A Deep Dive into the NTDP U17 Team

After a strong 2019 draft, the American crop coming in 2020 has been a disappointment to many. The top American, Antonio Stranges, is playing in Canada, and the first NTDP player isn’t expected to be picked until the late stages of the first round. While this is unfortunate for USA Hockey, the current NTDP U17 squad looks to bring high end American talent back to the NHL Draft.

The U17s, or 2003 group, have already earned themselves a silver medal at the World U17 Challenge after an excellent week against the top international competition. They rolled over much of the tournament, only losing a disappointing OT match against Canada Black and a hard fought game vs Russia in the finals. Generally, the team played very well with some breakout performances from Colby Saganiuk and Jeremy Wilmer.

This team is studded with first round talent. In total I estimate 11 first rounders throughout the 2021 and 2022 drafts. In my recent 2021 rankings, 9 players made the first round with three, Chaz Lucius, Luke Hughes, and Sasha Pastujov, being in the top 10 and Aidan Hreschuk ranking just outside. This is in addition to two late birthdays that are not only in my first round, but top 10 for 2022. Those being Jack Hughes (no not that one, a new one) and Jack Devine.

 

Now let’s have a look at this squad.

The Forward Group:

Wilmer – Lucius – Devine

Duke – J. Hughes – Pastujov

Janicke – Savage – Saganiuk

Gilmartin – Brown – Boucher

St. Louis

Coach John Wroblewski tends to take a more balanced approach to the lineup. There’s no set first line, and the lines are constantly changing at this point in the season. For the time being, it’s easiest to use these lines to overview the team. 

Chaz Lucius (ranked #4 2021) leads what has served as the closest thing to a first line. Lucius is coming off a dominant season with Gentry Academy where he was almost at five points per game. He was arguably the most dominant player at the U17s, the top goal scorer, and the top point getter. A constant offensive threat from any area, Lucius really excelled with his finishing ability. When he saw open net he buried it and made no mistakes. His ability to take shots and stickhandle under pressure made him a dominant goal scorer. Chaz is certainly the team’s best forward and possibly best player. Also on his line is the ultra-skilled, 5’6” Jeremy Wilmer (#22 2021). He might be the smallest player on the team, but he oozes so many great qualities. An elite passer, pinpoint shooter, electric skater, and wicked hands. Jack Devine (#7 2022) rounds out the line as a strong forechecker, phenomenal shooter, and one of the team’s smartest players.

Sasha Pastujov (#9 2021) commands the next line as the premier playmaker on the team. ‘”Pasta” led the World U17s in assists, tied with only a defensemen and teammate we’ll get to eventually. His passes are crisp, accurate, and saucy. Sasha is terrific at creating space and using it to set up his linemmates. Dylan Duke (#21 2021), a teammate of Pastujov’s at Compuware, gains significant benefits from Sasha’s playmaking prowess. Duke is a terrific shooter with a dangerous wrister, but don’t underestimate his playmaking ability. He’s also phenomenal around the net where he buried rebounds and had a few nice tips at the U17’s. Jack Hughes 2.0 (#6 2022) centers Duke and Pasta. Jack is an effective two-way center who can both snipe goals or drive offense through his high IQ. 

Of the bottom six, we’ll highlight two of the better players. Justin Janicke (#24 2021) is a terrific puck possession player with a strong skating foundation. He plays a power forward style, being aggressive and tenacious in getting and maintaining possession. He constantly chases down pucks and causes turnovers in all three zones. Colby Saganiuk (#49 2021) really broke out at the World U17s after a tough start to the regular season. Saganiuk has through the roof skating ability and talent. Few skates or have the tools in the offensive zone like Saganiuk. Unfortunately, his size has held back his undoubtable offensive gifts. 

 

On Defense:

Hughes – Behrens

Hreschuk – Gallagher

Schmidt – Martin

Murchison – Straky

Luke Hughes (#5 2021) is the leader of the U17’s blueline. Watching Luke it’s very clearly he’s Quinn’s brother. Luke has some of the same unbelievable offensive upside that Quinn does. The ridiculous skating ability and quick work under pressure is there, but Luke adds onto Quinn’s skill set. He plays a very good defensive game and has a physical aspect to his game. He already has 2 inches on Quinn as well. Luke has become known for his dangerous shot from the top of the circles. Whether it’s a powerful slapper or wrist shot as he comes down from the blueline, he can put it in the net. Hughes currently leads all U17 defensemen in points per game for the NTDP since Jacob Trouba in 2010.

The next guy in line is Aidan Hreschuk (#12 2021). He comes off a phenomenal season for the LA Junior Kings where he scored 53 points in just 45 contests, including 28 goals. Now, after a slow start, he has come into his own and taken on a big offensive role for the team. Hreschuk (pronounced Her-shuck) is a shifty, offensive minded player. He’s a dynamic skater with ridiculously flashy hands. He loves to drive into high scoring areas from the blueline and use his slick wrister to finish plays. 

One of my favorite players on this team, and in the 2021 draft as a whole, is Sean Behrens (#31 2021). A Chicago native (big plus) who is one of the most gifted offensive defensemen in his draft class. His skating is absolutely unreal. Behrens is extremely explosive and reaches a wowing top speed. If he sees the smallest gap in the defense, he’ll cut right through it. With his great hands, all he needs to do to split defenses is take a quick few strides and he’s gone. He skirts pressure, ruins forechecker’s ankles, and creates high danger offensive chances. Behrens is also an exceptional passer with the ability to make incredible stretch passes or set up guys in the slot. He was tied with Pastujov for the most assists at the U17s.

It’s also worth noting that he might be just 5’8”, but at 172lbs he’s super strong and can even throw the body around. Watch him DESTROY Brennan Othmann here. 

Outside of those three, the blueline is still extremely strong. 6’5” Roman Schmidt is the stereotypical enormous defensemen, but also has a solid skating foundation. Ethan Straky has been very good in the defensive end, and ignites a lot of offense with high IQ plays. All around, every defensemen on this team is very good. Their problem is that almost every one of them is an offensive defensemen, which has lead to some defensive problems.

 

In Net:

Mbereko

Homer

Statistically, goaltending for the NTDP has never been very inspiring. Playing behind a young, often all offensive focused team it’s hard for a 16/17 year old goalie to put up big numbers. With that in mind, the goaltending has been pretty solid this year. Kaidan Mbereko (pronounced em-bear-uh-kuh) has served as their starter. Mbereko is an explosive goaltender that moves at lighting speed. He can rocket himself across the net to make some truly ridiculous saves, and battles hard to make every stop. His problems come with his reaction time so he gets beat a lot by straight up shots. Gibson Homer is the team’s backup, but is still a very reliable option. In terms of play, Homer is the opposite of Mbereko. Clean shots don’t phase him thanks to his 6’5” frame, but his ability to move lacks significantly. He’s a bit clunky and slow which gives him a lot of problems. Although it’s worth noting Homer is the youngest player in the USHL as he doesn’t turn 16 until December. He won’t be up for the draft until 2022.

 

All around, the sky’s the limit for this squad. I’d expect every single player to get drafted by the time the 2021 and 2022 drafts have finished. I’d expect many of these kids are good enough to get promoted to play for the U18 squad fairly soon, but I’d rather see this high skill, extremely exciting team stay together. There’s no team in junior hockey that’s more fun to watch. With all the electric offensive talent they are a must watch team at this point.

The end goal for every NTDP group is to win gold at the U18s. The NTDP hasn’t done so since the 99 birth year team with Quinn Hughes, Brady Tkachuk, and Sean Dhooghe. Personally, I’d see this group as the favorite to take gold, but the 2003 class around the world is extremely strong and deep. It won’t be easy, but they have the talent to get the job done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s