Every year, after the Elite League season, but before the actual high school hockey season, I make a list of my top ten prospects for Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award, given annually to the top senior skater playing Minnesota high school hockey. While there's always some surprises in the actual finalists, I'm a perfect 5-for-5 in picking the winner of the award in the preseason.
As seems to be the trend in high school hockey, there's bound to be a lot of focus on the players who aren't on this list, due to leaving high school early. It's a rather notable list too. Hudson Fasching, Jake Guentzel, Vinni Lettieri, Jordan Gross, Michael Brodzinski, and Blake Heinrich all would have been shoe-ins for this list if they hadn't left early, and an impressive second tier including players like Jacob Horton, Jake Ahlgren, Conner Valesano, and Zach Hartley would have gotten serious consideration as well.
But perhaps it's a testament to the depth in this age group that despite all those losses, I had a more difficult time whittling my list down to ten names, rather than searching to find ten legitimate names to fill it. It's a really strong list, led by a player that already comes into the season with a big reputation, and the talent to back it up.
1. Grant Besse, Forward, Benilde-St. Margaret's(Committed to Wisconsin)
Besse is already one of the most well-known names in Minnesota high school hockey, and perhaps even in Minnesota high school hockey history, thanks to his incredible performance in last year's state championship game against Hill-Murray. He only played the first and last weekend's of the Elite Season after suffering a broken leg while blocking a shot, but he should be back and ready to go for the high school season. Benilde is going to have a loaded team, and Besse is the most gifted natural scorer on the team.
Besse was already passed over once in last year's NHL Draft, and is a long shot to be drafted this year, but that shouldn't hurt his candidacy much. He'll score points by the boatload and should be a leader on the state's strongest team.
2. Jake Bischoff, Defense, Grand Rapids(Committed to Minnesota)
Bischoff spent the fall playing for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, but will return to his hometown of Grand Rapids, where the Thunderhawks should have an excellent chance of making it to the state tournament. He's a smooth, offensive defenseman that is very good with the puck.
Bischoff was selected in the 7th round of last year's NHL Draft by the New York Islanders.
3. Dan Labosky, Forward, Benilde-St. Margaret's(Committed to Colorado College)
If it wasn't for the fact that he played on the same team as Besse, Labosky would have a pretty decent shot at winning this thing himself. Labosky is a small player, but extremely feisty, and has a pretty good shot for a player of his size. If he ends up out-scoring Besse, some voters might end up being swayed by that. His size will likely keep him off the NHL Draft radar, but he's already got a commitment to play college hockey at Colorado College.
4. Tommy Vannelli, Defense, Minnetonka (Uncommitted)
After being overshadowed by some of the other talented defensemen in his age group growing up, Vannelli came into his own over the summer with a very impressive Select 17 Festival, and earning a spot on the United States' Ivan Hlinka U18 team. He's a lanky defenseman that can do a little bit of everything. He hasn't made a college commitment yet, but is being courted by a number of schools, and will likely have a commitment made by the time it's time to vote. He also has an advantage in that he may be one of the few highly-rated NHL Draft prospects in this group. Opinions seem to be all over the board on him, but some certainly have him in the top 2 to 3 rounds, and if he continues rising, he could become a favorite for the award.
5. Zach Glienke, Forward, Eagan(Uncommitted)
Glienke was in the shadows a bit last year while Eagan rode their talented senior class, which included two Mr. Hockey finalists in Will Merchant and Michael Zajac. But he'll be at the forefront of this year's Eagan team, which should be young, but still pretty good. Among the state's top players, Glienke is one of the biggest forwards at 6'3" 190 lbs., and that size should help keep him on the NHL Draft radar. He's more than just a big, grinding forward though. He's got the skating and skills to get up and down the ice and make plays in the offensive zone.
6. Zach Lavalle, Forward, Hill-Murray(Uncommitted)
Hill-Murray thought they had a pretty good shot at winning this award this year between Jake Guentzel and Blake Heinrich,but both left to play for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL this year. Their departures should put Lavalle in the spotlight. If Mr. Hockey were a career award, few players could compete with Lavalle's achievements. After making the Pioneers roster as an 8th grader, Lavalle has already been to three state hockey tournaments, and was named captain of the Pioneers last year as a junior. A tremendous all-around athlete, Lavalle has also competed in the state tournament as quarterback of Hill's football team, and as a member of their baseball team.
7. Mason Bergh, Forward, Eden Prairie(Uncommitted)
Bergh is a player that doesn't receive a ton of attention, but he'll be the top forward on an Eden Prairie team that should be able to compete with Benilde-St. Margaret's for best in the state. He's one of the few remaining members of Eden Prairie's 2011 state title team led by that year's Mr. Hockey winner, Kyle Rau, and there are some similarities between Bergh and Rau. Both are smart offensive players, and play tougher than their slight size would indicate. If Bergh can lead his team to St. Paul the way Rau did, he'll definitely be in the discussion for this award.
8. TJ Roo, Forward, Totino-Grace(Uncommitted)
Roo has played varsity hockey for Totino-Grace since he was a 9th grader, and has put up big points every year, including 71 points last season as a junior. If he continues that trend of high scoring, it will be very hard to ignore a player like that as a finalist for the award.
9. Adam Johnson, Forward, Hibbing(Committed to Minnesota-Duluth)
Johnson wowed and amazed the hockey world with an impressive performance in the 2011 state tournament as a sophomore, which earned him a scholarship to Minnesota-Duluth. He took a bit of a step back last year as a junior, going from being rated fairly high on the NHL Central Scouting list to going undrafted. If he can rebound with a big senior campaign, he has the possibility to be a finalist here, as well as get drafted in his second year of eligibility.
10. Jake Jackson, Forward, Tartan(Committed to Michigan Tech)
Jackson is a bit of an unknown, but put together a very impressive Elite League season which drew the attention of scouts and earned him a scholarship offer to Michigan Tech. He certainly seems like a player on the rise, and a solid showing this year should earn him some consideration for the award.