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An in-depth look at the US National Team Development Program

Rena Laverty/USA Hockey

Rena Laverty/USA Hockey

Rena Laverty/USA Hockey

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In this week’s edition of Prospects Report we will focus on a very strong, deep U.S. National Team Development Program. In our mid-season ranking we had seven members of the squad as potential picks within the first round. An impressive showing by the program at the mid-point of the season.

We have been running a series of profiles on the top 100 prospects on our website for subscribers. From that series we have included below the profiles of the top five U.S. NTDP ranked prospects, prepared by Director of Scouting, Brock Otten.

We noticed Will Scouch, who leads our video team, ranked Seamus Casey in his top ten on his most recent board in a departure from whatever consensus exists for this year’s draft (and there is a wide range of opinions at this point). We had him ranked 17th on our list, and on the consensus draft board he is #16. We then asked Will to go a little deeper, including his data tracking and analytics, to explain what he sees in Casey and his upside potential.

The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website:

Top Five U.S. National Team Development 2022 NHL Draft Prospects at mid-season

By Brock Otten

#4. Logan Cooley - Center - NTDP U18 (USHL)

Last year we had Matthew Beniers. This year, we have Logan Cooley. While there are certainly some differences in their games, these two are cut from similar cloths. Cooley is a dynamic skating two-way center whose game is incredibly well rounded. He requires little room to build speed quickly and is highly dangerous in transition as he attacks the offensive zone with a feverish pace. However, he can play it low and slow too. He is active on the forecheck, can play physical, and has excellent anticipation in the defensive end. When comparing him to Beniers, last year’s second overall pick, Cooley has to be considered the more creative player with the puck and this may give him a higher ceiling than the Kraken draft selection. The concern with Cooley is that he is undersized in an era when NHL teams are looking for big, power centers to lead their offensive attack. What has stood out most about Cooley is that he has been tremendous when playing against NCAA teams this year (as part of the NTDP’s exhibition schedule). The Notre Dame commit has a high floor and a high ceiling, something that makes him a safe bet to be a top five selection, much like Beniers last year.

#17. Seamus Casey - Defenseman - NTDP U18 (USHL)

Much like Mateychuk, Casey is a defender whose fluid stride and above average mobility stands out when you watch him. One of the top defenders for the United States U18 team this season (the National Development Program), Casey helps anchor the team’s top powerplay unit (along with our 63rd ranked player Lane Hutson). His four-way quickness and agility are on full display as he holds the opposing blueline and works through stick checks to help facilitate effectively. His quickness is also an asset in the defensive end where he is a breakout machine, rarely unable to navigate around or through a heavy forecheck to exit cleanly. While Casey is undersized at 5’10, he does show well as a defensive player at the USHL and NCAA level (in exhibition matches) because of how he takes away time and space with his small area mobility. However, like any smaller defender, he will need to prove that he can defend net front and win jousts consistently to avoid being more of a specialist at the next level. The Florida native will attend the University of Michigan next year, staying in the state that he has played four of the last five years in.

#18. Frank Nazar - Center - NTDP U18 (USHL)

Speaking of Michigan, insert the dynamic Frank Nazar, who will also be a Wolverine (at least currently) next year. A teammate of Casey’s at the program, Nazar also happens to be a draft selection of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Nazar is an ultra-quick and creative pivot who manipulates space as well as any forward in this draft class. His ability to maintain possession through starts, stops, and pivots, in addition to his ability to build speed through the use of linear crossovers, makes him highly unpredictable and difficult to contain in transition. As an offensive player, Nazar has few weaknesses. What you grow to admire about Nazar, however, is that he is also a determined puck hound. He clogs passing lanes showing great anticipation and forces a lot of turnovers on the forecheck and backcheck, using his speed to close quickly. Typically, an excellent problem solver in the offensive end, there are times where he is physically overwhelmed due to his smaller stature and strength deficiencies. However, Nazar will have time to add bulk over the next few years in order to improve his consistency. While Logan Cooley is unquestionably the top draft prospect from the NTDP this season, Frank Nazar may just have the higher offensive ceiling.

#20. Cutter Gauthier - Wing - NTDP U18 (USHL)

There’s really a lot to like about Gauthier’s game; it is his versatility and chameleon-like nature that makes him a very intriguing draft prospect. He can play it any way you want it. His speed makes him an asset in transition as he flies down the wing to make himself a passing option, or the leader of the attack. He has a heavy shot, and his hands can keep up with his pace, making him a more than competent goal scorer from the home plate area. However, Gauthier can also play it low and slow, by grinding down opposing defenses. He is consistently first to retrievals and keeps his feet moving along the wall to work the cycle. His effectiveness both on and off the puck make him the perfect complement on a scoring line. The Boston College commit also happens to be 6’3, which means that as he fills out, it is likely that he will continue to be able to find success playing through traffic at the NHL level.

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#29. Rutger McGroarty - Wing - NTDP U18 (USHL)

A budding power forward prospect, McGroarty plays a heavy game in the offensive end. He shows terrific puck protection skills and tendencies, possessing the strength and skill to put opposing defenders on his back as he drives the net, in addition to consistently winning one on one battles along the wall. McGroarty combines this effective physical and power game with great scoring instincts and a terrific shot. That combination gives him definitive top six upside, especially after a few years at the University of Michigan, where he is scheduled to play next season. The only real issue with his game is a lack of power in his stride which prevents him from building speed quickly to create separation. This does not really hurt him from being a consistent offensive contributor at the USHL level (or even the NCAA level in those exhibitions), however it could definitely hinder his effectiveness at the NHL level where he won’t be able to overwhelm defenders physically with ease. If McGroarty was a high-level skater, we would be discussing him as a potential top ten selection. With the right developmental team, coaches, and patience, McGroarty could become a great complementary offensive piece for his future team.

Seamus Casey shows upside potential in the 2022 NHL Draft

By Will Scouch

When McKeen’s Hockey reached out to ask about a contribution to Prospects Report, the first name they suggested was Seamus Casey, a name I value greatly in the NHL Draft relative to the market and am I ever glad that it was him. I came into the season seeing Casey ranked quite highly on a few lists and initially couldn’t see it for myself while passively watching the U17 NTDP team last year. It didn’t take long after starting to track Casey’s games that I started to see the strengths, weaknesses, and above all, the potential of a player like him. There are risks, but the rewards could be enormous, and he quickly has become someone who has flown up my rankings currently in a Top-10 spot.

Chart from McKeens

Chart from McKeens

Casey’s tracked data so far. Raw metrics are on the right, ranks within tracked defensemen are on the left.

On the data side, Seamus is an absolutely stellar looking defender in this class. His DSAT% (high and medium danger shot attempt percentage) is nearly 70% through four tracked games, with the 4th highest rate of team high and medium danger shot attempts at 5v5 of any defender I’ve tracked this year. He’s the 2nd most efficient offensive transition defender I’ve tracked, completing 80% of the offensive transitions he’s involved in. When examining the percentages of how his transitions are generated, we get some clues into how Casey drives such great results.

Of all of his offensive transitions, both complete and incomplete, 60% of them are passes across bluelines. He isn’t the most active or accurate passer I’ve tracked this year on defense, but when the time comes to push the puck up the ice, he’s arguably one of the best passers available. He generates these passes with a combination of remarkable skill, hair-raising confidence in that skill, and sublime patience to read the ice, survey options, call audibles on the fly, and find paths up the ice in a variety of ways. If he has some time to spool up below his goal line for an offensive rush, he can carry great momentum through the neutral zone as a puck carrier, and brings that confidence to his rush offense, shifting his body weight and using skill to keep his lane selection as unpredictable as possible. Skill at these high speeds is a bit of a work in progress at the moment, but I always pay attention to players who may not get the results every time, but the wheels are turning in the right direction that puts the player ahead of many others in their age group in projectable ways.

Unpredictable is probably the best trait to summarize Casey’s game. He’s one of the quickest turning defenders in the draft, able to make cuts to shake off forecheckers and gain significant time and space advantages. He doesn’t accomplish his goals through brute force or pure speed, but rather relies on playing as if he’s playing tag and never, ever wanting to be it. His turns and skill certainly help, but even in the offensive zone from a standing start, he uses footwork to step in and out of lanes to keep opponents guessing at where he and/or the puck are headed. He slips passes through traffic with ease, and can spot outlet options quickly, and execute quickly using the comfort he displays on his feet.

At this point, you’re probably thinking of scrambling to look at his EliteProspects page to see how much a player that plays like this is scoring, and may be disappointed to see him trailing expectations, but this area doesn’t particularly concern me. All the skill, smarts, and trickiness to his game comes out in the offensive zone, and I’ve seen moments of tremendous creativity and puck skill to attack the middle of the ice and generate scoring chances for himself. Defenders don’t often jump into the middle for offensive chances, but Casey does it more often than anyone else I’ve tracked a comfortable sample of. In fact, he’s landing more dangerous shooting chances than other prominent tracked junior names like Matthew Savoie and Jonathan Lekkerimäki. Where his offensive game seems a little limited is making plays in the offensive zone. The traits that make Casey special should allow him to step up from the blueline more than he does and make plays off the boards, but I haven’t seen it nearly enough at 5v5. He currently sits 26th among defenders I’ve tracked in attempting dangerous passes, and his rate of completing those passes isn’t much better. Casey is far more likely to shoot the puck himself, sitting 8th among defenders for the share of team shot attempts they’re responsible for. Puck distribution in conjunction with his confidence and skill might be a direction for Casey to take his game to unlock further offensive potential, rather than relying on point shots and stepping up for individual scoring chances.

Pretending as if Casey has no troubling issues in his game and claiming that other outlets are nuts for ranking him lower than me would be dishonest, however. Casey is somewhat undersized, and while I have plenty of time for undersized defenders and believe they’re an unexplored commodity in the NHL, they definitely do need to bring traits to the game that make them special. One of those is tremendous four-way mobility, and unfortunately Casey is a work in progress here. Without the puck, especially on defensive rushes, Casey brings a 1-2 punch of issues with feet that are too stagnant, allowing too much space and being unable to close that space, and not having a real explosive first gear out of his pivots to win races to pucks and challenge forecheckers. On the bright side, Casey is excellent with his stick, using quick hands and a high work rate to pester and annoy puck carriers in his zone of influence, and uses body positioning and smarts to strip pucks, and then the turns and skill take over and the puck is usually moving in the right direction. If you can gain a gap on Casey, you’re probably home free more than you aren’t, but if he closes that gap, you’re in trouble.

When deep in the defensive zone, I see no issues with Casey’s awareness of the ice, where the open space is, and who the threatening opponents are. He’s often no more than a stride or two away from challenging a potential shooting lane in some way, and while he isn’t the strongest defender around, he knows how to tie up bodies in front and certainly doesn’t back down from a challenge. There are flaws, and they’re concerning, but through it all, his results remain largely very good. It just can’t be ignored that when setting aside stick checks in defensive rushes, those concerns on his feet get much more concerning.

Part of my optimistic read on Casey stems from what I believe has been a bit of an overfocus on his lack of size, and the value others place in his current lack of mobility and straight-line speed from a standing start. I don’t know how many other defensemen this year are as skilled, deceptive, quick with their vision, or confident with the puck as Casey. Casey has the advantage of heading to college, allowing for more time to monitor his development without the pressure of a pro hockey appearance, and he’ll be developing with the ridiculous University of Michigan program. He’ll have plenty of time to work on his skating, and improvements there should bring improvements to his defensive ability, and will support the skill, evasiveness and creativity he already displays in the offensive zone right now.

I’ll admit that there is a universe where Casey struggles to produce offensively in the NHL, and without improvements to his rush defense, he could really struggle to gain a foothold with NHL coaches. As he stands right now, the evasiveness, vision, and skill are high-end, but he’ll need to round out to reach his potential. I’m the kind of scout that loves potential and is willing to trust the optimistic view of a player as they play today, and Casey is a prime example, and I’m sure it won’t be the last case you’ll be hearing about from me.