The 2023 USHL Phase 1 Draft took place Tuesday, May 2nd. Overall the Green Bay Gamblers tendered one player and selected eight others. These players have the potential to be future stars in Green Bay. We sat down with Gamblers Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personal Kirk Luedeke and got his thoughts on the Phase 1 Draft and the Gamblers selections.
“The Phase 1 draft, you would look at it like you’re trying to find the best hockey players with the highest skill levels and upside to be stars in the league. There are a lot of hockey players out there, but the Phase 1 for us it’s about finding a lot of the skill, players with the hockey intelligence, the hockey sense,the drive, and the overall winning attributes that will allow them to not only be USHL players, but to be impact players and stars.”
With the 9th pick overall in the 1st Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft the Green Bay Gamblers tender Lev Katzin, Forward, Toronto Marlboros.
“Lev is a special player. He is a dynamic offensive point producer. Whatever he lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for in, in, in elite skating explosiveness. He’s got terrific hands. He can score off the rush, He can get inside consistently because he’s so competitive. He’s extremely smart. He wants to be a player. He understands that he’s undersized, so he’s gotta be that much better. When he is going up against bigger, stronger defensemen, for example, he’s gotta outsmart them and that’s what he does consistently. He put up more than 120 points in the GTHL, which is a top developmental league in Canada for his age group. So we’re really excited to have Lev.”
With the 18th pick overall in the 2nd Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft the Green Bay Gamblers Select Aidan Lane, Forward, Toronto Marlboros.
“If Lev is lightning, then Lane is thunder. Lane is a power forward and I think the Green Bay fans are really gonna like these two, whenever they are able to play together. They’re great friends and I think that that lent itself to our process. But the most important thing with Aidan Lane is he’s big, he’s fast and he can score too. He’s a pure power forward in that he can use his size to get inside to drive the net, to control the puck above the dots and below. He gets to the net consistently and he can score. He can also score the pretty goals, he can finesse, allowing him to beat you any which way. But ultimately Aidan Lane wanted to be here. He’s committed to go on the college route and he wanted an opportunity to continue to play with Lev. Aidan Lane had tremendous upside and he’s a completely different player from Lev, but we think they’ll compliment each other in tremendous fashion”.
With the 39th pick overall in the 3rd Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Nick Knutson, Forward, Chicago Mission.
“The last viewing I had of him was at the USA National15’s in Wayne, New Jersey and he was just a tremendous playmaker. He doesn’t have what you would call ideal size, but he plays a big man’s game. He’s fast, he’s relentless, he’s got a terrific stick, he’s highly competitive, and he also has the skill and the hockey sense. So when you put those things together, he can get around the ice, but he just seems to know where he needs to be, to make play, and he consistently makes plays. He was very high on our list, and in the third round, he was available so for us it was a no-brainer. We’re really excited to welcome Nick to the organization and we think he’s gonna be a future star here.”
With the 54th pick overall in the 4th Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Niles Benson, Forward, Buffalo Jr. Sabres.
“Niles Benson has some of the most intriguing and impressive physical tools of any forward in the entire draft. When you look at Niles, he is far from a finished product. He’s a kid that’s gonna only get better because you can’t teach his natural size. He’s got brute strength for his age. He can absolutely rip pucks and he’s smart. He has abilities that exceed most of his peer group. I’ve seen him score highlight real goals, ones that’ll take your breath away because it’s just an overpowering shot where the goalie is in perfect position to stop and he just can’t. I think he’s an outstanding prospect. And to get him in the fourth round, we were just thrilled about it.”
With the 84th pick overall in the 6th Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Stevie Grumley, Defenseman, LA Jr. Kings.
“Stevie Grumley is a winner. His team (LA Junior Kings) won the 15U tier one national championship in Wayne. Whatever he lacks in size and length, he more than makes up for with elite speed skating, agility, and his stick. He’s a player that plays with a lot of pace, effort, and urgency. He doesn’t have the size of other defensemen, but he’s a complete player and most of all, he’s a winner. He was a key component on a championship team. We’re sitting there in the sixth round and Stevie Grimley was one of our top rated defenseman, and so we were absolutely over the moon to get him there.”
With the 99th pick overall in the 7th Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Brendan DeFeo, Forward, Long Island Gulls.
“Brendan played on a loaded Long Island Gulls team. A player like him tends to get overshadowed sometimes by some of the flashier players that maybe have more size or speed, but I watched the Gulls a lot, especially in the fall. He was just consistently a guy I kept going back to in terms of his competitiveness and how he could win fifty fifties and how he could generate offense even though he wasn’t necessarily the most notable play driver. He was consistent in the application of his effort and his ability to play over all three zones. I think he’s a player that’s just beginning his upward development. To get a guy like that is exciting because he’s headed up and he already brings that tenacity and that relentless drive to win and to win pucks. He’s a gambler type of player, the kind of guy you win with all day.”
With the 129th pick overall in the 9th Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Jack Kultgen, Defenseman, Shakopee.
“I really like this player. I think he was undervalued and maybe under the radar, to use a cliched term. I actually went and saw him the last weekend of the regular season in Minnesota and he was the best player for his team. That Shakopee team has several quality players. Cooper Simpson was tendered to Tri-City and Carson Steinhoff was a draft pick, but I felt Jack was the player that had the most upside of anyone. He can do everything. He can skate, he can move pucks, he can defend, he plays with a lot of exuberance. What I like most about him is he’s gonna get bigger and he is gonna get stronger. He came out and skated at the Resch Center with the team. He made the commitment to come out from the twin cities to come to Green Bay and that says a lot. For us to get him in the 9th round was great value for us.”
With the 144th pick overall in the 10th Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Robin Benoit, Forward, Bakersfield Roughnecks
“Robin was buried and hidden in the USPHL elite which is a junior league. As a 2007, he was playing against players three to four years older than he was and he was leading his team in scoring. He’s a remarkable talent. He’s got a great stick, he’s got an elite brain, and hockey sense in terms of being able to see the ice and create offense not only for himself but for his linemates. He’s from Quebec so he could have gone the Quebec major junior route but we’re confident that he and his family will like going the college route better for his long term interests. He’s got good size and he really asserts himself on the ice and that’s what we loved. We were really happy to get him there.”
With the 149th pick overall in the 10th Round of the 2023 Phase 1 USHL Draft, the Green Bay Gamblers select Tomas Chrenko, Forward, Nitra
“This is a player that if you look up his Elite Prospects profile and you look at his statistics, they look like videogame numbers and but you can’t just trust the numbers. So when you go and you look at him on film it jumps out at you right away why he has such high production. He’s fast, he’s smart, he’s tenacious, and he’s always around the puck. He just constantly has the puck and he is constantly looking to make plays. Sometimes you’ll look at players and you’re not sure why they are leading their team in scoring but with him there’s no doubt. Just after a few shifts of watching him you can clearly see why he’s the team’s leading scorer and he did it at multiple levels against a lot of older kids. To get him with the second to last pick in the Phase 1 draft it’s great value and we’re really excited to see what the future holds for him.”
Looking back on the results of the draft, Luedeke said, “We feel good. When you get so many players that you have rated highly and you want, it’s a good feeling but the work is really only beginning for these players and we’ll see how they are able to develop and whether they are able to realize the potential they have here in a Green Bay Gamblers uniform.”
Before returning to the draft room, Luedeke had this message to Gamblers Nation. “I want to thank the fans for being there. At the end of the day, they are why we do what we do. We have a great building and I think that the ability to raise a ruckus and make the game night experience at the Resch second to none is what attracts players here. We have a lot of players who want to be Green Bay Gamblers and a lot of that goes back to the people who support us so thank you very much. We couldn’t do it without you and we look forward to providing a team you can get behind and be proud of.”