The Minnesota High School Elite League season started this past weekend. The event was light on college coaches, many of whom were out getting the most bang for their proverbial recruiting dollar at the BCHL's 16 team showcase, but there were still plenty of junior and NHL scouts in attendance. And the level of hockey was surprisingly good. With the huge rash of departures to other leagues Minnesota hockey suffered this summer, there were definitely some weak links, but the '95 and '96 birth years were pretty deep in Minnesota. The quality of play looked much better than last season.
Here's my notes from the weekend:
Weights and Measures: NHL Central Scouting officially measured and weighed all of the players over Labor Day weekend at the league's training camp, and it's always interesting to see what the results are from non-inflated measurements. Most significant was Edina's Connor Hurley coming in at 6'1". At the end of last year, Hurley was listed at 6'0", and I would have guessed that was generous. It may be silly, but a players draft stock can vary wildly depending on what side of the 6 foot line they come in on. Hurley looked every bit of the 6"1" too, and certainly didn't lose any of his trademark explosiveness. Minnesota-Duluth recruit Adam Johnson was the lightest player in the league at 142 lbs, despite measuring at 5'11.25". There's still room for him to add a lot of muscle.
Rising: The players I think really helped themselves this weekend:
Connor Hurley: I was a bit of skeptical of people talking about him as a first round draft pick next summer, but he definitely looks like he deserves to be ranked that high. By far the most talented player in the league.
Derek Olmschenk: I had never heard of this kid prior to this--he had a whopping 0-6-6 scoring line for Cretin last year as a sophomore--but he looked good here. He's officially the biggest kid in the league at 6'3.5" 218 lbs. and had a couple goals and a couple assists on the first day. It's only the first week of the season, so caveats abound, but he should bear watching as a player on the draft radar this year.
Adam Johnson- After a rough season last year, he got off to a great start to the year, and showed why NHL Central Scouting liked him so much last season. The key will be replicating games like that every week.
Ryan Lundgren-Not much high end potential because of his size, but always fun to watch because nobody works harder than he does. He was up among the league's top scorers after the first weekend, mostly through sheer effort plays.
Tyler Sheehy-There's always been some questions about his skating holding him back, but the consensus this weekend is that it had improved, and he's got room to improve even more in that area.
Luc Snuggerud- Looks bigger than he's listed, and I feel like he's just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
-Grant Besse blocked a shot late in the second period on Saturday. He came out for his next, but clearly did not look well. Yesterday, he reported that he had broken his right tibia, and would be out 6-8 weeks, essentially costing him most of the Elite League season.
-Maybe old news, but I hadn't seen it confirmed anywhere that former Shattuck D Mitch Slattery is now listed as playing for Hill-Murray, and is skating at forward in the Elite League. That helps ease some of Hill's losses over the summer.
-The jerseys: They were just as bad in person, if not worse. Missing from the photo is that Team North has bright red nameplates to go with their blue/teal/black/gray jerseys, which clashes, but it also one of the more readable jerseys. The Great Plains and Northwest jerseys wouldn't be terrible if they toned down the trim about 50%. The only redeeming quality of the Southeast jerseys is that they would be perfect if you needed camouflage for an important undercover mission inside a bowl of Reese's Pieces.
-I've been leaning this way for a while, but I'll go out and predict it. The state title game this year will be the Section 6AA final between Benilde and Eden Prairie. I see some other very good teams, but I don't see any other teams in their league at this point.