This year should be one of the closest votes for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award in recent history. There are a couple different players that have an excellent shot at winning, even despite the fact that one of the top contenders for the award, Edina's Zach Budish, missed the entire season with a knee injury.
Mr. Hockey is an interesting award, because it takes into account a couple different factors. It's not all about what a player has done in his high school career, but also what he is likely to do in the future.
Here's a listing of the 10 finalists for the award.
I decided to break things down by ranking the finalists in a couple different categories. Who is the most talented player right now? And who has the best opportunity to be a great player at the college and NHL level.
The best right now:
1. Nick Leddy
2. Danny Mattson
3. Ben Hanowski
4. Anders Lee
5. Max Tardy
I know everyone will immediately point to Hanowski's impressive point totals, but I think competition has to be considered. He averaged 4.4 points per game, but only played six games against teams ranked in Class A: vs. Virginia-0 points, vs. St. Cloud Cathedral-5 points, vs. Alexandria-3 points, vs. New Prague-4 points, vs. Alexandria-1 point, vs. Alexandria-3 points. That's an average of 2.67 points per game against decent Class A competition. It's still very, very good, and what you'd expect out of a legitimate Mr. Hockey candidate, but I don't know that it's impressive enough to hand him the award.
By comparison, Danny Mattson played 12 games against ranked teams and averaged 2.25 points per game. That difference isn't that bad when you consider Mattson's list includes teams like Edina, Minnetonka, Benilde, Hill-Murray, and St. Thomas Academy.
Anders Lee is similar in that nearly every game he played was against a ranked team, and he put up a lot of points, but he also had the most impressive supporting cast around him. I think it's a little hard to separate out how much of that production was Lee, and how much was Marshall Everson, or Connor Gaarder, or Brendan Baker.
Leddy's contributions are a bit harder to quantify since he is a defenseman, and perhaps that plays to his advantage. But there is denying that he is far and away the best player on one of the state's finest teams, and that he has led them to a great season.
All these players had great seasons, and thus, all of them are probably pretty close together. That's what will make this such a difficult choice.
Judging pro potential is a little trickier exercise, but I'd probably break it down like this:
1. Nick Leddy
2. Tyler Pitlick
3. Ben Hanowski
4. Danny Mattson
5. Anders Lee
This is the area that I think puts Leddy well over the top. In recent years, Minnesota always seems to have a defenseman taken in the first round of the draft, and this year, Leddy may go that high. And for good reason. Leddy is probably the state's most fluid skater, and has a dynamic all-around game that would translate well to the NHL level.
Pitlick is the youngest Mr. Hockey candidate, and probably the most raw, but after Leddy, if you asked me who out of this group would be in the NHL ten years from now, I'd probably say him. One thing that may hurt him, however, is that he isn't eligible for the NHL Draft until 2010, which means he maybe wasn't watched as closely as the rest of this group.
Hanowski is a real wildcard in this area. I'd imagine it was hard for scouts to get up to watch him that often, because most of his games were against competition too weak to draw many conclusions from. He was rated fairly high by NHL Central Scouting, but I'd imagine there are some mixed opinions out there, with some having him really high, and some having him much lower.
If Mattson were a little taller and a little heavier, he'd probably be getting way more attention. The pro game is moving more towards smaller, skilled players like him, but it's still an uphill battle for him. It's questionable whether he'll even play for North Dakota next season, or go to the USHL, which probably doesn't help his chances.
Lee got passed over in the draft last year, but now that he looks fully committed to hockey, a team may spend a later round draft pick on him. He's probably got NHL-caliber strength right now, which isn't something you can say for many players.
Another factor to look at would be a "career achievement" category, with what a player has done over his entire career. I don't know if this is something that is officially looked at, but probably plays in voters' minds. I'd rank them like this:
1. Ben Hanowski
2. Anders Lee
3. Danny Mattson
4. Nick Leddy
5. Marshall Everson
This is the one area that hurts Leddy and could tilt things towards Hanowski. Leddy has always been considered a tremendously talented player, but prior to this year, his Eden Praririe teams didn't really do much of note.
Hanowski on the other hand, has the state's all-time scoring record, and the previous record holder, Johnny Pohl, also won the Mr. Hockey Award, despite not being ranked very highly for the NHL Draft.
Lee has had an amazing career, playing in the state tournament five times and scoring a ton of points. Mattson has also had an amazing career, but never made it to St. Paul.
All in all, I think you have to give the award to Leddy. He's the state's best and brightest prospect, though I wouldn't be at all surprised, or disappointed, if the award went to Hanowski for everything he has done in his career at Little Falls and for what he's likely to do at St. Cloud and hopefully in the NHL. The other candidates have impressive resumes and deserve to be up there, but can't quite match Leddy or Hanowski.