While the Minnesota High School State Tournament is considered a holiday to the majority of the region’s citizens, the tournament is considered work time for scouts to evaluate some of the top talent that the State of Hockey has to offer.
University of Minnesota forward Kyle Rau, who was widely regarded as a late round pick midway through last season, propelled his draft largely in part to his play en route to the 2011 AA State Championship. Rau’s five goals and two assists in the three games in front of sold out Xcel Energy Center crowds led to his name being called in the third round three months later in the same building.
While this year’s crop is not top heavy with elite talent as tournaments in the past, there are several players whose play over the next four days could drastically affect their draft stock. Below is a look at Future Considerations’ “Players to Watch” in 2012 Minnesota State High School tournament from this year’s draft class.
Junior Grant Besse has put up points in bunches this year for the Benilde-St. Margaret’s squad. Over the course of 28 games, Besse has 44 goals and 38 assists—seven of which came in the team’s three sectional games. On Monday, the University of Wisconsin commit was named to the Star Tribune’s All-Metro first team. Like many of the top draft eligible juniors in this year’s State Tournament, Besse is faced with a tough decision on where to play hockey next year. Should he leave the Red Knights, Muskegon is likely where Besse would end up after the Lumberjacks drafted him in the 2010 Futures Draft. Besse was ranked 100th overall in Future Considerations’ 2012 Introductory Draft Rankings.
Talent Analysis: Besse is a fearless competitor who will venture into the dirty areas for pucks and is more than willing to knock an opponent on his behind. He has an excellent release on his shot, which catches goaltenders off guard. Occasionally there will be some floating, but when it comes down to it Besse is a terrier on the ice.
Jake Randolph and the Duluth East Greyhounds return to the State Tournament as this year’s top dogs. The Greyhound captain led the most talented team upfront in the state in points with 66 in 25 games during the regular season. Randolph will spend a year with The Omaha Lancers before heading to Nebraska-Omaha in 2013. He was recently named the Pioneer Press Player of the Year.
Talent Analysis: A true rink rat, Randolph’s game reflects that- he thinks the game at a very high level, and plays at both ends of the rink. He has a great set of hands and a nose for the net.
After playing just 16 games in the Fall Elite League with rather pedestrian results, Judd Peterson promptly lit the high school league on fire. Along the way he compiled three hat tricks, a four goal AND a five goal game, giving him 44 goals and 79 points for the season. Peterson committed to St. Cloud State, and there’s been talk that he may enter school this Fall because his development curve since November.
Talent Analysis: Peterson has a great set of wheels and a great shot, making him a threat to score on any shift. He has projectable size. Really took his game to another level after an injury-shortened Elite League showing.
Unlike many of the elite players in the State Tournament, Will Merchant’s skills are not just limited to scoring. Merchant, a Maine commit, led all forwards on his Eagan team in blocked shots in addition to his 50 points in 28 games. Heading into the season, Merchant was ranked 84th overall in Future Considerations’ Introductory Rankings. Should Merchant need another year to develop begin joining the Maine Black Bears, Merchant would in all likelihood spend next season with the Tri-City Storm.
Talent Analysis: Merchant is an excellent skater who possesses a rocket for a wrist shot. Merchant is also a responsible defensive player, using his skating and physicality to backcheck and disrupt the flow of play. He plays a hardnosed style, which creates space for he and his linemates.
It has been a storybook season for Lakeville South senior Justin Kloos. Kloos began his 2011-12 season by leading the preseason Minnesota Elite League in points with 50 in 24 games and has 99 points in 28 games. The Minnesota Golden Gopher commit came back for his senior season to beat rival Lakeville North and make it to the school’s first State Tournament all while accumulating awards in the process. Kloos was named to the Star Tribune’s All-Metro team and named Metro Player of the Year and is the frontrunner to win the coveted Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award.
Talent Analysis: Kloos does a great job of moving his feet and driving the play north, which makes him a hard player to contain. Sneaky strong despite his size, he is hard to bump off pucks. More quick than fast, Kloos has very good offensive instincts.
Along with fellow Mr. Hockey finalist Eric Schurhamer, Grant Opperman has received the most attention at the Class A level this season. Opperman had 73 points in 28 games all while leading Breck to their fourth consecutive State Tournament berth. Opperman’s season is likely not finished after this week’s tournament as the Dartmouth commit, as he was added to Tri-City’s active roster at the USHL Trade Deadline.
Talent Analysis: Opperman is a rugged player who is at his best when he plays with an edge. Opperman uses his body well to gain advantage in leverage battles or taking the puck to the net. He sees the ice well and sets up teammates as well as scoring himself.
Will another player propel their draft stock similar to Kyle Rau’s?
The hockey world will find out over the course of the next four days. To watch the tournament fold out, check out http://www.prep45.com/ for a live stream of the entire tournament.
With files from Dan Schrader