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Minnesota Gophers Hockey: NHL Draft Preview

A trio of future Gophers could go in the first round Thursday night

2022 NHL Draft - Top Prospects Media Availability & Clinic Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2022 NHL Draft kicks off live from Montreal on Thursday evening and it could be a great night for future Minnesota Gophers. While Minnesota won’t top the insane five first round picks that the Michigan Wolverines had a season ago it’s possible that as many as four future Gophers could hear their name called in the first round on Thursday with another three likely to be drafted in rounds 2-7 on Friday. If four future Gophers get their names called it would be the most in a single first round since four Gophers were taken in the first round in 2006 including newly minted Stanley Cup Champion Erik Johnson #1 by the St. Louis Blues. Even three in the opening round would be the most since 2006.

Leading the way for Minnesota is forward Logan Cooley. The Pittsburgh native played with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program the past two seasons where he was second on the team with 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 51 games. He also had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and 23 shots on goal in six games to help the United States finish second at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Cooley is projected to go in the top five of Thursday night’s first round with the most likely spot appearing to be the Arizona Coyotes with pick #3.

Next most likely off the board in the middle of the first round will be forward Jimmy Snuggerud of Chaska. The name Snuggerud should sound familiar to any long time Gopher hockey fan as Jimmy’s dad Dave starred for the Gophers from 1985-1989 before playing five seasons in the NHL. His maroon and gold blood runs deep as his grandfather Jim Westby also played for the Gophers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Jimmy was a teammate of Cooley’s with the US Developmental team where he made great improvements in his skating and has one of the most dangerous shots in this draft class. His mock draft predictions have ranged anywhere from pick #15 to Vancouver Canucks to #30 to the Winnipeg Jets. But he will most likely go in the low 20’s somewhere.

The third future Gopher to potentially hear his name Thursday night is defenseman Ryan Chesley. The Mahtomedi native played the past two seasons with... you guessed it, the US national Development Team along with Cooley and Snuggerud. He is a right shot defenseman who can play either side of the rink and can range from a shit down defender to an open ice offensive threat depending on his defensive pairings and style his team plays. He will be expected to open it up a bit for the Gophers on their blue line next fall. Chesley has bobbed around a bit on the mock drafts but has settled in to the high teens and early 20’s spots. Potential teams interested in Chesley could be Nashville Predators at #17, Anaheim Ducks at #22, St. Louis Blues at #23 or if he would fall maybe a potential 1-2 punch of Gophers for Arizona at #27.

The fourth future Gopher who has been rocketing up draft boards in the last month or so is the only one who will not wear the maroon and gold until the 2023-24 season. Defenseman Sam Rinzel of Chaska split time last season with Chaska High School and Waterloo of the USHL, and is expected to return to Waterloo next season. Rinzel is a 6’4 mobile defenseman who has a great offensive skillset and once Minnesota finally graduates/ sends off to the professional ranks a large portion of their blue line should be an obvious choice to be on the Gophers top defense pair in 2023-24. They question is just how far up the board Rinzel will go. Some mock drafts have him cracking the late first round with teams like Arizona at #27 or #32 as possibilities. Others have him falling back to the top of the second round where a team like Montreal at #33 or Chicago at #38 could be possibilities.

The Gophers have two other players who are very likely to hear their names called on Friday in rounds 2-7. Connor Kurth will be a Minnesota freshman next fall after lighting up the USHL in Dubuque last season. The Elk River native is a gifted forward with skating and finishing ability that makes him an intriguing selection. He most likely will go off the board in the fourth or fifth round.

Defenseman Luke Middlestadt rounds out the potential Gopher draftees. The 5’11 defenseman from Eden Prairie and brother of former Gopher first round pick Casey Middelstadt played for Madison in the USHL last season helping them to a second place finish in the league. He is a strong two-way player but needs to grow more in size and defensive ability to make a strong NHL impact. He projects at a potential 6th or 7th round pick.

The Draft kicks off at 6PM Thursday night with Round 1 live on ESPN. Rounds two through seven will begin at 10AM on Friday with TV coverage on NHL Network and ESPN+.