SIOUX CITY, IA—The rosters for the 2019 USHL/NHL Top Prospects game were officially announced this morning and the Musketeers will have four players attending this years game. Last year Martin Pospisil, Sampo Ranta, and Samuel Salonen were the Musketeer participants. Ranta and Pospisil would go on to be selected in the 2018 NHL Draft.
The Musketeers selected this year should come as no surprise to those who have been following the team this season. Goaltender Ben Kraws, Defenseman Luke Johnson, Forward Bobby Brink, and Forward Marcus Kallionkieli all earned a spot on the roster for this year's matchup against the Eastern Conference’s best at the Ice Box in Lincoln on Tuesday, January 8th, 2019.
It is a special honor for these players, as this game has a long history of putting future NHL players and draft picks on display. Seventeen players from the 2018 USHL/NHL Top Prospects game were selected in the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas and in total 93 players who have played in the game have been drafted, dating back to 2012.
Kraws has had an excellent season so far with 11 wins (T-2nd), a 2.80 GAA (5th), and a .905 SV% (5th) while facing the 6th most shots in the league (472). While his numbers are impressive, they don’t show just how many times Kraws has helped his team win with big saves and big performances. Head Coach Luke Strand thinks the technical aspects of Kraws’ game and his maturity are what earned him a spot in this year’s game, “He’s mechanically and technically very solid. His game has grown in the net, and our team has grown too because of what he’s done in the net. For a young goaltender to put the team on his back the way he has this year, the sky is the limit for him.”
Luke Johnson has had a stellar year so far for Sioux City. Currently, he sits second in points among all USHL defenseman with 19. This stat becomes more impressive when you add in the fact that Johnson has only played in 17 games this season. Out of the top 10 scoring defenseman, only Ronnie Attard of the Tri-City Storm has played in fewer than 20 games with 19. Johnson was also named USHL Defenseman of the Week once already this season and was selected to compete for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge starting later this week. Associate Head Coach Mark Abalan, has been extremely impressed with the play of the Musketeer Captain this season and has even compared him to a former Sioux City Captain and current New York Ranger Neal Pionk, “He’s going to play the game for a long time because of his details. I’ve seen a lot of young defensemen, and his details are as good as someone like Neal Pionk when he was here, which I think is speaking pretty highly of him (Johnson) because obviously, Neal is playing in the National Hockey League now.”
Marcus Kallionkieli, who was one of only seven USHL players ranked as a B skater by NHL Central Scouting, has enjoyed an excellent rookie season, playing on the USHL’s top line with Martin Pospisil and Bobby Brink, the league’s top two scorers. So far this season, Kallionkieli has 12 goals and eight assists for 20 points in 16 games, good for 18th overall. Coach Strand believes Kallionkieli’s impressive physical package along with his already elite shooting and puck handling ability is more than enough to make any NHL scout take notice and should be enough to have his name called this summer in Vancouver. “The way he skates, his puck control, his hockey sense on top of being 6’3” and a left-handed shot is a great combination for the NHL. The best part about Marcus’ game is the best is yet to come, and we will be able to watch him play the game for a long time. When it comes to the draft, every NHL has different criteria for players they are looking for, but I think his attributes are going to be difficult to deny. I don’t know if you can ever teach the way he skates or his puck skills.”
After a successful 2017-18 high school season that saw Bobby Brink help Minnetonka reach their first Minnesota state title in school history, the young forward has come in this season and taken the USHL by storm. He currently leads the league with 33 points (15 G, 18A) in 19 games, and has seen his draft stock rise from a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder, to a potential 1st round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. He has found instant chemistry with his linemates Martin Pospisil and Marcus Kallionkieli, and the trio have dominated the USHL this season. So far Brink has earned himself a USHL Forward of the Week honor, along with his selection for Team USA at the Junior A Challenge alongside teammates Parker Ford and Luke Johnson. NHL Central Scouting gave him a C rating in October, but Brink has already surpassed those early season expectations. Coach Strand highlights Brink’s Hockey IQ and approach to the game as big reasons the young forward has found so much success this season.
“Bobby’s hockey sense is the base of this game, and the way he thinks through the game is elite. He’s a driven player who is always on the go to improve. His maturity as a young player to come into our league as a young player and do what he has done is outstanding. He’s a special player with a special approach to the game; he’s a young player with a professional approach. It’s pretty tough not to put him among the best in the US right now.”
While Coach Strand is happy with the players selected from Sioux City, he felt that the rosters had some interesting omissions, “There are players that are here with us that did not get selected that I believe are very much deserving of a selection. It’s hard for me not to talk about Parker Ford or Tommy Pasanen. At the end of the day, there are plenty of guys from this league who have been drafted that didn’t play in this game, and I would count on those two to be a part of that group, especially Parker. He consistently plays against the opponent’s top line and most of the time shuts them down while still getting on the scoresheet. He’s a tireless worker, and that’s what he wants his identity to be, and it is. Parker is certainly deserving of being in this game, but I look forward to someone calling his name in Vancouver.”
The two-day event will begin on Monday, January 7th with off- ice measurements conducted by NHL Central Scouting. On ice testing and the game will take place the following night at the Ice Box. The Coaching staff, ticket information, and additional events surrounding the game will be announced at a later date.
For the full roster click HERE