See also: 2017 and 2018.
You know that thing where Lane Kiffin offers an eighth grader and we all have a good laugh at him? Yeah, that's more or less the foundation of hockey recruiting. Michigan has four 2020 commits. Ye gods.
Just two commits so far. D Mike Vukojevic was ranked by The Scout.ca as the top defender available in this year's OHL draft and 7th best player overall:
He is a player who jumped out to us early in the season and remarkably didn't disappoint us once. An enthusiastic defender with a rangy skating style, Vukojevic impresses with his smarts and knack for making an impact every time over the boards. Raw blueliner with a high end ceiling and certainly one who'd excel if he chose the OHL route. He's adaptable joining in the offensive attack as needed and physical when he needs to be. He's earned the top D spot.
SBN's Jeff Cox:
Michael Vukojevic, #51 Oshawa Generals, Shoots Left, Oakville, Ontario, 6'2"/185 -€” He's a good sized defender with strong footwork. He moves well, is strong on gaps and stands his ground defensively. He keeps the play moving by moving the puck quickly.
He dropped to the second round because of his NCAA commitment, where he was picked by Kitchener. Kitchener is notorious for under the table deals with prospects but after looking at Vukojevic's twitter feed that doesn't seem to be the case here. Vukojevic retweeted every OHL draft pick of his teammates but didn't bother to RT Kitchener picking him; OTOH he did RT the Green Bay Gamblers making him the 8th pick of the USHL futures draft. Also this:
Finally, I can't imagine anyone RTing a general meeting for the Greater Toronto Hockey League—the junior B league Vukojevic was in last year and apparently this year—unless he was sticking around. Looks like the plan is one more year in Toronto and then a year with the Gamblers before Ann Arbor. (Plans, of course, are subject to change.)
Shattuck winger Phillipe Lapointe is the other 2019 commit; he put up 15-44-59 in 56 games last year. I have no idea how impressive that is in the context of Shattuck's league. A number of his teammates were in the same range but most of those guys were a year or two older than him. He'll be moving to the Lincoln Stars this season, and if he keeps up anything near PPG pace in the best NCAA feeder league that's scoring line kind of stuff.
Preliminary scouting is reserved. USHR saw him at the select 15s and gave him an honorable mention:
Philippe LaPointe, #18 Kelly/ Chicago Mission, 5-10/174 – Has a nice set of hands; displayed them on a breakaway goal in one viewing. Had inconsistencies from shift to shift, but there is more than enough skill to keep watching.
But that was 18 months ago. A lack of scouting since and his status as a third round USHL draft pick suggest that Lapointe is going to be a middle of the roster sort. The top scoring guys at Shattuck are currently headed to schools like Northeastern, UMass-Amherst (ie, not the good UMass), and LSSU. They've taken a step back from the Jack Johnson days. Cox did just see him at the U17 selects and called him the most improved player over the past year, so maybe he's on the way up and Michigan was the first big school to see it.
Philippe is of course former Red Wing Martin Lapointe's son; I mostly mention it because these days the elder Lapointe looks like a man with a particular set of skills about to seriously damage a bunch of eastern European gangsters who kidnapped his daughter:
Don't mess with Martin Lapointe. He will break your arm and then brood you to death.
Michigan will continue adding to this class. They've got four scholarship guys in their rising junior class, two D and two F, and god knows what kind of attrition they'll suffer over the next couple years (survey says: lots).
The big fish still on the radar is Jack Hughes, the younger brother of Quinn. Hughes was projected to be the #1 pick in the OHL draft and was enough of a big deal to go eighth overall despite having committed to the NTDP for the next two years. The Scout.ca:
He’s in a class of his own and would arguably be the best prospect to play in the league since Connor McDavid.
Oookay then. ISS has him in their early top ten:
6. Jack Hughes (C) – Kirkland Lake Gold Miners – NOJHL
Arguably the most skilled player in the entire draft, Hughes at times seems to have the puck on a string as he weaves his way up ice. His hockey sense and creativity in the offensive zone are as good as anyone we’ve seen in this age group. Possesses an arsenal of moves and ways to create space; extremely difficult for defensemen to anticipate as he can make plays on the fly whilst moving at top speed.
Quinn may well be on his way to the league before his younger brother arrives on campus; nonetheless, the prospect of playing with his brother and Quinn's decision to go with Michigan should put M at the top of his possible destinations for an Eichel-like one and done college career.
Other than Hughes it's unclear who Michigan is chasing, hockey recruiting coverage being what it is. About 90% of the time the first anyone hears about a particular kid is when he pulls the trigger. There are all of two uncommitted NTDP skaters, neither of whom is from the area.
This looks to be the class that was hurt the most by the late Berenson uncertainty and last year's level of play; Mel will have to use some of the tricks he picked up at Tech to unearth some productive overagers. Getting Hughes, even for a year, means woo go team and everything else is gravy.
Michigan is sweeping through the top prospects on the Little Caesar's U16 outfit. All four of their 2020 commits are from the program. All of them are even more disgustingly young than the aforementioned players. At this point Michigan is guessing. Everyone is. Luke Moffatt committed this early; he was the top US prospect in his age group and ended up a seventh round pick and career third liner. See also: Mike Pastujov. Any assertions about these gents should be taken with a grain of salt.
Disclaimers out of the way, this appears to be a high-end group. Antonio Stranges led his team to a tournament victory at the top bantam tournament in North America despite playing a year up—which is an even bigger deal in this age group:
Leading the way was '02 underager Antonio Stranges who leads the team in scoring in league play. Despite lacking great size for the age group, Stranges is a high-end creator who is a bit of a puck wizard when it's on his stick. His consistent play throughout saw him not only receive a deserving nod on the tournament all-star team, but ultimately saw him take home MVP honours for his key play throughout the tournament. …
Doesn't have elite physical tools but his mind for the game and confidence when in possession with the puck make him the team's most consistent offensive threat, and the type of player who can find the scoresheet against any opponent.
Stranges also impressed USHR at the World Selects Invitational for the age group ahead of him:
Stranges has game-breaking speed on the rush and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one while keeping them on their heels. While we feel that Smilanic (see above) may have more pro upside, Stranges is an excellent college prospect we feel has the potential to be an All-American wherever he chooses to go.
Jeff Cox of SB Nation was even higher on him after this year's edition of the same tournament, giving him an A+ rating:
He’s the special player in this age group it would appear. He has a great first step and can really skate. He is creative and can do things with the puck that few can do. He made a few nice sauce passes. He’s strong, fast and thinks the game well offensively.
Have to figure he's a lock for the NTDP.
Fellow forward Patrick Guzzo is the opposite kind of player, already a half-foot taller than the diminutive Stranges and potentially heading for Very Large Indeed. The Scout.ca:
A big powerful winger who can barrel his way down ice as he drives the net. Relies on strong puck protection skills to extend possession time with his long reach and good stick strength. Unleashes a high end shot and operates very well in traffic, displaying good touch with the puck and is always aware of his options.
Big strong power forward is hard to miss out there. Will be an interesting one to follow. Quite young: he’s just an 11/27/01 birthdate. He doesn’t have to worry about growing, but he will, and could be very big.
Guzzo was a first round pick in the USHL draft because he's a late '01. That says something since he might not end up in the USHL long term. The Neutral Zone said he "shined" at the Select 15s and was a strong NTDP candidate. He's their #24 '01, though it's unclear whether that's Americans or NCAA prospects or North Americans or the whole dang world.
Michigan has also plucked two defenders off Pizza Pizza. Jacob Truscott committed shortly after Guzzo; while it's still early yet for OHL projections he's getting some early mention as a top ten pick, and Cox was gung-ho about him at the latest hockey showcase thing at which he appeared:
Jacob Truscott, #55 Pro Hockey Blue, 5/24/02, Shoots Left, 5-10/155, Fort Gratiot, Mich. (Michigan) – He’s a great skater with an offensive flare to his game. He scored a beauty of a goal in transition. He keeps pucks going north and can defend with his feet.
Truscott reported that Wisconsin, Miami (NTM), and BU were on his trail before he committed to Michigan. BU is recruiting better than anyone in the country even if they can't coach that talent, and Wisconsin's going to surge here in a little bit.
Finally (finally, finally), D Ethan Szmagaj is the guy who sent me down this rabbit hole by committing. He's currently in the Hughes mold but since he's entering his sophomore year of high school he's probably going to grow some more. Currently he shades more towards offensive defenseman:
…competitor that quickly became one of this observer's favorite players to watch on the week. He's smooth, retrieves pucks, can skate out of trouble, has good vision and makes nice breakout passes.
Or just generally a pest:
30. Ethan Szmagaj, Little Caesars 16U, D, Shoots Left – It's not often a good defenseman below six-feet is known more for his toughness and grit than his offensive ability, but that's the case here. He's tough as nails, hard to knock off the puck and just flat-out wins battles. He's a good skater who retrieves pucks well and can skate out of trouble.
Szmagaj is also a late '01 and was eligible for the USHL phase 1 draft, but did not get picked. This baffled Cox:
Szmagaj is a crossfit person and his dad's twitter is littered with videos of Ethan doing things that make me tired just looking at them, so he won't be one of those guys who never touches a weight until he shows up to college; he's also got a couple younger brothers to keep an eye on down the road.
Once you get this far out it's extremely difficult to project much of anything except the very top end. Stranges seems like a good bet to be a first round pick. Unless he's not.