Deep in drafts, every fan hopes that the guy their favorite team picked will turn out to be a diamond in the rough and perhaps make it to the NHL one day. However, it's rare that it happens. Often times, such players will likely need plenty of development both right after the draft and in minor pro if they get that far. Even then, it's not likely as there's usually a reason they were such a late pick. Regardless, a prospect is a prospect and I personally favor taking those who've at least excelled at their level and will head somewhere where there's no rush to develop. Such as successful junior players who are college-bound. One such player is Yale commit and US National Team Development Program forward Ryan Hitchcock.
Who is Ryan Hitchcock?
According to Elite Prospects, Hitchcock hails from Manhasset, New York, born on March 30, 1996; and is listed at 5'9" and 172 pounds. That last bit partially explains why he's not so touted. Anyway, Hitchcock grew up as a player with the Long Island Gulls and New Jersey Rockets before being called into the USNTDP program. He's since been a good part of their U-17 and U-18 teams, playing in exhibition games with college programs, performing in the United States Hockey League, and competing at the international level. His stats at Elite Prospects reveals that Hitchcock certainly wasn't just a guy on the team so to speak.
Hitchcock's production was certainly good, but it wasn't great. At the developmental level, his 49 points did place him fifth among all scorers on the USNTDP U-18 team. Being only behind Jack Eichel (2015 eligible, potential stud), Alex Tuch (potential first rounder in 2014), Sonny Milano (potential first rounder in 2014), and Dylan Larkin (potential first rounder in 2014) puts him in some relatively good company at first glance. However, the USHL portion of the season reveals that he ranked tied for ninth in points among the U-17 and U-18 players. Not bad, but not so impressive. Given he's got some special teams goals, at least it's known he was used in all situations. While good, he wasn't the featured player on the team. In his second season in America's Tier 1 Junior league, Hitchcock at least showed some improvement in terms of his production. He put up one more point in 18 fewer games while increasing his average shots per game from 2.2 to 2.4. Nothing massive, but it's nice to see. Internationally, Hitchcock represented the United States at the World U-18 tourney. He put up 17 shots to go with his two goals and two assists. While Milano, Eichel, Kyle Connor, and Auston Matthews (a 2016 eligible) led the team in scoring, Hitchcock managed to be a contributor on a gold-medal winning team. As mentioned earlier, Hitchcock has committed to Yale and will join a team looking to get back to contending for a ECAC title. Regardless of whether he gets drafted, Hitchcock will certainly be moving up a level.
What Others Have Said About Ryan Hitchcock
Since he's been a part of the USNTDP program, essentially a factory for young American prospects, Hitchcock has received some attention. His profile at Elite Prospects has the following blurb on the player:
Hitchcock is a hardworking, strong skating, mature two-way forward. While he does not have elite offensive skills he does handle the puck well and makes a strong pass. He also has impressive hockey sense and instincts that allow him to be a difference maker. (November 2013)
This isn't all that surprising to read. If his skills were elite, then he'd command a lot more attention. I can believe his passing being strong as assists represent a good portion of his production. It's good to see that he can pass and he's not the benefit of just touching the puck before someone better lights the lamp. Being a good skater is also important; small players who can't skate aren't all that desirable by anyone, really.
Elite Prospects' blurb came from November of last season. Before the 2013-14 season began, Nick Perri of The Scouting Report had this to say about Hitchcock after a season with the U-17 team:
Hitchcock is another small winger, listed at 5-foot-9, 151-pounds, but he has a tendency to play as if he is much bigger. Hitchcock was a player that did it all for the U17 team last season. The winger ranked second on the U17 team in points against USHL clubs, scoring eight times and adding 11 assists for 19 points. Hitchcock appeared in two games with the U18 club last season and recorded one assist. He was also a point-per-game player at the U17 World Championships (six points in six games). Hitchcock plays with a lot of energy in his game, and despite his size, he doesn’t back away from grinding on the forecheck, or throwing his body around and getting involved on the boards. Hitchcock was also used on the top penalty-kill unit, often with center Ryan MacInnis who just recently signed with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Hitchcock is a reliable two-way forward, with a competitive edge and as he fills out his frame, his size shouldn't be a major concern.
Hitchcock did gain weight based on Perri's information ahead of this season. However, he remains a small player. Again, given that Hitchcock did get some points on the PK and PP, he was used in all situations on the U-18 team. How much time and what unit remains unknown. We can surmise that Hitchcock's defensive and offensive play wasn't so lacking to be used in special situations. It's curious to read that he was such an energetic player before 2013-14. As encouraging as it is to read that he plays with courage and toughness, it's a question whether it's a good idea. Better to do than not, perhaps.
As the season progressed, there were a few spots where he was mentioned. For example, Kirk Luedeke mentioned Hitchcock among his top NY/NJ born prospects at the end of his profile on Tuch in the New York Hockey Journal.
Cerebral forward is versatile and plays with energy; another solid mid-round bet for the draft.
It's not much, but you take what you can get from a proven guy who knows things. At the time of Luedeke's list, the Central Scouting Service ranking for Hitchcock was 95th among North American skaters. He would fall down to 131 by the final rankings. This was something I noticed when I read Chris Peters' run down of the United States U-18 team in advance of the World U-18 Championships. Here's what Peters had to say about Hitchcock.
At 5-9, 171, Hitchcock is one of Team USA’s smaller forwards, but size is hardly a concern. With 35 assists this season, Hitchcock was one of the better distributors on the team, ranking third on the squad in that category. He has a bit of an edge in his game, too, which allows him to get to the tougher areas of the ice and still be a factor. He’s another guy that has to really support scoring depth.
While two goals and two assists may not seem like a lot, we can say that along with 17 shots in seven games that Hitchcock did that. Incidentally, for a guy with such an edge, Hitchcock hasn't taken a lot of penalties either with the USNTDP or at the international level. That's actually a positive since players who can be physical without hurting the team can be an asset. Again, with his size, he may not be able to afford being so physical, but he has gotten away with it - so far.
An Opinion of Sorts
Hitchcock isn't ever going to be big. I hinted at it earlier, but I honestly question whether he can play the physical style he apparently does when he's playing against fully grown men. Still, there's plenty to like from a perspective of what he's done. He's played in all situations for his team, which is a positive. While he's been apparently aggressive, he hasn't been reckless based on his low penalty minute totals. That's another positive. He's improved his production, even if it isn't big, in his second season with the USNTDP. He wasn't a standout player on his team, but he was a good part and contributed accordingly.
The main thing that will hold him back is whether other teams forsee a future. In spite of these positives, you'll note that in terms of skill there was mention of how well he moved the puck but not much more. He has sense, which I think refers to his play off the puck; but not much about how strong he is or isn't on the puck. There isn't much about his shot. I don't think it's necessarily because it's bad, just not notable. Unfortunately, for a player to be drafted - particularly a smaller player - there has to be something notable about his game. Something that makes a scout think he could do that at the professional level in time. Hitchcock will have the time; but does he have the potential? As such, the question is whether he will be drafted instead of when he will be (if it does happen, expect it to be late).
Repeating what i said at the beginning, I prefer a prospect like Hitchcock for late picks. He's clearly done well at his level, which is a pretty good place since it involved international competition against his peers while hanging on a team traditionally filled with draftable talent. He'll be going to a fairly strong Yale program and compete against bigger and better players. I'd very much like to see the Devils take someone like him in the fifth or sixth round and let him do his thing. Should he become a big part of Yale's hockey team in a few years, then there's reason to get a little excited. Maybe not for the NHL, but for making a career out of hockey. I hope someone takes him in Philadelphia either way.
Now that you've read all this, what's your opinion of Hitchcock as a prospect? What do you make of his performance on a strong USNTDP team? Did you catch him playing for the United States at the World U-18 tournament? If you're a Yale fan, are you looking forward to him in 2014-15? Would you want the Devils to draft him if he's available late in the draft? Do you think any team will draft him this year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Ryan Hitchcock in the comments. Thank you for reading.