2016 USHL Top Prospects Game
Colton’s record-setting night propels USHL’s Eastern stars to victory in Top Prospects Game
Steve Kournianos | 01/14/2016 | New York | [hupso]
New York (The Draft Analyst) — It’s safe to say Ross Colton was a tad overlooked before Tuesday’s USHL Top Prospects Game. He’s certainly got our attention now.
An unranked player on most pre-2016 NHL draft lists, Colton scored a record three goals and added two assists to lead Team East to a 6-2 victory over Team West at Omaha’s Ralston Arena.
Colton, a left wing from New Jersey, leads the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in scoring with 18 goals and 33 points. He helped Team East open the scoring with a centering feed to Dubuque center Michael O’Leary, who went backhand-forehand to beat goalie Peyton Jones at 2:19 of the first period. He made it 2-0 when he took a driving feed from Dubuque’s hulking power forward Willie Knierim and blasted a shot past Jones from the right circle. The tightly-checked affair broke open in the third period, when Colton answered Team West’s goal from Wade Allison to score the eventual game winner, a rifle of a shot over replacement goalie Zackarias Skog that made it 3-1. C.J. Dodero responded for the West by converting Allison’s saucer pass on a 2-on-1 break with a blistering one-timer past goalie Jan Ruzicka. But Colton completed his hat trick with a breakaway goal over four minutes later, and added an assist Cam Morrison‘s goal in the final minute to complete a record-setting five-point night.
Colton was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. He and linemates Knierim (two assists) and O’Leary (goal, three assists) combined for 11 points. The trio’s chemistry was evident from the opening faceoff.
““It was a dream come true,” Colton told the Omaha World-Herald. “I just wanted to go out and do my best. I had a lot of help from my line mates, and we were joking that we should get traded to either Cedar Rapids or Dubuque so we could keep playing together.”
Luke McInnis added an empty net goal to round out the scoring for Team East, who outshot Team West 30-28. Goalie Jan Ruzicka made 14 saves to pick up the win after relieving starter Cale Morris, who stopped all 12 shots he faced through a period and a half.
RW Willie Knierim (Miami): Big-bodied winger who’s steadlily turning his season around after a horrible start. Knierim was excellent on Team East’s top line, using his size and strength to protect the puck and keeping his head up while doing so. He made well-placed passes throughout the evening, and displayed a keen sense for anticipating and evading pressure. His skating looks slightly improving as well, but his average skating ability is something you accept in a power forward with very good hockey sense. We still don’t consider him a first-round talent, at least not yet. But he’s turned it on for Dubuque and had a far better showing for Team USA in December’s World Junior “A” Challenge than at last summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. He had two assists and an entertaining fight with Mike Boyle in the Top Prospects Game.
LW Ross Colton (Vermont): He wasn’t ranked by us in our December Top-250, but the New Jersey native put together an impressive first half for Cedar Rapids, leading the RoughRiders in goals (18), assists (15) and points (33). He’s a strong scoring winger with an excellent shot and can handle a hard pass. We noticed how strong he was in transition in what wasn’t your average All-Star game, as both teams sealed off lanes and the defensemen were stepping up all over the place. It obviously wasn’t enough to stop Colton, however, as he showcased an arsenal of skills throughout the night; his nose for the net got him goal No. 1, a hard wrister while falling forward gave him two on the night, and his quick hands and elusiveness earned him a breakaway and snipe to complete the hat trick.
LW Wade Allison (Western Michigan): A power forward with excellent offensive capabilites who single-handedly brought Team West back into the game, first with a goal off a nice tic-tac-toe and later saucering a pass over a defender to C.J. Dodero for a one-timer. Allison was named Team West MVP, and he most certainly deserved it. He was in attack-mode virtually every shift, and was looking to make plays and create space in the interior rather than relegate himself to the outside. Property of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, Allison will join forces with former teammate and fellow Manitoban Colt Conrad for Andy Murray’s program at Western Michigan.
C Mike O’Leary (Uncommitted): Halifax native who teams up with Knierim for his day job with Dubuque, but made Ross Colton’s name unforgettable, at least for one night. O’Leary centered Team East’s top line with aplomb, opening he scoring with a nifty backhand-forehand deke from in close, then dishing out three assists for a memorable four-point night. He skates very well and is tough to knock off the puck, but he’s got soft mitts and a deft touch which makes him even more desirable as a prospect. Not all news is good for the USHL, however, as he de-committed from a verbal agreement with Cornell and is rumored to be headed to Moncton of the QMJHL. Regardless, O’Leary is a highly-cerebral pivot with an NHL build and significant upside.
C Matt Filipe (Northeastern): It’s been a long time since the Huskies had a power center with star potential grace the ice at Matthews Arena who didn’t play for the opposing team, but Filipe is on track to hold that distinction. He’s got size (6’1/200), speed and a great shot. It’s just a matter of putting it all together on a consistent basis. His game is reminiscent of 2015 first rounder and Michigan star freshman Kyle Connor, except Filipe has more bite to his game. He can play up the middle or on the flank, but he looked comfortable centering Cam Morrison and fellow Bay Stater John Leonard. He made a power move to the net in the second period which nearly materialized, and later picked up an assist by making a heady play on a breakout on Luke McInnis’s empty netter.
LW Cam Morrison (Notre Dame): You might as well start calling him Mr. Touchdown, because watching this South Bend-bound monster on the ice is reminiscent of a bruising tight end who always finds the end zone. Last year’s OJHL Rookie of the Year, Morrison has found nothing but success in his USHL debut, leading his Youngstown Phantoms with 35 points in 32 games, which also ties him with fellow Top Prospects Game attendees Rem Pitlick and Tanner Laczynski in overall scoring. He’s a classic power forward with a strong desire to get to the net and position himself to receive the puck in optimal scoring areas. Morrison also boasts a heavy, accurate shot. He closed out the scoring with a gimme tap-in off a 2-on-1.
LW C.J. Dodero (Uncommitted): A strapping winger with good hands and a powerful stride, Dodero may be keeping the NCAA circuit guessing on where he’ll call home next season, but there’s little doubt regarding how tough a kid he is to play against. Dodero’s a Colorado-trained stud who can intimidate with his size-skill combination, and Team East’s defenders learned this the hard way via some bone-jarring hits. The Westerners were squeezed out of the offensive zone in the first period, but Dodero’s strong opening shift in the second seemed to wake them up. He laid the body several times during a routine cycle, then darted for the low slot for a tip-in chance that forced Cale Morris to make his first tough save of the night. He didn’t get on the scoresheet until the following period, but his one-time ripper just under the crossbar was certainly a thing of beauty.
C Ludvig Hoff (North Dakota): We’ve had our eyes on Hoff since the beginning of the season, when the Norweigian import was sniping left and right to a tune of six goals in his first four games. He’s only tallied four times in 27 games since, but he’s a durable pivot with quick hands and a keen sense for finding the open man. He had a quiet first period while manning what essentially was Team West’s top line, which included Northeastern-bound winger Grant Jozefek and Northern Michigan commit Collin Peters. In the second period, Hoff was far more engaged
LW Garrett Wait (Minnesota): A prolific scorer for Edina High School, Wait must have been hexed before his USHL career began in the fall, as he’s had chances but just can’t convert for the life of him (three goals in 28 games). He had a couple of good shifts and a legitimate scoring chance from the low slot, but with scouts from all 30 NHL teams in attendance, we wanted to see more of what he’s capable of doing. Wait has a very good shot and can create chances off the rush, but his team to a man had little room for creativity, as the Eastern stars played a sound puck possession game and quickly countered off mistakes.
Andrew Peeke (Notre Dame): The trend of playing steady, reliable two-way hockey continued for this native Floridian, who has strung together a handful of impressive showings at several pre-draft events, beginning with the Hlinka where he was the only Team USA defender who looked comfortable dealing with a heavy forecheck and breakouts. Same old situation on Tuesday in Omaha, where he was decisive with his passes and stepped up to puck rushers with textbook execution. He’s got a mature build (6’3/205) that helps him defend his zone better than any USHL rookie, but Peeke also utilizes his mobility and understands the important of joining the play at the right time, which he displayed on Team West’s opening goal. He’s second behind Team West teammate Jacob Bryson in rookie defenseman scoring with 15 points in 28 games.
Jacob Bryson (Providence): Diminutive but skilled blueliner who was all over the puck for Team West, as he manned their top pairing with Mike Boyle and quarterbacked the lead power play unit. He’s silky smooth from the back end, and his upright skating style makes him look a hair bigger than his listed height of 5’9. Bryson was a replacement for injured Waterloo defenseman (and Minnesota commit) Sam Rossini, and we think he did a good enough job to get noticed. He leads all USHL rookie blueliners in scoring, and you could easily see why at the Top Prospects Game. The game itself wasn’t conducive for an offensive-minded defenseman, but there were times when Bryson did the best he could and carrying the puck through the neutral zone and maintaining possession thereafter.
Justin Wells (Bowling Green): Wells is similar to Peeke in that he has good size (6’4/183) and mobility. The big difference, however, is Wells is far more guarded with his play once he gets over the red line. He played more aggressive on Tuesday night than he normally does for Sioux Falls, which relies on him to log big minutes and shutdown opposing attackers. He wasn’t as successful as he normally is, but we saw promise in the way he positioned himself and took the puck up the ice for a chance from the left circle.