With just over a month until the 2023 NHL Draft, the USHL figures to be well-represented once again.
Last year, 47 players from 2022 USHL rosters and 10 alumni – 57 in all – matched a league record previously set in the 2018 NHL Draft, marking the fifth consecutive year that at least 50 players with USHL ties were selected.
The Youngstown Phantoms likely will garner prospective NHL clubs’ attention after their incredible Clark Cup championship run.
The Phantoms earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and went through Cedar Rapids and Chicago, before sweeping Fargo in the championship series.
However, the postseason overall saw several 2023 NHL Draft-eligible players elevate their games under the bright (and watchful) lights.
Here are my 10 NHL Draft-eligible prospects who saw their draft stock rise after this year’s Clark Cup Playoffs.
(Players in no particular order)
William Whitelaw, F, Youngstown
Finishing the regular season with 39 points in 39 games, Whitelaw carried his strong play into the postseason.
The Wisconsin commit collected nine points (five goals, four assists) in nine playoff games, including the overtime winner that eliminated No. 1 seed Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While perhaps undersized, Whitelaw plays an aggressive, relentless style, hounding the opposition on the forecheck, and his skill set could make an NHL club ensure he doesn’t fall into the second round.
Tanner Ludtke, F, Lincoln
With goals in three straight games to open the postseason, Ludtke became only the eighth Lincoln Stars player since 2003 to score in three consecutive Clark Cup Playoff games.
The Elko, Minnesota, native finished with seven points (five goals, two assists), helping the Stars advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Ludtke provided the game-winning goal in Lincoln’s postseason opener against Des Moines.
Cole Knuble, F, Fargo
Knuble was listed at No. 105 on the NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings for North American Skaters, but he was the heart and soul for the Anderson Cup-winning Force this season.
The Notre Dame commit finished with the third-most points (nine) among all skaters in the postseason and scored the only goal with 0:44 left in regulation, lifting Fargo to a Game 1 win against Lincoln in the Western Conference Finals.
Knuble also tallied a hat trick in Fargo’s win against the Stars in Game 4, punching their ticket to the Clark Cup Final.
Martin Misiak, F, Youngstown
Misiak took some time to acclimate to the USHL after coming over from Slovakia mid-season.
He finished with 17 points in 27 games during the regular season.
In the postseason, he centered the top line for the Phantoms, collecting 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in nine games and had the game-winner for Youngstown in Game 3 against Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.
He was listed at No. 45 on the NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings and could make an NHL club very happy on Day 2 of the Draft, especially with his keen ability to win faceoffs.
Ryan Walsh, F, Cedar Rapids
Potting the second-most points in the league during the regular season, Cedar Rapids’ Ryan Walsh is an attractive over-age prospect NHL clubs could take a flier on.
The Rochester, New York, native broke the RoughRiders’ single-season record for points in a season, proving to be a weapon with his shot and his vision.
The 19-year-old helped the Riders knock off the NTDP U17 squad in the first round of the Clark Cup Playoffs, collecting two goals and three assists in three games. Walsh added another two-assist performance in Game 1 against Youngstown in the second round.
Andrew Strathmann, D, Youngstown
Finishing with the third-most assists among defensemen during the regular season, Andrew Strathmann proved to be one of the best puck facilitators in the USHL.
The North Dakota commit carried his strong regular season into the postseason, collecting seven points (three assists, four goals) in nine games for the Phantoms.
He played a significant role in helping Youngstown advance to the Clark Cup Final, tallying a goal and an assist in the team’s series-clinching Game 4 win against Chicago.
Jayden Perron, F, Chicago
With Macklin Celebrini absent from the lineup for most of the postseason, the Steel looked to Jayden Perron to step up in his absence.
Primarily known as a setup man during the regular season, the North Dakota commit answered the bell, recording a hat trick in Chicago’s win against Dubuque in Game 1.
Perron collected two points in the Eastern Conference Finals, including a beautiful backdoor assist to open the scoring in Game 2.
Andon Cerbone, F, Youngstown
Another over-age prospect, Andon Cerbone pieced together one of the most memorable postseason runs.
The Stamford, Connecticut, native potted nine goals (five goals, four assists) in nine games, scoring the game-winner in overtime for the Phantoms in Game 2 and in regulation of Game 3 of the Clark Cup Final.
Cerbone didn’t appear in the NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings, but the young forward is a low-risk, high-reward prospect in the later rounds.
Committed to the defending NCAA champions, Cerbone should continue to round out his game next year at Quinnipiac.
Jacob Fowler, G, Youngstown
Aside from the first month of the season, Jacob Fowler proved to be as good – if not better – than the hype surrounding him.
He led all qualified goaltenders in save percentage (0.921) and goals-against average (2.28) during the regular season and was a brick wall in the Clark Cup Final.
The Boston College commit stopped an unbelievable 81-of-83 shots, collecting a shutout in Youngstown’s Clark Cup-clinching win over Fargo in Game 3 of their series.
Fowler posted an absurd 1.36 goals-against average and 0.952 save percentage in nine postseason games. He was named the Clark Cup Most Outstanding Player, following up on his USHL Goaltender of the Year honor during the regular season.
Christian Manz, G, Chicago
With Youngstown gunning for first place in the East, Christian Manz elevated his game once the calendar flipped to March.
The Augustana commit collected a 2.25 goals-against average and a 0.929 save percentage in the final eight regular-season games and stayed hot in the playoffs.
With Chicago struggling to find consistent offense, Manz played his best hockey, posting the fifth-best goals-against average (2.63) and third-best save percentage (0.930), while seeing the third-most shots (230) among all postseason goaltenders.