USA Hockey will host its fourth annual All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 24, with Buffalo as the destination for a third time (Pittsburgh also hosted once). And while the biggest name in the draft won't be there, many other talented kids are scheduled to appear.
Right off the hop, the roster is notable for the absence of top 2016 draft prospect Auston Matthews, who will be playing his first games for Zurich just days before. This isn't news, but now it's official. Having said that, the sublime center's last linemate, Matthew Tkachuk, is there – and he's not the only big name to watch.
Tkachuk, the son of ex-NHLer Keith Tkachuk and a potential top-five pick himself, is a big, smart left winger who is taking his talents to the London Knights this fall and he'll have a lot of familiar company in Buffalo. The Knights will have five players at the event, leading a huge OHL crew of 11 players. For an event that traditionally includes a large NTDP and USHL contingent, this is big news. Max Jones, a nasty power forward who will also be joining Tkachuk in London this season, tops the list, while towering Windsor center Logan Brown and fellow skyscraper Timmy Gettinger of Sault Ste. Marie are two other OHLers to watch. Oh yeah, and that Alex DeBrincat kid from Erie that scored 104 points as a rookie last year…
Speaking of the NTDP, the hothouse program will still be well represented this year. Leading the pack is offensive defenseman Chad Krys and talented playmaker Clayton Keller, both of whom played up with the under-18 team when Team USA won gold at the world under-18s. A new addition to the NTDP is Kieffer Bellows, an explosive goal-scorer who helped Sioux Falls win the USHL championship as a 16-year-old. Brian's kid is slated to be in Buffalo, too.
Another NTDP alum, Luke Kunin, will be an interesting prospect this season. A late 1997 birthday, he will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin and the Badgers sorely need his speed. Kunin is also part of a great Missouri cohort at the AAPG. Tkachuk and NTDPer Trent Frederic also hail from the St. Louis area, as does Brown, whose dad Jeff played for the Blues. The NHL team's influence has really helped development in the city in the past decade, thanks to grassroots involvement by former players.
It's also interesting to see the high school and prep ranks shut out this year (though that could change due to injuries). Many of the players, such as USHL Madison goalie Ryan Edquist and big Fargo left winger Riley Tufte, have come from those ranks, but since moved on. Last year the game featured one Minnesota high schooler, Jack McNeely, and two prep schoolers in Karch Bachman and Taggart Corriveau.
This is the current reality in hockey, as even kids from New England are heading out to the Midwestern USHL earlier, where the level of competition has greatly improved in the past decade.
So expect another good spectacle in Buffalo. Last year's attendance was buoyed by the presence of Jack Eichel (fan foresight!) and it will be interesting to see the turnout in 2015. London is only two hours and change away, so perhaps it will be a 'Knight' to remember…