The 2020 USHL Draft is set to take place next week, with Phase I occuring on Monday and Phase II on Tuesday. Fifteen teams will be equipped with 10 selections in Phase I and will continue to fill out their 45-player rosters with a wealth of picks in Phase II the following day.
Prominent MI-HS alumni have made their mark in the USHL Draft in recent years, including the likes of 2019 second-round pick Alex Nordstrom (Hancock, 2019), 2017 fifth-round pick Adam Conquest (Brighton, 2018) and 2017 seventh-rounder Jack Clement (Brother Rice, 2017), among others. Five MI-HS alumni were active in the 2019-20 season, including Nordstrom, John Druskinis (Hartland, 2020), Anthony Mollica (Jenison, 2019), Connor McGinnis (Country Day, 2017) and Caden Lewandowski (University Liggett, 2019).
The USHL Draft is broken down into two segments. Phase I is ten rounds of “Futures” age players only, which are U-17 players for next season (2004-birth year players only for the 2020 Draft). Phase II of the Draft will take place the following day beginning with round one. This portion is open to players of all ages eligible to play junior hockey and are not currently protected by another USHL team.
It may not be your traditional, typical mock draft projecting teams and selections but I’ve got a couple names worth consideration on draft day next week. Potential prospects that could come off the board…
I don’t anticipate many, if at all current MI-HS players to be taken in the Phase-I Draft on Monday. The jump from high school to the USHL is a very steep one, and typically, most MI-HS prospects need a year or two of high-level junior hockey before making the jump to the U-Show. However, there were two budding young studs in high school this year that shined as freshmen this season. While I don’t think they’ll be ready for Tier-I junior in six months, they’re definitely promising prospects that a USHL team may want to scoop up as a long-term option.
He was a 10th round pick of the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL Draft earlier this month, which should perk up some ears here in the States. He’s a big power-forward type with a frame that will certainly fill out to go along with his skating ability and puck skills. MacDonald has a pretty decorated, young hockey resume playing at a high level in the World Selects Invitational and MDHL’s 16U tournament team. As the lone freshman on Brighton’s roster, he also played an impactful role among the team’s top six forwards and special teams.
Everyone I talked to about Beerman said the same thing, and when I saw him for myself I said it too… Kid is the real deal. Now again, will he be USHL ready by next season? I don’t anticipate that, especially at his position. However, His 14-1-0 record with a 1.33 goals-against average and .938 save percentage is legit, playing against guys that are two and three years older than him. Beerman has seen plenty of work against some aggressive competition — including some names listed below — and as he develops physically, filling out and getting stronger, it’ll only help streamline his development.
This is where I could see MI-HS players make more of an impact in the USHL Draft. There’s a decent amount of juniors and seniors worth consideration at this stage of the process and it wouldn’t surprise me to see multiple names come off the board here. Some are more ready than others, but I think guys like Kyle Gaffney, Brendan Miles, and Tanner Rowe could step into a lineup next fall and make an impact immediately.
Miles spent the first half of the 2019-20 season with the Omaha Lancers, appearing in four games before Christmas time. He’s certainly proved he can play at this level and is quite clearly the top prospect in all of MI-HS this season. He’s so fluid and graceful in his movements and body control, snapping passes off around the rink with ease. With some prior junior-level experience in his back pocket, Miles is the type of guy who I see absolutely hitting the ground running wherever he lands in the fall and being an impact player right away.
Rowe was a 10th round pick of Green Bay in 2018, but never played for the Gamblers and I couldn’t find him on any protected lists, so he should be eligible to be drafted again in 2020. His game is extremely well-rounded and he’s very strong in all three zones. He’s a big body that can compete at a fast pace as well, which would be two important checkboxes to play at this level. Rowe is a smart enough player that I think he could provide tremendous value as a third or fourth liner who can kill penalties, but play his way into an even more prominent role by end of season.
Not sure there’s a player on this list who works harder than Gaffney. He was one of the top prospects in high school coming into the season and by March, was playing some of his best hockey. Watching CC this season, it was quite obvious that Gaffney was its most impactful all-around forward. Similar to Rowe, the three-year senior could have to climb the depth chart early in his junior career but I’m quite confident that with his skill set, work ethic and drive, it’s only a matter of time and opportunity before he’s as effective at the next level as he was for the Shamrocks.
The 2019-20 season was a coming out party for Justice. He dazzled in his first season with Stevenson, totaling 14 goals and 46 points against the second-toughest schedule in the state. Sometimes, a player just needs the right situation to shine and I think the right-handed defenseman found that with the Spartans. To me, he’s a younger version of Lincoln Stars D-man Anthony Mollica (Jenison, 2019) as they both can get up and down the ice effortlessly, impacting the flow of the game significantly from the back end. Justice is comfortable with the puck on his stick and responsible below the hashes in his own zone.
Another OHL Draft pick on the list, Loukus might still be a year away from junior hockey. However, I think a lot of comparisons could be drawn to fellow U.P.ers like Alex Nordstrom (Hancock, 2019) and Daunte Fortner (Kingsford, 2019), who both forgoed their senior seasons to pursue junior opportunities in western Canada. That tends to be a pretty common path for Northern Michigan kids but if the right USHL team latches on, maybe those plans can change. Loukus has got smooth puck skills and he’s very sneaky offensively; he could have an outside shot at Tier-I juniors given the fast pace in which he can operate at.
Skating ability would be the one pause for concern here, but Rappuhn is as good as anyone within 20 feet of the net. He’s got a finisher’s touch and a quick release. If a team is in dire need of pure goal scorers, Rappuhn could be the answer. He might be a little raw, but he’s got a good frame and very coachable with a knack for catching on quick. You can get a kid to put on weight and become a stronger skater; I’m not so sure you can teach a kid to finish the way that Rappuhn can. To me, the pros outweigh the cons and if a team is willing to invest, there’s the potential for big returns.
There’s no doubt he’s a smart enough player to hang at this level; Onstott has a very high hockey IQ. He’s sound positionally and an awesome locker room guy. Some may say, “So what?” but to coaches, that presence can be invaluable in the room and on the bench. There’s certainly more to his game but his value as a leader is what stands out to me. Want a low maintenance guy who can fill a void anywhere in your lineup? Onstott’s your guy. My only critique is, I just haven’t seen that explosiveness in his game yet. I really want to see him throttle down in transition with those first few strides.
By the end of the process next week, I would not be surprised to see as many as three of the above names selected in the USHL Draft proceedings. Each respective team is going to have holes to fill unique to them and their rosters, and each of the players above represent a different role or responsibility that they could fill at this level.
What are your thoughts on this spring’s North American junior drafts and where do you think some of Michigan’s top prospects could end up? Connect with me on Twitter and let’s talk.
Craig Peterson’s comments and opinions are that of his own, and are in no way directly tied to that of the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association (MHSHCA), its member coaches, or board members. Any questions, comments or concerns regarding his work can be addressed directly to the author of the article.