NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — When it comes to the NHL draft, no state offers clubs an abundance of riches like Minnesota. In 16 of the last 20 drafts, the State of Hockey has supplied the most U.S.-born picks, including 12 in 2019. This year should be no different, as some consider the late-2001/2002-year group to be one of the better collections of Minnesota-trained talent in quite a while.
Sixteen of the 26 high schoolers ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting department in their midseason release were from Minnesota schools, and of those 16, four participated in last week Boys’ State Hockey Tournament. That number likely increases for the final rankings Central Scouting releases in April, in part from the dozens of impressive individuals who performed under the powerful microscope known as the state tournament.
Additionally, the event featured several prospects too young for draft eligibility in 2020 but have already become priority targets for upcoming drafts by scouting departments in the USHL, NCAA, and the NHL.
Hill-Murray, Class 2A
Nick Pierre (Sophomore | 4/9/04 | 5’8, 175 | Shoots Left | 2022 NHL Draft)
A recent invitee to the National Team Development Program’s under-17 camp, Pierre is a dynamic offensive-minded player packed into a 5-foot-8 frame. Not only does Pierre run the Hill-Murray power play from the half wall, but he also dictates the flow and execution of plays in the offensive zone with strong stickhandling, ridiculous agility and escapability, and an acute grasp of exploiting the defensive scheme before him. Teams that try to tighten up their coverage in the face of Pierre’s dizzying moves fall victim to puck gazing, thus allowing him to lure coverage to the strong side and creating gaps near the net.
Naturally, he has work to do in getting stronger and dealing with bigger, older defenders when games get physical. Pierre, however, does not shy away from the tough areas and is willing to battle opponents with a size advantage. He uses a long stick that helps him in the takeaways department, especially on the penalty kill where he is a threat to score shorthanded. Pierre is committed to Tony Granato’s Wisconsin Badgers.
#TheTourney20: Sophomore Nick Pierre turns on the afterburners and catches Mr. Hockey finalist Luke Gramer flat footed before stuffing it home to make it 2-0 for Hill-Murray. pic.twitter.com/AdCQFYLaeh
Charlie Strobel, Center/Wing (Senior | 7/9/01 | 6’1, 190 | Shoots Left | 2020 NHL Draft)
A hard-working leader on and off the ice, Strobel was a top-line forward for the Pioneers and was the perfect complement to the speed and skill of linemates like 2004-born winger Nick Pierre and right wing Henry Eischen. Not that Strobel doesn’t have an impressive skill set of his own. But his tenacity, strength on the puck, high compete level and diverse scoring touch made him next to unstoppable during Hill-Murray’s march to a state title. He scored two impressive goals in the Class 2A title-game win over Eden Prairie after slipping home the OT winner in the semifinals versus St. Thomas Academy the night prior.
Strobel is strong skater with deceptive speed and impressive lateral quickness. He can make rapid directional changes while travelling at top speed while revealing confidence and control with the puck. There’s no telling what he’s going to do when he’s operating in the offensive zone because Strobel owns a heck of a shot with a quick release, in addition to possessing keen vision and the courage to take the puck strong to the net. He is used in all situations, to include late/close defensive-zone draws, and he wins over 50 percent of his faceoffs. Strobel is on the older end of the high school spectrum, but his physicality and battle readiness make him built for the college game and he will be a welcomed edition to the University of Minnesota.
#TheTourney20: Strength, control, and patience from 2001-born Charlie Strobel, who finds Nick Pierre in front. Pioneers regain their two-goal lead to make it 3-1 over Moorhead midway through the second period. pic.twitter.com/dcYsN3xYsQ
Dylan Godbout, Left Wing (Sophomore | 5/5/04 | 6’0, 170 | Shoots Left | 2022 Draft)
A fixture on Hill-Murray’s top-six and first power-play unit, Godbout is one of the state’s more promising forwards; one who has already received attention from national and NCAA programs. Committed to Wisconsin, Godbout is a physical winger with an impressive scoring touch and soft hands to settle tough passes. He handles the puck with confidence and skill, and his skate-to-stick transition while on the move looks effortless. Godbout can excel in both open ice or in close quarters, and he will throw his weight around, especially in the chip-and-chase game or battling for net-front positioning.
More of a finisher than a set-up man, Godbout can be a deadly option on the power play. It’s not easy tracking and reacting to rapid puck movement when a power play has the likes of Nick Pierre, Charlie Strobel, and defenseman Joe Palodichuk slinging the disc in all directions, but Godbout’s hand-eye coordination is a strength in his game that meshes well with others. He has an excellent shot — both for its accuracy off the pass and a hard wrister with a quick release
Godbout displays a strong on-ice work ethic and can play a physical game. He hustles to win 50/50 battles and is willing to sacrifice his body to keep plays alive. His overall skating from a speed standpoint seems average within the context of having speedsters for linemates, although Godbout is nimble in the corners and is tough to knock off balance when moving at any speed through the neutral zone. He displays quick footwork while killing penalties and can be trusted in the defensive zone during late/close situations.
Joe Palodichuk, Defenseman (Junior | 2/26/03 | 6’1, 165 | Shoots Left | 2021 Draft)
The top defenseman for the Pioneers, Palodichuk also is a Wisconsin recruit who played a key role in Hill-Murray’s first two wins at the state tournament. He was forced to sit out of the title game against Eden Prairie with an injury, but his season from start to finish was a resounding success. He was one of the top defensemen in scoring with 40 points thanks to a sharp mind and an aggressive mindset. Palodichuk appear confident in every decision he makes and has all the making of a top-pairing defenseman at the NCAA level.
Palodichuk can unload a hard, accurate shot via the slapper or wrister. He generates power behind his attempts without the big windup or backswing. This is critical for a Hill-Murray power play that required quick thinking and the highest level of readiness. He is a smooth skater with fluid movements in all directions and can keep up with onrushing opponents thanks to his effortless backskating. Another area where Palodichuk excels is defending the area below the faceoff dots, to include the low slot and behind his net. He is more than willing to engage in physical battles and will use his stick to let a forward know that he means business. He can play abrasive or under complete control, and he is poised under the pressure of a relentless or physical forecheck.
Eden Prairie, Class 2A
Ben Steeves, Right Wing (Senior | 5/10/02 | 5’9, 160 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A fast-paced goal scorer who came to Eden Prairie from New Hampshire, Steeves was the Eagles’ leader with 30 tallies in the regular season, plus three more in the section playoffs and another four at state. He also scored a critical goal in their semifinal win over No. 2 Blake. It’s next to impossible to not notice Steeves when he’s on the ice, and linemates John Mittelstadt and Jackson Blake provided Eden Prairie with the most consistent pressure in the offensive zone.
A Minnesota-Duluth commit, Steeves plays physical, has a nonstop motor and applies pressure off the puck in all three zones. He has a quick stick and will rapidly turn a seemingly harmless takeaway in the neutral zone into an immediate counterattack and does so without giving away his intentions. Steeves enters the zone with patience and confidence, and even his risky decisions can be justified. He owns a nasty shot-release combination and can pick the corners from above the faceoff dots. There’s no quit in Steeves’ game regardless of the situation and teams usually don’t have an answer for him, to include when he’s killing penalties. He was a finalist for this year’s Mr. Hockey Award.
#TheTourney20: Stickhandling clinics from both John Mittelstadt and Ben Steeves result in this impressive goal for Eden Prairie. Eagles lead Lakeville-South 4-0 late in the second period. Good positioning from #10 Jackson Blake. pic.twitter.com/uPK08VHVkH
John Mittelstadt, Center (Senior | 10/1/01 | 5’10, 165 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
Eden Prairie’s No. 1 center and primary puck possessor, Mittelstadt is an offensive-minded playmaker and expert stickhandler who meshed with winger Ben Steeves almost immediately. Although he led the Eagles with 38 assists during the regular season and section playoffs combined, Mittelstadt was held to only one goal during three games at state. Nonetheless, he remains a high-energy center who can tire the most agile of defenders with a series of sharp directional changes and cutbacks.
Mittelstadt is a strong skater with a long stride who possess above-average speed. He’s more dangerous when slowing things down in open ice while keeping his head up than he is barreling up the middle at top speed. He has a strong lower body that doesn’t limit his agility and elusiveness in tight spaces. Mittelstadt owns an excellent shot, as was evident in the bullet he fired late in the third period in the win over Blake. His vision, playmaking, and lethal shot helped him run the Eagles’ power play from the point. If there was one criticism of his game is that he can be a little out of control and over-stickhandle, but his overall high school career was impressive nonetheless, and he should eventually develop into a top contributor for the Minnesota Gophers.
Mason Langenbrunner, Defenseman (Junior | 9/14/02 | 6’3, 170 | Shoots Right | 2020 Draft)
One of the best two-way defenders in the state, the Harvard-bound Langenbrunner provided head coach Lee Smith with the luxury of two defense pairings with a legitimate No. 1 on each one. Langenbrunner has a complete understanding of his responsibilities in the defensive zone, but he also provides timely step-ups and joins the attack without hesitation. He will do whatever it takes to keep plays alive, even if it means pouncing on a puck in the corner from a starting point just inside the blue line.
Langenbrunner has very good speed for a defender his size and displays quickness and mobility in all three zones. Although he doesn’t come across as a pure puck distributor or power-play quarterback, Langenbrunner’s footwork allows him to walk the line or sidestep pressure in order for a shooting lane to open up. He also has very soft hands and can handle bullet passes from forwards, and his backhand-to-forehand transition is as clean as they come. Langenbrunner was the primary defender for Eden Prairie’s second power-play unit and used a quick release for his accurate wrister
But defense is the primary money maker for Langenbrunner, who covers gaps quickly, stands up at his line, and delivers crunching hits when necessary. His stickwork and positioning during the penalty kill are advanced for a high schooler. Lastly, his father Jamie had a lengthy NHL career with the New Jersey Devils.
Luke Mittelstadt, Defenseman (Junior | 1/22/03 | 6’0, 190 | Shoots Left | 2021 Draft)
Eden Prairie’s “other” No. 1 defenseman who like Mason Langenbrunner is no stranger to being matched up against and neutralizing opposing threats. Mittelstadt, however, has more flair to his game, thus making him more of a risk taker as well. He’s a strong, upright skater with very good speed and confidence in his stickhandling and skating; at least enough to attempt multiple end-to-end forays for a hard wrist shot from the circle. Mittelstadt has a thick frame, but you wouldn’t realize it by the way he bobs and weaves through traffic and into open ice.
Playing with this much pace can land the younger Mittelstadt in trouble from a positioning standpoint, but he communicates well enough with partner Kam Langefels to have his gaps covered before they can be exploited. He is very good below the circles and neutralizes plays with a combination of hard shoves and an active stick. Mittelstadt plays with a lot of energy and seems like he wants to solve every problem on his own, although he is a selfless puck distributor once a possession kickstarts in the offensive zone. He’s committed to Minnesota.
Drew Holt, Right Wing (Junior | 7/10/02 | 5’9, 170 | Shoots Right | 2020 Draft)
An energetic pepper pot who does everything at a fast pace, Holt causes havoc with or without the puck. He is more than willing to dart down the wing and take the puck directly to the net, but he has such a hard, accurate shot that defenders have to play him closer than they’d like. Holt’s speed and high motor are at the forefront of his game, and his quickness while playing alongside fellow speedster Carter Batchelder provided Eden Prairie with a formidable second line.
Holt will remain in constant motion even when he isn’t making a confident dash towards the goal. Off the puck, Holt is a major pest for opposing puck carriers. He hits hard, forechecks with intense pressure, and will not relent in his pursuit of the puck. If opponents are lucky enough to get their cycle game going, Holt will glue himself to whomever is on the puck, including defensemen at the points. It may seem like reckless abandon, but Holt will dive to break up plays and go down to block shots. He plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-9 listing may indicate and expect the junior to be a key top-line contributor for next year’s squad. Holt is uncommitted.
Jackson Blake, Left Wing (Sophomore | 8/3/03 | 5’9, 150 | Shoots Right | 2021 Draft)
The third member of Eden Prairie’s top line was also its youngest, as this second-year winger filled in nicely alongside John Mittelstadt and Ben Steeves after joining them later in the season. A former star at Shattuck St. Mary’s and son of former NHL winger Jason Blake, Jackson can be both a playmaker and a goal scorer with an excellent shot, but he also plays the game at an incredibly fast pace. He can turn a defender inside-out in one-on-one situations and only needs a few strides to reach top speed. Blake is a North Dakota recruit.
Carter Batchelder, Center (Junior | 6’0, 165 | 2/25/03 | Shoots Left | 2021 Draft)
A speedy two-way center who anchored Eden Prairie’s second line, Batchelder and wingers Drew Holt and Riku Brown were one of the state’s better energy lines, although they did a lot more than just hustle. Batchelder has very soft hands and looks confident as he stickhandles around traffic with his head up. He also owns an accurate wrister that he uses to pick the corners. Batchelder is committed to Colorado College.
Jake Luloff, Left Wing (Sophomore | 2003 | 5’10, 160 | Shoots Left | 2021 Draft)
A hard-working depth winger who finds himself in the middle of the action despite limited minutes, Luloff is an underclassman to keep an eye on for the coming seasons. He was a tireless worker both on and off the puck, and he and linemate tough wrister from in close — Strong work by Luloff and senior center Kai Stansberry provided impressive work on the forecheck and during possessions inside the opposing end. Luloff has an effective wrist shot with a quick release, but he also takes the puck strong to the net while displaying solid edgework and balance against bigger defenders. He’s uncommitted.
Blake, Class 2A
Gavin Best, Left Wing (Senior | 7/24/01 | 6’1, 174 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A tricky player with strong balance and speed to the outside, Best is a top-line winger and a team captain who displayed outstanding chemistry with Joe Miller and Jack Sabre. He is used in all situations but is extremely dangerous on the power play, where he likes to set up in the right circle and zing seam passes to Miller on the opposite side. Some may think that playing with Miller is a huge benefit to Best, but he clearly is self-reliant when it comes to generating offense.
Best can create his own shot in several ways. He has the patience to outwait defenders before wiring a shot through a screen, but Best is a shifty forward who will take the puck inside for an improved angle. He can also serve as a playmaker thanks to his accurate passing and sharp vision. There’s no way to tell what Best is going to do with the puck as he frequently uses look-offs and slap fakes. Best is uncommitted.
Will Svenddal, Defenseman (Senior | 10/12/01 | 6’0, 187 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
The top defenseman for Blake and the winner of the Class 2A Herb Brooks award, Svenddal is a power-play quarterback and all-situation rearguard that helps kickstart the Bears’ attack. Svenddal does several things hard. He hits with authority; blasts the puck with a tremendous amount of force; and delivers crisp and accurate stretch passes. Svenddal plays his position with the intent to impact every shift. He skates with confidence and uses his agility and edges to maintain possession while circling and weaving inside the offensive zone like a finesse forward. Svenddal has very good vision and can record points via the pass as often as he does with his elite shot.
Svenddal displays a good on-ice disposition and is always communicating with his teammates and coaching staff in between shifts. He can be counted on to read opposing schemes and exploit weaknesses in coverage with his skating or crisp outlet passes. He maintains a very tight gap and will use his leg drive to power into opposing puck rushers. He’s uncommitted for now but that shouldn’t last for long.
#TheTourney20: Blake scores on the ensuing power play. Shot from senior dman Will Svenddal. 6-5 with under two minutes in the third.
Joe Miller, Center (Junior | 9/15/02 | 5’10, 155 | Shoots Right | 2020 Draft)
One of the craftiest playmakers available in this year’s draft, Miller was Blake’s top-line center and all-around scoring machine for the Bears. Delivering the puck with precision was incredibly consistent and Miller put opponents on notice every time he hopped over the boards. Although Miller is often the smallest guy on the ice, he plays with a lot of fire and the desire to be the best. He absorbs big hits and will finish checks of his own. If the MSHSL kept track of penalties drawn, Miller would have to be among the leaders. He is that difficult to contain.
Setting up plays is not the only thing Miller does at an elite level. He owns an excellent shot, both for its velocity and accuracy, but he’s also fearless when controlling the puck below the dots and into the danger areas. He makes plays on his backhand and the puck seems glued to his stick regardless of his intense the pressure he’s facing seems. On the power play, Miller likes to orchestrate set plays from the left half wall and can thread the needle through the seam with relative ease.
Miller is a good skater from a top-speed standpoint but he more than makes up for any lack of breakaway speed with his shiftiness and quickness in tight spaces. There are a lot of impressive aspects of Miller’s footwork and lateral movements, but it’s the way he gets that extra step by way of anticipating properly that really stands out. Even with average speed, Miller is in open ice a ton and winds up on the business end of odd-man rushes multiple times a game. He’s committed to Minnesota and is a draft pick of the USHL’s Chicago Steel.
Jack Sabre, Right Wing (Senior | 4/17/02 | 6’0, 185 | Shoots Right | 2020 Draft)
A strong forward with a heavy shot, Sabre was another team captain who established himself as the power winger on Blake’s top line with center Joe Miller and left wing Gavin Best. But Sabre isn’t just a net-front presence on the power play who cleans up the garbage in the low slot — he has impressive puck skills and playmaking abilities in addition to being a strong, well-balanced skater with solid edges and deceptive quickness in tight spaces. Sabre is capable of making smart decisions off the rush and during cycles with either his passes or his shot selection. He’s uncommitted.
Jackson Hallum, Center (Junior | 9/8/02 | 6’0, 170 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
I wrote about Hallum as a sophomore last year and he certainly has taken the next step forward in his development. He was the Cadets’ on-ice leader in all situations and logged top-center minutes from the beginning of the season up until their heartbreaking overtime loss to Hill-Murray in the Class 2A semifinals. The first thing you notice about Hallum is his speed – pound for pound, he could be the fastest skater in the entire 2020 draft class, let alone in the State of Hockey.
But having elite speed is just part of Hallum’s consistent contributions. He is a versatile checker but also a strong playmaker and accurate passer with good vision. One of the things I like the most about Hallum is that he makes heady plays while slicing through the neutral zone at top spot. All his movements are fluid no matter the direction, and he will peel away from pressure or execute a timely chip and chase rather than try to take on three or four opponents at once. Hallum also plays physical, is an in-your-face forechecker, and can anchor the top penalty-killing unit. There’s some Ryder Rolston in his game from a stylistic standpoint, but Hallum is more creative as a playmaking center than a shoot-first winger. He’s uncommitted but should have his choice of premier Division I schools.
Moorhead, Class 2A
Luke Gramer, Defenseman (Senior | 7/2/02 | 5’10, 181 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A swift puck mover who plays a complete game in all three zones, Gramer was Moorhead’s No. 1 defenders and was a finalist for the Mr. Hockey award. He plays with the poise and quick wits of a seasoned veteran, and he might be a lot closer to the NHL than one would think. Gramer, who’s committed to Northern Michigan, was a captain and big minute eater for the Spuds and must have come close to logging over 25 minutes a game.
The significant majority of Gramer’s decisions are smart, with or without the puck. He appears to have the innate ability to sniff out opposing intentions well before the puck gets closer to his blue line. Therefore, Gramer uses his quick feet and hockey sense to not only break up plays away from danger areas, but also turn them into immediate counterattacks. The so-called “grey zone” – the area within five feet of either side of the blue line – is one where Gramer patrols with awareness, physicality, and confidence. He openly shouts out instruction and will direct traffic to forwards coming back to support the defense. If an onrushing opponent tries to blow past him, Gramer can deliver a solid check and mug him in the process.
Gramer is a very good skater with a short stride but quick feet and separation speed. He will pounce on pucks in the neutral zone and carry the puck into the opposing end with confidence, but also shimmy or juke his way around traffic. On defense, he is a strong backskater who maintains a tight gap while executing timely stick-on-puck attempts. He collects a lot of loose change from sloppy opponents and can sling a crisp breakout pass or go d-to-d with accuracy and authority. Gramer displays faith in his ability to handle a forecheck and makes opponents pay for being overzealous.
#TheTourney20: LHD Nick Gramer (#3) makes up for the Pierre goal by wristing one home on the power play. Keopple was really slow reacting to this so credit Nate Hardy with the screen. Moorhead trails 2-1 early in the second pic.twitter.com/bKQKJZdEjf
The most coveted draft prospect among all defenders in the state of Minnesota this season, Kaiser lived up to the preseason hype by delivering a fantastic senior campaign for the top-ranked Andover Huskies. His season began with an impressive showing for Team USA at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament and his solid play in the Czech Republic carried over against high school competition. Although his Huskies were upset in the first round of the state tournament, Kaiser carried himself like a veteran leader and strengthened his case of a top defense prospect for the upcoming NHL draft. He also was a finalist for the Mr. Hockey award and is committed to Minnesota-Duluth.
The first thing you notice about Kaiser is his skating ability, and not just moving north to south. He is fluid and graceful in all directions and crosses over in a textbook fashion. One can make the argument that his backskating or lateral movements are quicker than most defenders moving forward. Kaiser covers a ton of ground and can recover to a desired spot in just a few seconds. His control of the puck is done with an obvious attention to detail and passes or shots are delivered with confidence and effectiveness. Kaiser can blister the puck with accuracy and he also generates power behind over-extended attempts or those off his back foot.
Kaiser is active in all three zones. On offense he will activate without hesitations and drop down below the circles to keep plays alive. He also alternate sides in conjunction with the flow and movement of the cycle, and he seemed to execute timing and precision plays down low with perfection. The neutral and grey zones are patrolled with hawk-like vision and anticipation, and Kaiser will step up to intercept a pass for an immediate counterattack. It is also where Kaiser’s elite hockey sense comes into play as he can determine actions that would lead to smart or poor decisions. Therefore, his skating allows him to double back or retreat to a more tenable position as he attempts to check an opposing rush. He can play physical and is very strong on his skates to absorb hits after moving the puck to safety. The hype is definitely real.
Mahtomedi, Class 1A
JD Metz, Center/Defense (Junior | 10/24/02 | 6’0, 168 | Shoots Left | 2021 Draft)
Metz played both defense and center for the Zephyrs during the regular season but spent the entirety of the state tournament as a pivot. He is a smooth skater with a long, clean stride and he uses his excellent speed and agility to evade traffic and enter the zone cleanly. Metz is a very good passer and playmaker, and he is versatile enough to be used as either a point man on the power play or a net-front presence. He makes confident rushes up the ice and earned the trust of his coach to be one of the primaries responsible for breaking out of his zone. Metz owns a very hard wrister and can snap off a well-placed shot via a quick release.
Ben Dardis, Goalie (Sophomore | 2/12/04 | 5’8, 155 | Catches Left | 2022 Draft)
It’s cliche to say that you need a hot goalie to win a competition as difficult and pressure packed as the Minnesota state hockey tournament, but this year marked the second straight season in which Dardis backstopped the Zephyrs to a deep postseason run. The 5-foot-11 netminder met every challenge head on and delivered multiple clutch performances in helping Mahtomedi win state, and the Zephyrs’ offseason probably has a different vibe to it had it not been for his 40-plus-save heroics in the final against Hermantown. Even after surrendering the late game-tying goal to Aaron Pionk which forced overtime, Dardis was undeterred and made the necessary saves before teammate Colin Hagstrom won it in the extra frame.
From a technical standpoint, Dardis is an aggressive butterfly goalie who appears to have a total recognition of where the net is at all times. Another cliche often used for goalies is “he’ll stop any puck he can see”, but Dardis presents shooters with little room thanks to a seemingly strict adherence to butterfly techniques. His stick remains on the ice at all times as he drops down to limit five-hole mishaps and his glove hand is consistently positioned at the two o’clock with his palms outward. You can tell that Dardis makes it a point to remain square to the puck, as he compactly shuffled to adjust to forwards cutting from outside to inside. He plays an incredibly efficient game by steering high and medium-danger shots well out of harm’s way and challenging well above the crease to limit openings. Size is always a concern with today’s goalie but Dardis being a sophomore means he still has some growing left. He’s uncommitted.
Colin Hagstrom, Right Wing (Senior | 9/25/01 | 5’11, 161 | Shoots Right | 2020 Draft)
It’s unfortunate for the hockey world that a mature, tough-as-nails (not to mention clutch) forward like Hagstrom is forever hanging his skates up (at least in an official capacity) in favor of a lacrosse scholarship at Notre Dame. Nonetheless, the senior was tremendous for the Zephyrs during their march to a state title, with Hagstrom scoring the championship winner in overtime against Hermantown. He missed most of the season with a broken fibula but stayed with the team and worked out as best he could to remain in shape and keep his timing at midseason form. It all ended up paying off in the state tournament, where he registered three goals — two of which were game winners. Hagstrom plays with a ton of energy and his game packs a punch despite being listed at only 5-foot-10. He was named the Class 1A winner of the Herb Brooks Award.
Nikolai Dulak, Center (Senior | 4/8/02 | 5’9, 161 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A top-line center for the Class 1A champions, Dulak is a shoot-first center with an excellent shot-release combination. He is used in all situations and is counted on to take big faceoffs, especially late in periods. Dulak is an average skater with strong balance and shiftiness through the neutral zone, and he maintains a hunched style while moving north to south but still beat opponents to the necessary spots and wins a fair share of 50/50 battles.
A top-pairing defenseman who is committed to Air Force Academy, Bogenholm was very active and involved for the Crusaders in all three zones. He is a plus-plus skater for a blueliner and is capable of taking the puck end to end or entering the offensive zone under control. But Bogenholm also is reliable on defense. He holds his ground at the line and maximizes his reach with textbook stick-on-puck technique. In fact, Bogenholm’s stick is active from the beginning of his shift to the end, and he uses it to break up passes and dflect shots out of harm’s way. He plays with his head on a swivel and sneaks peeks over his shoulder during retrievals. The majority of Bogenholm’s decisions are either sound or justified and he completes plays only a few defensemen in high school can attempt, let alone make.
Bogenholm uses his elite speed to win the significant majority of his foot races, but he also anticipates well and reads plays as they develop outside his zone of coverage. Opponents have to be aware of not only Bogenholm’s speed, but his physicality as well — he can deliver a hard hit into the boards while keeping his balance and immediately transition the other way.
#TheTourney20: LHD Reid Bogenholm (2020/2002) is having himself an afternoon. Activating every chance he gets and always around the goal. Air Force Academy getting themselves a stud. pic.twitter.com/n9ih8BCpV1
Jon Bell, Defenseman (Junior | 6/22/02 | 5’11, 185 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A hard-hitting blueliner who played the left side on Cathedral’s top pairing with Reid Bogenholm, Bell is one of the most active defenders among his Minnesota high school peers. Whether it’s stepping up well past center ice to deliver a hard bodycheck or rushing the puck from end to end, Bell plays a similar game to his aforementioned partner, but they seem to have good chemistry and cover up when one decides to activate.
Nate Warner, Left Wing (Senior | 9/3/01 | 6’0, 176 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A gifted offensive talent who when engaged can be an unstoppable force, Warner has dealt with a shoulder injury each of the last two minutes that may have impacted his intensity and physicality on the ice. Nonetheless, his stickhandling, agility, vision, and touch round the net helped make him one of the top forwards in the state for the second straight year. Committed to Minnesota, Warner is dangerous near the goal and can bury the puck off the pass with his accurate wrister or a well-timed backhander aimed for the upper half. Much like his elite linemates, Warner can be an inside player who maneuvers into improved shooting angles with quickness and confidence.
Warner, who also plays center, is an above-average skater with a clean stride and quickness in other directions. He can make precision plays at top speed and had excellent chemistry with his linemates. Warner is not shy towards attempting passes with a high degree of difficulty, but his completion percentage seemed impressively high. In terms of intangibles, Warner was also on the top power-play unit and killed penalties with either Mack Motzko or Jack Smith.
Jack Smith, Center (Senior | 7/6/02 | 5’11, 182 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
The top-line center for the No. 1-ranked Crusaders, Smith came back from a shoulder injury to carry them through the sections and into the Class 1A semifinals against Hermantown. Although Cathedral and Smith did not win state like they did in 2019, the future Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog has an impressive draft year, nonetheless.
Smith is a dual-threat pivot who anchored one of the state’s top lines, with wingers Nate Warner and Blake Perbix on his flanks. All three were seniors, and the chemistry they showed during possessions and up-ice attacks was evident from the start of the season until the very end. He has a sturdy frame with ideal length, thus making him tough to knock off the puck. But Smith also is highly agile and skates with a long, powerful stride. Like most top players in high school, Smith logged a ton of minutes and was used in all situations. There were even times where he was double shifted and acted as the main puck distributor for two sets of wingers.
Smith is a highly intelligent center who incorporates all options available into the attack. He can stop on dime in transition and pick up trailers or exploit the backdoor option with a crisp and accurate diagonal pass. You get the sense, however, that Smith was his linemates’ primary target for shots at the net, and what a shot he possesses. Remember, this is a young man who turned down an invitation to play for the NTDP, so delivering the goods on offense should not be a concern. Smith also plays physical and is more than willing to mix it up after the whistle.
Blake Perbix, Right Wing (Senior | 1/10/02 | 5’9, 165 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
A pass-first playmaker from the wing who has excellent vision and hockey sense, Perbix was St. Cloud Cathedral’s lone nominee for the Mr. Hockey award, which is telling considering how dominant linemates Nate Warner and Jack Smith were. Perbix has incredibly soft hands and is very sure with the puck. He executes multiple timing and precision plays off weaves and curls, sometimes during a string of consecutive shifts in just one period of play. Perbix doesn’t have eye-popping speed, but his quickness on the puck is deceptive and he can make the most able of Minnesota high school defenders freeze from a stickhandling move during a move to the net.
Perbix puts forth an exemplary effort every shift. His hard work and quick stick keep possessions lengthy inside the opposing end and playing with his head up allows him to spot the best option closest to the goal. Perbix definitely thinks pass more than shot, and at times this results in overhandling or forcing pucks into heavy traffic when a clear shooting lane is present. For all the firepower the Crusaders iced on their power play, it usually was Perbix who ran the show from the near corner or left half wall. He’s also one of the best shorthanded threats in the state. He’s uncommitted and his USHL rights belong to the Omaha Lancers.
Hermantown, Class 1A
C Blake Biondi, Center (Senior | 4/24/02 | 6’0, 191 | Shoots Right | 2020 Draft)
The winner of the 2020 Mr. Hockey award, Biondi was the top forward for a Hermantown squad that lost the Class 1A title in overtime to Mahtomedi. He has outstanding pucks skills, beginning with his deadly shot and continuing with expert stickhandling and keen vision. Dozens upon dozens of prospects pile up the points against high school competition, but few are able to incorporate physicality and a high compete level while contributing in all areas of the game like Biondi. His no-nonsense approach, clutch play, and abrasiveness towards tough opposition, especially when the importance of the game increases, are just a few of the reasons why he should excel in college and beyond.
Biondi does not require much from his teammates to generate offense, but he displays chemistry and selflessness regardless of who is on the ice with him. Naturally, a top-line player who puts up points is going to have superior puck skills and will be leaned on to provide his team a spark on offense when needed. But Biondi leads by example, not only for his scoring prowess, but also for his tireless efforts off the puck. He plays physical and will finish his checks, especially on the forecheck, and is willing to sacrifice his body for the sake of keeping pucks out of his own end. Biondi is a strong, agile skater with very good speed, excellent balance and edgework, and he protects the puck in an expert fashion when driving the net. There’s an infectious confidence about what he brings to the ice on a nightly basis, and being a gamer with elite skills makes him a player every coach would welcome into his lineup. Biondi is committed to Minnesota-Duluth and belongs to the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers.
#TheTourney20: Another late goal for Blake Biondi but this one completes the hat trick. Filthy snipe. Lot more to his game than just scoring. Works hard, quick stick in the NZ, physical along boards, goes hard to the net.
A menacing, no-nonsense puck mover who is Hermantown’s No. 1 defender, Pierce can dominate the game at both ends of the rink. He plays with veteran-like poise under pressure and can deliver clutch plays on offense, but it’s Pierce’s intimidation factor and stand-up defense that also force opponents off their games. His ideal size, strength, reach, and mobility combine to enhance his impressive puck skills and decision making.
Pierce is an upright skater but generates a lot of power into his stride that allows him to outpace overcommitting forecheckers well past center ice. His teammates seem to have faith in his decision making and know where to position themselves in preparation for a slap pass or no-look setup. He can hammer the puck via a big windup on his slapper, but his wrist shot from at least 80 feet out can cause rebound issues for goalies. As expected, Pierce runs the point on Hermantown’s top power-play unit and is a one-timer option in the high slot. He also executes coast-to-coast rushes and will barrel towards the net at top speed. There’s a seriousness to Pierce’s game that is rare for a high schooler and he plays with a hardcore desire to be the best performer on the ice, albeit in an unselfish way. He’ll be joining Biondi at Minnesota-Duluth.
#TheTourney20: Critical late goal by Hermantown and it’s a dandy involving two UMD recruits. RHD Joey Pierce (2021 Draft) with a hard slap pass to the front of the net for Blake Biondi to tip home his second of the period. Big league play. Hawks lead Monticello 2-0 after 20. pic.twitter.com/SLKTCJFPQQ
“I know they love to talk about (Blake Biondi), but it’s Joey Pierce that does everything for Hermantown. Numerous times he killed us in the neutral zone. He stepped up. He made plays. Our guys are used to making plays, but he took them out. The blue lines were his, he kept pucks in. I told him after the game he was their best player. I was really impressed by him. Just an outstanding hockey player. I thought he was the difference. We could not generate offense when he was out there.”
St. Cloud Cathedral head coach Derrick Brown
Aaron Pionk, Left Wing (Junior | 1/16/03 | 6’0, 155 | Shoots Left | 2021 Draft)
A finesse forward with impressive puck skills and a penchant for highlight-reel plays, Pionk has a bright future ahead of him and should make Hermantown’s transition from Blake Biondi’s graduation seamless. He’s an effortless skater who can beat defenders with a variety of one-on-one moves, but Pionk stays under control while moving in any direction while the puck remains glued to his stick. He played on the first power-play unit alongside Biondi and Joey Pierce and will handle and distribute the puck with flair and confidence.
Pionk is a highly intelligent and crafty playmaker who can turn nothing into something with regularity. He can deke and dangle his way into high-danger scoring opportunities, but Pionk’s skating abilities and puck smarts create time and space for his linemates and point men as well. He can turn on a dime with his head up while maintaining complete control and spotting cutting or trailing teammates. He isn’t built like a rugged winger, but Pionk has no problem battling hard to not only change possession in his team’s favor, but eventually ram it down an opponent’s throat. A truly gifted scorer who is a pleasure to watch, Pionk’s older brother Neal plays for the Winnipeg Jets. He is uncommitted but may follow Neal’s path and play for Minnesota-Duluth.
Grant Slukynsky, Center (Senior | 3/12/02 | 6’1, 200 | Shoots Left | 2020 Draft)
One of the top all-around centers among North American high schoolers, Slukynsky was the heart and soul of a Warroad squad that returned to state for the first time since 2010. He can beat you in multiple ways — passing, shooting, hitting, checking — but he also brings a no-nonsense approach to every shift. He was the Warriors’ leader both on and off the ice, and his senior season was dominant from wire to wire.
It is common for a high schooler to obliterate the competition in league play, so his impressive stats with Warroad (101 combined points in only 31 games) need to be viewed with context. His brief stint with the Fargo Force was nondescript (0 points in 7 games), but that doesn’t mean an elite performer like Slukynsky is incapable of making adjustments and improving his play during the next go-around. If you watched him play at any point this season, you would realize how impressive a talent he truly is. Not only is he committed to Northern Michigan University, but he should be on the NHL draft radar despite not being ranked by Central Scouting. Slukynsky is a prized catch, and he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
Slukynsky has phenomenal hands — arguably the best in the entire state and put him in the running for the best among any 2002-born draftees. He can do magical things with the puck in the tightest of spaces, and goalies and their defensemen rarely have an answer for him once he’s near or below the hashes. Slukynsky owns a devastating shot-release combination and he labels his shots on the regular. The puck not only explodes off of his blade, but more times than not it’s well past the goalie’s glove before he reacts. Want more? How about his superior vision and playmaking abilities? Yes, Slukynsky can rotate between a pass-first playmaker in the Mathew Barzal mold when he isn’t slinging darts inside either post. He has an outstanding touch and can saucer passes over long distances than end up right on a streaking linemates blade. He keeps his head up at all times and displays exceptional anticipation of play development.
Slukynsky’s skating is more powerful and deceptive than it is quick and electrifying, but he’s in open ice a ton. He’s an expert stickhandler who handles passes of all types with ease and transitioning from backhand to forehand in effortless, even in stride. Slukynsky is very agile along the boards and continues to motor under heavy pressure from bigger or stronger opponents. He knows how to use his body to shield the puck while taking direct routes to the net. Lastly, Slukynsky is strong on faceoffs, runs the power play from the half wall, and also kills penalties.
Jayson Shaugabay, Right Wing (Freshman | 4/0/05 | 5’8, 160 | Shoots Right | 2023 Draft)
A silent assassin who lets his stick do all the talking for him, Shaugabay easily will be one of the most sought-after prospects for multiple North American junior leagues and NCAA programs, and it’s a safe bet the NHL’s scouting community are already itching for this kid to become draft eligible. They’ll have to wait a few years, however, as Shaugabay still has a few weeks before he turns 15. But the way he plays — silky smooth, calculated, and confident — makes the Warroad top liner appear older and more seasoned. Not only did Shaugabay flank Grant Slukynsky to form one of the state’s lethal 1-2 punches, but there were multiple times when his center was attracting double team after double team, only for Shaugabay to teach opposing coaches a lesson for underestimating his own skill.
The first word that comes to mind when trying to describe Shaugabay’s game is patience. The ice would be on fire with the roof about to collapse, and Shaugabay would still control that puck with his head up and remain focused on exploiting the defensive scheme before him. I know this all sounds hyperbolic, but the intent is to drive home the point that Shaugabay is a cerebral forward who can slither his way into the danger areas undetected before out-waiting a goalie via multiple moves from in close. His on-ice intensity is not as obvious as Slukynsky’s, but when you can embarrass defenses and goaltenders as often as Shaugabay can, it becomes irrelevant.