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Minnesota's best heading into NHL draft

10/06/2020, 9:00am CDT
By Bryan Zollman, Let's Play Hockey

Defensemen lead the way


Wyatt Kaiser, a 18-year-old defenseman from Andover and the Reed Larson Award winner in 2020, heads this year's class of Minnesota draft prospects.


Brock Faber (Maple Grove) played for the USNDTP and is expected to be a second to fourth round pick in this year's draft.

The NHL Draft will commence tonight with the first round and the rest of the rounds on Wednesday, and just like every other year, certain Minnesota-born players will be waiting for the call.

This year, it will be defenseman who lead the way for Minnesotans. The State of Hockey has produced some high-end blueliners over the years. Ryan McDonagh, a 2007 Mr. Hockey winner, hoisted the Stanly Cup earlier this week, Matt Niskanen, a Virginia, Minn., native, won a cup in 2018 with the Washington Capitals and recently announced his retirement after playing in 949 NHL regular season games.

Four Minnesota defensemen were drafted in 2019 – Jackson Lacombe (39th/Anaheim), Mike Koster (146th/Toronto), Will Francis (163rd/Anaheim) and Ben Brinkman (173rd/Dallas). In 2018 the top two Minnesotans picked were defensemen – K’Andre Miller (22nd/NY Rangers) and Hobey Baker Award winner Scott Perunovich (45th/St. Louis).

There have been 18 Minnesota-born defenseman drafted in the first rounds since the draft’s inception in 1963. There have been 40 Minnesotans drafted in the first round, meaning 45 percent have been blueliners.

This year’s field of prospective draft picks are chock full of defenseman, led by Wyatt Kaiser  (Andover), Brock Faber (Maple Grove), and Jake Ratzlaff (Rosemount). Other potential picks are fellow defensemen Michael Vorlicky (Edina), Connor Kelly (Maple Grove), Mason Langenbrunner (Eden Prairie), Christian Miller (Greenway), Nate Schweitzer (Benilde-St. Margaret’s), Jake Boltmann (Edina), and Evan Bushy (Thief River Falls).

Minnesota also isn’t short on forward prospects. The 2020 Mr. Hockey winner Blake Biondi (Hermantown) leads the way as a projected second or third round pick. Other forwards who may be taken in the 2020 draft are Carsen Richels (Blaine), Joe Miller (Blake), Grant Slukynsky (Warroad), Jack Smith (St. Cloud Cathedral), Zach Michaelis (Elk River), Jonny Meiers (Eagan), Cameron Berg (White Bear Lake) and Matthew Gleason (Cretin-Derham Hall).

NHL draft experts don’t anticipate any Minnesota player to go in the first round. Kaiser, Faber, Biondi and Ratzlaff are the top four players likely to be chosen.

Here is a look at Minnesota’s best heading into the 2020 NHL draft as rated in order by NHL Central Scouting:

 

Wyatt Kaiser

Age: 18 

Height: 5’11” • Weight: 170

Shoots: Left • Position: Defense

High School: Andover

Junior Team: Dubuque (USHL)

College: Minnesota-Duluth

2019-20 Stats: 31GP-11G-32A-43PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #37

Draft Projection: Second Round

Analysis: Kaiser is lauded as a gifted skater who sees the ice well and could develop into a two-way defenseman who could quarterback the power play and be his team’s top defender. According to Smaht Scouting, Kaiser is comparable to Bret Hedican, a former Minnesotan who had a lengthy NHL career.

Kaiser was the Reed Larson Award winner this past season as the state’s top prep defensemen. He will take his talents to the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he looks to help lead the Bulldogs to their third consecutive national title.

While not broad and big in stature, Kasier’s smooth stride and heads up play makes him the likely first Minnesotan off the board come draft time.

 

Brock Faber

Age: 18

Height: 6’0” • Weight: 194

Shoots: Right • Position: Defense

High School: None

Junior Team: None

College: University of Minnesota

2019-20 Stats: 65GP-4G-17A-21PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #41

Draft Projection: Second/Third Round

Analysis: Faber is a rare breed in that he never played at the high school level. He went from a second-year bantam to the United States National Development Team where he has played the last two seasons. Because of that he is relatively unknown in Minnesota hockey circles. 

At 6-feet tall and a strong 194 pounds, Faber is a little bigger and stronger than Kaiser, and has likely benefited from playing in the USNDP program, logging 162 games the past two years. He’s not a big offensive threat, but like Kaiser has superior skating skills and is a top-notch defender. That doesn’t mean he isn’t skilled offensively. He moves the puck well and has a good shot and some scouts project him to be a power play point man. Scouts project him to be a 3rd or 4th round pick, but he could sneak into the second round if a team has the need for a stay at home defender.

Blake Biondi

Age: 18

Height: 6’0” • Weight: 181

Shoots: Right • Position: Center

High School: Hermantown

Junior Team: Sioux City (USHL)

College: University of Minnesota-Duluth

2019-20 Stats: 31GP-47G-48A-95PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #64

Draft projection: Second/Third Round

Analysis: Biondi was a landslide no-brainer pick for Mr. Hockey in Minnesota. He scored a whopping 95 points in 31 games, leading his Hermantown Hawks to the state tournament. He possesses all that is good in a hockey player: skating, shooting, speed and size. He is not great at any one of those traits but is very good in all of them. He can snipe and dish, and isn’t afraid to use his body along the wall to fight for puck possession. His shot might be his most lethal skill, evidenced by his 47 goals, including 10 in the playoffs when it mattered most. In essence, he’s a gamer. He should be able to step in and play for the UMD Bulldogs as they fight for their third straight NCAA title. His game should elevate even more playing against better competition. At times, he was a man amongst boys playing at the high school level last season. That bodes well for his future.

 

Jake Ratzlaff

Age: 18

Height: 6’3” • Weight: 185

Shoots: Right • Position: Defense

High School: Rosemount

Junior Team: Green Bay (USHL)

College: University of Minnesota

2019-20 Stats: 27GP-7G-9A-16PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #90

Draft Projection: Fourth Round

Analysis: While Kaiser and Faber are likely to don an NHL jersey and have careers akin to Ryan McDonagh and Matt Niskanen, Ratzlaff is right there with them. A supreme athlete with size and skill, Ratzlaff projects to be every bit as good as anyone in the state. The Rosemount native is also a very good football player and because the draft got pushed back to October, is considering playing college football. He is committed to the University of Minnesota, but that could change if he decides to wear football pads instead. He is likely to go in the fourth or fifth round of the draft, and some experts have the Minnesota Wild drafting him. Who doesn’t need a big strong defender who can move the puck and has good vision? Ratzlaff is very athletic whether he has spikes or steel on his feet. It will be interesting to see what decision he makes. If he chooses hockey, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him elevate to the NHL some day.

Carsen Richels

Age: 18

Height: 6’3” • Weight: 230

Shoots: Left • Position: Forward

High School: Blaine

Junior Team: None

College: University of New Hampshire

2019-20 Stats: 28GP-27G-26A-53PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #111

Draft projection: Fifth Round

Analysis: Richels had a fantastic junior season playing with 2019 Mr. Hockey Bryce Brodzinski. The question was what would Richels do without his dynamic teammate. Well, he answered the bell, posting solid numbers his senior season, tallying 53 points for his Blaine squad.

Richels possesses one thing that coaches can’t teach – size. At 6’3” and 230 pounds, he is a fierce presence on the ice. He projects to be a solid winger who skates and shoots well and has a knack for the net. He is headed East to play for New Hampshire. Heading to Hockey East has been a trend for goalies, but not so much for Minnesota’s top forwards. Richels is certainly one of the best high schoolers in the class of 2020 and it will be interesting to see how his college career fares. He is likely to be drafted because of his size and scoring ability. He may not find the net as much at the college level, but let’s face it…big bodies bode well in springing pucks that result in scoring opportunities. 

 

Jake Boltmann

Age: 18

Height: 6’1” • Weight: 187

Shoots: Right • Position: Defense

High School: Edina

Junior Team: Lincoln (USHL)

College: University of Minnesota

2019-20 Stats: 27GP-5G-9A-14PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: 113

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Boltmann, like the other Minnesota D-men in the draft is more defender than offender. But let’s face it, stopping opponents from scoring goals is just as important as scoring goals.  And Boltmann is good at stopping opponents. Again, size and skill win the day with Boltmann, and he has obviously benefited from the coaching of former NHL defenseman Curt Giles. Not sure if Boltmann has perfected the hip check that Giles patented, but then again, Giles was small in stature and big in heart and determination – he didn’t have Boltmann’s size. And once again, Edina has produced another potential draftee out of its prestigious program.

 

Nathan Schweitzer

Age: 18

Height: 6’0” • Weight: 187

Shoots: Right • Position: Defense

High School: Benilde-St. Margaret’s

Junior Team: Sioux Falls (USHL)

College: Colorado College

2019-20 Stats: 24GP-6G-26A-32PTS

NHL Central Scouting Rating: 117

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Schweitzer is more a polar opposite than his Minnesota D-men counterparts in the draft, bringing a more offensive style to his game. His 26 helpers last season for Benilde are proof he is adept at moving the puck and jumping up into the play. He has good size and a strong stick and is crafty with his passing. Heading to Colorado College, his game will obviously progress, making him a possible steal in the late rounds. He has also benefited form great coaching under Ken Pauly at Benilde. He will join fellow draft prospect Matthew Gleason at CC…look for them to get back up to par with their program by utilizing some of Minnesota’s top talent.

 

Mason Langenbrunner

Age: 18

Height: 6’2” • Weight: 165

Shoots: Right • Position: Defense

High School: Eden Prairie

Junior Team: None

College: Harvard

2019-20 Stats: 31GP-5G-16A-21PTS

NHL Central Scouting Rating: 131

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Mason Langenbrunner obviously has good hockey genes with his dad enjoying a solid NHL career that yielded two Stanley Cups. But unlike his dad, Jamie, Mason is a blueliner and a good one at that. He is more of an offensive defenseman who is good at making outlet passes and trailing plays through the neutral zone and into the O-zone. Scouts say his defensive play and skating need polishing. But as a kid going to Harvard, we are going to guess he can learn on the fly and will work hard to make the improvements needed. Another 20 pounds to his frame would help immensely, and although he has been a defenseman could potentially be utilized as a winger in the right scenario. 

 

Grant Slukynsky

Age: 18

Height: 6’0” • Weight: 194

Shoots: Left • Position: Forward

High School: Warroad

Junior Team: Fargo (USHL)

College: Northern Michigan

2019-20 Stats: 31GP-39G-62A-99PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #152

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Slukynsky is a product of the Iron Range and could project to be one of the best players to ever come out of there. His high school numbers were sick, racking up 99 points and an incredible 62 assists. However, he did go scoreless in seven games with Fargo in his short USHL stint. But he has proven he is a finisher, a kid who has a knack for the net, whether it is finding the back of it or finding a teammate who finds the back of it. He stands out amongst his peers and other than Biondi, is perhaps the most talented forward coming out of Minnesota’s prep ranks. He will be heading to Northern Michigan after a year of juniors. But he has high upside and could project to be an Anders Lee type player – late pick but a late bloomer who emerges as an every day NHLer.

 

Evan Bushy

Age: 18

Height: 6’0” • Weight: 183

Shoots: Right • Position: Defense

High School: Thief River Falls

Junior Team: Sioux City (USHL)

College: St. Cloud State

2019-20 Stats: 27GP-15G-27A-42PTS

NHL Central Scouting Rating: 156

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Bushy comes from a strong hockey family. His brother, Brendan, is currently playing at St. Cloud State and his father, Jon, was a Division 1 player at MSU-Mankato. All three Bushy’s are defenseman. But Evan appears to have the more offensive skill of the bunch. He tallied 15 goals and 27 assists for Thief River Falls last season, opting to stay and play rather than jump to juniors. His skill has earned him a spot with St. Cloud State where he will join his brother, but probably after a year of juniors where he will continue to develop. Bushy is another talented D-man that Minnesota has produced this year in a D-man heavy field. 

 

Jack Smith

Age: 18

Height: 5’11” • Weight: 185

Shoots: Left • Position: Forward

High School: St. Cloud Cathedral

Junior Team: NA

College: University of Minnesota-Duluth

2019-20 Stats: 17GP-26G-23A-49PTS

NHL Central Scouting Rating: 169

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Hampered by injuries his senior season at St. Cloud Cathedral, Jack Smith still put up impressive numbers in a shortened season. In 17 games he averaged almost three points a game and had 10 goals and 9 assists in just six playoff games. He’s stocky and strong and has speed and hands and projects to be a very good offensive player at the college ranks. He might go late in the draft or not at all, but there is no doubting his skill and ability to create plays in the offensive zone.

 

Joe Miller

Age: 18

Height: 5’9” • Weight: 146

Shoots: Right • Position: Forward

High School: Blake

Junior Team: Chicago (USHL)

College: University of Minnesota

2019-20 Stats: 31GP-33G-46A-79PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: 180

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Ever see a water bug scoot across the water, darting every which way? That’s Joe Miller. The Blake standout is only 5’9” and 146 pounds, but god luck trying to line him up. His shiftiness and dangle ability make him a pest for opponents. His size wouldn’t have boded well in the draft 15 years ago, but the game has shifted somewhat to a more open-ice game with less clutching and grabbing. Speed is superior in the new game and Miller fits the mold. He will have to add on to his frame, but that will come. But the game is there, both as a scorer and a playmaker. Look for him to have some highlight reel plays for the Gophers when he gets there. 

 

Cameron Berg

Age: 18

Height: 5’11” • Weight: 183

Shoots: Left • Position: Forward

High School: None

Junior Team: Muskegon (USHL)

College: Nebraska-Omaha

2019-20 Stats: 32GP-18G-12A-30PTS (USHL)

NHL Central Scouting Rating: 185

Draft Projection: Late Rounds

Analysis: Berg never played high school hockey. The White Bear Lake native instead opted for juniors where he played two seasons with the Omaha Lancers and eventually earned a trip to Nebraska-Omaha. Because he didn’t play HS hockey, not much is known about him, but he did average almost a point a game this past season with Muskegon in the USHL, notching 18 goals and 30 points in 32 games. Scouts peg him a strong skater with a heavy shot who works well on the wall as a winger. He could be a sixth rounder.

 

Matthew Gleason

Age: 19

Height: 5’8” • Weight: 170

Shoots: Left • Position: Forward

High School: Cretin-Derham Hall

Junior Team: Chicago (USHL)

College: Colorado College

2019-20 Stats: 27GP-36G-42A- 78PTS

NHL Central Scouting rating: #189

Draft Projection: Mid to Late Rounds

Analysis: Gleason was one of the most dynamic players in last year’s high school class. He can play both ends of the ice and has solid offensive skills. He skates extremely well and has good hands and vision. He will be heading to Colorado College where he will likely emerge as top-tier scorer. Some scouts have him pegged as a mid-rounder. 

 

Players to Watch:

Other players who could go 

in this year’s draft:

Zach Michaelis, F, Elk River

Christian Miller, D, Greenway

Connor Kelly, D, Maple Grove

Michael Vorlicky, D, Edina

Jonny Meiers, F, Eagan

Noah Tussey, F, Stillwater

 

2020 NHL Draft

Round 1: Oct. 6, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN, SN, TVA)

Rounds 2-7: Oct. 7, 11:30 a.m. ET (NHLN, SN)

 

 

 

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  Bryan Zollman