The United States Hockey League (USHL) conducts its annual entry draft in two phases. First, there’s a 10-round “futures” draft where teams select players following the conclusion of their 15O youth hockey seasons. Then, a 15-round Phase-II Draft where all players of junior-eligible ages are available to be selected. In total, four former Michigan High School Hockey players were selected throughout the 2021 USHL Draft proceedings, none higher than recently-graduated defenseman Leyton Stenman (Cranbrook, 2021).
A member of the 2021 Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association (MHSHCA) Dream Team, Stenman was one of the most steady and impressive players in the state. Sioux Falls selected the 6-foot-1 defender with the 23rd overall pick in the second round. As a senior, he scored five goals and 16 points in 18 games, leading the Cranes to their first state title since 2015. He also signed a North American Hockey League (NAHL) tender agreement with the Aberdeen Wings last November, so Stenman is one that could have a couple junior options this fall.
Joey Larson (Hartland, 2019) completed his second full season of junior hockey, splitting time between the NAHL and USHL throughout 2020-21. He’s slated to join Northern Michigan University in the fall, but that didn’t prevent Muskegon from using its second-round pick on the former Mr. Hockey, giving Larson another option for the fall.
Fellow member of the 2021 graduating class, Tanner Rowe (Calumet, 2021) was selected by Omaha in the 12th round. Rowe forgoed his senior season to begin his junior career with the NAHL’s Maryland Black Bears. He scored six goals and 13 points in 46 games this season and will have the opportunity to continue climbing the junior ladder to the USHL in the fall.
Muskegon selected a second MI-HS alum in the 14th round with 16-year-old Landon MacDonald (Brighton, 2023). After playing his freshman season with the Bulldogs, scoring eight goals and 13 points in 19 games, and getting drafted by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2020 OHL Draft, MacDonald played his 16U season with Little Caesars.
The USHL is a highly-sought-after path for high school players, but is not a very common “route” to the next level for kids from the state of Michigan.
There are roughly 24 AAA-level teams when considering the 15O, 16U and 18U age groups, and 138 MI-HS teams this season. All those teams and organizations combined to produce 19 total players — including Stenman and MacDonald — selected during last week’s Phase-I and Phase-II Drafts. That, by no means is a knock to any entity, but simply illustrates just how difficult it is to be drafted into the league out of Michigan amatuer hockey, and even more challenging to make a roster in the USHL the following season. Other junior leagues like the NAHL, BCHL and NCDC have grown in popularity as “stepping stones” to the USHL as well as producing hundreds of Division-I NCAA prospects of their own.