Every year for the past four years, I've put together a list of ten candidates for Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award, handed out annually to the state's top senior high school hockey player, in the week following the completion of the Upper Midwest Elite League.
So far, I've been 4-for-4 in picking the eventual winner(with a slight asterisk in that I said Aaron Ness would win if eligibility rules were tweaked for him, which they eventually were). This year's pick, barring some unforeseen circumstances seems like a lay-up to go a perfect 5-for-5.
As a reminder, this award is voted on by NHL scouts and Minnesota's college coaches, with a combination of current play, as well as future potential being taken into account.
1. Justin Kloos, Forward, Lakeville South (Committed to Minnesota)
Kloos might as well be known as The One Who Stayed in the city of Lakeville. His Lakeville South team lost forward Kyle Osterberg to the NTDP, while crosstown rivals Lakeville North lost defenseman Brady Skjei to the NTDP and forward Nate Arentz to the USHL. Osterberg would have only been a junior this year, and thus not eligible, but Skjei in particular would have provided some interesting competition in the Mr. Hockey race. Such seems to be the way things have gone for Minnesota high school hockey in recent years, losing so much top talent.
As it stands, Kloos is the clear-cut favorite to win this year's award. He is the leading returning scorer in the state, after tallying 79 points last season, and was the best player in this fall's Elite League, leading the league in both goals and points.
Weighing in at just 5'9" 177 lbs., his lack of prototypical size for professional hockey might have hurt him in other years, but like Kyle Rau last year, he end up being one of the best pro prospects in the state as well. NHL Central Scouting currently has no Minnesota high school players as 'A' prospects for this year's draft, while Kloos is one of only four award-eligible players to earn a 'B' rating for Central Scouting.
The rest of the candidates are after the jump.
2. Christian Horn, Forward, Benilde-St. Margaret's (Uncommitted)
Christian Horn is entering his fourth season with the Red Knights. He burst onto the scene when he scored 24 goals and 39 points as a freshman in 2008-2009, and hasn't stopped scoring since. He comes into this season with 136 career and should add significantly to that total.
If anyone can keep Horn from being a finalist for the award, it could, ironically, be his own teammates. With at least three other future Division I-caliber forwards on a loaded Benilde team, Horn might not even end up the leading scorer on his own team.
3. Michael Zajac, Forward, Eagan (Uncommitted)
Like Horn, Zajac is an older senior starting his fourth year of varsity hockey, and should be on a loaded team that is near the top of the state rankings all season long. Zajac is a 6'2" 200 lbs. power forward with excellent scoring touch.
He was born four days before the NHL Draft cut-off date, meaning he has already been passed over once for the NHL Draft, which could hurt his chances, but though he comes into the season without a college commitment, it seems unlikely that he won't have a commitment made by the time the season is over.
4. Jake Randolph, Forward, Duluth East(Uncommitted)
Duluth East returns all three members from their top line last season in Trevor Olson, Jake Randolph, and Dom Toninato(55, 53, and 51 points respectively, while the next highest scorer had 26 points). It could be tough to pick from the three, but I'll go with the flashier, bigger goal scorer in Randolph over the quiet, steady playmaker in Olson. The Greyhounds should be as deep as any high school team at least in recent memory, but they should have at least a player or two that gets singled out for individual honors.
5. Jay Dickman, Forward, St. Paul Johnson (Uncommitted)
Dickman is one of the most intriguing players in high school hockey this year. Prior to this fall, the scouting report on Dickman read something like, "St. Paul Johnson still has a team? Is this 1963?" But Dickman turned heads in the Elite League this year with his enormous 6'5" size and 13 goals scored.
It's no surprise that at his size, skating is considered a bit of an issue, but Dickman has surprisingly good hands, which made him such a power play specialist in the Elite League. His power forward style of play isn't ideal for the wide open style of Minnesota high school hockey, however, and Dickman might suffer without elite teammates to help set him up like he had in the Elite League. Central Scouting lists Dickman as a 'C' prospect, despite being passed over in the draft last year.
6. Will Merchant, Forward, Eagan(Uncommitted)
Merchant isn't quite the natural scorer that his teammate Michael Zajac is, but he's a tireless worker that is always making things happen on the ice. Also working in Merchant's favor is that he's a decent NHL Draft prospect, having received a 'B' rating from NHL Central Scouting.
7. Grant Opperman, Forward, Breck (Committed to Dartmouth)
Though it's likely to change by the end of the year, Opperman comes into the season joining Justin Kloos as the only other senior in the state of Minnesota with a Division I commitment. Opperman is a speedy forward that averaged a hair over 2 points per game last season with Breck, including five 5-point games. Opperman was also second to Justin Kloos among seniors in Elite League scoring this year.
8. Ben Walker, Forward, Edina (Uncommitted)
Edina always has a strong team competing amongst the top teams in the state, and this year will likely not be an exception. Walker is the leading returning scorer for the Hornets, notching 18 goals and 12 assists last season. Walker is a speedy winger that is very good at finishing off plays.
UPDATE: Walker has chosen to leave high school hockey to play with the Victoria Royals of the WHL.
9. Lucas Kohls, Forward, Forest Lake (Uncommitted)
Kohls along with senior teammate CJ Franklin form a dynamic duo that should carry Forest Lake's team this year. While Franklin is the more speedy, athletic player, Kohls is the better overall hockey player and creates more of the team's offense, allowing Franklin to finish off plays with his wicked shot. Kohls was already eligible for the NHL Draft last year, and wasn't selected.
10. Dylan Steman, Forward, Maple Grove (Uncommitted)
After sitting out his sophomore season due to transferring from Buffalo, Steman stepped into the Maple Grove lineup last season and was the marquee scoring threat the Crimson needed to go from being a very good team to a team that was consistently in the top ten in the state most of last season. Steman isn't huge, but is very solid and uses his strength effectively to score goals.
If this is the year that Maple Grove can finally break through against Blaine in the section playoffs, it would certainly help solidify Steman as a finalist for the award.