Both the talent level and the stakes will be high Wednesday night when the BioSteel All-American Game showcases the top U.S. draft-eligible talent in the United States Hockey League for more than 100 professional scouts inside USA Hockey Arena. The event will also be the first opportunity for many hockey fans across America to tune in, on NHL Network, to hear future American NHL talent.
The game carries significance on many fronts, something that Scott Monaghan, assistant executive director for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and USA Hockey Arena, said will be unmistakable for the players in the game in Plymouth, Michigan.
“They know there are going to be 120-plus NHL scouts in the building,” Monaghan said. “Every team will be represented.
“They’ll see all the notepads and pens.”
In a year where the pandemic has put some limitations on in-person scouting, Monaghan said the game presents a clear opportunity for players “to put their best foot forward.”
The BioSteel Game maintains the same format as last season but was moved to a date that is closer to the draft and the Under-18 World Championships.
The game can play a big role in NHL Draft evaluations, but there are other future implications, according to John Vanbiesbrouck, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey.
“It serves a lot of purposes for us, not only for the Under-18 World Championship, but for our World Junior team and our summer camp coming up,” he said. “It really helps create that look at who is probably going to be vying for a spot in the future.”
Last year, the game switched to the current format of the NTDP Under-18 squad, which already competes as a team in the USHL, playing a team made up of the best American draft-eligible players in the USHL.
The format and the timing all contribute to what Vanbiesbrouck said is the number one goal — a competitive contest, rather than a loose all-star game feel — for the best possible talent evaluation.
“I think the players know,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “We’re going to be very clear to them what’s at stake, but they’re smart.
“Players today are very intuitive.”
The NTDP already plays as a team. The opponent consists of players who have competed against them in the past.
“That has a tendency to create a competitive environment,” he said.
The pandemic has created obstacles, but it has done nothing to harm the talent level within the USHL, arguably boosting it.
“It’s best-on-best competition for our league and we know that this type of event is definitely going to be attracting a lot of eyes around the world,” said Luke Curadi, the USHL’s director of player personnel. “Any time we can showcase the talent of our league — which we stand firm that we’re one of the top, most-unique junior leagues in the world, in the sense that most of our players will get the chance to attend an NCAA Division I school while also being watched by the NHL. That’s the goal for a lot of these kids to get to someday.”
Curadi agrees that the players know what a strong performance in the BioSteel All-American Game can mean.
“Kids are playing for something right now, whether it’s moreso individually, at the end of the day, it’s just an important time for them to show what they can do,” he said. “The NHL Draft is approaching and, with the limited viewing the NHL may or may not have had, every game counts.”
Talent evaluators, following local health mandates to ensure safety, in the arena will have an eye for certain attributes that Curadi said fans at home can be looking for as well.
“At the highest levels of the game, the three most important attributes players will need is their hockey sense, skill and competitiveness,” he said. “And, we believe all three of those things will be on display.”
Last year’s iteration of the BioSteel All-American Game was played in January 2020 with Team Knuble, featuring the NTDP U-18 players, beating Team Gomez, 6-1.
Defenseman Jake Sanderson (Whitefish, Montana) had two assists and was named Player of the Game. The Ottawa Senators made Sanderson the fifth overall pick and first American selected in the 2020 Draft.
Sanderson is among 46 first-round picks and more than 200 total NHL Draft picks that have played in the game previously.
Monaghan is thankful that all the parties involved could pull off the event again this year in trying circumstances.
“Kudos to John Vanbiesbrouck and Dan Marr at [NHL] Central Scouting and our folks at the league office that stuck with the plan that somehow we’re going to make this game happen this year even though we had to kind of bump it around to find the right time,” he said. “We enjoy hosting events like this. They are great for our building and we like to put the spotlight on USA Hockey Arena again.
“We appreciate the people who worked together on this to really make it happen.”
The early stages of the pandemic may have disrupted some scouting chances to evaluate what were first-year eligible players for the 2020 NHL Draft. That could increase the number of second-year eligible players selected in the upcoming draft.
“I don’t know if we can use a word other than ‘unusual’ for this year, but probably more of those types of players in the league are going to be drafted this year and I think that’s one of the themes,” Vanbiesbrouck said.
As he looked at USHL teams this season, Monaghan saw the same thing.
“I think you’re going to see really deep and talented rosters on both sides,” he said. “Both the USHL team and the NTDP team, a lot of draft picks. The USHL is, without a doubt, carrying as much talent as the league has ever had."
Wednesday night, players will do their best to stand out and make a name for themselves, both in the scout notebooks and with hockey fans across America.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.