At a glance, the Sioux City Musketeers roster looks like a number of 18- to 20 year-olds prepping for their college career.
It's more than that, though. For those hockey players for the Musketeers, their time in the USHL is part of a long-term dream for them, not just to be noticed by a high-level NCAA Division I program but also by NHL scouts, who are constantly at USHL games.
The Musketeers have had plenty of success sending players to the NHL. There are seven former Musketeers in the NHL currently. Sioux City's present roster features six players who already have been drafted by an NHL team. Plus three former Musketeers were taken in the NHL draft and in 2019, four former Musketeers were selected.
"I think our track record over the last 10 years of having NHL draft picks is as high or higher than anyone in the USHL," Musketeers head coach Luke Strand said. "Guys come in here with the minimum goal of earning a D-I scholarship but their ultimate goal is always playing on TV in the NHL. Now that there is that footprint here, you see others that want to follow that path."
Some of the former Musketeers in the NHL include Ryan Carpenter (Chicago Blackhawks), Danny DeKeyser (Detroit Red Wings), Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh Penguins), Max Pacioretty (Vegas Golden Knights), Neal Pionk (Winnipeg Jets) and Matiss Kivlenieks (Columbus Blue Jackets).
All of them played at least one season with the Sioux City Musketeers.
"That's the neat part. Fans have the chance to watch the stars of tomorrow here today," Strand said. "They have a chance to see these guys that later go on to win a Stanley Cup. Jake Guenzel hoisted the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh. That's great for the Penguins and also for us because this is where he started his career."
As a whole, the USHL has 29 players who have already been drafted by NHL teams with 20 percent of those players on the Musketeers roster.
Ethan Edwards (New Jersey Devils), John Fusco (Toronto Maple Leafs), Daniil Chechelev (Calgary Flames), Mason Langenbrunner (Boston Bruins) and Chase Bradley (Detroit Red Wings) were all taken in the 2020 NHL Draft. Edwards and Chechelev were both picked in the fourth round. Goaltender Akira Schmid was taken in the 2018 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth round.
The Musketeers have more current NHL draft picks than any other team in the USHL.
"The league has never been more skilled, more NHL-driven than it is now," Strand said. "The league has 50-plus NHL picks in consecutive years. It speaks volumes for the USHL. The competition level night in and night out, when there are NHL picks or future NHL picks out there, it raises the level of play."
With the players that aren't NHL draft picks, the goal is to get them noticed by NHL scouts.
Throughout the season, the NHL Central Scouting releases an updated list of potential prospects and grades them.
Current Musketeers Shai Buium, Griffin Ludtke and Bennett Schimek all appear on the current NHL Central Scouting report.
"We have a lot of individual development plans and we have those conversations with each player and assess their proven areas," Strand said. "The path has been set and it works."