How the first round of the Phase-I Draft will unfold in America’s top junior league

Last week, the World Hockey Hub produced its first OHL Mock Draft. The actual results of the priority selection will be determined later this week.

Now, it’s time for the USHL Mock Draft, specifically for the American junior league’s Phase-I Draft set to take place next week.

The USHL draft process is split into two phases; Phase-I is exclusively for 2006-born players, while Phase-II is for all players eligible to play junior hockey who are not currently protected by a USHL club.

The other big caveat that comes with the USHL process is the inclusion of tenders — teams can make commitments to players leading up to the draft. If a player signs a USHL tender, the team forfeits their first-round pick in the Phase-I Draft. Teams can complete two tender signings leading up to the draft, meaning they can forego their first two draft selections in order to secure top players before the draft officially gets underway.

So why doesn’t every team use their tenders to basically skip the draft order and get the best players they can? USHL league rules stipulate that tendered players must play in 55 percent of the team’s regular-season games in the upcoming season, notwithstanding injury, illness or suspension. Meanwhile, if a USHL team selects a player in the Phase-I draft, they can decide the player needs another season of youth/high school hockey and only call them up to the USHL team if necessary.

The tender process makes for an unorthodox first and second round of the draft. Some teams are not selecting in either of the rounds, and it also jumbles up the perceived ‘top players’ in the draft class. The best case in 2022 is that of Macklin Celebrini, a native of British Columbia who would have certainly been in consideration for the No. 1 overall pick if he declared his intentions to play in the USHL and there was no tender process. Instead, the Chicago Steel signed Celebrini to a tender — just like they did with top NHL Draft prospect Adam Fantilli two years ago — to secure him for the upcoming season despite holding the No. 14 overall pick.

Five teams opted to go the tender route for the first round; they are starred in our mock draft. Four of the five tender signees are Canadian players; the Massachusetts product and Mount St. Charles standout defenseman is the lone American.

Below is our first-round mock draft for the Phase-I Draft, which is slated to take place on May 2. Kicking things off, we have a pair of Shattuck-St. Mary’s standouts in Aidan Park and Drake Murray. Both have publicly expressed interest in remaining at the storied prep school in Minnesota, but things change by the day in youth and junior hockey, and both of these two exceptional players are worth claiming in round one. At No. 3, we have Reid Varkonyi, who has been skating for the Northern Alberta Xtreme of the CSSHL but was participating in the NTDP Evaluation Camp. He recently announced a verbal commitment to the University of Denver, becoming just the second player in the 2006 birth-year class to make a college commitment.

No. 1 – Sioux Falls – Aidan Park (Forward, Shattuck-St. Mary’s)

No. 2 – Des Moines – Drake Murray (Defense, Shattuck-St. Mary’s)

No. 3 – Green Bay – Reid Varkonyi (Forward, Northern Alberta Xtreme)

*No. 4 – Waterloo – Keith McInnis (Defense, Yale Hockey Academy)

No. 5 – Cedar Rapids – Callum Hughes (Forward, Mount St. Charles)

No. 6 – Fargo – Adam Kleber (Defense, Minnesota Blades/Chaska High School)

*No. 7 – Madison – Will Felicio (Defense, Mount St. Charles)

No. 8 – Youngstown – Cole Longacre (Defense, Windy City Storm)

No. 9 – Omaha – Grant Young (Forward, Windy City Storm)

*No. 10 – Muskegon – Sacha Boisvert (Forward, Mount St. Charles)

No. 11 – Dubuque – Mac Swanson (Forward, Team Alaska)

No. 12 – Lincoln – Ben Miller (Forward, Minnesota Blades/Hill Murray High School)

No. 13 – Sioux City – Gavin Cornforth (Forward, Boston Little Bruins/Thayer Academy)

*No. 14 – Chicago – Macklin Celebrini (Forward, Shattuck-St. Mary’s)

*No. 15 – Tri-City – Matthew Virgilio (Defense, St. Andrew’s College)

Note: Selections with a * before the number are forfeited draft picks replaced with the team’s tendered player. There are three players signed to tenders that take up the team’s second-round pick, as well. They are below.

*No. 25 – Muskegon – Owen Keefe (Defense, Boston Jr. Eagles/Malden Catholic)

*No. 29 – Chicago – Michael Hage (Forward, Toronto Jr. Canadiens)

*No. 30 – Tri-City – Trevor Connelly (Forward, Long Island Gulls)

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