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.”
|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.