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Breeding ground

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 06/24/10, 10:46AM CDT

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Size, bloodlines among common traits for top Minnesotans entering NHL Draft

Take a look at this year's crop of former Minnesota high school standouts poised to be selected in the NHL Draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles and one ironclad rule when projecting pro potential is obvious.

Size is king.

Of the six Minnesotans who either just completed their high school careers or, in the case of Tyler Pitlick, played a WCHA season at Minnesota State-Mankato, all stand at least 6-foot-2.

Three of them weigh in at 194 pounds or heavier.

Sticking with the genetics theme, among Pitlick, who was a 2009 Mr. Hockey finalist at Centennial, Blaine's Nick Bjugstad, Warroad's Brock Nelson, Cretin-Derham Hall's Mark Alt and the Minnetonka duo of Justin Holl and Max Gardiner, only Holl doesn't have bloodlines that can be traced directly to top-level professional sports:

  • Pitlick is the nephew of former NHLer Lance Pitlick, who between 1994 and 2002 played in 393 NHL games for the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers.
     
  • Bjugstad's uncle, Scott Bjugstad, played 317 NHL games in nine seasons with the Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.
     
  • Nelson's uncle, Dave Christian, was a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning team and scored 773 points in more than 1,000 NHL games. Nelson's grandfather, Billy Christian, and great uncle, Roger Christian, were members of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal.
     
  • Alt's father, John, is a former NFL tackle who played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
     
  • Gardiner's brother, Jake, is a University of Wisconsin defenseman who was drafted in the first round (17th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008.

While Bjugstad and Pitlick are considered locks to be selected in the first round, it's possible Nelson also could be a first-round selection.

If all three are picked in the first round, it would match Minnesota's banner 2005 NHL Draft in which Brian Lee (Moorhead), T.J. Oshie (Warroad) and Matt Niskanen (Virginia) all completed their high senior high school seasons before being first-round selections.

Counting Derek Forbort, who helped Duluth East reach the state Class AA tournament in 2009, as many as four Minnesota players could be taken in the first round.

Forbort, who played last season with the U.S. National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., is projected to go as high No. 9 according to some draft rankings.


Blaine's Nick Bjugstad, left, and Warroad's Brock Nelson, right, each have uncles with extensive NHL experience. Photos by Helen Nelson

MINNESOTA HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS SELECTED IN FIRST ROUND OF NHL DRAFT

YR PLAYER SCHOOL PICK
'10 Derek Forbert* Duluth East No. 15 (L.A.)
'10 Nick Bjugstad Blaine No. 19 (Florida)
'10 Brock Nelson Warroad No. 30 (N.Y. Isles)
'09 Nick Leddy Eden Prairie No. 16 (Minn.)
'09 Jordan Schroeder* St. Thomas Academy No. 22 (Van.)
'08 Jake Gardiner Minnetonka No. 17 (Anaheim)
'07 Ryan McDonagh Cretin-DH No. 12 (Montreal)
'07 Patrick White Grand Rapids No. 25 (Van.)
'06 Erik Johnson* Holy Angels No 1 (St. Louis)
'06 Peter Mueller* Breck No. 8 (Phoenix)
'06 David Fischer Apple Valley No. 20 (Montreal)
'05 Brian Lee Moorhead No. 9 (Ottawa)
'05 T.J. Oshie Warroad No. 24 (St. Louis)
'05 Joe Finley* Edina No. 27 (Wash.)
'05 Matt Niskanen Virginia No. 28 (Dallas)
'04 Blake Wheeler* Breck No. 5 (Phoenix)
'03 Mark Stuart* Rochester Lourdes No. 21 (Boston)
'02 Keith Ballard* Lake of the Woods No. 11 (Buffalo)
'00 Jeff Taffe Hastings No. 30 (St. Louis)
'99 David Tanabe* Hill-Murray No. 16 (Carolina)
'96 Erik Rasmussen St. Louis Park No. 7 (Buffalo)
'89 Doug Zmolek Rochester John Marshall No. 7 (Minn.)
'86 George Pelawa Bemidji No. 16 (Calgary)
'85 Tom Chorske Mpls. Southwest No. 16 (Montreal)
'82 Phil Housley South St. Paul No. 5 (Wash.)
'79 Mike Ramsey Mpls. Roosevelt No. 11 (Buffalo)

* Denotes did not play at the high school level through senior season

Note: Taffe, Minnesota's Mr. Hockey in 1999 and Rasmussen, Mr. Hockey in 1995 each played a season with the University of Minnesota before being eligible for the draft.

Where Minnesota High School Players rank among top 2010 NHL Draft prospects

Name High School Pos. Ht. Wt. TSN CSS ISS THN AVG.
Derek Forbort* Duluth East D 6-5 198 11 9 10 11 10
Nick Bjugstad Blaine C 6-5 188 19 13 21 9 16
Tyler Pitlick Centennial C 6-2 194 25 18 20 21 21
Brock Nelson Warroad C 6-3 205 34 25 26 29 29
Justin Faulk* South St. Paul D 6-0 196 30 56 67 45 50
Justin Holl Minnetonka D 6-2 170 56 47 71 74 62
Mark Alt Cretin-Derham Hall D 6-3 199 70 37 77 64 62
Max Gardiner Minnetonka C 6-3 176 61 49 75 80 66

* Denotes did not play at the high school level through senior season

Abbreviation key:
TSN (The Sports Network), CSS (NHL Central Scouting's North American skater rating), ISS (International Scouting Services), THN (The Hockey News).

Note: Pitlick played at Minnesota State-Mankato last season after completing his high school career at Centennial.