Hockey Sense Roundup: All-American Game notes; Devon Levi's historic season to date
Plus: NCAA Men's Hockey power rankings and more
The BioSteel All-American Game has taken on many different forms over the years. While I really enjoyed the original way it was done, with American players from all across the various leagues, the 2022 format worked quite well in putting together one of the most entertaining, best quality games we’ve seen for the event.
This year’s event took USHL and NTDP players in mixed rosters and made for what could be one of the only top-prospect style games we’ll see during the regular season. The CHL announced last week that its own Top Prospects Game is postponed to a time and date to be determined.
Team Blue and Team White were pretty evenly distributed, not holding to any regional designations. That meant there could be teammates on opposite sides of the lines. That made for a game was pretty evenly matched the whole way, which allowed the players to showcase themselves well. You can definitely see which players are the top prospects and which may have some more work ahead of them.
Team Blue mounted a third-period rally to erase a 3-1 deficit and earn a 4-3 overtime victory, the first OT in the All-American Game’s history. Damien Carfagna of the Green Bay Gamblers tallied the GWG on a 2-on-1 rush. You can watch full highlights of the game here:
I had initially planned on going to the game, but was unable to for family reasons. So I watched along with everyone else on NHL Network and was so glad to be able to follow the action. They did a great job with it.
As for the game, here is a quick scoring log and after that, I’ve got some thoughts on top performers and notable players from the game. The full box score is available here.
Top Players from the AAPG
Rutger McGroarty, LW, NTDP: The game’s MVP made a statement with strong play throughout the game that included two points and a massive hit on his usual linemate, but this time a Team White forward, Logan Cooley. McGroarty scored a late goal with a nice breakaway where he flipped a puck past the goaltender going the wrong way, while getting pressured from the chasing defenseman. I think McGroarty is a lot higher on NHL team boards than he is in the public space. I’ve got him as a lottery pick and I think at least a few NHL teams will, too. His size, strength and intelligence all stand out as traits that translate, while he has surprising touch on the puck and a tremendous release.
Logan Cooley, C, NTDP: I thought Cooley was the best player on the ice throughout the game. He finished with one assist — a between the legs attempt on net that Cole Spicer tucked home the rebound on — and was a consistent offensive threat throughout the game. His speed allowed him to draw penalties, put defensemen on skis and generally dominate the game. Every time I watch him, I come away more convinced that he’ll be one of the first three picks off the board in June.
Jimmy Snuggerud, C/W, NTDP: Scoring an absolute bullet goal from distance, that shot was one of seven Snuggerud directed to the net. He led all players in that category. The U18 Team has a number of high-end shooters and Snuggerud is one of them. The power he generates off of his quick release is NHL-caliber. Just look at how quick this gets on the goaltender.
Connor Kurth, LW, Dubuque Fighting Saints: The Fighting Saints line with Kurth, Stephen Halliday and Kenny Connors did very well for themselves and I thought Kurth was a driver. I liked him last season, but that extra year of development has shown well as he’s continued to become a more powerful, competitive player. Kurth is hard to knock off pucks and has a good net drive. He made a nice touch-play in tight to the goal to get the puck to Stephen Halliday for the game’s first goal. As a top scorer in the USHL this season, Kurth won’t pass all the way through the draft again.
Cutter Gauthier, C/W, NTDP: With two assists in the game, Gauthier made his presence felt. I thought his skating looked really good in the game and he showed good touch on the puck. While I think his shot is his best attribute, he showed a strong ability to navigate the offensive zone effectively and simply made plays.
Paxton Geisel, G, Dubuque Fighting Saints: The Fighting Saints netminder picked up the win for Team Blue. He stopped 17 of 18 shots as his team mounted a comeback. I thought Geisel’s best save was a cross-the-crease pad stop near the end of regulation where he showed some good explosiveness and an ability to find the puck even in desperation. I don’t know if he’ll ultimately get drafted, but that was a good showcase for Geisel.
Tyler Muszelik, G, NTDP: He stopped 13 of 13 shots in the game and kept everything simple. His numbers aren’t as strong as his counterpart at the NTDP, Dylan Silverstein, over the course of this season, but Muszelik has often played well when I’ve watched him. He’s a quality goaltender who is still developing. I thought he handled himself well in the All-American Game and earned his shutout of the first half of the game.
Cole Knuble, C, Fargo Force: A solid winger who has produced well and had a four-goal performance at the summer’s Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, Knuble scored on a beauty of a backhander in the third period as Team Blue mounted their comeback. He was around the puck a lot in the game, competed well and earned that goal with a nice touch of skill. The son of former NHLer Mike Knuble, Cole doesn’t match his father’s size, but he competes and I think has a good shot at going in the back half of the draft.
Seamus Casey, D, NTDP: There were a couple of nice pops from Casey during the game where he was able to show his skating and some of his general skills. There seems to be quite a disparity between where most public lists have Casey and where the scouting industry is on him. I think he’s a fine player, probably has some first-round caliber tools, but I still need to see a bit more from him before I jump on the bandwagon that a lot of the independent services have.
Lane Hutson, D, NTDP: Hutson had a really nice secondary assist that helped set up Cole Spicer’s goal. It was a perfect encapsulation of what Hutson does best, showing his skill level and decisiveness to cut back and thread a perfect pass to Logan Cooley behind the attacking player and in a spot where Cooley could have a scoring chance. Every time I watch Hutson, I marvel at how often he’s in the right spot, how often he gets a body or a stick on a puck defensively and how creative he can be when the puck is on his stick.
Men’s College Hockey Power Rankings
1. Minnesota State: A loss to Northern Michigan dented the armor, but did little to change my mind on Minnesota State being the nation’s top team. They followed up the loss with a 4-1 win. The Mavericks have a lot of high-end players including Nathan Smith (WPG) who took over the national scoring lead, but will leave for Beijing along with head coach Mike Hastings as both will be with the U.S. Olympic team for a few weeks. The Mavs have the depth to manage, though.
2. Quinnipiac: After outscoring opponents 15-1 over three games last week, the Bobcats strengthened their hold on the ECAC, while dominating the opposition. Quinnipiac hasn’t had the strength of schedule of other top teams, which is why they sit fifth in the current Pairwise rankings. I’m a believer, though. They dominate possession, Yaniv Perets has proven a capable backstop, meanwhile they get goals from all over their lineup.
3. Western Michigan: The Broncos haven’t played in three weeks due to various game cancellations, but WMU is a legit contender. They play hard, heavy hockey, have the scorers to capitalize on the pressure they create and they’ve got a strong back end. We’ll see how the layoff impacts Western, but I’m sure the coaching staff used that time to their advantage.
4. Michigan: The Wolverines have rattled off four straight wins, sweeping both UMass and Penn State in the last few weeks. They’re now second in the Pairwise ratings and are getting contributions from all over their lineup with Erik Portillo (BUF) really stepping up in net. The Wolverines are going to sustain some losses for the Olympics for their last few series, but should have everyone back in time for the postseason.
5. Denver: With just one loss since mid-November, the Pios are looking pretty sharp. Bobby Brink (PHI) and Carter Savoie (EDM) are both averaging over 1.4 points per game, while Massimo Rizzo (CAR) and Carter Mazur (DET) are among the best freshmen in the country this season. The Pioneers are one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams and can dominate games. They are tough to match up against.
6. UMass-Lowell: Currently on a five-game winning streak through one of the softer parts of its schedule, UML is slowly creeping up the rankings. They are currently ninth in the Pairwise ratings, and sit atop the Hockey East standings with a .795 points percentage. There’s nothing overall flashy about this team. They have a good veteran lineup, a great goaltender in Owen Savory and are consistent in a way that has to frustrate many of their Hockey East peers, especially this season.
7. St. Cloud State: The Huskies are going to lose their coach and two players to the Olympics in a few weeks, but they’ve got such a veteran team, it probably won’t be as big of a concern as it could be. Right now, SCSU has been in the middle of an extended pause due to some schedule disruptions. I still don’t think they’ve hit their stride yet this season, which is why I remain optimistic of their chances down the stretch.
8. Northeastern: We’re going to have to talk about Devon Levi (BUF), which I’ll get to very shortly below, but the Huskies have been super interesting this season. They’ve had some hiccups here and there like a recent trouncing at the hands of Arizona State, but largely they’ve been good. Still, they’ve got to be even better down the stretch as they sit 15th in the Pairwise, which makes them a tournament bubble team. As long as they have Levi, though, they have a chance.
9. Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs had been in COVID protocols and came out of them with a fair series against Miami, earning a win and a shootout loss. Like St. Cloud, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of UMD yet this season, but if we do, they’ve got a chance to be a top team. Noah Cates (PHI) is leaving for the Olympics soon, but I think they’ve got enough talent to overcome, but their February schedule in the NCHC is going to be a tough one.
10. North Dakota: Despite being swept by Cornell a few weeks ago and despite the fact that they’ll lose Jake Sanderson to the Olympics, I still think North Dakota is going to be a tough out. They’re still top-10 in Pairwise team and after going through some COVID protocols, they’ve got a huge road series this weekend at Western Michigan. That could be one of the great games on the weekend slate.
Devon Levi is playing at an historic level
Northeastern sophomore goalie Devon Levi is having a special season, which is a gross understatement. The Buffalo Sabres prospect is having the kind of year that is going to threaten the history books, should he keep this up.
Keep in mind that Levi did not play a single minute for Northeastern last season as he was injured at the World Junior Championship and didn’t have a chance to suit up for the Huskies. So he’s not technically a freshman, but he’s a rookie in my book.
Let’s take a quick look at the numbers so far.
Levi has appeared in all 22 of the Huskies’ games so far this season. He is the only goalie who has played for the team, logging 1,325 minutes. He is 16-5-1 over that span and has faced 642 shots or an average of about 29 per game. Levi owns a nation-leading .955 save percentage and has nine shutouts so far this season.
The record for highest save percentage in a single season is .956, which was accomplished by Maine sophomore goalie Jimmy Howard, who of course went on to a successful NHL career. Howard appeared in 22 games that season, splitting the net with a senior Frank Doyle. So he wasn’t the team’s primary starter when he set the mark.
The gold standard of seasons for a starting goalie in the modern era is that of Ryan Miller in 2000-01 for Michigan State. He appeared in 40 games, finished the season with a .950 save percentage, 1.32 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. He won the Hobey Baker that season, one of only two goaltenders to claim college hockey’s top individual prize. No goaltender has earned the Hobey since.
That is the kind of season we’re looking at right now. Levi is on track to have one of the best seasons ever by an NCAA goalie, assuming he maintains this pace. It’s a tall order with a tough schedule ahead, but even if he doesn’t match Miller’s season, just being in that discussion is crazy to me. It’s deserved though.
Another record watch that we have to look at is the single-season record for shutouts. Greg Gardner had 12 for Niagara in 2000.
Here’s another thing to consider, one that you’d probably be particularly excited about if you’re a Buffalo Sabres fan. Only three other goalies have finished an NCAA season with a save percentage of .950 or greater. Miller, Howard and Connor Hellebuyck. That is two Vezina Trophy winners and a goalie with over 500 career starts in the NHL. Pretty special company if Levi can finish this out.
There’s been talk that Canada has expressed interest in him joining the Olympic team, but the likelihood of Levi being the starter over Devan Dubnyk seems unlikely. You have to wonder how that plays into Levi’s thought process. If Canada invites him, I’m sure it would be tough to turn down, but when you’re in a zone like he is, how much would you want to disrupt it if you don’t get a chance to play? That’s something I’d certainly have to wonder about. Not an easy call for a guy who is flirting with history here.
UPDATE: Per multiple sources, Levi has been formally invited to Canada’s Olympic Team and has accepted the opportunity to be one of their three goaltenders in Beijing. Additionally, Boston College forward Jack McBain has also been invited and accepted, per two sources. Owen Power reportedly already accepted Canada’s invite weeks ago.
The evidence of Levi’s talent and pro prospects is only mounting this year. He’s opened a lot of eyes over the last two seasons. Even though he barely played last year, the only games he appeared in were on the biggest possible stage and he delivered.
At last year’s WJC, Levi came out of seemingly nowhere to put together one of the best goaltending performances ever at the tournament. If Canada had won the gold medal, he would have had one of the iconic performances, but he got out-dueled by Spencer Knight in the final. Levi’s .964 save percentage over seven games at the WJC is the best ever in the tournament’s history with a minimum of five appearances. Carey Price had a .961.
Levi just turned 20 at the end of December, so he’s still remarkably young.
During his last year of junior hockey in 2019-20, playing for Carleton Place in the CCHL, he put up a .941 save percentage with eight shutouts. That was the second highest save percentage in the league’s history and best ever in his age peer group (18 or younger). Had he been in a different league, he might have gone higher than 212th overall, which is where the Florida Panthers nabbed him in the 2020 NHL Draft.
I wish I could tell you I saw this coming. I saw Levi live multiple times in his draft season at both the World Junior A Challenge and the CJHL top prospects game. He always stood out in the games I saw. There were some NHL tools, but you wonder how much can you believe in a goaltender from a lower-level junior league. I remember thinking, maybe he’ll get drafted.
Only 10 players in the history of the CCHL have been drafted into the NHL, none later than Levi. The most famous drafted alumnus of the league is probably Zach Hyman, who similarly went on to a stellar college career after dominating that junior league. It’s a pretty remarkable path for Levi to take and a good lesson for people like me to make sure you’re getting extra looks at players that you think there might be something in. Levi is a player you wish you could go back in time and dive in more, because all of the stuff I’m citing from his junior career is coming with the benefit of hindsight.
All of that information that we have now suggests that Levi is far better than his draft stock would indicate and that he’s very much among the top goaltending prospects outside of the NHL today. You always have to watch goalies and let them progress at their own pace, but Levi is putting together some absolutely mind-blowing numbers and has the ability to back it all up.
News and Notes from around Men’s College Hockey
Devon Levi is not the only goaltender to have a .950-plus save percentage this season. That distinction also belongs to Yaniv Perets who has a .952 mark in 14 games so far this season. He is 11-0-2 with a 0.74 goals-against average and eight shutouts. It’s silly stuff. QU is one of the dominant possession teams in the country and Perets has not yet seen 20 or more shots in any game he’s played. Don’t take anything away from the season Perets is having. He’s making saves, but I also think we have to be a bit more cautious when comparing him to Levi because there is a lot more to the story than his insane numbers. Perets will deservedly get postseason accolades, but I do think there is a gap between the two in terms of overall impact on their respective teams. Still, you’ve got to stop pucks and he’s stopped 198 of 208 shots. Pretty special, regardless of how you break it down.
I’ve heard that the U.S. Olympic Men’s Team will have some alternates on standby in the event players are unable to leave with the team. I’m not certain of the total number, but sources have indicated University of Denver winger Bobby Brink (PHI) and Northeastern defenseman Jordan Harris (MTL) are among the alternates available to Team USA, should they need some. Both are having very strong seasons.
Nathan Smith (WPG) of Minnesota State regained sole possession of the national scoring lead last weekend with a pair of assists against Northern Michigan. He has 35 points in 24 games. While it is often difficult for players from the lower conferences to get Hobey Baker recognition and some of Smith’s competition comes right from his own team and goalie Dryden McKay, I would still give the Floridian a long look if I were on the committee. His season will be disrupted by the Olympics, for which he was deservedly invited to by Team USA. I think he’s been one of the best players in the country on merit this season and certainly one of the most improved prospects I’ve watched in the last several years. The growth in his game from offensive dynamo to 200-foot player is truly impressive and a reason I think he’ll be an NHL player.
Vermont head coach Todd Woodcroft announced he has withdrawn from his coaching duties with Team Sweden at the Olympics. I’m sure it was a difficult decision, but his team will benefit from him staying behind. When he was on Talking Hockey Sense earlier this year, Woodcroft talked a lot about all of the things he has learned working with various national teams and the message it sends to international recruits about his experience, too. As for not going to Beijing, Woodcroft cited the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and his own team’s status as reasons to skip the Olympics. The Catamounts still have a long way to go, too. Vermont is currently 3-14-2. They’ve got some good young players and some higher-end recruits relative to what they’ve had in recent years coming in. But it’s a big job to rebuild that program and it’s going to take a heck of a lot of patience before things turn around.
Canada’s Olympic roster’s unveiling date is not currently known. Hockey Canada execs have said they have until about January 24 to finalize everything. The expectation is that Owen Power (BUF) will be one college player on there. It is unclear if others will get the invite, though Levi and Kent Johnson (CBJ) would be strong candidates for inclusion.
It sounds like all U.S. players will be available to their college teams through the last weekend of January before they converge on Los Angeles to leave for Beijing with Team USA’s contingent. I’m planning to be at Michigan at Wisconsin on January 28, so I hope that holds true.
Also, I wanted to remind you that my mid-season draft rankings for 2022 will be available on DailyFaceoff.com at the end of this month. Be sure to follow all the work I’m doing there, along with the rest of the great staff. Thanks for all of your support!