The Journey: What We Learned – USHL

by Brayden Olafson on April 6, 2019

Last week I kicked off a new sub-series within The Journey where I plan on reviewing how some of the NHL’s most reliable leagues for sourcing prospects are doing this year. After getting the ball rolling overseas with the Swedish Hockey League, we’re jumping back to North America to cover the USHL.

Because of the nature of the USHL, drafted prospects often don’t last long in the league. Players who choose the USHL often have their eyes on a college degree. Since the NCAA does not consider it a professional league, players retain their scholarship eligibility. Once players are drafted from the USHL at 17 or 18-years-old, they’ve often already committed to playing their freshman season at a NCAA university. For that reason, our list of drafted players currently playing in the USHL is small enough to count on two hands and a foot. In some of those cases, even, they’re players who’ve returned from the NCAA after an unsuccessful bid at the collegiate level.

Before I get any further, I want to give a shout-out to the DobberProspects writer who is covering the USHL on a regular basis – @ChrisWasselDFS. Follow Chris on Twitter for regular USHL updates and notifications for his quality monthly piece.

The 2018 NHL Entry Draft marked a major milestone for the USHL, and its status as one of the top leagues to produce NHL-calibre talent. A total of 57 players with current or previous ties to the USHL were drafted last summer, making it the most prominent development league to feature alumni in the draft, and a personal best for the USHL itself. While 12 of the 57 players had moved on to other leagues prior to the draft, the league certainly left its mark.

An important note to make is that the USHL considers the US National Development Program to be an official team in their league. For those who aren’t fully aware, the Program is split into two teams: a U17 and a U18 team, both of which compete in a full USHL schedule. Players from the U17 squad are not draft eligible; however, players from the U18 squad tend to dominate the percentage of drafted “USHLers”. In @HockeyRobinson’s most recent edition of the 2019 Entry Draft rankings he credits a total of 20 players with USHL ties to his top-100 list, of those 20, 13 are players from the U18 roster.

Some of the most notable names to graduate from the USHL in recent history include Clayton Keller (2016, USNDP), Kyle Connor (2015, Youngstown Phantoms), and Brock Boeser (2015, Waterloo Black Hawks). The league tends to develop a vast depth of players at every position with many mid-to-late round selections having a relatively quick impact at the pro level. From the 2015 Entry Draft alone, budding prospects such as Christian Wolanin (107th), Caleb Jones (117th), Troy Terry (148th), Adam Gaudette (149th), Cooper Marody (158th), and Mason Appleton (168th) are products of the USHL who were selected in the final four rounds. It’s possible that the league’s credibility has grown among NHL scouting circles to match their output in the last four years, but as a general trend the USHL is capable of producing gems in the late rounds. If your fantasy league’s depth warrants targeting these mid-round gems, the USHL is certainly a filter to be aware of, and Cam’s list is a great place to start. Let’s have a look at a few of the interesting names that didn’t crack his first round…

Robert Mastrosimone, Chicago Steel

My biggest compliment of Mastrosimone (which is a very fun name to say, by the way), is to say that his offensive awareness is at a level beyond his peers. The Chicago Steel forward makes efficient plays at both ends of the ice that typically provide positive results for his team. His fundamental hockey skills are by no means elite, but they tend to be sufficient to earn him a ticket to the next level. At 5-10 and 170 lbs, Mastrosimone slots in at 45 on Mr. Robinson’s list. He’s a peculiar player to project, but in the right situation it’s conceivable that he becomes a second-line utility type of player.

Yegor Afanasyev, Muskegon Lumberjacks

The Russian-born forward is a great example of an underrated prospect, potentially due to the under-credited reputation of the USHL. At a very real height of 6-3, he is the full package of size and skill. Despite being ranked by Cam at 57, there’s a legitimate opportunity for this USHL prospect to get in the fast lane. After de-committing to Michigan State in February, Afanasyev leaves the door open to going straight into the AHL as an 18 year old. This decision could make his apparent value slightly higher for teams who want more of a say in how their prospects develop. In the case that he doesn't go pro immediately, another door exists with the Ottawa 67’s organization.

That wraps up our second “episode” of this What we Learned sub-series of the journey. Next week we’ll have a look at how my new local junior league fared as a prospect mill this year. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d be thrilled to continue the discussion on Twitter @olaf1393.