United States Hockey League (USHL)

USHL Preview: Adam Gajan Leads NHL-Drafted Players To Watch

USHL Preview: Adam Gajan Leads NHL-Drafted Players To Watch

Adam Gajan, Andrew Strathmann and Beckett Hendrickson headline the returning USHL players who were selected in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Sep 19, 2023 by Ryan Sikes

Just because a player is drafted does not automatically grant him a spot on the NHL roster. In fact, most players still have several years before they crack an opportunity at a full-time roster spot.

With more than 50 players with USHL ties selected in the 2023 NHL Draft, many of those prospects will make the jump to the NCAA, while some will return to the USHL. It’s about what is best for their development.

To help get you ready for the season ahead, FloHockey’s USHL writer Ryan Sikes is here to identify a few returning USHL players who heard their names called at the 2023 NHL Draft.

Adam Gajan (CHI), G, Green Bay Gamblers

After a successful six-game stint last season in which he posted a 2.48 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage with the Gamblers, Adam Gajan is ready for more. 

The 19-year-old gained national attention with a stellar performance for Team Slovakia at the 2023 World Juniors, culminating with a 53-save effort against Canada. 

Gajan was the first goalie taken off the board in the 2023 NHL Draft, going to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, 35th overall. Now, it’s about taking the next step in his development.

“Minnesota-Duluth and the Chicago Blackhawks were very transparent with their communication about Adam getting starts and being the guy and what is most important in his development,” Gamblers head coach Mike Leone told FloHockey.

Andrew Strathmann (CBJ), D, Youngstown Phantoms

Before heading to North Dakota, Andrew Strathmann headlines the returners to the defending Clark Cup champions. A trade from Tri-City to Youngstown allowed the young defenseman to uncover another element of his game. 

He collected 38 points (three goals, 35 assists) and shined on the power play.

Strathmann is excellent at walking the line and finding pockets in the defense to send the puck on net to be re-directed by his teammates.

He finished with the second-most power-play assists (17) in the USHL last season, and he returns to the Phantoms having been drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth round, 98th overall, over the summer.

He will need to round out his play away from the puck before making the jump to the NCAA.

Beckett Hendrickson (BOS), F, Sioux Falls Stampede

Would he be joining Sioux Falls or the University of Minnesota?

Even the Stampede coaching staff was unsure, until Beckett Hendrickson arrived for training camp.

Logan Cooley altering his course and signing his three-year entry-level contract forced Gophers head coach Bob Motzko to take a freshman a year earlier than expected. The Gophers took on Green Bay Gamblers forward Jimmy Clark and added a graduate transfer late in the process to fill their roster holes, which opened the door for Hendrickson to further his development in the USHL.

The 18-year-old finished his two-year residency at the United States National Team Development Program, recording 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 52 games for the U18 team during the 2022-23 campaign. He was also part of the gold-medal winning team at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship.

The Boston Bruins fourth-round pick should give the Herd experience and offensive ability, something they lost with Sam Harris and Maddox Fleming moving on to college hockey.

Brandon Svoboda (SJS), F, Youngstown Phantoms

As a significant secondary piece for the Phantoms in last season, Brandon Svoboda returns for a third year in a leadership role. He comes into the season with a ton of confidence, having been drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the third round, 71st overall. 

The Boston University commit finished with 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) in 59 games last year.

Svoboda possesses an NHL-ready frame at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds and does a lot of his damage around the net. 

He is a menace on the forecheck and has a heavy shot. Svoboda looks poised for a big year.

Christopher Pelosi (BOS), F, Sioux Falls Stampede

Despite being 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds, Chris Pelosi is so good at establishing his position in front of the net for re-directs or second-chance opportunities. 

The Boston Bruins draft pick split the 2022-2023 season between Sioux Falls and the North American Hockey League. In the USHL, the Quinnipiac commit recorded 19 points (13 goals, six assists). 

Like Svoboda, he seems destined for increased production, spending the entire year in one place.

Pelosi is an intense player who uses his physicality to win puck battles, disrupt plays to create turnovers, and he’s relentless on the forecheck. 

Jayson Shaugabay (TBL), F, Green Bay Gamblers

The reigning 2023 Mr. Hockey Award winner, Jayson Shaugabay joins the Gamblers for his first full USHL season after splitting time between Green Bay and his high school team.

The Warroad, Minnesota, native put up an astounding 96 points in 31 games for Warroad High School and followed that with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 27 games for the Gamblers. 

Shaugabay possesses a patient approach carrying the puck through the zone, and he sees the ice very well.

The Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick still is growing into his body, and he will need to continue getting stronger to avoid being easily knocked off pucks, while adding more power to his strides.

Hampton Slukynsky (LAK), G, Fargo Force

Shaugabay’s netminder at Warroad High School, Hampton Slukynsky finished with the third-best save percentage (.941), the seventh-best goals-against average (1.47) and the second-most shutouts (nine) in the Minnesota high school ranks last year. 

He has very little experience in the USHL outside of a couple of starts with the NTDP U18 team last season, but the Los Angeles Kings believe they have something in the 18-year-old netminder.

Slukynsky joins the Fargo Force for the 2023-2024 season under the tutelage of Anton Castro, where he should be a complementary 1B goalie to the University of Wisconsin commit.

Slukynsky had a strong showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase for Team USA, probably better than most expected from the young netminder, and is in the mix to be part of the final roster.

Ty Henricks (NYR), F, Muskegon Lumberjacks

After being traded from Fargo to Muskegon last year, Ty Henricks took advantage of an increased role with the Lumberjacks.

The Western Michigan University commit finished with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in only 19 games, offering plenty of optimism for 2023-24, where he will be a key returner for the rebuilding Jacks.

Henricks possesses a huge frame at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds.

The New York Rangers draft pick perfectly embodies the franchise’s style of play, using his physicality to deliver heavy checks into the boards. With the puck on his stick, Henricks moves really well for someone his size and features a heavy wrist shot.