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2020 NHL Draft Profiles: USDP Skaters

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Looking at some of our favourite draft prospects coming out of the U.S.’ premiere development program.

2018 Under-17 Four Nations Tournament - USA vs Switzerland Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The U.S. Development Program has always stood as a unique source of talent for draft prospects. Many of these players have grown up playing together, and the competition can vary from playing tough USHL competition to a team of entirely players a year younger than them. They’re assembled like an All-Star team, with talent hand-picked from across the United States.

This year’s group of USDP players is especially complicated given that the 2020-21 NCAA season is in jeopardy with COVID-19 keeping everyone off the ice. The college football season seems all but officially cancelled, and if the same doesn’t happen with the NCAA, then it would at least be a condensed schedule. That potentially leaves these prospects at risk of missing a significant chunk of competitive hockey games, and while they’re not exactly unique in that scenario, it will be a challenge to figure out how much it could affect the development paths of these players.

But, the NHL draft is in only a couple months, and teams will be working with the same sample of games that we have now. After Jake Sanderson (who we profiled in depth here) we consider this a pretty weak year for the USDP, especially compared to 2019 that saw a record 17 USDP players selected, including seven in the top 15 and Jack Hughes at first overall. We’re also more excited about the 2021 and even 2022 crops than 2020, but nevertheless, we’ve chosen four of our favourite players — two forwards and two defencemen — plus some honourable mentions to explore below.

Thomas Bordeleau (C)

Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
5'9" 179 lbs 28 - 49 #29 (NA)

The leading scorer from this year’s group, Thomas Bordeleau comes from a family of hockey players with his father Sébastien having played over 250 NHL games between Montreal, Nashville, Minnesota and Phoenix. He was born in Texas when his father was playing for the Houston Aeros (Minnesota’s AHL affiliate at the time), and played his youth hockey in Switzerland while Sébastien was a star player in the NLA.

That brings us to this past season, where Bordeleau spent the season with the NTDP program. He was their leading scorer, with his 46 points in 47 games topping his peers for the second straight season. It’s a far cry from the massive seasons put up by the top talent in 2019, although in the cases where his team was generating offence, a lot of it ran through him

The hallmark of Bordeleau’s game is his playmaking ability. His confidence with the puck on his stick is unparalleled among players in this U.S. group, especially on the power play where he knows his way around the half-wall. He can be very deceptive with how he’s finding teammates, drawing defenders closer to create space for others. He often uses his stickhandling to make this happen, as he can often find seams through opponents and either jump through them or give himself enough time to find a pass to another teammate.

At Bordeleau’s size of 5-foot-9, it’s already going to be tough to convince scouts of his long-term NHL upside. Although he often works well under pressure, he still frequently gets knocked off the puck despite his sturdy skating stance. This isn’t complimented by his lack of mobility either, as he leaves me wanting more with his top-end speed in particular if he wants to survive at higher levels. He can navigate all three zones with ease, as he was even one of the group’s better defensive players last season. But, it may take some adjusting before he can truly let his playmaking shine in the NCAA, then even further into pro hockey.

The other question mark, albeit a less pressing one, is how he might project as a centre going forward. His coaches love him in the faceoff circle — while it’s pretty trivial in the overall scheme of the game, he has the unique ability to take draws with either side of his stick, something that’s pretty fun to watch. But, as a playmaker who works best along the boards and doesn’t have the best end-to-end speed, the traits don’t exactly line up as a someone who could project to play the position long-term. His defensive engagement is a positive sign, but many see him better fit as a winger due to how he likes to see the ice.

Bordeleau is committed to the University of Michigan next season, which couldn’t be a better place to be given their large class of 2020-21 recruits that includes Brendan Brisson, Ethan Edwards, Jacob Truscott (more on him in the honourable mentions), as well as three 2021-eligible stars in Kent Johnson, Owen Power and Matt Beniers. Playing time may be hard to come by, but there’s no doubt he’ll be surrounded with incredible talent whenever the next season begins.

The upside with Bordeleau is that he’s proven he can be an offensive catalyst who can drive his own line. He’s an elusive playmaker with some other raw tools that may project him as a well-rounded player down the road, but it may take some patience and close monitoring to see how he could fit in the NHL down the road.

Highlights


Brett Berard (LW)

Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
5'9" 152 lbs 46 - 89 #45 (NA)

Born just six days before the cut-off for the 2021 NHL Draft, Brett Berard is a crafty, offensive winger with a skillset that allows him to carve through the middle of the ice with consistency. In his second year with the U.S. Development Program, Berard grew to be one of the leaders on the U18 team — finishing third in scoring with 16 goals and 18 assists in 41 games, and a 1.38 points-per-game in USHL action. Both those totals represent big jumps from his time with the program last season, where he finished ninth in team scoring. Berard’s point totals would’ve realistically been higher in 2020 had he not suffered in an injury at the Five Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic; by the time he was healthy again, hockey had come to a full stop.

Here’s what we like about Berard. He’s a smart distributor of the puck, showcasing patience beyond his years to allow for options to open up, and utilizing his agility to weave his slight body around the offensive zone to buy some time. His hockey sense and feet allow him to cover a lot of ice, including for his defenders at the top of the zones when needed, and is primarily used as a puck pursuer on the forecheck as he attempts to force turnovers. Due to his size, he’s better in the pursuit role or supporting the forecheck through his positioning rather than being in the battle; and honestly, it’s a better use of his skills as he can make a quick play with the puck once it’s poked free that other players might not see.

While his size is worrying, especially when he can be bullied off the puck at the USHL level, Berard does what he can to try and play his style of game — an antagonizer — despite it. He’s not scared to challenge bigger defenders by driving the puck into the middle of the ice; to battle opposing players (hence his penalty totals); and to attack the top of the circles to unleash a quick wrist shot.

Berard really benefitted from playing with top 2021 prospect Matthew Beniers this season, as the young centre was relentless on the forecheck and opened up space for Berard to fade into coverage. Sometimes, they were paired with Thomas Bordeleau to form a “Killer B’s” line that buzzed both offensively and defensively. In the 28 games that Pick224 has data for, Berard ranked third on the team among draft-eligible players in both even-strength production and primary points-per-game.

Berard is committed to the Providence Friars, where his mother played field hockey and his dad played goalie. Berard’s father was an assistant coach at Providence for much of Brett’s childhood before becoming the head coach of Holy Cross’ men’s program, and Brett credits him for a lot of his hockey sense, even participating in (non-contact) drills with the Friars when he was 14. Berard’s goal is to carve out an identity similar to fellow 5-foot-9 agitator Brad Marchand, and build strength that allows him to grind or bash around as needed. He’ll have one more year with a talented crop of 2021 players in the NTDP before heading off to college, making Berard a more ‘long-term’ project than other players in this draft. That being said, it’s rare to find top-six upside outside of the first-round, and Berard might still be there in round three for a team willing to take the risk. That’s value that might intrigue the Senators.


Eamon Powell (RD)

Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
5'11" 170 lbs 46 - 89 #51 (NA)

When you’re the defence partner to Jake Sanderson, a potential top ten pick in this year’s draft, it can be a bit hard to stand out when your teammate is the one always carrying the puck. But for Eamon Powell, a right-shot defenceman committed to Boston College, it may have just made his strong set of skills fly a bit under the radar.

What stands out to me about Powell’s skills is that even as an 18-year-old, there aren’t any major flaws to pick apart. He’s as smart as they come for 2020-eligible defencemen, with many options working from the back from a quick and accurate outlet pass to some sneakily solid skating through the neutral zone. He was used on both the power play and penalty kill this year and excelled at both, although his offensive upside isn’t at a level yet where I’d expect it to translate to the NHL.

Sanderson and Brock Faber have gained recognition as the USDP’s two workhorse transitional players, but Powell has earned the right to be included in that conversation. From Mitch Brown’s tracking data Powell’s 10.37 transitions (controlled entries & exits) per 60 minutes was third among USDP defencemen, neck-in-neck with Faber’s 10.65 and well behind Sanderson’s 16.75 (side note: Sanderson’s 10.79 controlled entries per 60 is higher than their entries & exits combined, in case you needed a reminder of how great Sanderson is).

Where Powell gets bumped down a lot of lists tends to stem from his lack of a standout trait, especially on offence. He can be reliable in almost any normal scenario, although when the plays start to move at a faster pace and become more hectic, Powell isn’t the type of player to recover and make the creative play to quickly strike pressure in the opposite direction. His style is very controlled, and when that control starts to slip he can be left in the dust.

Overall, I’m personally sold on Powell as a great value option in the mid-rounds, which is where he’s expected to be taken. There isn’t anything about his game that would have me clamouring to draft him early, but in a draft class that’s generally weak on defencemen, Powell has the smarts that teams are looking for in future NHL defenders.


Brock Faber (RD)

Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
6'0" 194 lbs 35 - 96 #44 (NA)

Brock ‘Breakout Machine’ Faber has become somewhat of a favourite player of many in the public sphere. On a team that wasn’t very flashy, Faber’s strong defensive play and ability to help the team in transition stood out most nights. When you combine that with a late birthday (August 22, 2002) and his handedness, you can start to see why Faber’s being talked about as a second-round pick.

As opposed to some of the other players we’ve profiled this year that have elite offensive tools but need to work on the defensive side of the game, Faber is the rare opposite — especially as a 17-year-old defenceman. Head coach Seth Appert used him against opposing teams’ top lines, and noted that Faber thrived while making it miserable to play against him. He primarily does that through his feet — stymieing breakouts, closing gaps, and beating opposing attackers to pucks in the defensive zone. His 6-foot-0 frame isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s got girth to it that’s allowed him to consistently win battles in hard areas of the defensive zone that young players often struggle with — an ode to Faber’s work ethic in the gym.

Many have questioned his offensive upside, where he ranked fifth among NTDP defenders in most offensive metrics captured by Pick224. He doesn’t feature high-end skill or playmaking ability that we’ve seen from other defencemen, but might provide offensive impact beyond points due to his excellent transition ability. He can transition with his speed as the first-line of attack from exit-to-entry, and make a quick, accurate breakout pass to quickly get the puck up the ice to streaking forwards.

Appert’s been showing video of Charlie McAvoy to Faber to try to develop his offensive game, and he’ll have plenty of time to do that in one of college hockey’s most prestigious programs at the University of Minnesota. Ottawa drafting Faber adds another potential top-four defender to the mix, and one that boasts a different blend of skills than Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson’s more developed offensive games.


Honourable Mentions

Player Pos Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Player Pos Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Ty Smilanic LW 6'1" 170 lbs 39 - 80 #24 (NA)
Luke Tuch LW 6'2" 203 lbs 46 - 93 #40 (NA)
Dylan Peterson C 6'4" 192 lbs 52 - 94 #43 (NA)
Tyler Kleven LD 6'4" 201 lbs 42 - 100 #42 (NA)
Jacob Truscott LD 6'0" 172 lbs 82 - 172 #68 (NA)
  • The highest ranked NTDP forward by NHL Central Scouting, Ty Smilanic is an explosive player in all senses of the word. He’s got high-end speed that allows him to accelerate past defenders; a shot he tries to get off as quick and as frequently as possible; and hands that he’ll utilize to dipsy-doodle past checks. Injuries limited him to just 34 USDP games and 12 USHL games, but he’ll likely get top minutes from the get-go in Quinnipiac that might allow him to put any doubts about his skill to rest.
  • The younger brother of Vegas’ Alex Tuch, Luke Tuch features a similar heavy frame and lives around the net. While his skating isn’t up to par with some of the other players we’ve profiled in this article, Tuch’s combination of effort and hockey sense is Tkachuk-esque and that’s the bet teams are making if they choose to spend a second- or third-round pick on him. Reports are mixed about a standout skill, with some pointing out his underrated vision, while others dictating that his puck skills in tight help him make plays that others can’t.
  • I’ve had my eye on Dylan Peterson since the start of the season when he was lauded as a potential top-20 prospect, although paltry production mixed with a lack of progression saw him as one of the year’s biggest fallers. He has everything the Sens have a drafting bias towards — he’s a 6’4” college-committed centre who grew up playing his youth hockey in Ottawa, what more could they want? But, although he’s a huge player, it’s his playmaking upside that has kept him in the conversation as a mid-round prospect. While inconsistent, he’ll occasionally make a play that will blow you away in a similar fashion to Logan Brown’s best moments. But those flashes were few and far between, so although I’m not convinced of his upside as of yet, there’s the potential for a huge hit if everything breaks right.
  • I’m including Tyler Kleven in this list not because he’s a player we want the Sens to draft, but because there’s been talk he could be selected as early as the first round, and no USDP list would be complete without him. He’s a 6’4” left-shot defenceman, and the upside sort of stops there. He has a heck of a shot from the point and can play physical, but his sluggish skating, minimal offensive instincts and slow defensive decision-making already give me three massive concerns with how he’ll progress to higher levels. He’s committed to North Dakota so the Sens almost certainly have their eye on him, although he’s one player who I’m almost certain will be picked earlier than I’ll like.
  • Another Michigan commit, Jacob Truscott is a left-shot defender who had strong even-strength production for his squad this season despite the lack of a standout skill. That he’s less talked about than a Sanderson, Faber, and Powell might mean that he’s a value-pick later in the draft, especially joining a Michigan blueline that’ll be a prime development opportunity. His balanced toolkit means that he’s got solid strength on his frame, with decent hands, vision in transition, and the skating that allows him to put it all together. I don’t mind that for a defenceman!

More Draft Coverage

--- Individual Profiles --- --- Grouped Profiles ---
--- Individual Profiles --- --- Grouped Profiles ---
Alexis Lafrenière First Round Forwards
Quinton Byfield First Round Defencemen
Lucas Raymond OHL Forwards
Tim Stützle WHL Forwards
Jamie Drysdale QMJHL Forwards
Marco Rossi CHL Defencemen
Cole Perfetti Next week: USHL Skaters
Alexander Holtz
Jake Sanderson
Anton Lundell
Yaroslav Askarov