Logan Cooley wanted to make sure he was continuing to get stronger when the 2021-22 hockey season opened.
Cutter Gauthier wanted to be certain he was making the most of his strength.
Both USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) Under-18 players have continued their development in an important benchmark season, as NHL draft-eligible players.
Cooley and Gauthier are among the players on the radar of NHL scouts going into Monday’s BioSteel All-American Game at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. The two NTDP forwards were ranked second and sixth, respectively, among North American skaters eligible for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft when NHL Central Scouting released its midterm rankings Wednesday.
“One thing I was working on going into the season was definitely using my size, 24/7, with and without the puck,” said the 6-foot-3, 189-pound Gauthier, whose family moved from Arizona to Michigan when he was. “I feel like I have a big presence and if I use it a lot more often, it’s just going to create a lot more opportunities for myself and my teammates.
“It’s on and off the ice, kind of building muscle off the ice and using it on the ice.”
The NTDP schedule exposes the nation’s top Under-18 players to older and bigger competition and Notre Dame-commit Cooley, who joined the program a year ago as an Under-17 player, wanted to be sure he was ready.
“The main goal is just to be stronger with the puck, but that comes off the ice, too, with putting more weight on,” Cooley said. “I just want to continue to get stronger and take the puck to the net more.
“Being able to play against these college teams and the USHL, you know you’re going to go against older guys. So, continuing to protect the puck better and take the puck to the net stronger is something I’ve been working on for the last year and a half. I think it’s been going well so far.”
The BioSteel All-American Game will feature United States Hockey League players, including those from the Under-18 team, split onto two 22-player teams. Team White has 11 NTDP players and Team Blue has nine.
Both Cooley and Gauthier say training all season in the national program has been a boost to their development and that of their teammates.
“It’s a great atmosphere here at the U.S. national team,” Gauthier said. “Everybody here wants to be the best and I feel like that makes you a better player every single day.”
Cooley, who was selected to the U.S. National Junior Team that competed in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, agrees that he’s been set up for success this year.
“It’s really cool. Being able to play against the best players in the country in your birth year is something you can’t have happen anywhere else,” Cooley said. “It’s been a really fun year and a half so far and it’s crazy how much better we’ve gotten just from going against each other in practice and pushing each other in the weight room.”
The two will be split into opposite teams within the 10th annual BioSteel All-American Game. Rosters have been created by the USHL and USA Hockey to showcase the top American draft-eligible players.
NTDP scoring leader Jimmy Snuggerud, highly ranked defenseman Ryan Chesley (22nd skater on the Central Scouting list) and Dylan Silverstein (the third-ranked North American goalie) are among the other players from the program in the game.
A year ago, six players from the game were drafted in the first round, headlined by first round talents including Cole Sillinger, Mackie Samoskevich and Matt Coronato, all USHL players. The game’s history has included 50 first rounders and more than 240 total NHL Draft picks. In addition, NTDP forward Chaz Lucius dished out two assists in the game prior to being selected in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets.
“From my perspective as a coach, it’s just a piece of the puzzle for a lot of the NHL teams, but it’s an interesting piece from a standpoint of getting them all on the ice together,” USA Hockey’s NTDP associate coach Nick Fohr said. “I don’t know that the game itself really hurts anybody if they go and they struggle and don’t play real well or whatever. I don’t think too many NHL teams are going to hold that against a player. But, I do think it can be a springboard for somebody if they play really well and they show really well.”
Defenseman Jake Sanderson, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 draft, is an example.
“I think if you look back a couple years, Jake Sanderson was dynamite in that game,” Fohr said. “He was the best player on the ice and it really helped spring him into the forefront in that COVID-shortened year.
“It jumped him, for sure, with how he played that night.”
Cooley, Gauthier and others in the game are used to performing on the ice while many eyes are on them.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in some pretty big games, especially with the World Juniors and the opportunity to represent my country over the past year and a half,” Cooley said. “Also being able to play in this game last year was really cool and really special for me and my family.
“To be able to play in it is something I’ve been really looking forward to, something that us as a whole team is really fun. We’re ready to compete in it and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Gauthier said he has learned to manage the increasing stakes as games get bigger and bigger each year in terms of setting up his hockey future.
“You try not to think of it like an all-star game,” he said. “You just go out there stick to your basics, play your game and hopefully people there will like what you’re doing.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.