Wisconsin hockey recruiting: Elite League season wrapping up

Wisconsin recruit Brock Boeser lines up for a faceoff vs. Team Wisconsin in the Elite League. - Matt Christians

We've compiled updated reports and statistics for all 14 players with verbal commitments to play for Mike Eaves and the Badgers.

Editors note: Before we get started on today's recruiting update, I just wanted to clarify something that people have been asking about. If you weren't already aware, I accepted a scouting position with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League.

In case you're wondering, no, my duties at this website will not change. The only minor tweak is that I will not be talking about players that are eligible for the USHL Phase I or Phase II drafts anymore. That part kind of sucks, but I owe it to my employers not to be giving out tips on guys we like. The positive news for you is that the majority of Wisconsin recruits' rights are already owned by USHL franchises, so they are fair game. Adding in the fact I've spent more time at the rink this fall already than the past few seasons combined is a win-win for everyone.

Matt Berkovitz

Berkovitz_matthew_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014 or '15

Defense

Left

6'1

180

Team

Hometown

DOB

Ashwaubenon HS / Team Wis U18

Ashwaubenon, Wis.

2/6/1996

Berkovitz could have played in the USHL this year if he wanted to, but decided to go back to Ashwaubenon for his senior season and play with Team Wisconsin U-18 in the Elite League. Berkovitz has consistently been one of, if not the top defenseman in the league this fall and was rated a "B" skater by NHL Central Scouting in its initial fall ranking. Berkovitz's middle name could be "smooth" for how fluid he is in everything he does on the ice. He has the rare combination of puck skills and skating ability from the back-end that makes him an intriguing prospect.

The 6'1, 180-pound defenseman recorded four goals and 11 assists for Team Wisconsin U-18 in the fall season that wrapped up last weekend when it was defeated in the Elite League championship game by Team Southwest. Berkovitz has one weekend of hockey left before the high school season starts, as he was invited to play for the Minnesota Red squad in this upcoming weekend's CCM International Invitational Tournament in New Hope, Minn.

Brock Boeser

Brock_boeser_new_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2015

Forward

Right

5'11.75

188

Team

Hometown

DOB

Burnsville HS / Team Southeast

Burnsville, Minn.

2/25/1997

After being the second skater selected in the USHL Phase I draft last spring by Sioux City, Boeser decided to return to Burnsville for at least one more season. Boeser skated for Team Southeast in the Elite League this fall, recording 12 goals and 17 points in 17 games. Boeser missed the early part of the fall schedule due to an illness, but rebounded strong to average a point-per-game. Boeser will play in the CCM/IIT tournament this weekend in New Hope for Minnesota Team White.

The cousin of former Badgers defenseman Dan, Boeser is an elite talent as a forward. Brock has good size for a collegiate prospect and has next-level scoring ability. Boeser also has quick hands that let him navigate in tight spaces and has the hockey sense and anticipation skills to excel. Given his continued ascension into the upper echelon of 1997-born recruits, it appears as if Boeser will play this season for Burnsville, next season in the USHL and will be in Madison for the fall of 2015.

Jack Dougherty

Dougherty_jack_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014

Defense

Right

6'0

185

Team

Hometown

DOB

USA NTDP U-18

Cottage Grove, Minn.

5/25/1996

Dougherty has been a popular name in recruiting circles the past few months after he decided to decommit from Ohio State following the firing of head coach Mark Osiecki. Just about every school in the country jumped in the Dougherty sweepstakes following his decision over the summer. The Cottage Grove, Minn., native eventually picked the Badgers over national powers Minnesota, Michigan, Boston College and Boston University.

Dougherty played last season at St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota, winning yet another Class A state championship. With his stock on the rise, Dougherty made the move to the U.S. NTDP for his draft season. The 6-foot blue-liner is the total package and is considered a potential top-two round pick in the upcoming NHL draft next summer.

Keegan Ford

Player Photo

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014

Defense

Left

5'8

180

Team

Hometown

DOB

Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

Waunakee, Wis.

5/30/1996

Ford has returned to Dubuque for his second season of USHL action. After helping the Fighting Saints to regular and post-season championships as a rookie, Ford has helped Dubuque to a quick 7-1 start this year despite roster turnover and a new head coach after Jim Montgomery replaced George Gwozdecky at Denver.

What Ford lacks in stature he makes up for in compete level, as the 5-foot-8 blue-liner isn't afraid to drop the gloves with anyone in the USHL. The son of former Badger Pat, Ford isn't tall, but is built with a thick lower-body that allows him to play a physical brand of hockey. Through the first eight games so far this season, Ford has four assists and is a +6.

Ford is a potential NHL draft pick this summer and was invited to participate in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game that took place in Pittsburgh last month.

Matthew Freytag

Matthew_freytag_new_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2015 or '16

Forward

Left

5'11.25

180

Team

Hometown

DOB

Wayzata HS / Team Northwest

Plymouth, Minn.

2/15/1997

Freytag is one of the few future Badgers who hasn't seen much time on the ice this fall. After playing just a few games for Team Northwest in the Elite League, Freytag was sidelined with a back injury that has kept him out of action all fall. The good news is Freytag is expected to be fine and should be more than ready when Wayzata's high school season kicks off in a few weeks.

Gabe Grunwald

Player Photo

Class

Position

Catches

Height

Weight

2014

Goaltender

Left

6'3

195

Team

Hometown

DOB

New York Bobcats (EHL)

Chappaqua, N.Y.

3/15/1993

Grunwald has certainly made the rounds of junior hockey and finds himself this season in the newly formed EHL with the New York Bobcats. The son of former New York Knicks GM Glen Grunwald, Gabe was supposed to be a 2013 commit before struggling the past few seasons to keep the puck out of the net.

Grunwald appears to have found his footing in the EHL so far with a 3-2-1 record while carrying a 2.17 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in six games.

Luke Kunin

Kunin_luke_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2016

Forward

Right

5'10

173

Team

Hometown

DOB

USA NTDP U-17

Chesterfield, Mo.

12/4/1997

The youngest player with a Wisconsin commitment, Kunin made the move from the St. Louis Jr. Blues U-16 program to the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor this fall. Kunin has been one of the top performers so far for the U-17 squad, leading that club in goals with seven in 13 games this season.

Kunin and the U-17 team made a trip to Minnesota a few weeks ago to test their mettle against the Elite League. Kunin was playing on Team USA's top line along with fellow St. Louis native Matthew Tkachuk, and Chicago winger Christian Fischer. Kunin was impressive, showing elite speed and natural ability with the puck. Kunin is committed for 2016 currently as he's just a sophomore in high school, but may choose to accelerate to come to Wisconsin for the 2015 season.

Jake Linhart

Player Photo

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014

Defense

Left

5'10

176

Team

Hometown

DOB

Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)

Brookfield, Wis.

2/17/1996

Linhart is back with the Green Bay Gamblers after playing last season with the club as a tendered rookie. The Brookfield, Wis., native is an intelligent, smooth-skating blue-liner who has the ability to bring offense from the back-end. As Linhart continues to grow and develop,  his game is going to continue to take off. Linhart has added an inch and 20 pounds from his listed height/weight as a rookie. Through 10 games for the Gamblers this season, Linhart has registered three assists.

Seamus Malone

Player Photo

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2015

Forward

Left

5'10

165

Team

Hometown

DOB

Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

Naperville, Ill.

5/6/1996

Along with Keegan Ford, Malone helped Dubuque to regular and post-season titles in his rookie season for the Fighting Saints. Malone is back for year number two in the USHL, and appears to be taking more a scoring role this season for Dubuque. While Malone registered 30 points last season for the Saints, he had just eight goals in 59 games. In his sophomore campaign, Malone has already netted four goals in the first eight games of the season to pace the hottest club in the USHL.

While just a junior in high school, Malone is eligible for the 2014 draft and will undoubtedly be selected. NHL Central Scouting lists Malone as a "B" rated skater. Along with Keegan Ford and Jack Dougherty, Malone also participated at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Top Prospects Game. Malone has also been selected to represent the United States at the upcoming World Junior A Challenge.

Luke Opilka

Opilka_luke_medium

Class

Position

Catches

Height

Weight

2015

Goaltender

Left

6'0

181

Team

Hometown

DOB

USA NTDP U-17

St. Louis, Mo.

2/27/1997

One of two goalie commits in the Badgers' stable, Opilka has made the move from St. Louis Jr. Blues U-16 to the NTDP like teammate and fellow Wisconsin recruit Luke Kunin. Neither goaltender with the U-17 U.S. team has played outstanding in the early going, but Opilka does carry a 4-3-1 record. Opilka's peripheral stats aren't as pretty, with a 3.75 goals-against average and just a .863 save percentage.

In one viewing of Opilka last month when the U.S. U-17's were in Minnesota to take on Elite League competition, it appeared as if his glove hand was slow. The game against Team Southeast featured some of the best forwards in the state of Minnesota such as Minnesota recruit Tommy Novak, Wisconsin recruit Brock Boeser, Omaha recruit Steven Spinner and the league's leading scorer, Tyler Sheehy. They were able to beat Opilka for five goals (Sheehy had three), with almost all of them coming on his glove side.

Given the resources and training partners Opilka has available in Ann Arbor it's not something to worry about at this point, but if we're being fair, the glove was a noticeable flaw in our first viewing of this young goaltender.

Tony Stillwell

Tony_stillwell_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2016

Defense

Left

5'7

145

Team

Hometown

DOB

Notre Dame Academy / Team Wis U-16

Green Bay, Wis.

4/18/1997

Stillwell is the smallest Wisconsin commit at this point, but don't let his size fool you -- this is a supremely talented hockey player. If he were a 6-foot, 200 pound player, we'd be looking at a potential first round NHL draft pick. Stillwell is one of the smarter players I've evaluated over the past few seasons and that includes off the ice as well. He's a next-level thinker while playing the game, and is also a great student in the class room.

Stillwell can skate with anyone, and fellow scouts I've spoken with love the way he can find open teammates with passes. He doesn't have the hardest shot, but is effective at getting the puck to the net, which is one of the more underrated traits in a defenseman. Stillwell is the standout defenseman on an outstanding Team Wisconsin U-16 club that is going to challenge for a national championship this spring at the Tier 1 level.

Peter Tischke

Player Photo

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014

Defense

Left

6'1

193

Team

Hometown

DOB

Chicago Steel (USHL)

Hinsdale, Ill.

1/3/1996

While the Badgers have picked up a number of slick-skating, puck-moving type defensemen for the next few years, they have also balanced things out with a player like Tischke who has the ability to take your head off at any moment. Tischke still has the ability to pass, shoot and score, but his elite traits come as a rock-solid blue-liner who has the ability to intimidate the opposition.

Tischke is playing on a bad Chicago team in the USHL right now, so his offensive numbers aren't going to stand out, but reports are good so far from this young defenseman playing his first full season in the league. Tischke is another player who will likely hear his named called at the 2014 NHL draft, as NHL Central Scouting lists the Hinsdale, Ill., native as a "B" rated skater.

Matt Ustaski

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014

Forward

Left

6'6

225

Team

Hometown

DOB

Langley Rivermen (BCHL)

Glenview, Ill.

5/27/1994

Ustaski is the most recent Badgers commitment, as he made his decision to come to Wisconsin after an official visit just a few weeks ago. Ustaski chose the Badgers after taking previous official visits to Colgate and Ohio State, and also had a visit to Cornell set up that he eventually canceled. A former star at Lake Forrest Academy, Ustaski also drew interest from a number of Ivy League schools including Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Dartmouth. Notre Dame and Union also were interested in Ustaski.

Through 18 games in the BCHL this fall, Ustaski has registered six goals and six assists for 12 points. Scouts we've talked to think Ustaski can stick at center in the Big Ten, and as a big-bodied 6-foot-6 forward, Ustaski brings an intriguing combination of size and speed that makes coaches drool.

Ryan Wagner

Wagner_ryan_medium

Class

Position

Shoots

Height

Weight

2014

Forward

Left

5'8

173

Team

Hometown

DOB

USA NTDP U-18

Park Ridge, Ill.

4/15/1996

After winning a national championship last year at the U-16 level with the Chicago Mission, Wagner made the jump this fall to the U.S. National Team Development Program with the U-18 team. So far, so good for the Park Ridge, Ill., native, as he's finding his niche on a really talented U.S. squad. Through 12 games so far with the U-18 team, Wagner has two goals and two assists.

Wagner isn't going to be confused as a high-end NHL draft pick due to his diminutive stature, but like a Keegan Ford, Wagner brings a grittiness that makes him extremely effective in his role. Unlike some other players that have come through Madison with a "gritty" label, Wagner will score when he comes to campus. If you look up compete level in the dictionary, you might find a picture of Ryan Wagner.

For more hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter --
You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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