Since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, 195 high school players have been chosen from various academic institutions in North America.
Connor Hurley is putting the exclamation mark on 196.
Skating with the Edina Hornets for a second consecutive year, Hurley is poised to be the first high schooler picked in the 2013 NHL Draft and has made a strong case for being the highest taken since fellow Minnesotan Nick Bjugstad was selected 19th overall by the Florida Panthers in 2010.
And that fact isn’t lost on Hurley one bit.
“It is very humbling and also very exciting,” the six-foot-one, 175-pound forward said. “This has been my dream for a very long time.”
So has winning a state championship.
Hurley opted to return to the high school ranks instead of joining brother Cullen and the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League to accomplish another goal – win state.
Hurley believes it’s another goal within his grasp.
“Last year, we had a young team and lost only two players,” Hurley said. “This year, we are bigger, stronger and we wanted to stay together and try to win a state championship.”
If that’s not pressure enough, Hurley –21st in Future Considerations November ranking for the 2013 NHL Draft – is attracting plenty of attention from the scouting community for his high-end hockey sense, impressive creativity and an ability to adapt to every role.
They’re just a few of the many reasons scouts are lining the stands to catch a glimpse at the Eagan product.
“It’s kind of crazy to see all the scouts at our games but I try to focus on what is going on inside the boards on the ice,” he said. “I just try to do the best I can do every shift and every game. I am fortunate to play with some very good and smart hockey players.”
But despite all that attention, the draft hype isn’t getting to Hurley.
“I concentrate on what is important now and that means working on my own game and trying to help my team win,” he said.
And by putting his high school team first, Hurley could put himself in a position to be the first high schooler off the board at the 2013 NHL Draft.
Was it difficult decision to pass on Muskegon knowing your brother would be playing for the team? How much did he try to convince you to join the Lumberjacks?
It would have been fun to play with my brother Cullen again but I knew I wanted to stay and play at Edina because it is the last opportunity to play with the guys and Cullen totally agrees with my decision.
Did you feel snubbed by not participating in the All-American Prospects Game?
No, who knows what goes into their decision making for those invites – it’s out of my control so I don’t get too worked up about those kinds of things.
You’ve had the opportunity to join the NTDP as a fill-in in October. What was the experience like?
That was a big honor for me and a great experience. I had the opportunity to play with some really good guys and for some really good coaches. At first, I was nervous playing the big Division I teams that we faced, but after the Wisconsin game we all felt we could play with these guys so we played a lot better against Notre Dame, UND and Bemidji. Obviously that level is a much faster game with hardly anytime to think out there. It took some getting used to. It was a thrill to end my time with NTDP winning the Four Nations Tournament.
Did you use that time with the NTDP to compare how you stack up against some of the other top American draft eligibles?
No not really, I just worked on trying to improve and help the team win.
Did playing against college players highlight to you some of the areas of your game that require improvement for next year? Which areas do you feel need the most work?
The biggest thing I learned was the speed of the game — you need to be moving and thinking much faster. The other big thing was the difference in size of the players – most of them weighed 20-plus pounds more than I did and many had beards which I haven’t been able to grow yet. I need to keep working on getting stronger and putting on more weight.