How The Top USHL Prospects ‘Climbed The Ladder’ of Youth Hockey

It has went through different variations over the years, but the purpose has remained the same — promote some of the top American players hoping to be selected in the NHL Draft.

The BioSteel All-American Game, slated to take place at USA Hockey Arena on Jan. 17, brings together a collection of USHL players and members of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP) for an all-star showcase event in front of scouts and media alike.

What was first a September game known as the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game played at NHL arenas, USA Hockey moved the event to the middle of the season and to its home in Plymouth, Michigan. Originally pitting the NTDP vs. a USHL all-star game, organizers have aimed to increase balance by splitting up the NTDP players, so both teams have the same dynamics of players skating alongside foreign teammates.

For the 2022 edition of the BioSteel game, the majority of the Team Blue and Team White rosters are made up of the top 2004 birth-year players eligible for the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft. USA Hockey also promotes elder statesmen still hoping for an NHL team to call their name on the second or third time through the draft process.

Forty-four players are on the initial rosters; they represent 20 different states. Minnesota leads the way with 11 players selected. Twenty of the players currently play for the NTDP, while two alums are suiting up, as well.

For our latest ‘Origins’ story, we’re taking a look at the 22 players who have made the BioSteel game rosters without playing for the NTDP (at least in a full-time capacity). The flagship program may be a top-tier destination for youth players trying to advance to hockey’s highest levels, but it’s not the only path. The USHL offers great opportunities for players, and this particular roster collection shows all the different ways to reach American junior hockey’s highest league.

The 22 players come from all over the continental United States; the collection reflects hockey’s expanding footprint into previously untapped areas like California, Arizona and Texas.

To see the full rosters for the game, click here.

Ten of the 22 are 2004 birth-year players preparing for their first NHL Draft opportunity. Eight are 2003 birth-year players, which means they were passed by in the 2021 draft, or their birthday came after the Sept. 15 cut-off date. The other four are 2002 birth-year players, with their last chance at being drafted. 

Every single player played AAA hockey, while 11 played in some form of high school hockey. In Minnesota, high school hockey reigns supreme, while in other states, players are able to compete for their high schools alongside playing for AAA programs. Michigan is the lone state of the traditional hockey hotbed states to prohibit such dual-rostering. 

World Hockey Hub also took a closer look at some of the major tournaments and showcases the players participated in during their formative years, as there’s always a debate as to what a player should and shouldn’t be doing to maximize their development. 

Ten of the 22 players skating in the BioSteel game competed in the Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament in their respective birth-years. Five, meanwhile, played in the Brick Tournament in Edmonton. Those statistics are based off each player’s Elite Prospects page – it’s certainly possible that there were more. 

Twelve of the 22 competed in the World Selects Invitational tournament series, billed as the top spring event for elite hockey players. 

Meanwhile, the numbers also show the importance of the players excelling in their state or USA Hockey region to secure a spot at the USA Hockey Select Camps each summer. Eighteen of the 22 players have skated in at least one of the national camps to train with USA Hockey’s best, and gain important exposure with national teams and scouts. 

Nine of the players were selected to compete for Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup; USA Hockey uses the their Select 17 camp to select their roster for the prestigious early-season tournament.

Top 2004 birth-year players to watch from the non-NTDP group include defenseman Vinny Borgesi and forward Zam Plante; both ranked in the top 20 in the country by PuckPreps.

Borgesi is no stranger to most of the highly-regarded players in the birth year after playing for Team USA at the Youth Olympic Games in 2019-2020 with a substantial amount of the NTDP ’04 group. After playing for Team Comcast and the Valley Forge Minutemen at the 13U and 14U age groups, Borgesi played one year at South Kent Selects Academy before making the jump to the USHL with the Tri-City Storm. 

Plante, meanwhile, has been on the Minnesota elite hockey route for a while now, thriving in the AAA world and skating in the prestigious Upper Midwest High School Elite League around his high school hockey season with Hermantown High. This year, he played the start of the season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel before returning to Hermantown for his senior year of high school hockey – another testament to the skill level and dedication on display for the State of Hockey’s high school hockey scene.

The BioSteel game is a tremendous opportunity for the players, as the alumni list for the various incarnations of the game reads like a fantasy hockey wishlist. Last year, the game featured first-round picks in Matty Beniers, Cole Sillinger, Matt Coronato, Chaz Lucius and Mackie Samoskevich. Previous rosters are even more intimidating, with names like Seth Jones, Dylan Larkin, Alex Tuch, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski, Kyle Connor, Clayton Keller, Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes, Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras and more.  

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