2020 NHL Draft

2020 NHL Draft: All-American Prospects Game

Steve Kournianos  |  1/21/2020 |  Nashville  |  [hupso]

Photo by Rena Laverty

Prospect Notes


LHD Jake Sanderson
U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’2, 185 | 7/08/02 | NCAA: North Dakota

Already considered the premier American-born defenseman for the 2020 draft several months before Monday night’s action, Sanderson more than lived up to the hype by delivering a dominant performance at both ends of the ice. This year’s version of the under-18 NTDP is one of the more physical rosters the program has assembled and Sanderson is among the team leaders in that department. He played on the left and right side with Brock Faber, Tyler Kleven or Conor Kelley rotating as his partners (regular partner Eamon Powell was out with an injury).

Starting from his end of the ice and moving outward, Sanderson displayed poise and agility under pressure while using a quick first step and powerful stride to leave forecheckers in the dust. His confidence in puck carrying is obvious, but once again I was impressed with Sanderson’s decision-making and touch regarding passes to teammates who weren’t covered (plus choosing the opportune times to leave the zone). You rarely saw Sanderson standing behind his net to catch his breath or wait for teammates to do the work to get open — he made most of his decisions while on the move and with little hesitation. If he wasn’t entering the zone on his own, Sanderson knew his role off the puck and would slide into an opening. He also activated well below the circles as often as several times in just one shift alone just to keep plays alive.

Defensively, Sanderson (as usual) was rock solid. He delivered several bone-jarring hits on puck carriers that drew reactions from everyone in the rink. Sanderson’s catch-up speed was excellent and the routes he took were direct and effective. Part of this was likely due to his acute hockey sense that seems to alerts him when plays in the offensive zone were about to die. Additionally, Sanderson’s one-on-one coverage is advanced for a teenager. Not only does he keep a tight enough gap while staying within stick-check reach, but he also has a high success rate of committing himself at the proper time to keep that forward well to the outside. For example, a well-balanced scorer like Alex Laferriere appeared to have a step on him while driving towards the inside. But Sanderson kept his feet moving on the backskate to lock into a chest-to-chest struggle that resulted in a weak backhander on goal from a bad angle. Additionally, he blanketed the low slot on the penalty kill and seemed to focus more on gaining positioning than tying up his man and run the risk of another penalty. There’s a reason why most of the top NCAA teams the 18’s have faced this season had a tough time scoring when Sanderson was on the ice.

LHD Tyler Kleven
U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’4, 200 | 1/10/02 | NCAA: North Dakota

I’ve been paying more attention to Kleven the last two months, which in my opinion has been the meat of the NTDP schedule. Pound for pound, he’s one of the most physical and abrasive defenders I’ve seen with the program in the last five years, and maybe even longer than that. Here is a 17-year-old defenseman who in the last few months has made some of the NCAA’s premier forwards shamelessly avoid his side of the ice. On Monday night, Kleven accomplished his usual crease-clearing duties with success while avoiding traffic jams during puck battles unless his help was required. He revealed sound instincts regarding when or when not to leave his post and was quick enough with his first step and straight-line speed to surprise opponents by joining a rush that created a numbers advantage.

In the first period, Kleven made a perfect stretch pass to a streaking Brett Berard for the game’s opening score, then added a tally of his own in the second when he blasted home a shot from the right point. He’s been partnered with Brock Faber for most of the year and you can see why — they limit chances by breaking up plays at the line or in the neutral zone, and Kleven’s massive wingspan kept him in ideal proximity to neutralize opposing zone entries.

RHD Brock Faber
U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’0, 193 | 8/22/02 | NCAA: Minnesota

It’s been a pleasure watching Faber’s game progress to the point where he is as reliable and effective as Sanderson. He too is an excellent skater who possesses a sharp mind to make the proper reads while utilizing his soft hands to keep the puck under control. Whan Faber is paired with Kleven, the duo seem to have pretty good on-ice rapport and have each other’s backs when one tried to make a venture deep into opposing territory. In both league and NCAA play, I got the impression that it is Faber who is the more aggressive of the two in terms of puck handling and end-to-end rushes, whereas Kleven will be more selective when choosing to go for a skate. On Monday, Faber was tough on the puck and plugged as many gaps as possible, especially when paired with a risk taker like Sanderson. He was used on the penalty killing unit for the only two minors whistled for the game and although he was victimized by Alex Laferriere’s marker, it took a sweet pass from Alex Gaffney (who bounced back after taking a hard hit from Faber) to make the play happen.

LHD Daniel Laatsch
U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’5, 180 | 2/13/02 | NCAA: Wisconsin

A Wisconsin-bound stay-at-home defender, Laatsch is starting to creep up my list of sleepers for the way he’s played the last few months against premier NCAA programs and also in Monday’s prospect showcase. Keep in mind that this year’s NTDP is loaded with nothing but two-way types who can play in all situations, thus eating into Laatsch’s opportunities to get power play time or a favorable matchup or zone start. There are several things to like about his game, namely his positioning, long reach, decision making during the breakout, and coverage below the faceoff dots. Laatsch isn’t a roamer and seems to understand how effective his quick feet and long reach can be in breaking up opposing cycles or seam passes.

He made a handful of successful reads in his own end, usually in the form of a quick stick that broke up a pass and allowed the forwards to quickly transition the other way. Laatsch may need to add some bulk to his frame but being a bit wiry doesn’t stop him from engaging in and winning physical battles in the corners or in front of his net. One play that stood out was off a defensive-zone draw in which he quickly tied up two men that allowed Jacob Truscott to collect the puck with time and space before he connected with Dylan Peterson for an eventual goal by Landon Slaggert.

Laatsch doesn’t seem to flinch while holding his line in the face of a darting forward motoring through the neutral zone. He’s a very good penalty killer for the aforementioned reasons, and on Monday he even skated the puck out himself a few times without making any egregious mistakes. Skating-wise, Laatsch looked quick on his feet and on one occasion displayed above-average speed by skating a good 100 feet towards his own end after he joined a puck battle in the corner.

LHD Jacob Truscott
U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’1, 172 | 4/12/02 | Michigan

One of the players for whom it pained me to drop in my latest rankings was Truscott, who does so many things at a high level while often serving as a safety net for his offensive-inclined partner Owen Gallatin. He has good size and excellent mobility; not only for his straight-line speed but also for his balance and agility in tight spaces; or when handling pressure from the forecheck. In fact, there are times when Truscott can be just as slippery and elusive as the undersized Gallatin, and he is confident enough to take the puck the length of the ice or join a rush to create a numbers advantage. Truscott made a perfect 100-foot feed to Dylan Peterson that led to Landon Slaggert’s goal that made the score 4-1, and his impressive skate-to-stick transition on his wrister that handcuffed Logan Stein capped the scoring in the third. Although he didn’t use it on Monday night, Truscott’s slapper is one of the more impressive weapons in his arsenal. Overall, he performs like a smart player who seems to leave it all out on the ice.

LHD Owen Gallatin
U.S. U18, NTDP | 5’8, 165 | 6/17/02 | NCAA: Minn.-Duluth

An undersized puck rusher and playmaker, Gallatin and partner Jacob Truscott for most of the night were clean via their tape-to-tape breakout passes and rushes through the neutral zone. It was Gallatin’s play against bigger forwards in the defensive zone, however, that continues to stand out. He may be listed at 5-foot-8, but Gallatin plays with fire in his belly and will not back down from a challenge. He’s more than willing to engage in physical battles and bounces right up after getting knocked down or outmuscled. The ability to recover quickly and keep his head in the game, in addition to his puck skills, makes Gallatin perfectly suited for the rigors of a physical NCAA circuit like the NCHC.

RW/LW Brett Berard
U.S. U18, NTDP | 5’9, 152 | 9/9/02 | NCAA: Providence

A brilliant playmaker with a nonstop motor and the ability to finish in a variety of ways, Berard plays a lot bigger than his listed measurements. He’s an inside player who is as dangerous inside the high-traffic areas as he is in open ice, and the manner in which he scored his breakaway goal — a nasty snipe under the catching glove — was just one of several examples where he outsmarted his opponent. Berard can fly and outpace the quickest of defenders, but he also has strong edges and balance for his size. Two of my favorite aspects of Berard’s game is his feistiness and competitiveness– this is a kid who seems to get better when teams try to push him around, and he will stand up for his teammates if he thinks they are being targeted, especially after the whistle.

LW Hunter Strand
U.S. U18, NTDP | 5’11, 174 | 11/13/02 | NCAA: Notre Dame

A tough two-way forward with a high compete level who is eligible for the 2021 draft, Strand made up for inadvertently tipping home Alex Laferriere’s shot in the first period by making a perfect pass to Jake Sanderson around Luke Reid’s stick for a give-and-go that resulted in Ty Smilanic’s go-ahead goal just over six minutes later. In the third period, Strand was the beneficiary of a gorgeous inside move and no-look backdoor dish by Sanderson that allowed him to slam dunk the feed into an open net for a 5-1 lead.

RW Landon Slaggert
U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’0, 182 | 6/25/02 | NCAA: Notre Dame

A rugged two-way winger who adds a physical component to Thomas Bordeleau’s line, Slaggert and his center combined for a nice give-and-go that he initiated and finished for a 4-1 lead (the goal would later be credited to Luke Tuch who was standing in the crease). Critical to that play was Slaggert’s sharp inside cut at the USHL blue line that caused a mixup in coverage between defenseman Luke Reid and winger Sean Farrell. By making that play at the line, Slaggert lured Reid into no man’s land and Farrell was caught in a 2-on-1 situation. Thus, Slaggert was left wide open in between the hash marks to one-time Bordeleau’s feed into the upper half of the net. This sort of thinking and executing simultaneously has been a constant in Slaggert’s game, as well as his effective stick handling in the face of NCAA defenders four to six years his senior. He does most of the dirty work during lengthy possessions in the offensive zone, but he and Bordeleau have had chemistry in open ice for quite some time. There’s are several reasons Slaggert is playing on the top line and it’s not only because of his physicality and work ethic.

C Chase Yoder
U.S. U18, NTDP | 5’10, 176 | 5/28/02

Yoder is one of the better defensive-minded centers in the draft. Most of the work he does off faceoffs, along the boards or near the net helps linemates like offensive-minded wingers Brett Berard or Matthew Beniers work their puck magic for high-dangers scoring chances. Additionally, Yoder can be counted on to cover up for his linemates or defensemen when they opt for a risky maneuver that creates gaps in coverage. It’s no surprise that a kid for Texas plays a tough 200-foot game that is built on applying pressure, delivering hard checks, and performing with a team-first attitude.


C Brendan Brisson
Chicago, USHL | 5’11, 177 | 10/22/01 | NCAA: Michigan

Impressive performances in league play and for Team USA at the World Junior “A” Challenge likely made placing Brisson on the USHL’s top line an easy choice. And although he was quiet in Monday’s matchup from a scoring chance standpoint, Brisson’s subtle plays in the neutral zone and weaving with linemates Sean Farrell and Gunarwolfe Fontaine during the cycle stood out throughout the night. Mark Feb. 15-16 down on your calendar — the NTDP will visit Brisson’s Chicago Steel in a clash of the USHL’s premier teams.

RW Sam Colangelo
Chicago, USHL | 6’2, 205 |  12/26/01 | NCAA: Northeastern

Placed on the USHL’s second line with center Trevor Kuntar and former NTDP’er Ryder Rolston, Colangelo’s unit got off to a quick start and closed strong after a quiet middle portion of the game. Colangelo is a nimble skater for his size but on Monday he was faceing equally-agile defenders who seemed to know his playbook all too well. He stayed to the outside for most of the match but on several occasions was delivering crisp cross-ice or diagonal passes that led to scoring chances. Colangelo is a confident kid, especially when he’s on the puck in the offensive zone. But like the rest of his USHL teammates, Colangelo and his mates found difficulty in generating chances with consistency or exploiting the few instances when time and space were available near the net.

RW Alex Laferriere
Des Moines, USHL | 5’11, 172 |  10/28/01 | NCAA: Harvard

There’s a lot to like about Laferriere’s game from his work ethic and attitude all the way to his shot and ability to get open. Whether it’s been in league play or in international events, the New Jersey native always seems to get a fair amount of chances from either off the rush, from board play, or off the cycle. He saw a lot of Jake Sanderson, who kept Laferriere to the outside most of the night. The power-play goal he scored off of a pretty centering feed from center Alex Gaffney was the only offense the USHL’ers could muster against an NTDP that had their foot on the gas from start to finish. Still, you have to credit the lad for getting a game-high seven shots and doing his part to find those few openings and attempt rushes towards the net. One thing I’d like to see from Laferriere is becoming more of an inside player off of zone entries and using his agility to cut inside to either improve the angle of his shot or create an open lane for a cutting linemate.

RW Ryder Rolston
Waterloo, USHL | 6’1, 175 |  10/31/01 | NCAA: Notre Dame

Rolston is an NTDP alum who on Monday made a return to USA Hockey Arena. Rolston’s elite speed was evident from the onset and he and his linemates were involved in several chances early on. He was very quick with his stick in the neutral zone and had several takeaways that he quickly turned into opportunities to enter the opposing end of the ice. Rolston’s efforts on or off the puck are always on the plus side and he gets multiple looks at the net each game. The one negative that I believe to be a trend is his inability to force the goalie into making a tough save. His shot power and release are fine but too many of his clean looks from danger areas end up splitting the goalie’s crest without a rebound. The good news is that shot accuracy can be worked on and it’s tough to overlook his jersey-flapping speed and high compete level.

RHD Mitchell Miller
Tri-City, USHL | 5’10, 181 |  12/20/01 | NCAA: North Dakota

A speedy playmaker and power-play specialist, Miller was one of the more active defensemen for either side during Monday’s game. He always seems to be in the middle of a scoring chance; sometimes even on the wrong end such as Brett Berard’s breakaway goal in the first. Miller spends a lot of time deep in the opposing end, usually from either keeping plays alive or stickhandling his way into the slot. Although this type of activity keeps the enemy on its toes, Miller still finds a way to get the puck through clogged lanes or will skate himself into an opening for a hard wrister or one-timer. A fast skater with very good quickness, agility, and acceleration, Miller is quite elusive during breakouts and will stop on a dime to reverse direction. Some of his breakout passes were Hail Mary’s to covered forwards but there were other occasions when he completely faked out a forechecker with a quick juke or shimmy that allowed him to reverse to a wide open man. This type of confidence while walking a tightrope makes him a must-see prospect and you can only hope that playing for a program like North Dakota will teach him to limit the amount of room he affords to opponents.

RHD Noah Ellis
Des Moines, USHL | 6’1, 194 |  2/01/02 | NCAA: UMass

A mobile, physical blueliner with improving skills who on occasion can provide you with impressive play on the puck, Ellis is not your typical big-bodied defender. He has a hard shot that he keeps low and his soft hands allows him to receive passes cleanly and quickly transition from backhand to forehand. Ellis showed some nifty footwork while being challenged by the NTDP and he was able to pass the test in terms of defending against entries and handling a forecheck. Ellis is a calm customer who was very chatty with his partner while directing traffic and identifying the most dangerous option near his net. This is a young man who clearly understands the game as well as his changing role from moment to moment.

LHD Donald “Hank” Kempf
Muskegon, USHL | 6’1, 180 |  4/15/02 | NCAA: Cornell

Outside of Miller, Kempf was the most active USHL defender during the match. He kept his head on a swivel and was able to react to the changing direction of puck travel when the NTDP entered the zone with speed. His skating in all directions (especially backwards) was impressive and he uses his leg drive to power into opponents near the boards. He was consistent in containing forwards away from his area of responsibility and he eliminated plays in the corner via a quick stick and hard shoves.