioux Falls coach Kevin Hartzell. "He is a very good skater who is just physical maturity away from being a solid player."

Tri-City -- Jaden Schwartz: The lightning-quick forward broke team scoring records held by Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards with Notre Dame's bantam team in Saskatchewan during the 2007-08 season -- posting 39 goals and 111 points in 44 games.

"Jaden was obviously a highly touted player coming out of the (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League), but the thing that sets him apart from other skilled players is his fearlessness and the fact he'll go down to block shots or take a hit if it means making a play," Tri-City coach Drew Schoneck said. "He's a special kid in my eyes because he'll do the dirty work in addition to finishing around the net when given the chance."

Schwartz, Tri-City's top center this season, is flanked by Max Tardy (a 2009 seventh-round pick by St. Louis) and European playmaker Radoslav Illo. In three games, Schwartz is tied for the team lead with 3 points.

"He's our top pivot up front and will be one of guys we'll count on to carry the offense but it'll be an adjustment (coming from the SJHL)," Schoneck said. "The USHL is faster and better, but he is solid on his skates and is a strong kid so we know he'll figure it out quickly."

He'll join his brother, Rylan, at Colorado College in the fall of 2010.

Team USA -- Jack Campbell: He's regarded as one of the nation's best 1992-born goaltenders -- making him a likely candidate to be selected in the initial two rounds of the 2010 Entry Draft.

Campbell allowed just three goals and finished with a .967 save percentage and 0.75 GAA to lead Team USA to a gold medal at the 2009 World Under-18 Championship. Campbell was named to the all-tournament all-star team for his efforts.

He's currently playing for the U.S. National Team Developmental Program's Under-18 team under first-year coach Kurt Kleinendorst.

"His demeanor and how he carries himself in practice and off the ice says a lot about how he plays the game when he gets on the ice," said Ron Rolston, who coached Campbell on the U.S. U-17 team last season. "He just showed a lot of poise, especially in those big games with big crowds against excellent opponents."

Waterloo -- Nick Sorkin: The University of New Hampshire-bound forward has exceptional hands and vision, with a quick shot to boot.

The only knock at this stage is his physicality, but that will come with experience in the USHL this season under the tutelage of coach P.K. O'Handley. During the USHL Fall Classic in September, Sorkin appeared to pay attention to detail -- working hard in his own end. At 6-2 1/2 and 166 pounds, he's also an intimidating player to take one-on-one.

The Rockville, Md. native and recent graduate of Bullis School in Potomac, Md., was invited to participate in the Capitals' development camp over the summer. As a senior at Bullis, he scored 45 points in 13 games. He also completed his third season with Team Maryland's AAA midget Under-18 team in 2008-09, where he had 30 goals and 101 points in 50 games.

This season, Sorkin has 2 goals and 3 points in three games. He'll spend two seasons with Waterloo before entering UNH in the fall of 2011.

"I'm excited (to be in Waterloo)," Sorkin said. "It's not the most popular place but I'm excited to be in a good league, and I feel like I'll get a lot better."

"If Nick Sorkin keeps developing, he'll be a pro," said O'Handley. "He's big with good hands and moves well for a big guy. He's still trying to grasp the feet movement and how to be hard, but he has an NHL shot. I think when he figures out how hard he needs to play, how hard he can play and his feet -- it's a pretty nice package."

Youngstown -- Nick Czinder: The Phantoms are in their first season in the USHL so it might take a few months before a bona fide presence begins to materialize. Still, much has been said of the towering 6-foot-5 1/4, 182-pound Czinder, who might be the most NHL-ready performer of the bunch.

The West Bloomfield, Mich. native should garner plenty of minutes and attention if he's able to make the transition from Orchard Lake St. Mary Prep to the USHL in 2009-10.

"Nick is a gigantic prototypical NHL power forward," Youngstown coach Bob Mainhardt said. "He should be fun to watch."

In his first two games, Czinder has 3 points and a plus-4 rating.

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