Minnesota held their annual Select 15 Festival for players born in 1998 this week in St. Cloud. The Select 15s are the first year Minnesota Hockey participates in the process to send players to the National Select Festivals in Rochester, New York, and one of the first opportunities to see all of the top players in the state in a given birth year competing against each other. I made the trip down on Monday to watch some games, and I figured I would give my take.
Overall, I think this group has the makings of a very strong one for the state of Minnesota. There's still obviously a long ways to go for all the kids here, but there is plenty of talent and potential to work with. Things appear stronger on the high-end of the group as well. After not having anyone selected for the NTDP(yet) this year, I'd expect at least 5 or 6 players to get very serious consideration this coming year. One thing that stood out to me--and this can be debated if it's a one-year thing or a growing trend--was how much more polished some of the kids from the Twin Cities area were compared to some of their out-state counterparts. There were plenty of exceptions to that rule, and that doesn't mean those out-state won't catch and possibly surpass the other later, but it does kind of highlight how advanced training and more competition at a younger age has changed the sport.
Normally, I'd consider this camp the unofficial starting point for potential future NCAA players, but for the first time ever, two players came to this camp having already made NCAA commitments. Defenseman Ryan Lindgren(Minnesota) and forward Joey Anderson(Minnesota-Duluth) both made their college commitments this spring. I've gotten the question of which one is better a few times, but it's very difficult to choose since they are very different types of players. Lindgren is bigger and a very fast, very strong skater that can control the game from the blueline. Anderson isn't as big, but is so smooth that he almost looks effortless on the ice, but controls the puck very well and has an excellent scoring touch. You really can't go wrong with either one. They were each the top player at their respective position, and are likely among the top few in the entire country.
Just behind those two are a pair of forwards from the excellent Edina Bantam AA team in Keiffer Bellows and Garrett Wait. Bellows is the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows, and is a huge, very strong kid for his age. He reminds me a lot of Zach Budish at the same age. Bellows isn't quite the passer Budish was, but his stickhandling is much better. Bellows was pretty dominant among this group. The only thing keeping him from being in the same category as Lindgren/Anderson right now are questions about if his skating and physical superiority can hold up against bigger, faster competition. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the pace of high school hockey next season. Wait, meanwhile, isn't flashy, but plays a very mature, 'next level' type of game. He does an excellent job protecting the puck, and has the hands to make plays in very tight spaces.
On defense, there's a lot of very good players, but not necessarily any surefire pro prospects beyond Lindgren. Next best to me would be Elk River's Matt Kiersted, who has one of the quickest first steps I've seen. Shattuck D Mason Palmer played very well, especially considering he was one of the few late '98 birthdates in the group. Little Falls' Daniel Marod was a very good skater for his size and seemed to have some nice potential. Hank Sorenson was one of the few really tough, physical defensemen in the group. Duluth Marshall's Lane Krenzen isn't the prettiest skater, but kept making plays all over the ice. There were a lot of bigger kids that seemed to have a lot of upside as well like Sam Rossini, Tristan Moss, and Myles Cunningham, and some smaller D that were excellent skaters like Jerry Calengor and Casey Staum.
At forward, there's almost too many good players to list. Some of the most effective, in no particular order, included: Maple Grove's Sam Huff, Lakeville's Max Johnson, Centennial's Cody McLean, Minnetonka's Brendan Skarda, Prior Lake's Kevin Fellows, Duluth East's Lukas Dow, and Blaine's Riley Tufte, among others.
I'll abstain from making any comments from the goalies. The best in the world can barely project goalies at age 15 with extensive scouting, and there's just not much you can tell from the limited amount of shots they see in one 24-minute period. It is worth noting that one of the best in this age group so far, Cole Weaver, who played with Russell Stover AAA last year, didn't participate, nor did recent WHL draft pick Jake Oettinger.