One year ago, Nebraska-Omaha defenseman Luc Snuggerud was just finishing his high school career with Eden Prairie High School. Snuggerud played just seven games of junior hockey in the USHL before and after his high school season last year before making the jump to NCAA Division I to play with the Mavericks this season. That lack of high-level hockey experience caused Snuggerud to slip a bit on Draft Day, falling from a projected third round pick to the fifth round of the draft, where he was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Snuggerud has handled the jump to college hockey well so far into his first season. He's had to on an Omaha team that regularly plays eight freshmen, including three rookie defensemen each night. I took a closer look at Snuggerud last weekend when the Mavericks traveled to St. Cloud for a weekend series against St. Cloud State to see how he is progressing in the latter half of his rookie season.
Snuggerud has spent almost all of the season paired with senior defenseman Brian O'Rourke on what is essentially UNO's second defensive pairing. Snuggerud also features on UNO's top power play unit.
Overall, Snuggerud is a good skater, which played a large part in getting him drafted by the 'Hawks last summer. He's strong on his skates and has excellent straight-line speed with the puck on his stick. His first step is just average, and could stand to improve a bit. He's terrific at moving laterally, which allows him to walk the line with the puck while on the power play, or take away space defending one-on-one. He used that lateral movement to make a nice hip check in Friday's game. Backwards skating is the biggest area that needs to improve. He has to cross his feet over too often to gain speed, making him vulnerable against an oncoming attacker.
He does a good job in his own end identifying his man, even off the puck, and staying on him. A few times he was a bit late on puck retrieval on loose pucks in his own end, which cost his team possession, but he never made any big mistakes that really cost his team.
On offense, he's still very much in the process of learning what he can and can't do at this level, and as a result, played a much more conservative style of hockey than he might in a few years. He showed the ability to jump into the rush in transition situation a few times. With his skating ability, that's something he'll likely be taking greater advantage of in the future. When he had the puck on his stick, he mostly stuck to making the safe, simple pass to move the puck out of the zone. Carrying the puck out of his zone, he was mostly content to gain the red line and then dump the puck into the zone. As he gains more confidence at this level, he'll likely start carrying the puck a little more to gain zone entry rather than punting with the puck.
In the offensive zone, especially on the power play, he panicked a few times and made bad decisions with the puck when heavily pressured, but otherwise held his own. He showed good awareness to sneak in from the point a few times that never materialized, but put himself in position to make something happen. His slap shot is very average at this point, but I really liked the release on his wrist shot. It's a quick whip that comes in low and is heavy enough to generate rebound opportunities.
There was a lot to like in the way that Snuggerud played. He does some good things on the ice; you'd just like to see those good things a little more often. And it seems like as he gains a little more confidence in what he can do, he'll become a little more aggressive in making things happen out on the ice.
The long-term plan for the Blackhawks is likely to be patient with Snuggerud. He's shown a positive step in development this year by handling the rigors of college hockey. It will take another two to three years in college before he's really ready to compete in the pros. The Blackhawks still got tremendous value on a fifth-round pick last year, and with patience and the right development, may have picked up a real steal in that draft.