So far this season, I've written three watch list updates based on early season breakouts:
It only makes sense that I include an update on the early breakouts south of the border in the USHL! So let's get to it.
Gridin is a 6'1", 185 lb right winger from Russia who has played the last two seasons in the USHL. As of now, he has no commitment to an NCAA team, so it's possible he winds up shifting to the CHL next year like Martin Misiak and other Europeans in the USHL have done. He plays on the Muskegon Lumberjacks as their 2RW with time on the top powerplay unit. He is second in the entire USHL, regardless of age, with 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) in 13 games – where 9 of those 18 points have come on the powerplay which is the most in the league.
He's a guy whose profile seems to fit a "needs to score a lot because there isn't much else there", at least right now. He averages a penalty per game, and while he is definitely a skilled offensive player and finisher he does also seem to be benefiting from the work of his teammates. Maintaining an elite point pace and/or improving the other areas of the game will still make him an intriguing player in the draft to some teams, however.
A teammate of Gridin's on Muskegon is Sacha Boisvert, who is very likely a better prospect even if the points don't show it. Boisvert is a 6'2", 174 lb top line center who is one of an increasing number of Canadians forgoing the CHL for an NCAA route. He is playing this year in the USHL with a commitment to North Dakota in the NCAA.
Boisvert is third on the team with 15 points (10 goals, 5 assists) and 40 shots in 13 games. He also gets some time on the powerplay, but he only has 3 points with the man advantage. By even strength points, he has one more than Gridin. Boisvert also plays more at even strength and on the penalty kill, and does a lot of the little things well that will make coaches and fans love him. He's physical, he works hard on the ice, he makes smart reads and he has some real potential as a two-way center. Skating is a minor issue for him from some scouting reports I've read, but not a huge problem. Right now he's projected to be a late first rounder by some, and I can see it. You can probably pencil him in as an early-season short-list for a potential Leafs pick, given his profile and everything we know about what Toronto likes.
Burrows, unlike the first two, is an actual American playing in the USHL. He's a 6'2", 165 lbs right-shot forward playing on Sioux City. He's a late October 2005 birthday, making him on the older side compared to others on this list – though that matters less than you'd think. He is another NCAA commit, this time to the University of Denver which has had a very strong program the past few years.
Burrows is currently third in the league among his age group in points with 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in 13 games. That's good for most on his team as well. He doesn't shoot as much as Gridin or Boisvert (22 shots) but looks like he's a better playmaker, where the other two look to shoot first and think pass after. I have him on my watch list for more of a potential second/third rounder if he doesn't get that much hype, but we'll see how that goes as more of Bob's rankings come out.
Pitner is the only defenseman on this list. He's a 6'1", 183 lbs right shot defenseman that has been playing on the top pair for the reigning USHL champions – Youngstown. He's another University of Denver commit along with Burrows, but with a March birthday he's five months younger. So far this year, he's played on the top pair for Youngstown the whole season. He gets a good amount of time at even strength and on the penalty kill.
I'm not clear if Pitner's had much time on the powerplay. Strathmann is an NHL draft pick who clearly gets top PP time, where Pitner has only had two PP points that he got recently while Strathmann has been hurt. The relative lack of powerplay points this year, he is 2nd on the team in total points with 12 (4 goals, 8 assists) in 13 games. He does have a short handed point as well. I haven't seen a whole lot of hype mentioned about him yet, but he has played for Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky this summer so he could get some extra international hype. He's for sure on my watch list going forward.
A teammate of Pitner's on Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky summer tournament is Will Zellers. Technically, Zellers hasn't played at all in the USHL. He's been playing in the US High School circuit on the powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary's team. But his rights in the USHL are owned by the Green Bay Gamblers, and there's a good chance Zellers will play at least some games for them this year.
At the Hlinka, Zellers was one of Team USA's top forwards. He tied for the lead in goals with 5 in just 5 games, and was second in points behind Trevor Connelly who I profiled here after the tournament was over. So far in high school, Zellers is tied for the most points with 28 (17 goals, 11 assists) in 17 games. He has the sole lead in goals. He's a 5'11", 170 lbs winger who fits the mold of a goal scorer/sniper, with the requisite skills to get and convert scoring chances (skating, anticipation, shooting, puck handling). I liked him at the Hlinka, and I have him on a tentative watch list for if/when he's in the USHL and I can watch him more closely.