Preview: RPI vs. U-18 USNTDP
What's up with all these exhibition games?
RPI hosts the United States National Team Development Program U-18 team this Friday night in a game that won’t count towards anything, but that should help the group get some good experience playing against a highly-skilled team.
The USNTDP U-18 team officially competes in the USHL, but they frequently play these kind of exhibition games against college teams. Already this season, they have taken down Michigan State, Notre Dame, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, and University of St. Thomas. Obviously, they are a younger team, but we’re talking about a group who are the best US-born players of their age. Most will be drafted next summer, with a couple likely going in the first round.
It will be exciting – this U-18 team is fun to watch.
The Will Smith (C, #2) and Ryan Leonard (RW, #9) combo: these two make up two-thirds of the U-18’s lethal top line. It’s a top line (along with Gabe Perreault) that has already scored 23 goals through 10 games.
Smith is an all-around high-end player who is touted as one of the most dynamic offensive talents in his age group. Give him time and space and he’ll create danger. Leonard is an elite skater with a powerful shot who makes the game look effortless. Both are projected to go in the first round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Oliver Moore (#11, C) is another possible first-rounder with a fantastic shot and great puck possession abilities. Combine that with his strong defensive work and you get a really strong two-way center.
Paul Fischer (#7, LD) is a strong, athletic defenseman who can run a powerplay and knock opponents off their feet. He’ll be a tough matchup for RPI forwards.
What to Watch For
Experimenting with Line Combinations and PP/PK Units
RPI will obviously try to win this game, but with it only being an exhibition, there’s an opportunity to experiment with fewer consequences. The lines have largely stayed consistent through the first 5 games of the season, but I think we could see some changes Friday night.
One thing I’d like to see is trying Agnew up on the first pair with Lauri Sertti. Agnew had his best game of the season (at even strength) Tuesday against Canisius. He posted a 79.2% Corsi-For Percentage and my model (based on scoring chances) showed that the team collected 87.5% of the expected goals when he was on the ice. Basically, he drove play extremely well and helped the team generate a bunch of scoring chances while limiting those against. Fair to say that he’s earned a chance up on the top pair, where he had so much success last year with Jake Johnson.
How the Team Plays Against High-Skill
RPI is going to face high-skilled teams this year in games that really matter. Teams like Harvard and Quinnipiac that have truly high-end players who can change a game in the blink of an eye.
This game against the U-18’s gives RPI a chance to practice playing against that high-skill style of play and to figure out ways to win against these kinds of teams.
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