With the NHL Draft having come and gone for 2017, NHL scouts are already preparing their schedules for the 2017-18 playing season to see the next group of prospects coming of draft age.
By Joshua Boyd
One new option that New England-based NHL scouts are very intrigued with is the National Collegiate Development Conference. The NCDC is the tuition-free top league offered by the United States Premier Hockey League.
“I always scouted the old Eastern Junior Hockey League, and the USPHL Premier Division, and I thought it had some potential,” said Montreal Canadiens scout Bill Berglund. “This [NCDC] would take it to a different level altogether.”
He likes how the USPHL is bringing in longtime members, including franchises going back into the EJHL days, and adding in other long-standing junior organizations based in the northeastern U.S. that were known for high-intensity development.
“I think you have a good foundation if you include the Islanders Hockey Club, the South Shore Kings, the Junior Bruins and the New Jersey Hitmen,” Berglund said. “That’ll give you real stability, and then if you add other strong franchises, that will compete with [Midwestern U.S. leagues]. I would probably spend more time scouting the NCDC than [the USPHL Premier] in the past.”
“I talked a little bit to [Islanders Hockey Club head coach] Sean Tremblay, and he asked me my opinion about the idea of the NCDC, and I said it would be great,” Berglund added. “I have a great deal of respect for Sean, and Peter Masters [Junior Bruins].”
In late June, the USPHL saw five alumni of its midget divisions drafted.
Goaltender Keith Petruzzelli was the first to hear his name called, as he went in the third round to the Detroit Red Wings with the 88th overall pick.
Petruzelli played 14 games for the Junior Bruins 16U team in the 2013-14 season, and later joined the Selects Academy at South Kent School 18U team, leading them to the 2016 USPHL 18U Championship.
Petruzzelli earned the Goaltender of the Year and Player of the Year honors with Selects Academy. He will attend Quinnipiac University in the fall.
Penn State recruit Evan Barratt (Team Comcast 16U, 2014-15) was taken 90th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 63 points in 21 games for Team Comcast, leading them to the USPHL 16U championship game.
Boston University recruit David Farrance was a two-time winner of the USPHL 16U Defenseman of the Year award from 2013-15. Like Barratt, Farrance advanced to the U.S. National Team Development Program the last two years. He was taken 92nd by Nashville in June.
Former Selects Academy player Skyler Brind’Amour (2015-16), was selected 177th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. He’s off to Michigan State this fall.
Northeastern University recruit Cayden Primeau was selected 199th overall by the Montreal Canadiens. He played for Team Comcast in 2013-14.
The USPHL cheered on all of these players with their draft selections. Meantime, they’re looking forward to seeing many more drafted directly from the NCDC in 2017-18.
“As an NHL scout, the USPHL every year has players that we definitely need to track and keep watch on,” said St. Louis Blues scout Vinnie Montalbano, who is also head coach of the NCDC’s Connecticut Jr. Rangers.
“It’s definitely a given that there are USPHL players on the Draft watch list that we’re following and tracking. With the new tuition-free level, some teams are going to have more higher-end prospects, and we’re definitely going to be watching them.
“From the people I’ve talked to, and hearing about the players they’re bringing in, we will be ramping up the scouting a little bit,” Montalbano added.
Add the Calgary Flames to the list of NHL teams excited to see what the NCDC will bring to the table. U.S. scout Eric Soltys will scout the NCDC for the Flames.
“It brings a different level of evaluation, being a non-paying league. You have half of the USPHL Premier, all strong organizations. [You then add] other teams from the area and they’re able to put together a really strong league,” Soltys said.
Berglund, of the Canadiens, said the USPHL has been able to fill a bit of a void in New England. Over the past couple decades, in his opinion, prep school and high school hockey has declined in overall skill level.
“I’ve been here for a long time now, 20 years scouting. I have seen a decline in the play at the high school and prep programs. This program [the NCDC] gives the top kids a greater alternative,” Berglund added.
He said that the elite players in the Northeastern U.S. won’t have to leave home to pursue their dreams. The NCDC, Berglund added, will compete with the leagues for which they had been leaving home.
“If they want to make that final push to be a NCAA Division 1 player and maybe go beyond, they had to leave their comfort zone they’re used to, in order to move up a level,” said Berglund.
In June, the USPHL unveiled its 2017-18 Showcase Series schedule, and it’s the showcases that the Blues’ Montalbano is excited about.
“For us, those are great. It’s kind of one-stop shopping at those showcases. You go to these showcases, and you have every team in the league. You can figure out whom you might be tracking for the rest of the year,” Montalbano said. “The showcases are beneficial, as NHL scouts can watch players and be back at their own home that night.”
Read past USPHL articles in our archives: