As the Stanley Cup Finals begin, the NHL Draft in quickly approaching. On June 23rd in Chicago, many kids from the State of Hockey will hope and wait for their names to be called. It is a moment in which a kids dream becomes a reality. I am going to give you a closer look at Minnesota’s top-5 prospects for the 2017 draft according to the final NHL.com Prospect Rankings of North American skaters and goalies.
Casey Mittelstadt – Hometown: Eden Prairie – Current Team: Green Bay (USHL)/Eden Praire (HS) – Final Ranking: 3rd
If you live in Minnesota, you have heard the name, Casey Mittelstadt. The electrifying Mittelstadt is the only player on my list to play in the Minnesota State high school league this season, where he dominated. He had 64 points in 25 games for the Eden Prairie Eagles. Not to mention he played before and after the high school season with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL where led the league in points per game. Mittelstadt could go as high as 3rd in the upcoming draft and the team that takes him will love his complete game his bring to the ice. He is a player with great speed, high-skill, and tremendous hockey sense. Next year, Mittelstadt will be heading to the University of Minnesota, where Minnesota hockey fans can continue to watch his game grow before he makes the jump to the NHL.
Ryan Poehling – Hometown: Lakeville – Current Team: St. Cloud State (NCAA) – Final Ranking: 13th
Ryan Poehling was a part of the Lakeville North high school team that went a perfect 31-0 and captured the Minnesota State Title in 2015. Although Mittelstadt and Poehling are both likely to be first-rounders in the upcoming draft, they took different routes getting to this point. This season, Poehling decided to graduate high school early and join his brothers at St. Cloud State (Mittelstadt had the option to do this too). In his freshman year at SCSU, he tallied 13 points in 35 games for the Huskies. You will notice when you watch Ryan that he has acceleration that is impressive and vision/creativity to become a solid passer in the NHL. He is also a player that will play well in the defensive zone and his not afraid to kill penalties. Expect for Poehling to spend a couple more years at SCSU and I expect his point totals to climb year by year.
Grant Mismash – Hometown: Edina – Current Team: USA U-18 (NTDP) – Final Ranking: 24th
Grant Mismash is a player that uses his big body and power to control the game. Mismash laced it up for USA U-18 team and had a great season, which saw him rise on a lot of draft boards. He played in 98 games with Team USA and recorded 93 points including 37 goals. Mismash is a perfect example of a player that loves to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score goals and he uses his size well to do it. We could see Mismash being a 2nd or 3rd rounder come June 23. Next year he will be heading to the University of North Dakota where he fit right in with the style of game that head coach Brad Berry likes to play.
Scott Reedy – Hometown: Prior Lake – Current Team: USA U-18 (NTDP) – Final Ranking: 40th
Scott Reedy was teammates with Grant Mismash for the USA U-18. Like his team, Reedy has an extremely solid frame listed at 6’2” 205. Reedy who is originally from Prior Lake, played at Shattuck St. Mary’s before heading to the USA Nation Development Program. That is where we first saw his offensive skill tallying 125 points in 65 games in his bantam season. Reedy has continued to use his strong playmaking ability at Team USA putting up 58 points in 89 games. Reedy will likely be a safe pick late in the second round or early in the third. Next year, he will be teammates with Mittelstadt at the University of Minnesota.
Jake Oettinger – Hometown: Lakeville – Current Team: Boston University (NCAA) – Final Ranking: 1st (amongst North American goalies)
A former Lakeville North Cougar, Jake Oettinger was one of the youngest players to play college hockey this season but he looked like an experienced veteran in net for Boston University. His play at BU has put him at the top of the final draft ranking for North American goalies. Oettinger’s impressive year included a 21-11-3 record, 2.11 goals against average, and .927 save percentage. He was also apart on the USA world junior team that won gold this year. Oettinger has a stereotypical NHL built with strong mobility. With his stellar year, Oettinger is projected to go as high as late in the first round but in my opinion, he is likely to come off the board sometime in the second round.
Mikey Anderson – Hometown: Roseville – Current Team: Waterloo (USHL) – Final Ranking: 51st
Dylan Samberg – Hometown: Hermantown – Current Team: Hermantown (HS) – Final Ranking: 67th
Nate Knoepke – Hometown: Farmington – Current Team: USA U-18 (NTDP) – Final Ranking: 79th
Robbie Stucker – Hometown: St. Paul – Current Team: St. Thomas Academy (HS) – Final Ranking: 88th
Isaac Johnson – Hometown: Andover – Current Team: Des Moines (USHL) – Final Ranking: 97th
If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the 3-part series of 10 players in each class to watch in the MSHSL next year:
Although the Minnesota High School seemed like it just ended, the hype of high school hockey never stops in Minnesota. I decided to break down the players and give you ten players to watch in each grade. After breaking down the seniors, which you can read about here, and the juniors, which you can read about here, it is time to talk about the young sophomores. As crazy as it sounds, it is the class of 2020. In no particular order, here are ten sophomores to watch in the upcoming high school season:
Garrett Pinoniemi – Forward – Delano (St. Cloud State)
Delano broke through making it to the state tournament last season and although they had some star seniors on their team, freshman forward Garrett Pinoniemi stuck out and had a large impact. He had 22 points for the Tigers and is a kid with tremendous speed and has a high hockey IQ. The future St. Cloud Huskie is on his way to having a solid hockey career. Hopefully, he is adding weight to that slender 140 lbs. frame this summer.
Jake Boltmann – Defenseman – Edina (Minnesota)
People rave about Jake Boltmann because he has the ability to push the puck up ice in the offensive zone using his speed. Last year he had 14 points including 11 assists for Edina’s varsity team. Already committed to the University of Minnesota, Boltmann has good size and will be a force on the Hornets blue line for the next couple of years.
Bobby Brink – Forward – Minnetonka (Denver)
Bobby Brink is one of two freshmen to play on Minnetonka’s varsity team last season. The other was Clay Hanus, who recently signed with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL and will not be returning to Minnetonka. Brink is an exciting forward to watch who become a leader on the power play last year for the Skippers. He had 30 points as a freshman and the kid has so much talent, I would be surprised if he reaches the 50-point mark this season.
Jake Braccini – Forward – Buffalo
In 45 games at the Bantam level, Jake Braccini had an incredible 140 points. Braccini is a great skater who is always pressuring the puck. As you can see by his stats, he is always a threat to score and knows the areas of the ice to get to. Braccini was selected in the first round of the USHL Phase 1 Draft by the Bloomington Thunder, which seems to be his team of the future but this season he will jump on Buffalo’s high school team and have an immediate impact for the Bison.
Matt Gleason – Forward – Cretin-Derham Hall
Leading all high school freshman and his team, Matt Gleason had 43 points is 27 games for Cretin-Derham Hall last season. Gleason has a great motor and seems to never get tired out there on the ice. With his good hands and shiftiness, he finds scoring areas where he impacts the game with his great scoring touch.
Shane LaVelle – Forward – Chaska
Yesterday I mentioned, Mike Koster holding down the back for the Chaska, well today I’m going to tell about Shane LaVelle, who as a freshman, was Chaska’s best forward last season. Lavelle is a powerful kid that scored 17 goals for CDH last year. He is impressive with the puck and when he and Koster are on the ice together, Chaska is a very exciting hockey team to watch. LaVelle is uncommitted for now but I sense he will be getting some offers soon if he hasn’t already.
Blake Biondi – Forward – Hermantown
Many say that Blake Biondi could have played high school last year but no one moves up early in Hermantown. The kid is dominant at the Bantam level and should be a top-6 forward for Hermantown next season. I love his game and his ability to control the puck using his size to his advantage. Some say Hermantown is a bit down next year but if they do get back to the state tournament, Biondi will have a big say in doing so.
Ryan Mulrenin – Forward – Wayzata
Last year Ryan Mulrenin was just getting his feet wet at the high school level for Wayzata. A solid 11 points in 23 games for the Trojans. Mulrenin will have a much bigger role this season and turn a lot of heads. He is a good skater with a nice shot.
Carsen Richels – Forward – Blaine
Carsen Richels is another Bantam that I am excited to see what he can do at the next level. Richels is a fine skater with good hand and is good at finding the scoring areas on the ice. Blaine will look for Richels to play a big role right away for them and I could even see him playing on a line with Bryce Brodzinski at some point this season. They could be a deadly combination together for the Bengals.
Ethan Haider – Goalie – Maple Grove
Ethan Haider led Maple Grove to state as a freshman net-minder with a 3-0 record, 1.33 goals against average, and .950 save percentage in the section playoffs last year. Haider has great size, already 6’ and is tremendously athletic for a young goalie. Haider can steal games and will need to have another great season for the Crimson to repeat as 5AA champions.
Zach Michealis – Elk River
Austen Humphrey – Elk River
Mitch Kohner – Lakeville North
Mack Motzko – St. Cloud Cathedral
Ben Troumbly – Greenway (St. Cloud State)
Although the Minnesota High School seemed like it just ended, the hype of high school hockey never stops in Minnesota. I decided to break down the players and give you ten players to watch in each grade. After already breaking down the seniors (Seniors to Watch), next up the junior class of 2019. In no particular order, here are ten juniors to watch in the upcoming season:
Jake Hale – Forwards – Minneapolis (Minnesota-Duluth)
When you put up 46 points in the MSHSL as a sophomore you are going to turn a lot of heads. That is exactly what Jake Hale did last year. Hale is the kid from Minneapolis to commit division one since the early 1990s. He has a high complete level with quick hands and is a beast when it comes to protecting the puck. Hale looks to continue to put Minneapolis back on the map this season.
Ethan Frisch – Defenseman – Moorhead (North Dakota)
Ethan Frisch was a big part of a Moorhead team that finished second in the state last season behind Grand Rapids. Frisch has the great ability to make a strong first pass out of the d-zone. He is also not afraid to just up into the offensive rush either. With a strong work ethic, the smooth skating Frisch is only going to get better. He had 20 points in 31 games for the Spuds last year and I expect him to have even more ice time this season for the Spuds.
Ben Brinkman – Defenseman – Edina (Minnesota)
The talent from Edina never runs dry. Ben Brinkman was one of Edina best defensemen last year as only a sophomore. He had 24 points in 28 games including an impressive 12 goals from the back end. Brinkman is a future Minnesota Gopher with good size and smooth skating ability but isn’t afraid to use his body every now and then. Watch for him and Sam Walker to team up to make for one scary-good power play unit for the Hornets next season.
Bryce Brodzinski – Forward – Blaine (St. Cloud State)
The fourth and final Brodzinski boy, Bryce Brodzinski is a pure goal scorer. He is a big body forward that can make plays for himself and others. As a sophomore for the Blaine Bengals, he had 45 points including 27 assists. An outstanding playmaker, Bryce will be the focal point of the Bengals offense this season.
Mike Koster – Defensemen – Chaska (Minnesota)
Mike Koster was easily the best player on Chaska varsity team last season as just a sophomore. The young defenseman had 35 points, which led the team! He is a good position player who is great at breaking the puck out for his team. The 2019 class is loaded with talented defensemen but Mike Koster might be one of the best in my opinion. He will one day be suiting up for the maroon and gold.
Ben Helgeson – Forward – Hill-Murray (Wisconsin)
Power forward with a heavy shot best explain Ben Helgeson from Hill-Murray. The future Badger had 28 points last year and will be one of the captains for H-M this season. With another solid season, we could see him playing for Waterloo in the USHL sooner, rather than later. He has the size, he has the skill, it just matters if he wants to leave high school early or not.
Jack Perbix – Forward – Elk River (Notre Dame)
The younger brother of former Elk River defenseman Nick Perbix who is heading to St. Cloud State, Jack Perbix is a smart but aggressive forward committed to the University of Notre Dame. Jack racked up 40 points in his sophomore season. Jack has been known as a player that loves the puck on his stick especially late in the game when it matters most. He thrives on being a difference-maker and likes high-pressure situations.
Jack Jensen – Forward – Eden Prairie (Minnesota)
While everyone was excited to watch Casey Mittelstadt last year for Eden Prairie they got to see another young talent for the Eagles in the process. Jack Jensen was definitely an impact player last year for the Eagles tallying 43 points in 30 games. He is a two-way forward that uses his big body well to get to the net. It will now be his team in Eden Prairie and I will be excited to see what he can do now that all the attention will be on him this season.
Landon Langenbrunner – Forward – Cloquet
Son of former NHLer Jamie Langenbrunner, Landon Langenbrunner is a very smart hockey player that has a wicked wrist shot. He known to be a good leader on and off the ice too. Last season, Landon scored 15 goals for Cloquet in 27 games, he also added 18 assists to go along with it. Cloquet is a young but very talented team and could surprise some people in 7AA this year.
Jackson Jutting – Forward – Prior Lake
If you don’t already know about Jackson Jutting from Prior Lake, get to know him. He had 29 points including 18 assists for Prior Lake last season. Without a doubt, Jutting is one of the best 2001 in the state of Minnesota. He is a threat every time he crosses the blue line in the offensive zone. Watch out for Jutting because he is about to become a household name in the state of hockey.
Robert Christy – St. Thomas Academy
Ryder Donovan – Duluth East
Tyler Kostelecky – Maple Grove
Jack Bayless – Minnetonka
Shane Griffin – Lakeville North
If you would like to see the ten seniors I said to watch out for click here.
Sophomore to Watch coming soon!
Although the Minnesota High School seemed like it just ended, the hype of high school hockey never stops in Minnesota. I decided to break down the players and give you ten players to watch in each grade, starting today with the seniors. These ten are players that could be battling it out for Mr. Hockey next season and this group includes 7 division one commits (currently). In no particular order, here are my ten seniors to watch for next year season:
Carter Randklev – Forward – Moorhead (Arizona State)
Last year we knew Carter Randklev was a good player but watching him at the state tournament, he was extremely impressive. He is shifty, has quick hands and skates past most defensemen with his speed. Even though he’s a smaller kid, he knows how to get to the net. Randklev scored 33 goals in 31 games last year and added 27 assists to his point total. If Moorhead looks to get back to the tourney, Randklev will have a huge impact doing so.
Dev McCabe – Forward – St. Paul Academy (Minnesota-Duluth)
Dev McCabe is a player that would have love to see more of last year but due to late season suspension we didn’t see him in the section playoffs and SPA was knocked out in the section finals. I expect McCabe to come into this season very hungry and eager to get his team to the state tournament. The future bulldog had 29 goals in 24 games last season. He is a forward with good size and a heavy shot.
Ben Almquist – Forward – Holy Family (Wisconsin)
Holy Family was a team that was stacked with talented juniors last season and they ran into a dominant Eden Prairie team, which included Casey Mittelstadt, in the section finals. Ben Almquist was one of those talent juniors. He is crafty centerman with good hands that loves to move the puck. Almquist had 35 assists last season and I look for him to increase that number this year.
James Marooney – Defenseman – Holy Family (Ohio State)
Continuing with the Holy Family trend, James Marooney will hold down the blue line this year for the Fire. Last season, James had 29 points in 28 games for Holy Family. He is a commit of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Marooney’s are a big hockey family, James has two older brothers playing college hockey, Cody at Alabama-Huntsville and Joey at Minnesota.
Luke Loheit – Forward – Minnetonka (Minnesota-Duluth)
Luke Loheit has great size and skates well for his size. After dominating at the Bantam level he committed to Minnesota-Duluth but has yet to have that breakout year at the high school level. Only 13 points in 26 games for Minnetonka last year, I expect for him to have much impact on the team this season.
Sam Walker – Forward – Edina (Minnesota)
The speedy Sam Walker will be the captain again of the Edina Hornets and has great intangibles to impact the game. Walker had a great junior year, tallying 52 points in 28 games. The only player to outscore Walker in his conference was Mittelstadt. The future Minnesota Gopher is in search of his second state title and could get it down with another breakout season.
Grant Anderson – Defenseman – Wayzata (Nebraska-Omaha)
After a disappointing regular season, Wayzata once again turned it on during the playoffs and made it back to the state tournament. Grant Anderson was one of the leaders on that team, especially on the back end. Anderson had 24 points and quarterbacked the power play. Anderson has the luxury of being coach by Pat O’Leary who preaches defense. Look for Anderson to have another strong season and maybe add a little more to the goal column with his heavy shot.
Jared Moe – Goalie – Holy Family
Jared Moe is the best goalie in the state in my opinion. He is a big goalie with great athleticism that can steal a game at any moment. Last season he went 22-5-1 with 1.54 GAA and .920SV%. To improve on those numbers would be incredible but wouldn’t be surprised if he did it, he is that good. With a great team in front on him, Moe is in line to have another great season with a chance at deep into the playoffs and state tournament.
Lucas McGregor – Forward – Centennial
55 points in 28 games for Lucas McGregor last season. He is a kid with top-end hands and vision. McGregor is a strong skater that will be the focal point of Centennial’s team this year. You will see him out there on the penalty kill and the power play. He is a difference-maker and will have to have a huge season for the Cougars to get back to the state tournament.
Luke Lamaster – Defenseman – Duluth East
Luke Lamaster is a defenseman that will make his presences felt at both ends of this ice. He 6’ 1” and a strong kid, he will have a huge roll on Duluth East this season who might be the favorites to come out of section 7AA this year. Lamaster had 16 points last season and would be surprised if he doubled that next season.
Tyler Borsch – Maple Grove
Griffin Ness – Wayzata
Jack Olsen – Lakeville South
Garrett Worth – Duluth East
Chase Foley – St. Thomas Academy
***** I am also assuming that these players will leave year to the USHL
Gavin Hain – Grand Rapids (USHL Sioux Falls)
Blake McLaughlin – Grand Rapids (USHL Chicago)
Zach Stejskal – Grand Rapids (USHL Bloomington)
Colin Schmidt – Wayzata (USHL Waterloo)
Coming soon: 10 Juniors to Watch and 10 Sophomores to Watch
With the Draft Lottery complete, we now know the order of the top 15 picks in the upcoming NHL Draft in June. In the lottery, we saw some crazy movement including the Philadelphia Flyers jump up to the second pick and the New Jersey Devils receiving the first overall pick (poor Colorado, who fell to fourth…). In this draft, there are no franchise-changing players like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews but it still has some quality talent at the top. Here my prediction of the top 15 picks in the 2017 NHL draft.
- New Jersey Devils – Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
Many people thought it was going to Nolan Patrick at the top of this draft but Nico Hischier has had an excellent year with the Halifax Mooseheads, scoring 86 points in 57 games. Hischier is a skilled centerman that plays well in all three zones.
- Philadelphia Flyers – Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL)
Nolan Patrick was the MVP of the WHL as a 17-year-old and was on his way to being the clear number one overall draft pick in 2017 but struggled with injuries this season. As the captain for the Brandon Wheat Kings, he had 46 points in 33 games. Standing at 6’2”, 200 lbs., Patrick seems to be on the path to being a great center in the NHL if he can stay healthy.
- Dallas Stars – Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie (MN-HS)
Last year the Dallas Stars chose Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey winner, Riley Tufte as their first round selection. This year I think they should go right back to the State of Hockey and drafted Casey Mittelstadt with the third overall pick. Mittelstadt dominated Minnesota high school hockey, scoring 64 points in 25 games, and winning Mr. Hockey. He also played before and after in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers where he led the USHL in points per game. Mittelstadt is a gifted offensive player with incredible hockey sense.
- Colorado Avalanche – Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL)
Three words describe Michael Rasmussen. Big Power Forward. He is a towering 6’6” 215 lbs. and is a guy that loves getting to the front of the net and mixing it up. Kind of sounds like a bigger Gabriel Landeskog? Exactly and with Avs looking to be in rebuild mode and Landeskog’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors. Rasmussen would be a perfect fit for the Avs to replace him. At Tri-city this year had 55 points in 50 games.
- Vancouver Canucks – Cody Glass, C, Portland (WHL)
For the Portland Winterhawks, Cody Glass tallied 94 points in 69 games which was good for 7th in the WHL. He’s a player that seems to be in the right spots because of his great hockey IQ. Glass blasted on this year and now could be a top-5 pick because he’s a dangerous two-way center.
- Vegas Golden Knights – Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL)
61 points in 49 games this season for Gabe Vilardi in the OHL. He his a player maker that makes everyone around him better. If you were an expansion team like Vegas, taking a player like Vilardi would be perfect to build your franchise around. He can create in traffic and has great poise on the power play. He is a type of player that is mature for his age and could probably step right into the NHL next season.
- Arizona Coyotes – Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK (FIN)
This draft class does not have many strong defensemen (as you see with me picking 6 centers to start the mock draft) but in my opinion, Miro Heiskanen is the best d-man in this class. Playing in the top Finnish league as 17-year-old, Heiskanen elite two-way defensemen. He’s a smooth skater and looks to one day be a guy that can log heavy minutes in the NHL. He offensive skills include quarterback power play with impressive puck skills.
- Buffalo Sabres –Cale Makar, D, Brooks (AJHL)
When one defenseman goes, another usually follows. Playing in the AJHL, Cole Makar put up 74 points in 54 games and was named the league’s MVP, not to mention he led his team to the league championship (also was named playoff MVP too). As you can see by his point totals, Makar is a highly skilled offensive defensive with the ability to skate to safety when need be. He’s not quite ready for the NHL but next year we can see how he does against better competition playing for Umass-Amherst in the NCAA.
- Detroit Red Wings – Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL)
With the best shot in the draft, Owen Tippett is a pure goal scorer. Tippett had 75 points, including 44 goals, in 60 games in the OHL for the Mississauga Steelheads. Everyone knows about his impressive but he also has outstanding skating ability, many compare him to Phil Kessel. He needs to improve in the d-zone but that likely to come with maturity. Tippett would be a steal for the Red Wings if he falls to them at nine.
- Florida Panthers – Klim Kostin, C/LW, Dynamo Moscow (RUS)
Klim Kostin is the No. 1 ranked international skater and you would think he would already be off the board by the 10th pick but he had a shoulder surgery in January that is making him slide a bit in the draft. He is a big-body forward who is extremely hard to bump of the biscuit.
- Los Angeles Kings – Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SWE)
Call him the Tom Brady of this draft because Timothy Liijegren is the best quarterback of the power play in this draft. Many considered him the best defensemen in the draft heading into this season but with a season filled will illness he was never able to show off his potential. Don’t sleep on him though; his hockey smarts when jumping into the rush are second to none. Watch for him to have a breakout year in the Swedish Elite League next season.
- Carolina Hurricanes – Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Sioux City (USHL)
The best player in the USHL this season has been Eeli Tolvanen, for the Sioux City Musketeers (who happen to be the best team in the league too). Tolvanen had 54 points, including his 30 goals, in 52 games. You can tell when you watch him play his has a high compete level, great work ethic and always want to win. He is heading to Boston College, where he should be able to have an impact right from the start.
- Winnipeg Jets – Elias Pettersson, C, Timra (SWE-2)
Elias Pettersson is a player that is pretty good at everything. He had 41 points playing for Timra in division 2 of the Swedish League. His best attribute is his playmaking, sees the ice very well and knows where to put the puck. He definitely needs more time to develop but has the skillset to become a solid pro in due time.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – Cal Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)
Cal Foote is the son of former Colorado Avalanche standout, Adam Foote. If Cal were to go 14th in the draft, he would beat his dad by 8 spots, who went 22nd overall in the 1989 draft. Cal had a very productive year in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets; he had 57 points in 71 games. He is aggressive two-way defensemen who loves to create changes for his team. He will good special teams guy at the next level too.
- New York Islanders – Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound (OHL)
If you like offense, you love Nick Suzuki! He had 96 points for the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL this season. He is on the smaller end but he makes up for by playing big and thick and is being quick and shifty. Not mention he was one of the most effective penalty killers in the OHL this season. The kid can use his speed to cause havoc onto any team’s power play.
When people suggest bringing a United States Hockey League (USHL) team back to Minnesota, many questions pop into their head. Many debates, that it will not work because Minnesota has tried it before and failed. Others argue that the hockey market is too saturated and Minnesota does not have the fan base to support it. Furthermore, (and my favorite argument) some claim that having a USHL team in Minnesota will hurt the culture of the beloved High School hockey. These are all questions that seem to make people shy away from the idea of adding a USHL team to Minnesota. My goal of this piece is not to necessarily convince you to hop off the USHL bandwagon but to inform you about some of the positives of bringing a USHL team to Minnesota.
Minnesota has had two USHL franchise (four different teams) in the past and all failed due to lack of attendance and poor funding. The Rochester Mustangs/Austin Mavericks existed in the USHL from 1961-1970 and 1977-2002. Some notable players from these teams included; Herb Brooks, Lou Nanne, and Bob Fleming. The other franchise was the St. Paul/Twin Cities Vulcans, which existed from 1977-2000. Notable Vulcans include; Phil Housley, Jim Johnson, Trent Klatt and Johnny Pohl. The first thing we have to look at when comparing these teams to a present day team is the fact that league itself is completely different than it was back then. Back then, the USHL wasn’t considered a tier 1 junior hockey development league. Today, the USHL is considered to be in the top-3 junior leagues in the world. It attracts the best players from all over the world and 95% of its players receive Division I scholarships. If you need to know more about the USHL, watch this video: USHL VIDEO. Stars in the NHL like TJ Oshie, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews and many others played in the USHL on the way to the NHL. The three finalists for college hockey’s most prestige award, the Hobey Baker, are all USHL alumni. The USHL has now become the preferred route of player development by many colleges and NHL scouts.
I understand Minnesota has an NHL team, five D1 teams, ten D3 teams, three NAHL teams, six NA3HL teams, and heavy high school hockey following but there is still room for a USHL team. Here’s why; If a team was to come to Minnesota, it would probably replace an existing NAHL or NA3HL team. For example, if the team were to come back to Rochester, it could replace the Rochester Icehawks and maybe even the Austin Bruins of the NAHL (could also become an affiliate). The location of Rochester is perfect because far enough away from other teams it would have to compete with attendance. 75 miles south of St. Paul, 86 miles southeast of Minneapolis, 80 miles west of Mankato, Rochester is a hole in the State of Hockey that loves the game. The proposed plans for the new Rochester Arena would also draw hockey fans to the area. This arena would be perfect for a USHL team and could attract other hockey events to Minnesota like the NCAA College Hockey Regionals and much more.
There is no doubt that there are hockey fans all over the state. A USHL team will consist of future D1 athletes and high school hockey heroes that you will recognize from across the state. Going to USHL game would potentially be much cheaper than attending a Wild or collegiate hockey game. If you have been to a USHL game before you can back me on this, it is some of the best/most exciting hockey you will ever watch. You are going to see the same level of talent as you as would at a D1 game. The USHL team will attract fans for a bargain price compared to the other options while still getting to see great hockey. It could be right here in our backyard.
There is no bigger fan of high school hockey in Minnesota than myself. But that, by no means, should shy you from supporting a USHL team in Minnesota. High school hockey has a rich and beautiful tradition and a USHL will not team take away from that. USHL players come from all over the country, all over the world even. What the USHL would do for Minnesota is provide another stage of the development process for the kids that want to move on to the next level and stay home in the State of Hockey. We will still have incredible talent at the high school level. As a fan of hockey, you want to see kids competing at the highest level possible. If that means leaving your senior year of high school to play in the USHL, so be it. You cannot hate the player for that. He is trying to play at the highest level and move on to the next level. We see how beloved the high school game is every year at the Xcel Energy Center in March. 18,000+ fans are there for The Tourney and that’s not going to change anytime soon as attendance continues to increase year by year. But wouldn’t you love to see those kids you see play at “X,” play in at home in the USHL too? Not many kids can make the jump from the Minnesota State High School League to D1. Many kids need a year or two at the junior hockey level to develop more before heading to college. With all the talent we have here, shouldn’t Minnesota have the best development league for our hometown heroes to succeed in?
Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to tell you to hurry up and go support a USHL coming to Minnesota. However, I am encouraging you to consider the possibilities and weigh the positives and negatives of bringing a USHL team to Minnesota. In my opinion, it only seems right to have the best junior hockey league in the State of Hockey.