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Minnesota major force at top of NHL Draft

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 06/26/10, 11:00PM CDT


State high schools continue growing trend of producing world-class talent

There was a time when a Minnesotan had as much a chance as a Jamaican to be selected in the NHL Draft.

Through most of the NHL’s early existence, only rarely did the league’s power brokers venture south of the Canadian border in search of top-level talent.

Minneapolis Roosevelt’s Mike Ramsey was the first Minnesota high school player selected in the first round. That was in 1979, 16 years after the league’s inaugural draft.

The state produced just 10 more first rounders through 2005, when a then-unheard of four players with ties to Minnesota high school hockey programs were selected.

At this year’s draft in Los Angeles a record 11 players trained in the U.S. were selected in the first round and Minnesota high school standouts were at the forefront of the American invasion into what remains a predominantly Canadian league.
Defenseman Derek Forbort, who was on Duluth East’s 2009 state Class AA tournament team, and centers Nick Bjugstad (Blaine) and Brock Nelson (Warroad), each of whom played in the fabled state tournament this year, were selected in the first round on June 25.

“Not only is it a great weekend for American players, which we are a part of, it was probably one of the best (Minnesota) high school drafts I can remember,” said Mike MacMillan, Executive Director of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association. “It speaks highly of the product that we keep producing and the players we are developing.

“We’re giving the kids to the opportunity to stay at home and play with high-level competition. I think the numbers speak for themselves.”

The run on Minnesotans only intensified in the second round held on June 26. Former Centennial standout Tyler Pitlick, a Mr. Hockey candidate as a senior and a freshman standout at Minnesota State-Mankato last season, was taken by the Edmonton Oilers with the first pick of the second round. Justin Faulk of South St. Paul, Mark Alt of Cretin-Derham Hall and Justin Holl of Minnetonka all followed Pitlick as second-round selections.

"There are a lot of talented players in high school hockey, but the big knock has always been that teams don't know if there's good enough competition there," Holl told NHL.com. "High school hockey is on the rise, and lot of people are beginning to realize it now. The leagues throughout the country can produce a lot of good players and we're beginning to see that."

Alt and Holl are defensemen who were Mr. Hockey finalists. Both are University of Minnesota recruits.

Max Gardiner, another former Minnetonka star, Mr. Hockey candidate and Minnesota recruit, was selected in the third round as was former Woodbury scoring star Max Gaede.

Six more Minnesota high school standouts from last season were selected in the seven-round draft, bumping the total to 15.

Edina coach Curt Giles, who guided the Hornets to this year’s state Class AA championship, played 14 seasons in the NHL, predominantly with the Minnesota North Stars.

He sees the recent influx of Minnesotans in the NHL Draft (14 former state high school players have been selected in the first round in the last six years) as the inevitable result of the state’s ever-growing talent base.

“What’s happening, more so than anything, is kids are getting a real good opportunity to play real good competition,” Giles said. “You take a look at the (Class A) level and the (Class AA) level in Minnesota, there are some fantastic teams all over the state.

“I think what you are see now is that there is more depth.”

Small-school programs Warroad, St. Thomas Academy, Thief River Falls, Detroit Lakes and Mahtomedi each had players from last season’s teams selected.

Blaine’s Nick Bjugstad, who declined an offer to join the U.S. National Developmental Team Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., to instead play with his childhood friends, led the Bengals to the state Class AA tournament and was named Mr. Hockey as the state’s top senior. He was selected 19th overall by the Florida Panthers.

“He had a chance to play a great regular season schedule where there is pressure on him all the time,” Giles said about Bjugstad. “He played in front of some great crowds and was part of some great rivalries.”

After being selected by the Panthers, Bjugstad was asked about the level of competition he faced in high school.

"Minnesota high school hockey is top of the line in the country," he told NHL.com. "I consider the competition pretty good and I learned how to become a leader and I developed as a player in high school."

Giles said NHL teams are as interested in a player’s personality as much as they are their ability.

“You should see the tests they have these kids take,” Giles said. “They like to see the way the kids compete, but they are really interested in what makes them tick.

“They ask them about their community, they ask them about their friends, they ask them about their parents. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of kids who can play hockey. They are looking for those special kids who have those special internal qualities as well.”

Bumping up the final number of Minnesotans selected is forward Jason Clark, who grew up playing youth hockey in Eden Prairie before attending Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, and Nick Mattson, who has had multiple hockey stops since leaving Chaska after his freshman season.

Hulking defenseman Jarred Tinordi, the son of former Minnesota North Stars defenseman Mark Tinordi, was born in Burnsville but played his youth hockey in the Washington, D.C. area.

Michigan had 10 players selected in the draft and Massachusetts had seven. No other state had more than four selections. Minnesota had produced at least 15 draft picks in every year but one (2008) since 2004.

“I think we are on the upswing,” MacMillan said. “I think we are doing the right things across the country. I certainly think Minnesota is doing the right things.

“We continue to be the No. 1 supplier to Division I programs throughout the country as well.”

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Minnesotans Selected In 2010 NHL Draft

Name High School Pos. Rd. Pick Team Comment
Derek Forbort* Duluth East D 1 15 Los Angeles Kings trade up to ensure pick of big, smooth-skating D
Nick Bjugstad Blaine C 1 19 Florida Panthers get Mr. Hockey with huge frame, huge shot
Brock Nelson Warroad C 1 30 New York Islanders Islanders get player with great size, bloodlines
Tyler Pitlick Centennial C 2 31 Edmonton Oilers get potential linemate for Taylor Hall
Justin Faulk* South St. Paul D 2 37 Carolina Pro scouts love Faulk's offensive instincts
Mark Alt Cretin-Derham Hall D 2 53 Carolina Hurricanes take another St. Paul D man
Justin Holl Minnetonka D 2 54 Chicago Blackhawks get smooth skater with great potential
Max Gardiner Minnetonka C 3 74 St. Louis Blues add yet another Minnesotan to talent pool
Jason Clark* Eden Prairie LW 3 82 New York Islanders Played for Eden Prairie as a sophomore
Max Gaede Woodbury RW 3 88 San Jose Sharks get winger with size, scoring touch
Joe Faust Bloomington Jefferson D 4 114 New Jersey Devils another team with strong Minnesota ties
Caleb Herbert Bloomington Jefferson C 5 142 Washington Capitals get a player with exceptional speed
Tanner Lane Detroit Lakes C 6 160 Atlanta Lakers star was only a junior last season
Zane Gothberg Thief River Falls G 6 165 Boston Bruins could be getting a great one
Nick Mattson* Chaska D 6 180 Chicago Played freshman season at Chaska
Ben Marshall Mahtomedi D 7 201 Detroit Red Wings don't make many scouting mistakes
Christian Isackson St. Thomas Academy RW 7 203 Buffalo Future Gopher has size, scoring knack

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

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


2010 Derek Forbort* Duluth East No. 15 (Los Angeles)
2010 Nick Bjugstad Blaine No. 19 (Florida
2010 Brock Nelson Warroad No. 30 (N.Y. Islanders)
2009 Nick Leddy Eden Prairie No. 16 (Minnesota)
2009 Jordan Schroeder* St. Thomas Academy No. 22 (Vancouver)
2008 Jake Gardiner Minnetonka No. 17 (Anaheim)
2007 Ryan McDonagh Cretin-Derham Hall No. 12 (Montreal)
2006 Erik Johnson* Holy Angels No 1 (St. Louis)
2006 Peter Mueller* Breck No. 8 (Phoenix)
2006 David Fischer Apple Valley No. 20 (Montreal)
2005 Brian Lee Moorhead No. 9 (Ottawa)
2005 T.J. Oshie Warroad No. 24 (St. Louis)
2005 Joe Finley* Edina No. 27 (Washington)
2005 Matt Niskanen Virginia No. 28 (Dallas)
2004 Blake Wheeler* Breck No. 5 (Phoenix)
2003 Mark Stuart* Rochester Lourdes No. 21 (Boston)
2002 Keith Ballard* Lake of the Woods No. 11 (Buffalo)
2000 Jeff Taffe Hastings No. 30 (St. Louis)
1999 David Tanabe* Hill-Murray No. 16 (Carolina)
1996 Erik Rasmussen St. Louis Park No. 7 (Buffalo)
1989 Doug Zmolek Rochester John Marshall No. 7 (Minnesota)
1986 George Pelawa Bemidji No. 16 (Calgary)
1985 Tom Chorske Minneapolis Southwest No. 16 (Montreal)
1982 Phil Housley South St. Paul No. 5 (Washington)
1979 Mike Ramsey Minneapolis Roosevelt No. 11 (Buffalo)

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

Note: Taffe, Minnesota's Mr. Hockey in 1999, Rasmussen, Mr. Hockey in 1995, and White, a Mr. Hockey finalist in 2007, each played a season with the University of Minnesota before being eligible for the draft.