18U, 16U, 15O Standouts from the 2023 MHA Showcase

Three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie at each age group that I’m obsessed with

Craig Peterson

August 15, 2023

2023 MHA Showcase
Photo from Twitter | @MHA_Hockey

More than 120 top Michigan high school hockey prospects converged on Farmington Hills for the ninth annual MHA Showcase. The event consisted of two teams at the 15O, 16U and 18U age groups. They competed in a three-game weekend in front of scouts while also taking part in educational seminars. Speakers included Sean Hogan from College Hockey, Inc., and Sioux City Musketeers general manager Sean Clark. Both presenters provided insight and advice to prospective players interested in advancing their playing careers past high school hockey. 

The MHA Showcase serves two primary purposes. First, it’s a premium opportunity for scouts to get a look at prospects to pay attention to during the upcoming winter season. It’s also where Michigan Hockey Advancement (MHA) finalizes its Fall tournament rosters for upcoming events. MHA is slated to compete at the 2023 Kickoff Classic, Elite Prospects Cup Series and CCM Motown. 

I’ve dropped in for bits and pieces of the MHA Showcase over the years, but this weekend was the first time I’d been in attendance wire-to-wire. I must say, it had all the impressions of a high-level event. From signage in the lobby, QR codes on the doors so visitors could view rosters, the presenters I mentioned earlier… If you’re selected to participate, expect to be treated to a premier event for high school hockey prospects.

There was a lot to like about dozens of players on the ice over the weekend. However, I’ve managed to narrow it down to a starting lineup — three forwards, two D and a goalie that really stood out to me at each of the three participating age groups.

Jake Pietila
2008 Forward, Hartland

I honestly stopped keying in on him after just a few shifts on Friday. Jake Pietila very quickly — and easily — set himself apart from others in the birth year. He’s a big, strong kid for the age group and has a very mature style that was rarely rushed or under duress.  He’s very comfortable with the puck and was able to just dominate at times, carving his way through the neutral zone and attacking the net with speed. On top of all that, his shot is heavy! Pietila should be one of the top producers for MHA’s 15O team this fall and I’d expect him to play a nice role for Hartland in the winter as well. 

Andrew Beattie
2008 Forward, Traverse City Central

Andrew Beattie was buzzing all weekend long. I loved his pace and compete level in all three zones. He was highly effective on the forecheck, a first-guy-in on board battles and had a very active stick. Beattie knew when to get creative and dipsy-do his way through traffic but also when to be quick with one-touches and no dust-off plays as well. On top of all that, on several occasions, he would adjust his route through the neutral zone and time it so he could hit the blue line with speed just as the puck carrier was entering the zone as well. Those little things illustrate Beattie’s high hockey IQ and understanding of the game that not many have at this age level. 

Cam Staskowski
2008 Forward, Macomb Dakota

He wasn’t the best forward at the MHA Showcase, but Cam Staskowski is absolutely a forward you need on your team. Real good stops and starts, positioning was solid, right place, right time type of plays. He played the middle as good as anyone this weekend, supporting the puck in all three zones, jumping in on scrums and making a difference when appropriate. Staskowski was a responsible F3 when he had to be, blocked shots and killed penalties. Then, on Sunday, he capped off his weekend attacking the net and nipping Drake England high short side for a beauty of a goal. 

Luke Miller
2008 Defenseman, Alpena

Maybe my favorite player to watch out of the entire showcase. Luke Miller is an extremely good skater for this age group and this level of hockey. His educated feet immediately set him apart from the competition. A lot of times, kids with flashy footwork can overdo it. Really dramatic, evasive moves, unnecessary mohawks, or lots of crossovers to get where they’re going. Not Miller. His puck skills combined with the fluid footwork is everything I’d love to have in a young defenseman. 

Hunter Turkstra
2008 Defenseman, West Ottawa

If I didn’t single this kid out, I wouldn’t be doing the event justice. Hunter Turkstra was playing house hockey just two years ago. Yet, I’m not kidding when I say he may have been the best defenseman in the age group. He’s got real good size and plays with a great pace. I never really saw him try to do too much, either. He was very calm, composed and making really smart hockey plays that you love to see out of D-men. 

Brady Damian
2008 Goalie, Clarkston

One thing I liked about Brady Damian is if the puck was in the D-zone, he was tracking it. Didn’t matter who had the puck or what was going on, he was in the ready. Seems like a “Duh” comment but you’d be surprised how many goalies check out a bit when their team has possession of the puck. I appreciated his attention to detail. Damian’s movements were very fluid and he was under control with his lateral movements. Lots of goalies can make the stationary, point-blank save. Damian showed a nice ability to make adjustments and stops on royal road plays (pucks going through the slot) as well as tips and redirects. 

Ayden Cook
2007 Forward, Flint Powers

Ayden Cook was all over the ice in every way you would want him to be. He was able to function at a pretty fast pace, and as the game got faster, he continued to thrive where others fell behind. In an instant, Cook would lead the rush and set up a scoring chance. Then follow it up by tracking down the opponent and quickly forcing a turnover to go back on the attack again. The plays were dominant, but Cook made them look pretty effortless and casual at times. It was almost like the difficulty of it all was downplayed by his demeanor.

Ben Mielock
2007 Forward, Forest Hills Central

FHC is gonna be in good hands for a while with Ben Mielock and Gibson Grendel (More on him in a minute). It’s one thing to get up and down the ice, and keep up with a fast-paced game. It’s a completely different thing to be able to operate and make plays at that speed. Mielock was one of only a few that I felt could really thrive in a track meet where the game was constantly tilting back and forth. Games for the 16s were kind of ugly for long stretches. Low scoring, very limited zone time. Hell, one game ended 1-0, I believe. As gritty and sloppy as the games felt at times, Mielock always seemed to shine with his ability to operate at a fast pace.  

Drew L’Esperance
2007 Forward, Hartland

Everything Jake Pietila was to the 15s, Drew L’Esperance was to the 16s. L’Esperance was a big body but not in a 6-foot-5 or 200-pound type presence. He just had a way of making himself look big and impose his size on others. He’d come up the ice through the neutral zone, shield off defenders and handle pucks with ease despite having a guy on his back. When the puck was on his stick, L’Esperance just seemed to have the game in the palm of his hands, even when navigating his way through traffic. 

Braden Bates
2007 Defenseman, GRCC

Braden Bates was one of the smaller defensemen amongst a surprisingly tall group. Yet, it didn’t seem to hinder him one bit as I thought it was one of the more influential defensemen in the age group. His footwork was pretty good, but not in an overly flashy way. In football, they talk about running backs sticking their foot in the dirt and powering through the hole. Similarly, Bates had a way of putting his skate in the ice and getting north with the puck pretty quickly. At one point, he forced a turnover at the offensive blue line and then darted toward the net to make himself a scoring option and nearly finished the play with a goal.

Gibson Grendel
2007 Defenseman, Forest Hills Central

I think a lot of people might watch Gibson Grendel play defense and hold their breath in fear of what might happen. However, I couldn’t get enough of the kid because of what he was actually doing. He’s very aggressive with super tight gaps throughout the rink, he loves getting involved in the offense and contributing, like all offensive defensemen love to do. That might scare some into worrying about ‘well what if the puck gets by him?’ and ‘what if he gets beat?’ I watched him all weekend and didn’t feel like he ever got beat cleanly… ever. His skating is so good that he’s able to keep a crazy tight gap on opponents and force turnovers, make plays and get to pucks in all three zones that very, very few defensemen can. And he does it all without really being a defensive liability. 

Brady Hubenschmidt
2007 Goalie, Hartland

He’s got real great size and a frame for the makings of a promising goalie prospect. Brady Hubenschmidt is a tall and lanky goalie that does a really good job of making himself look even bigger. Especially when he drops into a butterfly, he manages to keep his shoulders exposed and take up a lot of net with very few holes. His footwork is pretty swift and clean, with movement that never really overcompensated. When he did get into trouble, Hubenschmidt had a nice element of ‘battle’ to his game where he was on the winning end of scrums in front of the net.

Carter Cate
2006 Forward, U-D Jesuit

I just would not want to play against this kid. Carter Cate is fast, aggressive, mean and relentless. Oh, and he’s well coached. As evidenced by his backcheck where he worked his ass off to bolt back through the neutral zone all the way to the crease in order to eliminate the ensuing rush. From there, he sorted things out and got set up in a D-zone coverage. He is very quick to engage in scrums on the boards and surprisingly physical, despite looking like one of the smaller, lighter prospects at the 18U level. Cate epitomizes the center position for high school prospects. He’s the first one up the ice on a forecheck while also being the hardest working one coming back the other way as well.

Clay Spencer
2005 Forward, Country Day

Puck hound! Clay Spencer is a hungry dog on the forecheck and in pursuit of the puck. He wins puck battles all over the rink and makes so many good things happen. On top of that, he keeps that pace even while in possession of the puck. A lot of times, kids slow down or their feet stop moving because they’re focused on stickhandling. Spencer attacks the net just as aggressively with and without the puck, making him difficult to defend against. 

Owen Croston
2005 Forward, Clarkston

Unless someone makes a strong case to convince me otherwise, Owen Croston is very much in consideration to be the top forward in high school hockey this year. I know it’s early and maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but every time I watch him, Croston is making plays and making them at top speed. To do that at this level is so rare, and I just think there’s a ton to like about his game. If he’s not playing junior hockey next year, I’ll be stunned. It’s not necessarily the play itself. Little things like going skate to stick with a puck, or forcing a turnover behind the net and moving it to a teammate backdoor for a goal. It’s how quickly he’s able to do it and how effortless Croston makes it look.

Cameron George
2005 Defenseman, Brother Rice

You hear it a lot that the best defensemen are the ones you don’t notice. Like offensive linemen in football, you only notice them when they give up a sack. Cam George’s game is so unsuspecting that it’s easy to take it for granted. He’s a real strong, smooth skater who calmly collects pucks, avoids pressure and moves the play where it needs to go. He’s certainly smaller for the age group, but it doesn’t hinder him in the least with play-making ability like that. 

Trey Damian
2005 Defenseman, Clarkston

Trey Damian was a little volatile over the weekend, with some extremely exciting plays and some dangerous plays too. His ability to make plays offensively definitely grabbed my attention. In one play, he made a backhand, behind-the-back pass to a teammate backdoor for a tap-in goal. However, he set that play up by being F1 on a forecheck. Huh? Do I want my defenseman forcing the issue below the attacking goal line? I don’t know… he made the play, so I’ll forgive it. Then, he made another impressive forehand-backhand deke to get around a defender and attacked the net. Just when you expected him to shoot, Damian dished to a teammate on the near side who took to the far post and stuffed it home. I don’t know if he’s always in the best position, but I do know the kid can make some electrifying plays, and I wouldn’t want to limit that. 

Turner England
2006 Goalie, Brother Rice

He wasn’t the biggest goalie in the age group — also not the smallest — but Turner England did have a knack for making himself look big. It felt like in most instances, the lower half of the net was eliminated, whether England was upright or in a butterfly. He was pretty aggressive in challenging shooters and lateral movements were good. Only one time, he needed an extra push going left to right and that fraction of a second did cost him a power-play goal against. Even so, England has a lot of tools to put him in the mix among top goaltenders in the state this season.

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