The NHL draft starts Friday night in Pittsburgh, with the subsequent rounds finishing up over the weekend. Last year in St Paul 15 Minnesotans were selected, but for the first time since 2001, nobody from the Land O' 10,000 Lakes were taken in the first round. This year there will be at least one in the first round, and, per Roman, there's 21 Minnesotans ranked in the NHL Central Scouting's list of the top 230 North American skaters and goalies (they also release a similar list for European players), so we could see more than last year's 15 selected.
It's a stronger year for draft-eligible Minnesotans, and yet another strong one for draft-eligible future Gophers, as five skaters who will one day wear Maroon and Gold are ranked in the top 188. No surprise, really, as every year the U has as many or more drafted players on their roster than any other school. Here are the five future Gophers, as ranked by NHL Central Scouting:
19. Brady Skjei, D, Lakeville (U.S. development team)
"Skay" "Shay" he already has NHL size at 6'3 and 200 pounds, and yet what scouts love most is his skating. Per Michael Russo's writeup on him in the Strib, some have even called him the best skater available in the draft. So why on earth is this kid being touted as mid-to-late first round pick instead of top 5 or top 10? His offensive game is still pretty raw, as he posted 22 points in 56 games playing for the USA National Development last year, and he isn't very physical. He'll get plenty of opportunity with the Gophers to work on his offensive game at least, as he should jump into the top two pairings right away and push for time on the top power play unit. Yes, the Gophs return everybody from last year's surprisingly good defensive corps, but they don't have anybody with Skjei's skill set. If you're a Gopher Hockey fan you should be VERY excited to see what he can do this fall. For more on Skjei, check out Light House Hockey's draft profile of him.
87. AJ Michaelson, C, Apple Valley (Waterloo, USHL)
The former Apple Valley star will join the Gophers this fall, and will battle for that third line center spot left vacant by Taylor Mattson's graduation. Michaelson is a sniper with good scoring touch, size at 6'0 and 185, and is a good skater as well. The trick for him is putting it all together, as he managed just 6 goals and 14 assists in 53 games with Waterloo of the USHL. Sounds a bit like Seth Ambroz from last year, who was another very talented kid who couldn't find consistency in junior, but we'll see how Michaelson looks in a Gopher sweater this season.
147. Jake Bischoff, D, Grand Rapids (Grand Rapids HS)
Bischoff is an excellent prospect, a smooth skater with good offensive potential and takes care of things in his own end. He's not overly physical at about 5'11 or 6'0 but definitely projects as a solid high D1 D-man. But with Minnesota's ridiculous depth on D, I'm guessing he likely heads off to Omaha this season. Not to play for the UNO Mavericks, but for Omaha's USHL squad, where he should get some good experience while waiting for his chance to play for the U.
173. Justin Kloos, C, Lakeville (Lakeville South HS)
So stop me if this sounds familiar... Minnesota's Mr. Hockey is small in stature, but large in heart and talent. Like Kyle Rau in 2010-11 at Eden Prairie, Kloos was named the 2012 Minnesota Mr Hockey after a simply dominant season for Lakeville South, racking up 41 goals and 62 assists in just 31 games, a tally that actually bested Rau's 41 goals and 40 assists in his senior season. At 5'9 he's undersized, and like Rau last year, he's likely a 5th or 6th rounder because of it, but it doesn't mean he can't make an impact with the Gophers right away. Not to say he's going to walk into the top line and be named a freshman All-American like Rau did, but Kloos is definitely going to bring some offense to Dinkytown. A couple of inches taller than Rau, he has better wheels and like him a great hockey IQ, but I'm not sure anybody will be as fiesty and play with that edge the way Rau did last season. Still, look for Kloos
to compete for a spot on the third line and perhaps even the second line into the season to play a year of juniors before joining the Gophers in 2013, and like Rau, could make a team drafting him in the later rounds very happy they did.
188. Lou Nanne, LW, Edina (Edina HS)
Lou Nanne in a Gopher sweater? Seems about right, doesn't it? The grandson of former Gopher and North Star player, GM and president won the AA title two years ago with Edina, and had another strong season last year. He may go later rounds if drafted at all, but with as many connections as his grand-pappy has, it wouldn't be surprising to see somebody scoop him up somewhere in the last round or so. The 5'11 wing is very young for his draft class, and still has his senior season to go before possibly joining the Gophers in the fall of 2013.