A Chris Pronger-size defenseman, a center with NHL in his blood and the rugged son of a former college football standout give the American hockey program a chance to continue the trend of strong NHL draft showings.
Based on early season reviews, there seem to be four to six Americans with strong first-round potential, led by 6-7 defenseman Tyler Myers of the Western Hockey League and Boston University center Colin Wilson. He is the son of Carey Wilson, who played 13 seasons in the NHL with Calgary, Hartford and the New York Rangers.
Myers is a native Texan whose family moved to Alberta because his dad worked in the oil industry. Right now he's probably rated in 10 to 16 range, but some believe he has a chance to be another Pronger.
"He's a big kid and he skates well for his size," said Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill. "He handles the puck well. He's intriguing. Usually kids his size stumble around, but he's pretty smooth."
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The majority view on Myers is that he is a possible top 10 pick, but the minority view is that he could climb as high as fourth or fifth in the draft.
Wilson played last season for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and he's considered a safe pick. There is no doubt he's going to be a solid NHL performer, although there are some minor concerns about his skating ability.
"He's a special player," said John Hynes, a coach in the U.S. program. "He will never get out-competed. But what gets underestimated about him is that he can make big plays and score. He's a pretty good offensive talent."
Another potential top 10 American draft pick is 6-2, 200-pound, rough-and-tumble defenseman Zach Bogosian, whose father, Ike, was co-captain of the 1981 Syracuse football team along with former New York Giant great Joe Morris. An upstate New Yorker, Bogosian now plays for the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey League.
"(Bogosian) is a tenacious competitor and he has a good sense of the game," Hynes said. "He moves his feet well for a big player. He has a lot of tools, but what you notice first is the competitive edge to his game."
The fourth-rated American is probably Jimmy Hayes, a 6-4, 200-pound power forward whose ranking has slipped because of a poor start.
"He's very committed, but his next step is to be able to use his size offensively, like when he has the puck down low around the net," Hynes said.
It's his misfortune that his draft year comes a year after James vanRiemsdyk, another big-bodied American forward, who was taken No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. It's difficult to measure up to vanRiemdsyk, who has more polish and a better finishing touch as a scorer.
"They are two different players," Hynes said. "VanRiemsdyk doesn't have to have a ton of impact every shift to be effective. Jimmy is more of a regular blue-collar power forward. He has to be physical and use energy. That's when he's at his best."
Other potential first-round picks include Phil McRae, son of former NHL player Basil McRae who is playing in London, Ontario, and U.S. Under-18 team player Justin Florek, a 6-4 forward. He's also off to a slow start, "But in his prime he will be a good hard power forward," Hynes said. "He works at it and understands the game."
Some scouts like Vinny Saponari, a hard-working, two-way player with decent hands in traffic.
There are other intriguing players rated in the second round, Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers player A.J. Jenks and puck-handling defenseman Aaron Ness of Roseau (Minn.) High School.
A wild card might be Grant Scott of the U.S. Under-18 program, a 6-4 player who was switched from defense to forward. "He has adjusted well," Hynes said. "He's an aggressive player by nature. It's been easier to use his aggressiveness and speed more up front."
Right now it appears that the Americans won't come close to matching last year's unprecedented strong draft showing. With Patrick Kane (Chicago) and vanRiemsdyk in the first two picks and 10 Americans going in the first round, it was the best draft day in American hockey history.
Nearly 30% of the players chosen in that draft were American. In 2006, 10 Americans also were selected in the first round. This is trend that USA Hockey officials would like to see continued.
Hynes says it's too early to say the Americans can't reach that 30% mark next June at the draft in Ottawa, or even too early to say that only six Americans will be selected in the first round.
"There are a lot of very good players in this class," Hynes said. "And sometimes it takes some guys longer to (develop)."
He points out that Erik Johnson, selected No. 1 by the St. Louis Blues in 2006, and vanRiemsdyk both climbed during their draft years because their play improved dramatically. American defenseman Ian Cole also made a late jump to end up as a first-round selection by the St. Louis Blues.
"There might be a couple of guys who emerge later in the season," Hynes said.
One possibility for a late rise is U.S. Under-18 team player Sean Lorentz of Littleton, Colo.. He doesn't have superior, high-grade skill, but coaches will want to play him all of the time because he always seems to make the right play at the right time. He could be this year's American sleeper, maybe moving up like Cole did last season.