Cedar Rapids RoughRiders GM/Coach Mark Carlson has guided the USHL club since its inception in 1999, and seen a lot of talented players come through not only the Cedar Rapids’ program, but the league itself, so it’s safe to say he knows NHL upside when he sees it.
Recrutes has been extremely impressed with Cedar Rapids’ rookie center Nathan Smith this season and has him ranked as a top 90 prospect despite being a Nov. 1998 birthdate. He is one prospect that appears to be flying under the radar as he has not been ranked by Central Scouting and didn’t play in the USHL’s recent Top Prospects Game. I spoke with Carlson yesterday about Smith and here were his thoughts:
“There’s some good interest in him. There are a number of teams calling and watching. I think he’s a heckuva talent, and I think he’s only scratching the surface. He’s a legitimate prospect for the draft no doubt.
“There’s no question he’s one of the top prospects in the USHL, and he’d shown that all year. Even in the pre-season tournament in Pittsburgh. He played AAA and high school hockey in Tampa Bay last year. He was a walk on in training camp and won a spot. It’s been fun to watch him develop, and he’s got a really good future. I think he’s got a ton of potential.
“I think he’s going to be back here next year, which I think will be a good thing for him considering where he’s come from…it’s been a big step for him. I think being here next year is gonna help him as far as going on and being a pro eventually.
“I think his skating and his edges are very, very good, his overall speed. He’s got good hands, he sees the ice, he competes. I think really all he needs is the expereince, and he’s just going to keep getting better.
“I said to a lot of guys through the years throughout the year that I just can’t imagine that….I don’t get overly concerned about the birth year, so I just can’t imagine that there’s that many better prospects in the Canadian hockey league and Europe and what not compared to this kid.
“I’ve been telling some of my buddies that scout in the NHL that I can’t wait to see what happens in the draft because I have been pretty fortunate to have some pretty good players here over my 19 years…I’ve had 22 or 23 players that have played in the NHL…and this is right up there with everybody else, if not more talented than some of them.
“I think he’s gaining confidence and getting better all the time. I think he’s just going to keep getting better.
“He’s in pretty good shape. As far as his lower body he will improve that with training.”