Editor’s Note: Though the 2012-13 season has come to a close, the Youngstown Phantoms are already preparing for 2013-14, beginning with Phases 1 and 2 of the USHL Draft. Assistant general manager and director of player personnel Jason Koehler spoke with YoungstownPhantoms.com to give an in-depth report on the seven prospects selected in Phase 1 of the USHL Draft.
Steven Ruggiero, who hails from the same hometown as current Youngstown defenseman Jimmy Mazza, was the Phantoms’ first pick in Phase 1 of the USHL Draft. The 16-year-old was one of the top available players and one of six defensemen (including tendered players) selected in the opening round. Despite having his season cut short by injury, Ruggiero earned and invitation to the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Evaluation Camp in March. He possesses a NHL-caliber frame and impressed the Phantoms’ staff with his skating and offensive ability displayed at previous levels.
Koehler: “[Ruggiero] is a big, rangy, pro-style defenseman. We thought if we didn’t do it now we may not see another guy like that, so we wanted to lock him up early… He’s good with the puck and can skate. I think he can give us some offense down the road.”
Following in the footsteps of successful Wisconsin players such as Ryan Belonger and Jefferson and Alexander Dahl, the Phantoms selected Wausau native Kevin Conley with their second-round pick. A versatile forward with good size, Conley led Wausau West in scoring this season as a sophomore and was named to the Wisconsin Valley All-Conference First Team and an All-State honorable mention. Conley also earned an invite to USNTDP Evaluation Camp.
Koehler: “Kevin Conley is one of the top players in Wisconsin high school hockey – in the entire state. Period… You’re getting a good two-way forward. He’s somebody who can skate, make plays, score goals and has a high compete level and some feistiness.”
The Phantoms acquired the Sioux City Musketeers’ third-round pick as part of the November trade that brought Cam Brown to Youngstown and used it to select a player out of another USHL rival’s youth program: Ethan Price from the Omaha AAA Lancers U16 team. A physical winger who displayed loads of offensive prowess, Price led a very talented Omaha team in scoring and was among three Lancers selected to take part in the USNTDP Evaluation Camp.
Koehler: “With Price, imagine a player like Josh Nenadal but bigger. He’s a big, strong power forward and a good skater. He’s a horse and he hits everything. He is your definition of a power forward with a shot.”
The Phantoms selected their top-rated player out of the Buffalo area in forward Carson Gicewicz out of the Nichols School. An impressive physical specimen, Gicewicz played last season with his brother RJ, a defenseman and 2012 Green Bay Gamblers draft pick, and the pair is already committed to St. Lawrence University. Along with many of Youngstown’s Phase 1 selections, Gicewicz (pronounced gees-wiz) also earned an invitation to USNTDP Evaluation Camp, but was forced to withdraw due to an injury.
Koehler: “Gicewicz is a power forward with size, skating ability and some good bloodlines… He’s a big, strong athlete and somebody we see really developing over the next few years, not only for us and for college hockey, but as a pro potential forward as well.”
The Phantoms added another player with solid hockey bloodlines when they tabbed Atlanta Fire forward Chase Pearson in the fifth round. The son of former NHLer Scott Pearson, Chase tied for team lead in goals, led in assists and points and finished near the top on the Fire with 50 penalty minutes in 2012-13. A prospect with NHL-size, who reads the game at an advanced level and is willing to get his hands dirty, Pearson elevated his game playoffs with an impressive 4-6-10 in just four games and took part in the USNTDP Evaluation Camp.
Koehler: “Pearson is a big-bodied, left-shot winger or centerman. He has hockey sense, hits, makes plays and has a high hockey IQ and the bloodlines are there. In my mind it’s not an ‘if,’ but a ‘when’ he blows up. He’s just a freshman right now. He could be one of the biggest steals of the whole draft.”
The Phantoms stayed close to home in the sixth round selecting forward Kole Sherwood of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets. The younger brother of Phantoms’ affiliate forward Kiefer Sherwood, Kole is a player in the same mold: a highly competitive, elusive skater with good hockey sense. Though undersized, Sherwood has the potential to develop into an impact offensive player.
Koehler: “Sherwood is a shifty, scoring-line, playmaking forward. We’ve seen Kiefer’s development over the past few years and we foresee the same thing with Kole. He might even have a little more feistiness than his brother did at this age.”
With their final selection in Phase 1 of the USHL Draft, the Phantoms returned to bolstering their defensive corps with Ottawa defenseman Kris Myllari. A mobile, strong skating blue liner, Myllari has drawn comparisons to St. Louis Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo and the Boston Bruins’ Wade Redden. He displays good leadership and was named captain of the AAA Senators last season and also has a winning background. His father, Roy Myllari, won a Memorial Cup with the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League in 1984.
Koehler: “Myllari is a rangy, offensive, puck-moving defenseman with NHL size and potential as well. There are some great bloodlines as well… He comes from a family that is experienced in junior hockey and has been successful.”
Season tickets for the 2013-14 season are on sale now starting at the low price of just $8 a game. Benefits include invitations to exclusive season ticket holder events, discounts at the Phantoms Team Shop and much more. Call 330.747.PUCK (7825) for more information or to reserve seats today. For all the latest news, visit www.YoungstownPhantoms.com, follow the Phantoms on Twitter (@YtownPhantoms) and ‘like’ them on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/YoungstownPhantoms).
Headquartered in Chicago, the USHL celebrates its 11th season as the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league in 2012-13. With 19 NHL Draft picks on team rosters and more than 250 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools this season, the USHL has emerged as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey.
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.
– Phantoms –