A chance to display their skills for a herd of NHL scouts this week is a challenge Lancer defenseman Tucker Poolman and forward Drew Melanson are excited for.
Those two, along with 38 other USHL players, will participate in Wednesday’s USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Muskegon, Mich.
This is the second season for this event, which allows many of the USHL’s top players who are eligible for the 2013 NHL draft to show some talent evaluators what they can do.
“It’s a great honor,” Melanson said. “Of all the draft-eligible kids, to be among the top 40 picked for this, I have to look at it as a huge opportunity.”
Melanson is one of the 27 players participating who is in his first year of eligibility for the draft. Born in 1993, Poolman is one of the veterans selected by the USHL’s general managers, NHL scouts and team personnel, and NHL Central Scouting.
In Saturday’s 5-2 victory against Lincoln, Melanson scored his sixth goal of the season and has 14 points in 34 games. That goal tied the game 2-2 early in the third period.
Poolman is one of the USHL’s top scoring defenders with nine goals and seven assists. He had a power-play goal in Friday’s 3-2 win at Lincoln.
Neither Poolman nor Melanson is planning to approach this event as anything other than another game.
“I’m going to go in and try to keep doing what I do in Omaha,” Poolman said. “I just want to play hard and try not to change too much.”
Melanson said he’s talked to others who have played in this type of event. He got some valuable advice.
“They said don’t approach it as an All-Star game or skills show-off,” Melanson said. “I’m going to use my speed to try to help the team. It’s not a good time to be flashy, not do anything cocky or stupid.”
Both players already have college scholarships — Poolman to North Dakota and Melanson to RPI.
Omaha coach Mike Aikens said both have earned this opportunity, and that scouts have been at Ralston Arena to watch these two and other Lancers.
“A lot of NHL scouts have been calling about Tucker, and a lot of them have been in the building this year,” Aikens said. “I think he could be a great later-round draft pick. He’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be.”
Aikens said this will be a good opportunity for Melanson to show what he can do skating with and against a high-caliber group of peers.
“Drew has a lot of tools,” Aikens said. “The game has changed in the NHL. Where you used to have to be big, strong and tough, now speed and skating ability is valued more, and that will help Drew.”
While both players are excited for this game, they’re both eager to get back to Omaha to help the Lancers continue their climb up the Western Conference standings. Omaha is on a four-game winning streak, and at 21-16 is one point behind fourth-place Lincoln.
“We had a rough start coming back from Christmas break but we made a lot of trades in December,” Poolman said. “We’re all still getting used to each other, but we have a lot more talent now.
“When all is said and done, I think we’ll be OK. I think we’ll work good as a group.”
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