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 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.
The anvil finally dropped.
A decision that hung over our heads for the last three weeks came crashing down on all of us. On Friday, the MHSAA announced via press release, the cancellation of the remaining 2020 winter and spring sports seasons.
I don’t think it comes as much of a surprise following Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement earlier this week regarding the closing of K-12 students in the state of Michigan. If the current global climate is deemed unfit for academics, then it’s virtually impossible to justify the continuation of youth sports. While they were two separate decisions from two completely different entities, they very much go hand-in-hand with one another. It doesn’t make accepting either decision any easier, and my heart hurts for the 12 teams who are left forever with the burning question of, “What if?”
We talk a lot about how special it is to end your season with a victory. How hard it is to climb the mountaintop. People can speculate how the Final Fours would have shook out and who would have reigned supreme in 2020, and heartbreakingly, we will never know. Now is probably not the time to speculate; we are all hurting in a time like this and crowning a hypothetical champion isn’t going to do anyone any good.
It’s no consolation and won’t make this any easier to accept, but right now, I think it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate those teams who never got to finish.
The players who didn’t know it was their last game. How different would warm-ups have been at Otsego Sportsplex on March 7th, if Marquette knew that its 5-2 victory over TC Central would be its last? What would Brendan Miles and Kyle Gaffney have said to each other before taking the ice, knowing that the Salem game would be their finale? What would Frank Novock’s final message be to his 10 Country Day seniors in the locker room before their game against University Liggett that Saturday? As coaches, we tell our kids all the time to play every game like it's their last because you never truly know when it’ll be. No one could have ever envisioned this.
What about the coaches and the many hours they put in? To win a state title is a lifetime’s worth of work. Sure, Taylor Keyworth will likely be back with Byron Center next season and it was Rocky Johnson’s first year as head coach for Howell, but that exact moment in time with that group of players and staff is gone forever. People will be quick to say that coaches will have another crack at it and that powerhouses like Hartland and Trenton will be in the mix again in the future, but shouldn’t today’s current climate be an indicator that just about nothing is guaranteed anymore? I can’t sit here and say with confidence that coaches like Dan Giachino and Dick Blasy will for sure get another crack at a Final Four in the future. For their sake, and all 12 coaches’ sakes, I sure as Hell hope so.
For the seniors, I just can’t imagine what you’re going through. At 17- and 18-years-old, you’re being forced to learn one of life’s toughest lessons. It might be the first time you experience this, but I can promise you it won’t be the last time you’re forced to accept that life truly isn’t fair. It’s not any one person’s fault; there’s no one to blame. It’s okay to be mad at the world and scream, “Why me!?” It’s important to know that you are not alone though. It’s not just you, or your team, or the state of Michigan even… ITS AN ENTIRE WORLD of teenagers who have been robbed of some of the most special moments of their lives. Let that sink in for a second.
What you’ll come to learn is that life does go on. The sun will come up tomorrow. There is no reset button in life like there is on your PS4, and you only get one shot at things. It’s not gonna happen today or tomorrow or next week or next month, but I promise you, when you can come to terms with this and accept it, an entire generation of kids will come out of this stronger and smarter than any other graduating class in our lifetime. That internal strength will serve you well in college and trade school, and some day, with your careers and families.
Parents are in a similar boat. You want what’s best for your kids, and you’re heartbroken that they’re heartbroken. Senior years are just as much your swan song as it is theirs and playoff runs are probably more nerve-racking for you than for them. Clinching tightly to blankets while sitting in the stands, biting your lip watching behind the glass, religiously wearing the same outfits as if your wardrobe somehow affects your son and his team’s performance on the ice. If there’s any silver lining, maybe the next few weeks with teenagers forced to stay at home, away from their friends and “stuck” with their families. I know patience will wear thin with our young kids in the house 24/7 for two straight months. Years from now though, I hope you all can look back on long-lasting memories of daily family meals at the dinner table, movie nights, a series of board games and quality time like we’ve never experienced before.
It’s unprecedented times, and we’re experiencing something no one has ever dealt with... ever. Each day, it feels like we’re experiencing something as a community, as a country, as a society, that only exists in novels and movies. Mandatory stay-at-homes? Schools canceled? Professional and college sports in limbo? It doesn’t make the cancellation of the 2020 playoffs any easier to accept, but I feel for all those affected by the decision and know that we are all in this together. Connect with me on Twitter to continue the discussion.