Top American draft prospects take to the ice at Consol
September 27, 2013 4:00 AM
Ryan Bliss, left, defends against Shane Gersich in the second period of the USA Hockey prospects game Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
By Nick Veronica Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the big scheme of things, it was one game out of several seasons worth of viewings that will make up a player's draft stock in June.
They played only against other Americans and couldn't have logged more than 20 minutes of ice time each.
But with scouts from every NHL team at Consol Energy Center Thursday, the All-American Prospects Game was a perfect opportunity for the 40 best draft-eligible, American-born players to show something -- anything -- that could separate them from the crowd.
Dylan Larkin, 17, who currently plays with the U.S. National Under-18 team, did that in the second period, scoring the game's first goal off a turnover in the slot, with an assist going to Keegan Iverson.
Larkin, of Waterford, Mich., capped his night by adding an assist in the third period. He kept the puck in at the blue line and threw it on net, with Iverson of WHL's Portland Winterhawks there to put the rebound past goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who stopped 13 of 16 shots. Iverson was named player of the game as Team (Mark) Johnson beat Team (Joe) Mullen, 5-2.
"Larkin played good," Johnson said. "He's certainly a player that stuck out to me tonight. Just his ability to see the ice, read plays -- he looks like he's got a great vision for the game and understanding. Then you put the tool set together and you've got a pretty good player."
Larkin, though, has already been on teams' radars as one of the top American centers in the 2014 draft, likely competing with Nick Schmaltz of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers for that title.
But Larkin and Schmaltz, who also helped lead Johnson's team to the win, have taken different approaches to their careers. Schmaltz said Thursday that he was offered a spot on the U.S. Development Team Larkin is on, but turned it down.
Despite the respect the U.S. team has steadily earned, Schmaltz believed his development was best served playing in the USHL.
"I got offered a spot -- obviously, it's a great program -- but I didn't think it fit my game as well as Green Bay," Schmaltz said. "Just in Green Bay, the style of play is more offensive, more do-what-you-want. If you're a playmaker, go make plays.
"Obviously the national program, they're going to let you do that, too, but they're more defensive-minded -- and that's great, too, because I need to work on my defensive game -- but I just thought Green bay was a better fit for me. ... I want to showcase my offensive ability and I thought Green Bay gave me that the best."
Schmaltz added an assist on his team's third goal, scored by Sonny Milano of the U.S. U18 Team, with the other assist going to Alex Tuch. Chase De Leo added a fourth goal from Ryan Hitchcock and Kevin Labanc, and Shane Eiserman finished the game off with an empty-netter.
Jack Dougherty, a defenseman also of the U.S. U18 Team, scored a power-play goal for Team Mullen early in the third period with assists from Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Donato and a screen from Tyler Sheehy. Joe Wegwerth scored the other goal, finishing another pass from Donato.
Goaltender Thatcher Demko, among the top goaltenders eligible for the draft, kept a clean sheet in his period-and-a-half but was hardly tested, making six saves for Team Johnson. His teammate Blake Weyrick made a few flashy stops but was beaten twice on 21 shots. Ed Minney stopped 16 of 17 shots he faced for Team Mullen.