The USHL held its annual futures draft Monday night, and eight Wisconsin natives were selected. The draft -- which is now called "phase one" -- was made up of players born in the 1997 birth year.
The draft was especially Wisconsin heavy at the top, as four in-state players were selected in the top two rounds, including the draft's first selection. With Indiana and Tri-City giving up the No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks to sign tenders Cam Askew and Tory Dello, Des Moines stepped up and selected River Falls native Tom Novak with the first available pick Monday.
Originally from Minnesota but currently residing in River Falls, Novak commutes to St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Mn., for school and hockey. Novak has helped the Cadets to the past two Minnesota Class "A" state championships, and gave a college commitment to the University of Minnesota in March.
The second player off the board, Brock Boeser, was certainly notable as well, despite not being a player from the Badger state. Boeser is the cousin of former Wisconsin defenseman Dan Boeser, and is currently a Badgers recruiting target. Boeser, a forward from Burnsville, Mn., has visited Madison, and is also getting strong interest from the Gophers and a handful of other Big Ten programs.
Tarek Baker was the second Wisconsin native to come off the board, as the forward from Verona was selected by Des Moines with the third pick of the second round. After playing his freshman season for Verona high school, Baker moved to the Tier 1 circuit this past season with Omaha AAA U16. Baker is tough to play against because he's not afraid to use his physicality to get himself into position. He's tendered with the Janesville Jets of the NAHL, but it wouldn't shock me if he made the Buc's out of camp next year.
With the next pick, Sioux City grabbed Notre Dame Academy defenseman Tony Stillwell. The elite private school from Green Bay has been producing players hand over fist the past few seasons, and Stillwell is another product of coach Cory McCracken's program. What Stillwell lacks in size, he makes up for in skill. Stillwell is listed at just 5-foot-6, but has elite hockey sense and moves the puck as well as any defenseman in this class.
Capping off the run of Wisconsin bred players in the second round was Wausau West forward Kevin Conley, who was selected by the Youngstown Phantoms with the ninth pick of the round. Along with Novak and Baker, Conley participated in the USA NTDP tryouts earlier this spring. Blessed with an outstanding shot, Conley may be the most naturally gifted scorer of all the Wisconsin 97's.
Conley wasn't the only talent to be recognized out of legendary coach Pete Susens' program at Wausau West Monday, as defenseman Adam Parsells also heard his name called. The gigantic 6-foot-5 blue-liner was picked in the third round by the Green Bay Gamblers. Parsells isn't gifted with outstanding skating skills, but makes up for it with his reach and routes to the puck.
After no Wisconsin natives were selected in the fourth, fifth or sixth rounds, the Muskegon Lumberjacks nabbed forward Collin Peters with the eighth pick in the seventh round. Peters was a star with the Team Wisconsin U15 team this fall, and also led his high school team at Sheboygan in scoring with 32 goals and 51 points in 24 games.
Just one pick later Youngstown selected another Wisconsin player, nabbing Notre Dame Academy forward Sam McCormick. A little under-sized, McCormick is a solid all around player. Younger brother of Ohio State forward Max McCormick, Sam will have to keep improving his skating to take his game to the next level, but he's one of the more advanced players in this group in terms of knowing what to do when the puck is on his stick.
The final Wisconsin player to be selected Monday was Madison Memorial's Ty Pelton-Byce. Blessed with a good frame and big upside, people are going to wonder why he wasn't selected earlier when they review this draft in the future. Pelton-Byce needs to work on his overall skating, but he's got some nice hands and really looks like a player to keep an eye on down the road.
As always, there were players that were overlooked in the phase one draft of 97's, but that doesn't mean they aren't good players. When selecting kids so young, teams make mistakes, plain and simple. I can guarantee you there are Wisconsin born 97's that weren't selected Monday that will play D1 college hockey.
A good example would be Matt Berkovitz last season. The Ashwaubenon native was flying under the radar, and was passed up in the 96 futures draft last year. Berkovitz had a great summer and fall with Team Wisconsin, and earned an offer from the Badgers which he accepted. Now Berkovitz looks like one of the better 96 born defensemen in the country just a year after being passed up in the draft.
My Matt Berkovitz of this 97 class is Antigo defenseman Jackson Charlesworth. It's hard to find fluid skating defensemen with size, but I think Charlesworth fits both categories. Was listed at 6-foot for his high school team this winter as a sophomore, and if he adds a couple inches and fills out his frame a bit could be an elite prospect when we look back on this class in a few years.
Phase two of the USHL draft will be Tuesday at 4:00 PM (CST). That draft will feature all players who have not yet been selection in previous futures drafts, or been tendered by USHL teams.
Some Wisconsin born players who are in the discussion for tomorrows draft include Berkovitz, Charley Graaskamp (Eau Claire Memorial), Casey Jerrry (River Falls), Nick Monfils (Oshkosh/Corpus Cristi NAHL), Griff Jeszka (Marquette), Cooper Watson (Appleton), Matt Purmal (Fort McMurray AJHL), Brett Gruber (Notre Dame Academy), Jacob Bresser (Eau Claire Memorial) and Charlie Parker (Verona). NAHL players Garret Clemment (Fairbanks, Lake Superior State commit) and Brett Skibba (Springfield, UConn commit) would also have USHL interest if their respective schools decide to bring them in for 2014.
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