Detroit Red Wings draft picks Robert Mastrosimone and Ethan Phillips know all about the value of Monday's BioSteel All-American Game, which will feature the top U.S.-born prospects for the 2020 NHL draft and will attract scouts from every NHL team at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth at 7 p.m.
Mastrosimone and Phillips, both selected by Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman in the 2019 NHL Draft and now linemates at Boston University, were named most valuable players at last year's USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Mastrosimone was Team East's MVP with two goals and six shots and Phillips was Team West's MVP with a goal and an assist in a 5-3 victory. They were two of 55 players with USHL ties selected at the NHL draft in Vancouver.
A second-round pick by the Red Wings, Mastrosimone says the all-star game highlights the strengths of the United States Hockey League, the only Tier I hockey league in the country with 16 teams consisting of players between the ages of 16-21 competing in the central and midwestern United States.
In Monday's new format, the USHL will face players from the U.S. national under-18 team of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.
"The USHL is a really good development league," said Mastrosimone, who scored 31 goals in 54 games with the Chicago Steel last year. "Playing two years in Chicago was probably one of the best decisions of my life. We did a lot of one-on-one video and developed little details that helped my offensive skills and defensive game."
Phillips, a fourth-round pick by Detroit, said the all-star game is a rare chance for NHL teams to see the top-ranked U.S. players all in one game.
Starting in 2012, the annual all-American event has featured 188 drafted players with 44 first-round picks, including Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Compared to some of the other leagues in North America, the USHL is definitely one of the more defensive and low-scoring leagues," said Phillips, who had 43 points in 50 games with the Sioux Falls Stampede last year. "It's similar to college with a tight game, good systems, very competitive. It helped me get ready for this year."
In 2016, Mastrosimone was cut by the NTDP team which made NHL history last year with eight players taken in the first round, including Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and Boston University teammate Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Mastrosimone said not making that historic team 'put a little fire in me' and fueled his motivation to get better.
"That internal drive is one of the biggest aspects of my game," said Mastrosimone, who was also cut from the U.S. junior team which failed to win a medal for the first time in five years at the world U20 tournament in the Czech Republic. "That motivation keeps building and you don't ever let it stop. It makes you want to work even harder."
Boston University coach Albie O'Connell said Mastrosimone is "highly competitive" and does a lot of things which don't show up on the scoresheet.
"He's good in all three zones with really good second effort," O'Connell said. "He's in on the forecheck with four, five, six hits a game and then he's back blocking a shot. He may not put up the points he probably wants (12 points in 19 games in his freshman season) but he's generating a lot of offense."
Phillips is only 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds but O'Connell said he has "elite speed" and the kind of skill and competitiveness that Yzerman said he looked for during nine years of drafting smaller players like Brayden Point and signing free agents Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He's stronger than he looks and bounces big guys off pucks," O'Connell said. "He's got breakaway speed and can cut back on a dime. He makes a lot of defensemen miss with his good lateral skating. He's going to be a good one in time, for sure."
Phillips, whose family in Halifax was a billet (host) family for Filip Zadina when Zadina played for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, knows it will be difficult to join the Red Wings' forwards in Detroit unless he continues to develop his two-way game during his college career with the Terriers.
"You have to be fearless to compete against bigger guys in the corners," Phillips said. "You're going to get hit and you can't shy away. I need to continue to work on driving to the tough areas where you can create some offense."
Boston University has one other Red Wings draft pick in the lineup. Junior defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo was a third-round pick in 2017 after leaving Finland to play in the USHL. He said his one year in Sioux Falls helped his transition to college hockey on and off the ice.
"I like to consider myself as a two-way defenseman but still defense is my No. 1 priority," said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Kotkansalo. "I'm best when I'm playing against the top lines and shutting them down and killing penalties. I'm also taking more of a leadership role and feel really confident about my game in this league."
►What: BioSteel All-American Game
►Who: USA Hockey's U18 National Team Development Program against the best American-born players from the United States Hockey League
►When: 7 Monday
►Where: USA Hockey Arena, Plymouth
►Tickets: $15-$20. Box office at 734-453-6400. Parking is $5 per vehicle.
►Honorary coaches: Mike Knuble (NTDP), Scott Gomez (USHL)
►NTDP roster:Goalies Drew Commesso, Noah Grannan; Defenseman Brock Faber, Owen Gallatin, Connor Kelley, Tyler Kleven, Daniel Laatsch, Eamon Powell, Jake Sanderson, Jacob Truscott (Port Huron); Forwards Matthew Beniers, Brett Berard, Thomas Bordeleau, Daniyal Dzhanlyev, Zakary Karpa (Muskegon), Tanner Latsch, Hunter McKown, Dylan Peterson, Landon Slaggert, Ty Smilanic, Hunter Strand, Luke Tuch, Chase Yoder
►USHL roster:Goalies Aidan McCarthy, Logan Stein; Defenseman Noah Ellis, Alex Gagne, Hank Kempf, Ben Meehan, Mitchell Miller, Luke Reid; Forwards Carson Bantle, Ryan Beck (Linden), Brendan Brisson, Nick Capone, Sam Colangelo, Sean Farrell, Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Alex Gaffney, Patrick Guzzo (Marysville), Alex Laferriere, Ryder Rolston (Birmingham), Wyatt Schingoethe
►Alumni: 188 alumni of all the All-American Prospects Game have been drafted, including 44 first-round selections and a record 31 players in last year's NHL Draft. Notable graduates include Dylan Larkin (Detroit), Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Zach Werenski (Columbus), Seth Jones (Columbus) and Noah Hanifan (Carolina).
►Quote: "This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids and you really never know who's going to shine or stand out," said Dan Marr, the NHL's director of central scouting.
►Podcast: Saturday night's OctoPulse podcast will feature a preview of the BioSteel All-American Game with Boston University coach Albie O'Connell, forwards Robert Mastrosimone and Ethan Phillips and defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo.