Minnetonka(Minnesota) High School defenseman Tommy Vannelli was a player that flew under the radar for a long time coming up through the youth hockey ranks. He was always considered a solid player, but his quiet, efficient style of play didn't draw the same attention as some of the flashier players in his age group. But as that group of players matured and the pace of play became faster, Vannelli's responsible style of play began to look better and better.
After not being one of the handful of defensemen from Minnesota to be selected for USA Hockey's top national camp as a 15 and 16 year old, Vannelli made it to the National Select 17 Festival last summer, and was arguably the breakout player at the camp which gathers the best talent in the US. He was selected to play for the US at the Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament, where, despite a disappointing effort from the United States squad, Vannelli acquitted himself quite well, and became a top prospect for this year's draft. He played this past season with Minnetonka High School, and then once the high school season ended, he joined the US NTDP U18 team for the remainder of the year, including playing at the World U-18 Championships. Next year, Vannelli will play for the University of Minnesota.
In terms of style, Vannelli isn't the type of player that jumps out at you. He's got good size, standing at 6'2" but still has a lot of weight he can add to his relatively slender frame. He defends using his quick, nimble feet and outstanding skating for positioning rather than delivering crushing body checks. He doesn't take too many chances joining the rush or pinching in from the blueline, preferring to play safe, conservative defense, and he also doesn't have a huge slap shot from the point, which means he doesn't put up big offensive numbers, but he's got pretty vision and is an excellent passer, which allows him to move the puck from zone to zone effectively.
As far as pro upside, Vannelli has the footwork to be a very effective pro player, and with his style of play, he should have a relatively easier time making the transition to the faster pace of the pro game. Unless his offensive game really develops over the next couple of years, Vannelli doesn't really project as a top-pairing, power play quarterback type of player, but he does project well as a minute-eating second or third pairing defenseman. A good comparison might be a slightly less dynamic, but bigger version of the Chicago Blackhawks' Nick Leddy.
Rankings for Vannelli heading into the draft have ranged from the tail end of the first round by people that really like him, to the mid-to-late third round for those not as high on him. He doesn't quite have the ceiling to be selected in the first round of a very deep draft, but he's talented enough that he likely won't last into the third round of the draft. The end result will likely be something in the middle, with Vannelli selected somewhere in the second round.