I had a chance over the weekend to head to the Twin Cities to catch some hockey action and took advantage of the situation, seeing six games on Saturday between Eagan and New Hope. The Elite Prep Development League (96's, 97's & 98's -- freshmen, sophomores and juniors) were in Eagan, while the Upper Midwest High School Elite League (94's, 95's, 96's and 97's) were in New Hope.
As usual, there are some caveats. These were the first games of the season for most of these players, so there was a major rust factor. I'm guessing we'll see a lot of kids that didn't play well Saturday blossom as the fall season wears on. Also, it's nearly impossible to see every kid, even in the games you're watching intently. A lot of times I'm focusing on one kid of interest so it's very possible to miss a different kid doing something well.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts from Saturday:
I'll start with the two Wisconsin recruits I saw, because, well, that's probably why you're here. '96-born Matt Berkovitz was patrolling the blueline for Team Wisconsin U-18. I captured some video that you can see below to get a little bit of feel for Berkovitz's skating and mobility.
I thought Berkovitz looked good when I saw him Saturday night. He's a very heads up player, communicates well on the ice with his teammates, isn't afraid to move up in the play when there is an opportunity, and is a very fluid skater. There were a few times he got caught up in the play but recovered nicely to turn the play around and turn it back to offense.
In the video you'll see a little physicality out of Berkovitz, which is still an area he needs to keep improving on. He's got a nice frame, but he has to continue to build muscle to play at the Big Ten level. Berkovitz also uses his stick very well in the video, as evidenced by the poke check. He doesn't over extend himself to take a swipe at the puck, but stays calm to keep himself in position in case he doesn't make contact.
The video also shows him on the power play. Berkovitz was used a lot on the man advantage for Team Wisconsin and I thought did a fair job. He needs to make quicker decisions with the puck, but he's got a nice low release and TW scored on one of his shots earlier in the game. In the video you'll see his shooting ability as he almost goes top shelf but the puck happens to catch the knob of the stick of the goaltender.
Berkovitz will play for Team Wisconsin and then head back to his high school squad in Ashwaubenon for the winter. Overall, I was impressed, but I don't think he's ready for college hockey next season. I think a season with Chicago in the USHL next year will be beneficial, and he should hit the ground running with the Badgers for 2015.
Berkovitz finished the weekend with one assist in three games officially, but those things aren't always very accurate. I saw one of his shots go in (might have been tipped) and he didn't get a point on the score sheet. So, take that for what it's worth.
Matthew Freytag is the other Wisconsin commit I saw on Saturday, and I was very impressed with him as well. Unfortunately, I didn't get video on him as my phone died, so you'll have to take my word on his performance.
Freytag looked a lot thicker (good thick -- solid) than I remembered him last season when I saw him play for Wayzata high school. He's listed on the roster at 5-feet-11, 180-pounds and he's all of that. Freytag is playing with Team Northwest and chipped in two goals on the weekend in three games.
His game seems to have elevated since last year as well. Freytag was very physical and used his body to out-muscle opponents for the puck on a few occasions. I thought he moved the puck very well and was creative in the corners where he controlled the play.
Freytag was skating with Spencer Naas, a forward from Benilde-St. Margaret's who could be an option for the Badgers' 2014 recruiting class. Freytag and Naas were very disruptive Saturday night, creating multiple scoring chances. So far, Freytag looks like a nice pickup for the Badgers.
Other notes from the Upper Midwest Elite League Saturday:
While I didn't see any Wisconsin coaches, I did see UMD's head coach Scott Sandelin, St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko and Michigan Tech's head coach Mel Pearson at multiple games. I also saw representation from schools like Air Force and Bemidji State. I'm sure there were plenty of other teams there throughout the day as well, but this gives you a little sample of who was there. As always, there were tons of NHL scouts in the building as well.
Brock Boeser (Burnsville): The Wisconsin recruit sat out this weekend (illness). Hopefully he'll be able to return to the ice shortly.
Spencer Naas (Benilde): As I've alluded to previously, I think he can be an option for the Badgers in the '14 recruiting class. As a '94 born player, he's old for his grade and already skates at a collegiate level. He squats a bit when he skates, but he can sure fly.
Tyler Nanne (Edina): I didn't see too much of him as I was focused on other players, but the rumors are that he's interested in Michigan and Wisconsin, which surprised me. Nanne is the son of the legend Lou Nanne, who has strong ties to the Gophers. In addition to that, his brother, Louie, and cousin, Vinni Lettieri, are committed to the Gophers. Well, that was until Saturday, when Louie announced he was decommitting.
Anways, it's likely that Louie ends up out on the East Coast somewhere, but Tyler seems genuinely interested in the Badgers and Wolverines. Gopher insiders have mentioned Minnesota isn't high on Tyler, which should give some other teams a shot at the talented youngster. Tyler can play both defense and forward, but will likely play on the blueline in college. Tyler flirted with the WHL earlier this fall, but I think he'll end up playing in the Big Ten.
Tyler Sheehy (Burnsville): I thought he was the best player on the ice for Team Southeast in the game I saw, and that included Gophers recruit Tom Novak. Sheehy absolutely controlled action when he was on the ice, and was a step ahead of everyone else.
Sheehy originally committed to Ohio state, but backed out after Mark Osiecki was fired. Sheehy visited Wisconsin last season, but I've heard the Badgers have backed off in interest. If he continues to play like I saw him Saturday, I wonder if the staff will change their tune.
Joey Anderson (Hill-Murray), Austen Long (Spring Lake Park): Just wanted to touch on these two real quick as they are the only 98-born players in the league this season. Both players looked very deserving of their spots, and Anderson was one of Team Northeast's best players.
Anderson is already committed to Minnesota-Duluth, and the Bulldogs pulled off a huge coup in landing the talented freshman. Long is still uncommitted, but will be a sought after sophomore this fall.
Max Zimmer (Wayzata): Teammates with Freytag, Zimmer could be the next Badgers' commit out of the metro. I thought Zimmer looked fantastic Saturday, and appeared to be one of the top sophomores playing in the league. Zimmer had three goals and four points over the weekend, and had an absolute snipe right in front of me. Remember this name.
Charley Graaskamp (Eau Claire Memorial): Thanks to my ties to Eau Claire, I've seen Charley skate more than probably any player I'm going to talk about today. Saturday was the best I've seen him look. I've always liked his game and thought he had the potential to be great, but he's never been able to put it all together in a game. I thought he looked like a major D-1 recruit when I saw him play Saturday night.
If you want to get an idea, Graaskamp is wearing No. 8 in the Berkovitz video I posted. Graaskamp is clearly Team Wisconsin's best forward, and should be in line for a monster year with the Old Abes.
Michael Wilson (Fond du Lac), Conner Blanck (St. Mary's Springs): Behind Graaskamp, Wilson and Blanck were TW's two most effective forwards. Wilson is very strong on the puck and I was super impressed with Blanck's ability to fend off defenders while taking the puck to the net.
Luke Davison (Notre Dame Academy): One of the better games I've seen Luke play. Luke has always had the talent, I've just never been sure on him as a Badgers' prospect because of some of the details in his game. I thought in the past his awareness level was lacking, but I didn't see any signs of that at all over the weekend. In fact, I thought he added a physical dimension to his game that I hadn't noticed previously.
Cooper Watson (Appleton): To be honest, there isn't a lot of difference between a lot of the Team Wisconsin defensemen like Davison, Watson and Berkovitz. Watson was decent, but didn't shine on Saturday. I think he's got a lot more to his game than he showed, but that's the problem with watching a one game sample.
When it comes down to it, there's at least three D-1 defensemen on this roster (Berkovitz, Watson and Davison). Eau Claire Memorial's Chuck Bennis could be a sleeper as well. Intriguing size at 6-foot-4, 203 pounds, and is relatively fluid. If he can quicken up his movements and adjust to the pace, I could see a team taking a shot at his potential.
Dylan Malmquist (Edina): Nothing that I can say here that hasn't already been talked about, but, Malmquist looked elite as usual Saturday. Everyone who follows recruiting knows he's one of the top uncommitted players in the country right now. He did nothing to change that sentiment over the weekend.
Tyler Funk (Hill-Murray): Hudson kid who plays high school at Hill-Murray showed some positive flashes for Team Southeast Saturday. 5-foot-9, 175-pounds but he shows some flair from time to time.
Notes from the Elite Prep Development League:
This is my first time attending games for this league, so I wasn't sure what I was going to see. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of play in the league. There's a ton of talented kids in the prep league who are going to be high-end college players some day that are just too young and inexperienced to play in the Elite League.
I made it for two and a half games Saturday morning before I had to hit the road to head to New Hope. Fortunately, I was able to see the Team Wisconsin squad who is coached by former Badger Rob Andringa. This Team Wisconsin squad is made up primarily of 98-born players, with a few 97's mixed in as well.
Team Wisconsin's most effective offensive line was the group of 98-born Jacob Thousand (Waunakee), 97-born Andrew Lee (Wausau West) and 97-born Jordan Fader (Rice Lake). I believe that group was on the ice for almost every Team Wisconsin goal I saw.
It's very likely that Thousand will end up being this club's top forward, although he needs to get better in the faceoff circle if he wants to stick at center. Besides that he looks like a promising player. He can think ahead of the play, which gives him an advantage at this level. Seems like the puck is always finding him. It's not a coincidence.
98-born Jett Jaraczewski looks like he'll be another in a long line of D-1 prospects to come out of Notre Dame Academy. I thought it was a tossup between him and Thousand for TW's most talented forward Saturday.
Jackson Charlesworth (Antigo) is a player I've praised in the past, but thought he could have been better Saturday. I'll continue to monitor his progress, because I think he has the tools to be the best defensemen on this team when it's all said and done. Needs to adjust to the pace of play.
Kevin Ford (Waunakee) is the brother of Wisconsin recruit, Keegan, and the son of former Badger, Pat. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as Kevin is a scrappy player who can get under your skin.
In the other games I watched, I was mostly focusing on the 98-born players for scouting purposes, but here are a few kids who I thought looked good:
Sam Rossini (Burnsville): Wisconsin has recruited Burnsville very well so he's a kid I wanted to see. I came away very impressed, as the 6-foot-1, 170-pound blueliner is mobile and active. Rossini looked confident in all phases of the game and will be a kid to watch as the season progresses.
Zach Risteau (Benilde-St. Margaret's): Small-ish forward at 5-foot-7, 130-pounds, but Risteau didn't hesitate driving the puck hard to the net. He's a waterbug type who can get around the ice very quickly. Intriguing player.
Justin Jallen (St. Paul Academy): Was unfamiliar with this player until Saturday, but he was one of the best players on the ice despite a lot of older players battling him for ice time. Very aggressive forward, but, like Risteau, has some size limitations at 5-foot-7, 150-pounds. Jallen is built a lot more solid than Risteau, however.
Dayton Honkanen (Moundsview): 97-born blueliner kept catching my eye every time he was on the ice. If you haven't noticed, I like big defensemen that are fluid and can skate. Honkanen fits the bill as a 6-foot-1, 180-pound defenseman that transitions very well and keeps a tight gap when attackers are approaching.
Anyways, that's a quick view into some of the players I saw last weekend. As I said, I didn't come close to seeing every player that played in the metro last weekend. In fact, I missed two of the best teams in the prep development league during the afternoon when I was traveling. Hopefully I'll be able to make it back to Eagan soon to get a look at the players I missed.
If you have any questions, always feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail for more explanation.
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