LA Kings Insider spoke with Los Angeles Kings Amateur Scout – United States, Tony Gasparini, to get a sense of how three NCAA-based American prospects have begun their collegiate seasons. First, there’s 19-year-old Cole Hults, a defenseman whose eight-game point streak came to an end over the weekend during Penn State’s back-to-back losses to Notre Dame. Still, he leads all freshman NCAA defensemen with 11 points (2-9=11) through his first 12 games.
Like Hults, Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Mikey Anderson is another freshman who will draw consideration from USA Hockey when it comes time to put the United States’ World Junior Championships team together. The left-shooting 18-year-old defenseman has missed time early in the season but has still posted seven points (3-4=7) in nine games, with two of his three goals coming on the power play.
St. Cloud State forward Mikey Eyssimont also missed time early in the season but enters the week with two goals and seven points in eight games; he nearly added a third goal to his name during the first of St. Cloud’s back-to-back losses to Denver, but his would-be Friday marker was negated because of goaltender interference. Now in his third year in college, he’ll be a player who will draw strong consideration for an entry-level contract upon the conclusion of his junior season with the Huskies.
LA Kings Insider: Cole Hults came to development camp with a body and stature that appeared ready for collegiate play, and he’s been producing at both ends of the ice for Penn State. Where exactly is he at, early in his freshman year? What has impressed you about Hults, and what will he continue to work on?
Tony Gasparini: He’s had a real good start to his collegiate career. He’s one of the top scoring defensemen in the country in addition to being the top scoring freshman defenseman in the country right now, and he’s got very good natural feel and ability to make plays with the puck in all three zones, and he has a tremendous amount of poise that goes along with that. He’s making the transition in regards to his play away from the puck, becoming more assertive without it, closing gaps, finishing off physically with intent. He’s in a great development situation. He’s playing top pairing minutes right from the start, and he’s on both of their special teams units. He’s a young man that he’s going to have a bright future ahead of him as long as he keeps working, and that’s something that he dedicated himself to the last two summers. He’s a really good kid, and having had the opportunity to watch him play the last two years in the USHL and then this season right now, he’s making the necessary strides towards one day becoming a pro.
LAKI: When you were scouting him in the USHL, did you have the sense that his skill set would transfer into somebody that was capable of providing offense?
TG: I think it was secondary. I think a lot of his points thus this year have come on the power play, and they’ve got a really good power play going. However, in his second year in the USHL, I thought the majority of his points came from his play in transition. Like, I thought he moved pucks up really quick, and that allowed the team to get moving and attack with speed. I thought that would be the majority of his points, but obviously he’s kind of added a little bit of an element through confidence that he gained last year in the USHL from the offensive blue line. He has to be respected up top on the power play because he does shoot it so well. That’s an element that maybe we undervalued a little bit in looking at him in the USHL, but in saying that, he was still one of the top five scoring [defensemen] last year in the United States league.
LAKI: How has Mikey Anderson’s freshman season started out in Duluth?
TG: Mikey, he got injured a couple weeks ago. I believe he had a slight concussion that he was dealing with. I think he’s going to be back on the ice again this week. He’s had a real strong start. Didn’t expect Mikey to be putting up these kind of numbers that he did from the beginning. His game is very solid, very dependable both ways. His greatest asset is probably just his level of competitiveness. This young man is a hockey player, and he thrives to compete in those one-on-one situations despite only being six feet tall. He makes really quick decisions with the puck. He’s very efficient coming out of his zone. He’s got some intangibles that are going to carry him a long way. That’s a pretty special young man.
LAKI: And with his skill set, given the importance of pace of play and the ability to move pucks, is he one of those hybrid-style, smaller defenders that you see more and more of?
TG: I think so. You know, I don’t know if it’s so much the size, but I think if you start looking at it, it’s the traits that are coming in – the skating, and the ability to make quick, responsible decision going through options with the puck. And I think those are probably the traits that maybe everyone is trending towards. You have to be able to retrieve pucks, you have to be able to make quick plays with them, but you want to do so where it’s not only one option. You want to be able to show enough poise and play with your head up that you can sort through your options in a quick amount of time in order to get pucks out of your zone. I think those traits in regards to being able to skate, being able to retrieve pucks and being able to sort with the puck on your stick in a quick fashion, I think those are the traits that you’re looking at. Cole is improving the pace of his game at Penn State because they play a really up-tempo game, but he has those traits with the puck on his stick. Mikey [Anderson] – he has those traits. He does make very, very quick decisions, and you see a lot of pre-puck awareness in his game where he knows where he’s going to go prior to touching that puck.
LAKI: Mikey Eyssimont has always shown strong playmaking and the ability to put up points. How is that transferring into his third NCAA season at St. Cloud?
TG: Well, he had a little bit of a rough start this year in which he was sick off the ice, which took him out of the first couple weeks. It’s going to be another two or three weeks before he’s back to 100%. He’s playing his way back into shape right now, but you’re starting to see flashes of his skill level, which is exceptional. Like, his individual skill level, his ability to make plays, create offense, especially on the half-court and especially on the power play, is very impressive. It’s a matter of Mikey gaining that strength back in which he worked so hard this past summer to add on. So, it’s going to take a little time. I would expect you’re going to see him take off in the second half of the season, and he’s hovering around a point-a-game now, which is very good. He’s been a point-a-game guy almost for two years in college now, but I would expect in the second half of this year – and St. Cloud is one of the top programs in the country this year – so I would expect in the second half, I would hope to see a little boost as he starts to get back. But his skill set is a little different. He separates himself due to his skill set and his offensive instincts. He’s got a will to score goals and a will to produce offensively. It’s just a matter of him gaining enough strength so he can play at a faster pace and play a more complete game without the puck.
-Lead photo via Jeff Vinnick/NHLI