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.
On Wednesday, Jed Pietila (Hartland, 2017) announced his verbal commitment to join NCAA Michigan Tech next fall. This huge accomplishment marks both a beginning and an end for the defenseman, who’s traveled a long and challenging road to reach college hockey.
I am very excited to announce my commitment to play Division 1 college hockey at Michigan Technological University. A huge thank you to my family, teammates, and coaches who have helped me along that way! #gohuskies pic.twitter.com/zvZvsH39S0— Jed Pietila (@pietilahockey19) April 15, 2020
In 2016-17, Pietila was a forward for the Eagles, compiling 20 goals and 55 points and was named First-Team All-State during his senior year. The following season, The 6-footer transitioned to defense and played for the TPH Thunder out of Atlanta for 16 games, and then played a total of 27 games in the NAHL for three different teams as a bit of a journeyman before settling in with the Austin Bruins. There, Pietila played 126 games from 2018 to 2020, compiling 17 goals and 61 points from the blue line and was named captain for the 2019-20 season.
This season, Pietila ranked in the top 20 among NAHL defensemen in points with 29, along with fellow MI-HS alumni Sam Brennan (Brighton, 2018) who had 30 and Jake Beaune (Livonia Stevenson, 2018) who had 29 as well.
Pietila’s path to college hockey is not an unusual one for MI-HS players. Actually, his route with four stops in three years may be a bit more common. In some cases, the process of finding the “right fit” can be a long and challenging road through junior hockey. His perseverance should be commended, as far too often, the first signs of adversity as far as a change in teams or a trade to a new location can send some kids into a tailspin. Pietila stayed the course, ultimately landing — and thriving — in Austin, and getting rewarded with a commitment to in-state program Michigan Tech.
The former Hartland standout joins two other MI-HS alumni in the Huskies’ Class of 2020, with Oliver Bezick (De La Salle, 2020) and Alex Nordstrom (Hancock, 2019) also set to be on campus next fall. It’s been a popular destination for MI-HS prospects, as Raymond Brice (Houghton, 2014) Jake Crespi (Brighton, 2017) and Todd Kiilunen (Brighton, 2016) all sported the black and gold last season for Michigan Tech.
On Wednesday night, the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association (MHSHCA) announced via YouTube, award winners, honorees and Hall of Fame inductees for 2020, highlighted by the announcement of this season’s Mr. Hockey recipient, Brady Rappuhn.
This year’s honorees...
Rappuhn concluded a four-year career with his best season yet, totaling 44 goals and 89 points in 28 games. he recorded at least one point in every game Saginaw Heritage took the ice this season, and got on the scoresheet in 42-of-43 games dating back to Feb. 2nd, of his junior year. In 116 career games, the 6-foot forward scored 109 goals and 246 points while leading the Hawks to three consecutive Division-I Final Fours. This season’s campaign was highlighted by a three-point performance in a 3-0 win over No. 3 Brother Rice, a two-goal game against No. 2 Livonia Stevenson and a four-point outing against No. 8 Hartland. In total, Rappuhn posted eight goals and 16 points in eight games against Top-25 teams this season, elevating his game against the Hawks’ toughest opponents.
Given out annually since the 2002-03 season, 28 athletes and one team have been presented with the Perseverance Award for exhibiting courage and determination while overcoming adversity.
Plymouth junior David Brace showed tremendous courage and perseverance while dealing with his mother’s fight against cancer and subsequent passing. Despite managing her illness, Brace continued supporting his parents, teammates and school with a positive attitude and amazing energy.
Tyler Stelter of Wyandotte Roosevelt served as an inspiration to teammates and coaches through battling a series of injuries and undergoing surgery, only to come back and play in his senior year through mechanical support and pain. His drive serves as a reminder to never give up on your goals or dreams, and keeping a positive attitude through difficult times.
In memory of the late Grandville captain Ryan Fischer, the Legacy Scholarship is awarded to an individual who displays integrity, character and sportsmanship, while establishing and promoting a standard for all amateur athletes in the state of Michigan. Ryan Endres of Forest Hills Northern-Eastern, did just that by maintaining a 4.1 GPA in the classroom and serving as a two-year member of National Honor Society. He also displayed an outstanding record of community service by volunteering at the University of Michigan Metro Health Hospital, serving senior citizens through the Meals on Wheels Program and teaching at vacation bible school. Endres plans to attend college this fall to study pre-medicine.
More than 200 players across three divisions were recognized as First-Team, Second-Team and Honorable Mention All-State recipients. A complete list and breakdown by division can be found HERE.
Both teams and individuals were acknowledged for Academic All-State honors. A total of 79 teams earned the accomplishment by maintaining a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA for the 2019-20 school year, and a complete list of schools can be found HERE.
With a 3.5 or higher GPA over the course of seven consecutive semesters, 276 seniors from around the state were also recognized with earning Academic All-State HERE.
In addition to acknowledging players, coaches and administrators, the MHSHCA also highlighted Friends of High School Hockey, who help in the promotion and growth of the sport. This year’s recipients were John Castine, Ed Rivez and Craig Peterson.
Castine has been a longtime supporter of high school hockey, serving as host of the year-end All-State banquet for the past 17 years. Rivez previously served as secretary and treasurer of the Metro League, and continues to stay involved as a clock operator for dozens of games throughout the season in metro Detroit. Peterson has been a regular contributor to the Michigan High School Hockey Hub, providing coverage and promotion of teams and players from around the state.