Ohio State freshman R.J. Umberger is the top U.S. College Player ranked in the NHL’s mid-season Central Scouting Service report.
Umberger is ranked No. 4 among North American skaters, behind major junior players Jason Spezza (Windsor), Stephen Weiss (Plymouth) and Dan Hamhuis (Prince George). Last season, Wisconsin’s Dany Heatley was the first U.S. college player to be ranked No. 1 by the CSS. Heatley ended up being taken No. 2 overall in the June NHL Draft by Atlanta, behind Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro.
It will be difficult to duplicate last year’s NHL Draft bumper crop, when, in addition to Heatley-DiPietro going 1-2, five other college players went in the first round.
Umberger, 18, is from Pittsburgh, which already makes him the most accomplished player ever to come from that area.
“R.J. is a good puckhandler and is always dangerous when he has possession of the puck,” says the CSS report. “[He] has shown the ability to score the big goal and is capable of making big plays in traffic … he is strong on his skates and protects the puck very well … used in all game situations and is frequently played on the power-play and penalty-killing units.”
The top 240 North American skaters are ranked, plus the top 30 goalies, top 100 European skaters, and top seven European goalies — all in separate lists.
Defenseman Ryan Whitney, currently with the U.S. Under-18 team and ticketed for BU, is No. 6 on the list. Other college players or recruits among the top 25 are: No. 9 Mike Komisarek (Michigan), No. 21 Rob Globke (Notre Dame), No. 23 Tim Jackman (MSU-Mankato) and No. 25 David Steckel (Ohio State).
The only American goalie on the list is No. 11 Jason Bacashihua, who is headed to Michigan in the fall. The only U.S. college goalie listed is Findlay’s Kevin Fines at No. 26; Fines is from Sudbury, Ont.
Other notables including Michigan recruit Eric Nystrom at No. 32, and current Boston College freshman phenom Chuck Kobasew at No. 33. Michigan’s Mike Cammalleri is No. 41, followed by Colorado College’s Colin Stuart (43) and UMass-Amherst’s Scott Horvath (44).
The complete list can be found at the NHL.com.
Players such as Whitney and Bacashihua, who will only be 18 years old by this fall, are not actually eligible for the NHL Draft unless they “opt in.” Doing so, however, would relinquish their NCAA eligibility, so that appears unlikely. Most players already in college will be 19, and thus eligible for the draft without having to opt-in or lose their eligibility.
The exception last year was DiPietro, who was four days short of the cutoff and was considered 18. He had to choose between staying at BU or opting-in, and chose the latter.