By Dan Stewart

DraftPro evaluators were excited to see the World U17 Hockey Challenge back on the schedule this season after a two-year absence on the hockey calendar due to the pandemic. This U17 event has traditionally been the best place to see all the worlds future talent compete head to head and get a baseline idea of the next couple of NHL drafts potential and depth.

Our Director of Scouting Jared Brown, Head Scout Matt Hnatiuk, and regional evaluators Joely Stockl, Tyler Karoway and Matthew Tucker all took in the games and made evaluations on the next wave of talent that will be in the spotlight for the 2024 and 2025 NHL Drafts.

In the seventh and final part of this multi-part series we highlight the dominating USA U18 team that were not able to be contained by their competition at this event finishing with a perfect record.

USA line mates James Hagens and Cole Eiserman’s re-wrote event records. Hagens finished with 21 points in seven games most ever at this event, and Eiserman finished one point behind. Of those points Eiserman registered, 12 were goals tying Alexander Ovechkin’s goals record in a single tournament.

#43, D, John Whipple, USA U17, 6’0”, 182, L, DOB 01.20.2006

“Whipple is a very mature, reliable, puck moving, defenseman. He is able to make plays under pressure very calmly. There was one play in a game where the US was hemmed into their zone, and there was a shot that rebounded out but stayed in the crease. Before anyone was able to get there, Whipple got to it and calmly brought the puck away from the net and reduced pressure. Whipple is an asset defensively, even though he didn’t seem to play big minutes. He is smart with his stick and he’s able to get into lanes often. Displays great defensive awareness. When he’s defending, he is always making use of his stick. When he’s preparing for a shot from far out, he positions his stick out, flat in front of him to prepare for a block. When he’s defending passing lanes, he is able to get his stick down onto the ice. Whipple is also very strong along the boards, he is able to use his feet to cut in towards the boards and knock the puck loose. Another large asset to Whipple’s game is his passing ability. He has a hard and accurate first pass out of the zone, which he usually likes to reach the other side of the red line. He doesn’t turn over the puck too often, and he’s the guy you want on the breakout if you’re a forward skating up ice. Whipple will find his teammates. Whipple is also reliable in the offensive zone, he only makes smart pinches and he doesn’t get himself caught too deep in the zone. He is very mature for a young defenseman and this will be appealing for many teams at the draft in 2024.” – JS

#56 D, Logan Hensler, USA U17, 6’5”, 187, R, DOB 10.14.2006

“Hensler is a big defenseman who can skate, move the puck, and defend with his reach. The combination of size, skating, and length has me incredibly intrigued by this prospect and what he could look like in three years when his draft comes around (late ‘06 not eligible until 2025). Showcases great mobility and edgework in his skating. Skates with smooth crossovers transporting the puck up ice, attacking on angles, and effortless acceleration to separate himself from forecheckers. Great puck carrying speed. Displays good offensive instincts and active movement in the offensive zone. Had a good inside feed from the boards to set up his teammate who was wide-open in the slot. I would like to see him look for a pass a little more often as he showed to be shot-heavy from the point and majority of his shots did not get through to the net. He can improve his shot accuracy and shot selection for sure. Defensively he was impossible to get around 1v1 off the rush. Uses his long stick and frame to separate his man from the puck. Quick strides to go and pressure the puck carrier in the corners and below his goal line. Will use his body to pin opponents, but could be more effective in doing so. Hensler has a DeWalt set of tools in his toolbox which helps him provide an impact on the game both with and without the puck.” – JB

#48, D, Cole Hutson, USA U17, 5’8″, 143, L, 06.28.2006

“Hutson is eerily similar to his older brother and 2nd round draft pick, Lane Hutson. Of course they are brothers, but they seem to play the same exact way and have the same offensive mindset. Cole isn’t as mature as Lane yet, and that is the major difference. Hutson’s edges and skating ability were on great display in this game. He has the confidence to join the rush with speed and carry the puck deep into the offensive zone. He is able to drive the play and assess his options by using his edges to avoid pressure. Hutson seems to be better when he is passing the puck in the attacking zone. His shot selection was not great, getting quite a few blocks. When he is being the play driver and making plays, this is when Hutson is at his best offensively. Though his passing accuracy is high in the offensive zone, it is much lower on the breakout and from his own zone. He turned over the puck many times off the breakout pass. The passes he was making were risky, a lot of times, If Hutson can focus on making safe, sharp passes out of the zone, he will generate a lot more offense compared to his high-risk high-reward passes. His defensive game needs some improvement as well, similar to his brother last season. Because he is so offensively minded, he needs to play with a defenseman who is reliable in his own zone. Hutson’s offensive ability has a lot of potential at the next level, but he does need to learn to take better care of the defensive zone. He does have smart skating patterns and he is able to get body position initially, but in any net front or corner battles, he can’t hold his own. At the end of the day, Cole Hutson’s offensive ability is dazzling, but his defensive game and breakout vision needs some work. He definitely has the tools to be a higher round draft pick, he just needs to mature his game.” – JS

#47 D, Will Skahan, USA U17, 6’4”, 204, L, DOB 05.14.2006

“Skahan is a big rangy defenseman with excellent awareness and decision making. The first thing you notice is his size. He’s a massive defender out there and utilizes his long reach to his advantage defensively. Defends the rush with an active and aggressive stick which minimalizes the opposition’s room to work with. If you went down his side of the boards, he made sure to rub you off the puck and get his body between you and the puck. Strong angling skills. Good job protecting the front of his net but could be more physically imposing on opponents in the crease. His skating isn’t an area of weakness. Not saying he’s Bobby Orr out there, but for his size, he’s a fine skater. His pivots and skating transitions are fluid and smooth. Good back skating. Crosses his feet over a lot which I’d like to see minimalized but he covers a large range when performing them. Long strong strides aid him in puck races back to his zone for puck retrievals or icing calls. His foot speed could be quicker. Keeps his feet moving when he has the puck. Distributed strong outlet passes and used the boards to bank pass to his teammates. Good vision to make smart passes. Crisp stretch passing ability. Skahan skates and plays with a calm demeanor always looking extremely calm, poised, and in control of his play. His play with and without the puck get positive reviews.” – JB

#54 W, James Hagens, USA U17, 5’10” 152 lbs, L DOB 11.03.06

“The onslaught that Hagens just put on at the U17s should be putting people on notice, This Kid is ready to take the world by storm. Patrick Kane comes to mind when I watch him play, he is that good. His skating is otherworldly, his ability to accelerate and just blow by opponents is incredible to watch. He’s like an expensive sports car with a rocket strapped to his back. His accuracy on his shot is outstanding, he can pick corners, find tight spaces and score at ease. He sees the full sheet of ice and has the skill set to make any pass he wants on target. He has a backbone and isn’t going to let players take advantage of him even if he is smaller and has the discipline to know when to stop. His stick work might not be as flashy as Kane’s, but it really doesn’t need to be. He has fantastic control of the puck and can still fend off bigger players, with his speed and skill. His defensive play is mainly generated from his stick work, but he’s still going to try and throw the body. In tight games he is willing to leave it all on the line and block shots, otherwise he might just try and poke check to find a breakaway opportunity. Hagens is an outstanding player just oozing with potential, if he doesn’t go 1st in the 2025 NHL Draft, I would be shocked. He is a superstar in the making.” – TK

#34 LW, Cole Eiserman, USA U17, 5’11”, 191, L, DOB 08.29.2006

“Eiserman is an offensive juggernaut with all the tools to succeed. At 5’11” 192 lbs Cole plays a big man’s game. Eiserman with his great speed, quick hands and strong frame is able to beat defenders to the outside and use his heavy accurate wrist shot for a scoring chance. He’s also equipped with great passing skills that he uses to set up his teammates in the offensive zone. But what really impressed me was his play off the puck. Eiserman is a goal scorer with a goal scorer’s mind as his stat line can attest. He’s always able to find open space in the offensive zone to be a passing option for his teammates and utilize that dangerous wrister of his. Often, Eiserman was able to lose himself in the slot from his defender and was able to use that dangerous shot for a goal. Eiserman is also a danger in transition. He’s able to use his great skating to attack the offensive zone and set up his teammates with an accurate pass. Defensively I really like his positioning. He recognizes to not go in the deep zone and stay along the boards to be ready to pick up a loose puck or a pass to transition the play out of the defensive zone and create a rush and ultimately when he has the puck it is usually a scoring chance that’s how dangerous this kid is with the puck on his stick. Overall Eiserman is an exceptional power offensive winger with all the tools to succeed in the big leagues. I see NHL teams lining up to have a shot to score this man in the draft.” – MT

#39 RW, Charlie Pardue, USA U17, 5’10”, 165, R, DOB 01.05.2006

“Pardue plays on a line with the two studs of the U17 NTDP squad Eiserman and Hagens, and plays the high-energy supporting role for that line. He’s also the captain of his team and plays on both the PP and PK. While he isn’t flashy with high-end stickhandling or play creation, Pardue is a quick skater with a strong work ethic and his game is consistent shift-to-shift. Displays to have a quick first few steps and good crossover integration. Uses that quickness to apply pressure usually as the F1 forechecker for his line or to hustle back into a defensive position. His engagement level is high. Involves himself in puck battles in the dirty areas. Great quick stick and hand-eye to steal the puck out of a board battle and work a quick give-and-go while skating toward the front of the net to earn a tap-in goal on the PP. His handling skills in open ice are an area he can work on. Likes to keep the puck in front of his body whereas I’d like to see him utilize his hip pocket more. He can make plays in motion and at a quick pace. Pardue’s awareness and intelligence away from the puck stood out as he’s always in support of plays and positions himself well on the defensive side of the puck.” – JB

#57 C, Shane Vansanghi, USA U17, 6’1”, 188, R, DOB 10.11.06

“Vansaghi is a decent faceoff man, with some offensive upside, who struggles with the technical aspects of his game. His skating is very choppy, he looks to have no control of himself at times, he wobbles a lot when he is bumped. He almost lurks on the ice as he doesn’t really move his feet that well. His puck control is very shaky, as he actually can over skate the puck at times which shouldn’t be happening at this high of a level. If he is in front of the net and doesn’t have to move, he is able to control the puck very well in tight and can elevate the puck at short distances. His hand eye coordination is what helps him the most as he is able tip pucks coming through traffic. For a bigger body he is only ok at board battles and at times almost looks like he gets out muscled by opponents. He’s not the fastest skater in the world and his acceleration is not good, coupled with shaky skating he doesn’t move very quickly out there hurting his ability to set up in front of the net where he works his best. His physical game is alright as he lays the body with force, but at times can struggle with recoil and it takes him a second to regain his balance. His passing was often off target and it hurt his team more than it helped it honestly. Skating is one of the biggest things in hockey, and if he still struggles to skate this level, you better have the skill to score at will which Vansaghi does not have that skill set. I’d be hesitant to draft him at all unless he really gets his skating and puck control under control.” – TK

#60 RW, Brodie Ziemer, USA U17, 5’11”, 180, R, DOB 02.22.2006

“Ziemer had a good showing without creating a ton of offense. Can play a solid versatile game and be used in all situations for his coaches. He’s a well-rounded two-way forward who’s got good agility while handling the puck. His skating is complemented by good edgework, but lengthening his stride would give him more power in his straight-line speed. He can change directions quickly twisting and turning in small areas. Uses his body and edges well to protect the puck tight along the boards. Showcases a strong center of gravity to remain balanced on his blades. His play along the boards and ability to move the puck while under pressure was good. Able to make plays in small spaces and avoid turning over the puck thanks to his offensive awareness. I liked that plays did not die on his stick inside the offensive zone. Showcased good forechecking pressure as the F1 on the attack. Ziemer looks like a solid complementary winger that can play different roles that are asked of him.” – JB

#42, C, Christian Humphreys, USA U17, 5’10”, 151, R, DOB 02.04.2006

“Humphreys is a very quick and strong skater. He plays bigger on the ice than he is, and he is very strong in the corners and in puck battles. He skates with a low stance and has good foot speed. His hockey IQ does lack in certain aspects of his game. Humphreys has a tendency to over skate the puck on the attack, and because of this he can get caught out of position and behind the play. Despite his strength without the puck, he seems to lose it when he has the puck. He gets knocked off the puck pretty easily and this results in turnovers. Overall, Humphreys wasn’t too noticeable, partly due to the limited ice time he was getting.” – JS

#33 RW, Kristian Epperson, USA U17, 5’11”, 164, L, DOB 05.07.2006

“Epperson is a skilled two-way forward who can hang onto pucks to create space but also doesn’t cheat on the defensive side of the puck. Possesses slightly above average skating ability with a strong balanced stance and technique. Showcases strong edges to carry speed through turns. His top end speed didn’t blow me away, but he can carry the puck through the neutral zone and attack the middle of the ice effectively. He did hold onto the puck a little too long when bringing pucks to the interior and should look to move the puck quicker when in these areas. Has good puck control and playmaking from the perimeter of the offensive zone. Actively searches for passes into the middle of the ice and attempts quick passing plays. He was committed to the backcheck, throwing the body in the neutral zone, and scanning to recognize where the opposition is or is heading towards. Epperson has the skating, two-way effort, and a bit of offensive creation that can make him a threat in the attacking zone.” – JB

#38 C, Kamil Bednarik, USA U17, 5’11”, 176, L, DOB 05.26.2005

“Bednarik is a good forechecker, smart, and defensively reliable. He plays with good habits and details to his game, showing some strong maturity in his 200ft game down the middle. He routinely gets above the puck to have numbers back to defend the transition. Great backtracking and neutral zone defense made it hard for opponents to come through the middle of the ice with control. Good with his stick to reach in and takeaway pucks. Great angling on the forecheck. He’s a good skater but isn’t a burner. Keeps his chest up while carrying the puck as this allows him to locate open ice he can take the puck through. Controlled the puck well through the neutral zone and created time and space through his route selections. Tried attacking the middle off the wall on one possession sequence but lost the puck. He didn’t display much individual skill that shows he can be a play driver, but his off-puck play and positioning were the highlights.” – JB

#37 LW, Max Plante, USA U17, 5’8”, 146, L, DOB 02.20.2006

“Plante played strong using his playmaking and passing to create looks for his teammates. He’s a pass-first winger who can quickly identify teammates on the inside when along the boards. While his passes didn’t always hit, the thought process to create a high-danger look is there in his playmaking instincts. Showcased great delay and patience, his vision allows him to also make quick passing plays. Good skater with solid stride mechanics. Regularly finishes each stride with proper extensions and as he physically matures his stride will become more powerful, even though his skating allowed him to be first to dump ins or contest defenders on puck retrievals. Played with a straight-line approach in transition and not much creativity. The biggest gripe I have with his game was he looked afraid to take contact in puck battles. If he continues to play a chip-and-chase game he can’t be giving up good body position or back away from battles. Clearly lets his size be a disadvantage in this area of the game. Plante has the tools, passing and vision, to play and perform well alongside a shooting threat.” – JB