Seven Minnesotans headline 23-man list of top 2006-born American players

In Plymouth, Mich., there is a two-year training program that is coveted worldwide.

USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP) was designed to cultivate and enhance young American talent, and it has become the end-goal destination for the 15-Only age group each and every season.

Next year’s under-17 team roster has been announced, which means that USA Hockey has combed through the 2006 birth-year and identified the players they deem ready and able to go through a two-year gauntlet of training and competition. 

The under-17 team plays in the USHL, competing against teams that are on average, two or three years older, while also competing in international tournaments. In Year 2 of the program, they move up to the under-18 team, and continue to play in the USHL while also playing NCAA programs and more international competition. The goal is to prepare the team for the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, while also getting them ready for success at the college and professional levels.

“We were thrilled with the level of play at our March evaluation camp,” said Kevin Reiter, the NTDP’s director of player personnel. “It seems that each year, the overall talent of our pool grows deeper, and we can’t thank our volunteers all across the country enough for their hard work and dedication to youth hockey. Selecting this year’s team was incredibly difficult. We’d like to thank all of the players and families who were involved in the process and we are very much looking forward to our new group of U17s.”

The NTDP roster also gives a good look at which states are producing the top talent in a given year. For this year’s ’06 group, Minnesota wins the award for most NTDP players produced; the Land of 10,000 Lakes will be sending seven players to Plymouth next fall. That’s a notable head count in itself because over the years, some hockey leaders in Minnesota have wanted their players to stay home and play high school hockey instead of leaving for the NTDP and junior hockey circuit.

Seven other states are represented on the roster – Illinois has five, Michigan has three, Massachusetts has two, New York has two, Wisconsin has one, Pennsylvania has one and Missouri has one.

Another yearly item of note is the dual citizens that make the decision to start down the American path for international competition. This year, there’s even a player with a Canadian hometown listed in E.J. Emery, a defenseman hailing from Surrey, British Columbia. Emery spent last year with Yale Hockey Academy U17 and is a draft pick of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. 

Outside of Emery, there are some pretty clear patterns when analyzing the NTDP roster. The biggest one that jumps out is that every single player took part in last year’s USA Hockey Select 15 Camp, the first of the three development and evaluation camps that the governing body holds each offseason. Players receive invitations from their USA Hockey affiliate — some affiliates simply select a group of players, others hold tryout/evaluation processes — to compete with the best in their age group while Team USA management looks on.

For more on the players’ backgrounds leading up to the 2021-22 campaign, here’s a look at participation numbers in some of youth hockey’s most prestigious events:

15 of the player skated in the The Brick Invitational Tournament in Edmonton

11 players took part in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament

17 skated in the World Selects Invitationals

And in one of those perfect examples of how there’s a different route for everybody, Brodie Ziemer was selected after leading the national tournament in scoring with 11 points in six games. He didn’t play in any of those aforementioned tournaments/showcases outside of the USA select camp. 

Seventeen of the players played at the 15O age group this season, whether it was for the full season or with a team outside their high school hockey season. On that note, five played high school hockey in 2021-22 – Minnesotans Brendan McMorrow (Benilde-St. Margaret’s), Max Plante (Hermantown), Logan Hensler (Hill-Murray), Will Skahan (St. Thomas Academy) and Massachusett’s Teddy Stiga (Belmont, along with the Boston Jr. Eagles).

Other outliers for competing outside their birth-year are: 

Kamil Bednarik, who played for New Jersey Rockets 16U

Cole Eiserman, who played for Shattuck-St. Mary’s 18U

Christian Humphreys, who played primarily for Bishop Kearney Selects 16U

Shane Vansaghi, who played for the St. Louis AAA Blues 16U

Cole Hutson, who played for the New Jersey Avalanche 16U

Eiserman is certainly one of the most highly-touted prospects joining the NTDP next fall. One of two ’06 players to be selected for Shattuck’s top team — the other being WHL No. 1 overall pick Macklin Celebrini — Eiserman posted a whopping 86 points in 53 games against players up to four years older. All of the players listed above are ones to watch; Humphreys posted 106 points in 54 games at the 16U level, and Hutson is a silky-smooth blue-liner like his brother and NTDP Under-18 Team defenseman Lane Hutson

Shattuck leads the way with five players selected from their various teams. 

Two players from the Chicago Mission 15O team that won a national title at the home of the NTDP are on the roster – forward Charlie Pardue and goaltender Nicholas Kempf. Pardue tied for the team lead with 10 points in six games in the national tournament; he was one point behind tournament leader and fellow NTDP selection Brodie Ziemer. Kempf, meanwhile, was a brick wall for Mission between the pipes in Plymouth, recording a 1.20 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in five games for the eventual champs.

Other notable names include Noah Lapointe, son of former NHL standout Martin Lapointe, and Dakoda Rheaume-Mullen, son of legendary women’s goaltender Manon Rheaume and brother of former NTDP goaltender Dylan St. Cyr.

The goalie joining Kempf between the pipes is Jack Parsons of Mount St. Charles. A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Parsons turned in a 1.77 goals-against average and .934 save percentage as the crease leader for one of the top teams in the country this year.

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