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  • Top Minnesota-born prospects for 2022 NHL Draft


    After a great year for hockey in the state of Colorado (a Stanley Cup, NCAA Men’s D I Championship, and USA High school) I’ve started to see some nonsense that I won’t even put into print. Suffice it to say, the NHL Draft is a great time to remind people exactly why Minnesota claims the title of “State of Hockey.” For this reason, I have compiled the below list of highly touted draft prospects from Minnesota for the enjoyment of all those that would like to victory-lap this state’s hockey-playing prowess.

    Bona-Fide First-Round Talents

    Isaac Howard (LW)

    Hometown: Hudson, WI

    2021-22 Team: Shattuck St. Mary’s and US National Team Development Program (NTDP)

    Committed To: University of Minnesota Duluth

    First, the elephant in the room — technically, Hudson WI is a town in Wisconsin, not Minnesota. But, that town is legitimately a suburb of St. Paul and part of the Twin Cities metro area. As a kid, he could drive to the Xcel Energy Center in less than a half hour to catch Minnesota Wild games. Since Howard also played at Shattuck, we will be claiming him on this list.

    I’ll admit that half of the reason I included Howard is that he’s likely the best prospect that can make this list. of the players on this list, he likely possesses the best puck skills. He stickhandles well in the corners and has an excellent shot. At 5-foot-10, Howard is not much of a burner. However, scouts agree that his offensive instincts at the net, puck skills, and shot will allow for him to carve out a top-nine forward role. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic notes that while not a burner, Howard possesses great acceleration and strength in the corners which should support his game in lieu of elite straight-line speed.

    His production over the past two years is excellent over a large sample size of games on the NTDP. In Byron Bader’s NHLe model, which uses Junior production to project prospects, Howard has the eighth-highest upside to become a top scorer in this draft class. For scouts that feel this production is projectable to the NHL, Howard is projected to be taken in the top-half of the first round.

    Howard is a somewhat polarizing prospect due to his size and speed. While he won’t ever fit into the classic undersized-but-speedy forward archetype, I think that there is good reason to trust that his production will translate. Having seen the success of Jared Spurgeon and Kirill Kaprizov in Minnesota (two undersized stars that don’t require top-end speed to succeed), I think the Wild would be a great fit to mold Howard into a top-10 value in this draft. They should take him at pick no. 19 if he’s there.

    Ryan Chesley (D)

    Hometown: Mahtomedi, MN

    2021-22 Team: Shattuck St. Mary’s and US National Team Development Program (NTDP)

    Committed To: University of Minnesota

    The best way that I can describe Chesley is that he’s probably what most old hockey guys think a modern defender looks like. Chesley is a good skater who does his best work on both offense and defense in the neutral zone, skating pucks and smothering defensive rushes man-to-man. While skating pucks, he sometimes forces plays leading to turnovers, and has limited offensive vision. His primary offensive weapon is a very hard shot. Over the past year, he has made strides to improve his playmaking.

    Chesley’s production was limited at the NTDP, which concerns me if his shot is such an attractive attribute. Scott Wheeler notes that this is in part due to a logjam of skilled powerplay defenders on the roster ahead of Chesley. This makes a tough decision for scouts, as it seems to either be a case of limited opportunity versus “maybe he wasn’t on that powerplay for a reason.” It’s possible that either is true.

    Both scouts at The Athletic ranked him at the end of the first round, but it seems that NHL scouts may be higher on him. Beat writers that mentioned their team may be interested included the Nashville Predators (pick 17), Anaheim Ducks (22), Dallas Stars (18), and St. Louis Blues (23). I could see him as a great fit on the three latter teams on this list. To me, Nashville would prefer a defender with more vision in the first, but the other teams seem like great fits to take the chance on a physical, fast, hard-shooting defender in spite of low production. I hope that he’s gone by then, as I’m wary of the Wild taking him even at no. 24.

    Jimmy Snuggerud (RW)

    Hometown: Chaska, MN

    2021-22 Team: Chaska High School and US National Team Development Program (NTDP)

    Committed To: University of Minnesota

    Have you ever played the Nintendo Olympics video games? Snuggerud’s scouting profile reminds me of playing as Mario in those - jack of all trades, master of none.

    Snuggerud has decent puck skills and good vision, but doesn’t pop off the page in those areas for a first-rounder. He has a good shot which gives him great upside, but his skating limitations could hamper him as he progresses unless he can learn to be in just the right place at just the right time.

    His statistical profile is much more exciting but actually places him at about the same place as his scouting profile - the late first roundfirst roun. Snuggerud is an under-ager and took a large leap in production this year. These are the reasons that his upside is that of about the 10th pick but his chances of playing for real in the NHL are that of a late 1st. This draft seems fairly stocked with similar players.

    Snuggerud spent his time with the stacked NTDP program playing on the second line with Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier, two truly elite talents. It’s possible his production benefitted from playing alongside these names, but also conceivable that he got that spot because he can elevate the play of those high-octane linemates, which might imply that his skills will translate to playing alongside NHL talents. Interestingly, he was voted by his teammates as one of the two most underrated players on the team. On the other hand, I am concerned that on a squad this deep that his linemates were simply good on their own.

    To me, Snuggerud’s path to success is dependent upon a great deal of vision, which he may not really possess having played on a stacked NTDP team. His limited speed is a concern to me from a team-building standpoint. The best way to add cheap speed to an NHL roster is your young players, and that’s what allows teams to pay players like Mats Zuccarello whose skating is starting to decline.

    On the other hand, if he takes another jump in production when he gets to the U of M and proves that he can hang at higher levels, I would be all over him as a prospect. On draft night I would rather the Wild wait to take swings like this later in the draft since it seems that this draft is deep with similar production profiles. If the Wild can use pick 19 on a more sure-thing prospect, then I would be more open to taking Snuggerud at 24 or in a trade-back to the late first round.

    Day 2 Prospects

    Sam Rinzel (D)

    Hometown: Chanhassen, MN

    2021-22 Team: Chaska High School and Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)

    Committed To: University of Minnesota

    Rinzel is a toolsy defensive prospect. At 6-foot-4 and only 177 lbs, he’s a bit of a beanpole. his best attribute is a combination of reach and speed. He is a smart defender, but not very physical for his height. His playmaking ability and offensive instincts are limited.

    For a player with size and speed like Rinzel, many feel that the sky is the limit - as long as you can coach him up. Many times, this is easier said than done. Much of what people call “hockey IQ” or “instinct” is, to some degree, innate. My concern with Rinzel is that he has succeeded to this point on physical talent, but has been placed on defense because of a lack of offensive instinct. For his speed to translate into offense, he must drastically improve his playmaking and vision.

    Without that improvement, I can imagine Rinzel on the bottom-three of a defense. He is a great pairing for a stay-at-home defenseman with a good first pass, allowing Rinzel to scream up the right side during the offensive rush. Because Rinzel plays the right side, I would imagine that there are plenty of prospective defensive partners that fit that mold, which helps his value in my mind.

    While scouts at The Athletic have him ranked in the 50’s, Rinzel is more popular around the league and is being mocked at the end of the first round. I would guess that somebody will look at Rinzel with “scout’s eyes” (the “I can fix him” mentality) and take a shot at him in the very late first or early second. Personally, I would rather the Wild wait on Rinzel until at least the middle of the second round. Let the other old hockey men reach on the the tall, “toolsy” defender.

    Cruz Lucius (RW)

    Hometown: Grant, MN

    2021-22 Team: Gentry Academy and USNTDP

    Committed To: University of Wisconsin

    Cruz Lucius is prospect on this list that I am mot excited about. In my opinion, he has excellent upside and seems like he could fall into the third round.

    Lucius is credited with a great shot, as well as good puck handling and passing skills. Perhaps his greatest attribute is elite vision, creating space for his teammates and drawing defenders to him with the threat of his shot. To succeed in the NHL, he will need to make use of that vision because his skating technique is a minus.

    Lucius’s production was solid, but it’s really something when you consider that his draft year was hampered by a wrist injury. It’s easy to imagine him taking a leap after a year to fully recover, and I have no concerns about the wrist healing because he finished the year scoring rapidly — 12 points in his final 10 games. If the wrist was at all holding him back when he first returned from injury, that would imply that his “true” production last year was even higher.

    Unless his skating prevents Lucius from maintaining his game at higher levels of play, he could really turn into something special at Wisconsin this year. His statistical profile is essentially equivalent to Snuggerud. Snuggerud has a better nose for the net, but Lucius seems to have that elite vision that can allow a slower skater to hang at high levels. Lucius also clearly elevated the play of his linemates even on a return from injury.

    Players with this profile available on day two are a large part of the reason that I’d like to wait on Snuggerud as well, or pass on him at his current late-1st Round projection. I’d be happy to see the Wild pull the trigger on Lucius in the second round, and The Athletic beat writers let him fall to 77th overall in their mock draft. On top of all of that, how sick of a name is Cruz Lucius? I hope Bill Guerin and Judd Brackett find a way to fit him into this year’s draft class.

    Connor Kurth (F)

    Hometown: Elk River, MN

    2021-22 Team: Gentry Academy and Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

    Committed To: University of Minnesota

    Kurth is the first of the prospects on this list with less draft scrutiny than the first five. From what I could find, he has quick hands and is a good skater. He loves to shoot the puck and shoots it well, and already has Junior experience to go along with his commitment to the U of M. That USHL experience will set him apart from the players below that played primarily for their high school teams. Kurth is 5-foot-11 and well-built at 214 LBS, although he does have an early birthday which means he has less time to physically grow relative to the rest of the class. Some scouting agencies have ranked him as high as 81st-overall, but he will more likely be taken in the 4th or 5th Round.

    Alex Bump (LW)

    Hometown: Prior Lake, MN

    2021-22 Team: Prior Lake HS and Omaha Lancers (USHL)

    Committed To: University of Vermont

    Bump, like Kurth, is more filled-out physically than others on this list, and like Kurth he has an early birthday. He has been graded around the fourth or fifth round and was a captain at Prior Lake. His time playing in the USHL is a plus, and his production did pop up in hockeyprospecting.com’s prospect model:

    While not quite to the level of Lucius or Snuggerud, he has a similar high-risk low-floor profile. Investigating these prospects is yet another reason that I’d prefer the Wild wait or pass on Snuggerud — a lesser player with similar upside is still available in the fourth round. While I do think that Snuggerud is better than Bump for reasons not captured by this model, if the Wild grabbed Bump in the fourth round I would be happier with the value.

    Leo Gruba (D)

    Hometown: Lake Elmo, MN

    2021-22 Team: Hill-Murray HS

    Committed to: St. Cloud State University

    Gruba is another over-ager with good size. At 6-foot-2 205 lbs, Gruba, Bump, and Kurth paint a picture of why it’s important to consider the birth date of a prospect in evaluating him vs. the rest of his class. 18 year old boys grow fast, and you’ll notice that the older ones are much bigger. Gruba was the captain of his team at Hill-Murray this year, racking up 33 points in 31 games. He has been ranked around the 5th round, so depending upon how you balance his Minnesotan heritage against playing for one of the least-popular high schools in the state you can root for or against his draft stock based on that.

    Zam Plante (F)

    Hometown: Hermantown, MN

    2021-22 Team: Hermantown HS, Chicago Steel (USHL), Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL)

    Committed To: University of Minnesota Duluth

    Zam Plante boasts an elite production profile along with a name that looks like a sound effect from an old Batman comic. An under-ager with already 31 games of Junior hockey under his belt, Plante has produced everywhere he goes. He’s been ranked right around the 90’s and 100’s places, but wasn’t taken by The Athletic staff until pick 218(!!!). At just 5-foot-9 but 160 lbs, he has the weight to play pro but the height to fall in the draft.

    This is exactly the type of profile that prospect analytics people would victory lap in 5 years - undersized but with excellent production. He has excellent upside with a better floor than players around him, and he scored 10 goals in 31 games of junior hockey. His developmental comps — Pavel Buchnevich, Johnny Gaudreau, Corey Perry, JT Compher —are all major NHL producers. If Plante produces next year at UMD, 31 NHL GMs are going to have their analytics staff saying “I told you so.” I hope that the Wild will be that 32nd team.

    Daimon Gardner ©

    “Hometown”: Warroad, MN

    2021-22 Team: Warroad HS

    Committed To: Clarkson University

    Gardner was technically born in Canada, but he’s making this list as a player for playing youth and high school hockey in Warroad, hometown of TJ Oshie. Gardner towers over others on this list at 6-foot-4 and 201 lbs, and he also plays center. He struggled last year with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL but put up video game numbers for Warroad this year, scoring 45 goals and 83 points in just 30 games. Life like that sure is sweet, huh?

    Gardner has been ranked all over the place, from 54th overall at EliteProspects.com to The Athletic’s staff mock placing him in the late fifth round. While the statistical profile looks very promising, I am concerned that his struggles in the USHL indicate his game isn’t projectable to the NHL. You’d also prefer a more linear development pattern in which a player doesn’t return to high school. Even with those concerns, I’d be happy with Gardner in the fourth round, and I think he could be available for the Wild as late as the fifth round. He could help fill a need in the prospect pool at center.

    Barrett Hall (F)

    Hometown: Apple Valley, MN

    2021-22 Team: Gentry Academy and Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL)

    Committed To: St. Cloud State Universty

    Barrett Hall captained Gentry academy this year and found time to get some Junior hockey under his belt. He’s another prospect who has flow mostly under the radar, but his production was enough to show up at hockeyprospecting:

    His profile here is remarkably similar to Alex Bump, and he’s been mocked by The Athletic staff in the late fifth round.

    Tristan Sarsland (D)

    Hometown: Wayzata, MN

    2021-22 Team: Benilde-St. Margaret

    Committed To: Clarkson University

    Sarsland has mostly flown under the radar as a prospect, but he has a few attributes that pique my curiosity. He’s of average size at 6-foot 185 lbs, but he has one of the latest birthdays in the class. He scored 33 points in 28 games at Benilde this year, and with some runway to grow he could become a late bloomer. Producing at Clarkson will be vital to extending his career. He will likely be a day three pick, but was mocked by The Athletic staff as high as pick 146.

    Dylan Godbout (F)

    Hometown: Woodbury

    2021-22 Team: Hill-Murray HS

    Committed To: University of Wisconsin

    Another captain at Hill-Murray makes the list. My dad would joke that that doesn’t make you a character guy if you play at Hill-Murray. Anyway, Godbout is another small under-ager, although his production at Hill-Murray was less exciting than some of the others on this list. Scouts have listed him as something like a late-fifth-round talent. It’s tough to say what kind of prospect he is now, but some time at Wisconsin will definitely shed light on Godbout’s value in the coming years.

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