Over the last several years there has been a growing trend of the top level talent leaving the Minnesota High School ranks for the USHL in an attempt to increase one’s exposure before their draft year.
Though for Minnetonka High School defenseman Tommy Vannelli, the perceived lack of exposure in high school hockey has not hurt him from shooting up scouts’ draft rankings.
Heading into the season, Vannelli was a player to keep an eye on, but impressed early—enough to earn a spot on Future Considerations’ Top 30 draft eligible players in November.
With the 2013 crop boasting incredible depth, Vannelli has since fallen from that position, but remains a top-50 player for the June’s NHL Draft. The offensive defenseman is second highest ranked player playing Prep hockey behind only Lake Conference foe Connor Hurley (Edina).
As for the rankings, though most players attempt to block out what scouts are saying, the draft attention is not something the Mr. Hockey candidate tries to avoid looking at.
“[They’re] a good benchmark for seeing how you stack up against others right now,” Vannelli said. “I still want to continue to improve as a player and there’s still season left.”
Vannelli’s Minnetonka team has had an up and down season though is currently ranked fifth in the Minnesota state rankings. This past week, the Skippers had a big win over Hurley’s fourth ranked Edina team 4-3 in overtime. The win was in part to Vannelli’s play, who recorded two assists. His second assist came with 28 seconds remaining on the power play to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Vannelli’s assists in the game drew his total to 19 and his total points to 27 points in 21 games.
The impressive high school season has just been part of the six-foot-two defenseman’s exciting draft year thus far. Vannelli kicked off his draft year with an impressive showing at USA Hockey’s Select 17 camp. Vannelli led all defensemen in points at the camp and his overall performance landed him on the USA’s Ivan Hlinka team.
From there, Vannelli played in Minnesota’s Elite League—a pre Minnesota High School League for the State’s best players—posting 14 points in 20 games. If the excitement was not enough, weeks into the high school season Vannelli committed to the University of Minnesota.
It’s been a whirwind for the 18-year-old blueliner.
“So far my draft year has flown by,” Vannelli said. “It has easily been the best season of my hockey career.”
In the coming weeks, Vannelli will try and add more noteworthy accomplishments during his senior year helping Minnetonka try and get to the Minnesota High School tournament in early March.
Assuming Vannelli continue his solid play, there could be some very early excitement to end his draft year on June 30 in New Jersey.
Describe your play. What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are?
I think I’m an offensive, puck moving defenseman. I think my defense has gotten better but can improve a lot. My weakness would probably be my strength. I’m not the biggest guy, but I’m working hard on that though.
The last month of the season has been a real grind playing #3 Benilde-St. Margaret’s, #4 Edina (twice), #6 Wayzata, and #3 Duluth East. How much does playing those teams get you up to play?
Yeah, I get really excited and get up for those games. It’s always fun to challenge yourself and your team to see where you stand.
Heading into the season there were big expectations placed on Minnetonka from Minnesota High School followers. How high do you feel the expectations were for the team and yourself? Do you feel any pressure?
There are always high expectations for this school, but his year especially. We have a pretty heavy senior class and we all know this is our last chance at [a State title]. As for my own expectations, I’ve always been hard on myself when I make little mistakes. Obviously it’s impossible to reach perfection but that’s always my goal.
I think there’s a little bit of pressure, but I try not to think about it and go out and play my game. I’m going to remember my senior year forever and I just want to make the most of it.
Your freshman year the Varsity team made it to the state finals as the number one seed. Do you think this year’s team has the talent to go just as far if not further?
My freshman year I was at Holy Family (Catholic High School), but I do remember watching their state run. Their team reminds me a little bit of this year’s team. Hopefully we can take it one step further this year than that team did.