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PLAYING WITH FIRE

11/04/2020, 1:15pm CST
By Bryan Zollman, Let's Play Hockey

Jackson Hallum and his path to the NHL draft


PHOTOS BY NICK WOSIKA

When Jackson Hallum was a young teenager he wanted to play for the Minnesota High Performance National Team. He tried out four different times and was looking forward to playing against the best competition at his age level in the nation.

Except for one thing. He didn’t make the cut. He was told he wasn’t good enough.

But instead of sulking and feeling as though he was a victim, Hallum instead used the missed opportunity as a new opportunity. An opportunity to work harder and prove to others that he was good enough. It lit something inside of him.

He started playing with a fire in his belly that continues to burn today and has led him to be the first Minnesota forward drafted in the 2020 NHL draft.

“I used it as motivation” said Hallum, now 18. “I used it to get better and prove people wrong.”

The senior at St. Thomas Academy was a third round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 7, the 91st pick overall. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t even ranked in the top 200 North American skaters put out by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. Certainly not bad for a kid who couldn’t make Minnesota’s high performance team.

“After my sophomore year I didn’t make the top 54 even though I got invited to the Elite League,” he said. “I really started to work hard. More importantly, I really started to enjoy the process of working hard.”

Hallum grew up in Eagan, the youngest son of Robert and Sheila Hallum, who were no slouches of their own as athletes. Sheila was a track star at Drake and voted athlete of the decade in the 1990s. Robert played Division 1 basketball at Iowa. Even Jackson’s grandfather was a three-time All-American diver in college.

There was no doubt Hallum had the athletic genes. But talent only gets a player so far. He attended Minnesota Made to train as a youth, playing for the Machine Orange before eventually joining Eagan’s Bantam AA team where they lost in Regions his eighth grade year. The following year he planned to play another year of bantams with Sibley AA while attending St. Thomas Academy. Except he made the varsity team, playing for the Vanelli Brothers who had tuned STA into a Class AA power.

“They were great coaches,” said Hallum. “I loved them dearly. For them to take a chance on me as a freshman, I know that wasn’t an easy decision, especially with us being a top five team that year. We were senior heavy that year so it was special to be on such a great team at such a young age.”

Back then few would have projected Hallum to be a third-round draft pick in the 2020 NHL draft. But he had one component to his game that made him stand out amongst his peers. It’s something that is tough to teach, and players who have it always have an edge.

“He clearly stands out as one of the most elite skaters in the state,” said St. Thomas Academy Head Coach Trent Eigner.

“He’s extremely fast,” said Sean Toomy, who has coached Hallum the past two seasons in the Elite League. “He’s got another gear that other players don’t have.”

It was that speed, and Hallum’s ability to elevate his game against better competition, that caught the eyes of scouts.

Hallum finished second in the Elite League last season in points. He also impressed during the 2020 state tournament where even though he didn’t score a goal, his speed and playmaking ability stood out.

“He’s one of those players that when the level of competition around him rises, he pushes himself that much more,” said Toomy.

One thing Toomy points out is Jackson’s development of being able to make plays at high speed. Being fast is one thing, but being able to make passes and shots at top speed is another.

“That’s probably a little of what the NHL saw,” said Toomy, who was a Cretin-Derham Hall star in in the mid-80s before playing at UMD for four years and eventually playing professionally. “Can he be fast and make plays at that speed? A year ago he struggled a little bit with that. But he’s gotten a lot better.”

Eigner said Hallum made huge strides in the last year and wasn’t surprised he was drafted.

“Based on conversations throughout last season and leading up to the draft, I was not surprised he was drafted. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how high he went,” Eigner said. “I think his stock climbed due to the huge improvements he made last season.”

Hallum describes himself as a pass-first type of player and knows he has to shoot the puck more. At least that is what scouts and coaches tell him.

“I always tell him never to pass up a good shot,” said Toomy. “If you’re gonna be a playmaker and a goal scorer, you gotta have a little bit of selfishness. You have to believe and trust in your shot and your ability to score.”

Hallum racked up 18 goals and 23 assists as a junior for STA. He notched 12 goals and 14 assists in 18 games for Team Map South in the Elite League last season. This season he also finished second in the league in scoring with 16 goals and 18 assists. He said the Elite League really helped him elevate his game.

“It’s a great league for exposure,” he said. “There are so many scouts who go there.”

Hallum was being courted to play juniors leading into his junior season, but opted for the Elite League instead.

“Sioux City offered to bring me in, but my coaches said it was too early,” Hallum said. “I wasn’t worried. I trusted them.”

And he performed at a high level. With faster players around him, Hallum found that extra gear that sometimes wasn’t needed playing high school games.

“A big plus for me is when the game gets faster I play better,” he said. “I seem to have more of an impact in a faster game.”

Toomy said he saw the same thing with Casey Mittelstadt, who sometimes had a knack for slowing down at times to the level of other players and then showing flashes of brilliance when the puck hit his stick.

“Jackson is one of those kids who when the level of competition rises around him he pushes himself that much more,” Toomy said.

Hallum is currently working out four times a week and skating twice a day. His workouts begin at 5:30 a.m. One thing he has learned about himself, is that he truly enjoys the process of getting better. While many kids dread getting up early and working out, Hallum views it as an opportunity. It is something he looks forward to.

“I just love the game of hockey and everything that comes with it,” he said. “I found working out fun. Watching film is fun. And playing with my friends is fun.”

Hallum said the harder the game gets, the better. It drives him. Motivates him to push himself even harder. Pushes him even more to prove people wrong.

“When hockey gets hard, others tend to dislike it,” he said. “But I enjoy it. I enjoy that process of getting better.”

While his skates and ability makes noise on the ice, Hallum doesn’t make much noise off the ice. Described as a good leader and a good kid, Hallum is more known to support teammates with small gestures and comments than give fiery speeches in the locker room.

“He’s a high quality kid and exudes all of the qualities you look for…leadership, a good teammate and a good friend,” said Toomy. “On the ice he is encouraging to teammates and off the ice he is encouraging as well. He’s an excellent young man.”

While many kids who get drafted heading into their senior season of high school would opt to jump to juniors, Hallum says he is going nowhere. His goals are simple: To get back to state and to win it. Oh, and he’d like to win Mr. Hockey as well…ya know, to prove people wrong.

But he also isn’t in a hurry to leave his hockey community – from his coach Trent Eigner, to the team’s skate sharpener, Jim Killberg.

“Trent has been an unreal coach,” said Hallum. “The entire staff has been nothing but positive to me. They have established a great atmosphere in our locker room and at practices. He is just a great coach and builds great relationships with all his players.”

Killberg is someone Hallum always looks forward to seeing when he goes to the rink. He said “Killer” often has a joke or a story to tell.

“Everyone loves him,” he said. “He has this dog that will come into the locker room and play with us and try and take the ball when we are stickhandling. We tell ‘Killer” that his last dog, Savannah, is why Tommy Novak has such good hands. He is one  the reasons so many people love STA and the STA community. And he’s been such a big piece in my development as a person and development of my character.”

The community aspect of high school hockey is the main reason Hallum is going to stick around and play his senior year with the Cadets.

“I just love being around my family and being able to go to a friend’s house, having our school watch us play, seeing the band play…,” he said. “It’s really cool to me how a community comes together and supports a team or a game.”

And then there is the state tournament. Hallum has been fortunate enough to play in three of them. But he wants a fourth.

“There is nothing cooler in the country than the state high school hockey tournament,” he said. “I’m not worried about leaving anything early. I believe what you should do first is be the best where you are at.”

For him, that is right here, in the state of hockey, and right now, as he sets his sights on the top prize.

“I want to win a state title with my buddies and play in front of my home town,” he said. “There is a high school experience that goes along with it. I have been fortunate to play in three state tournaments and am very grateful for that. I just hope we can play in one more.”

Tag(s): State Of Hockey