For the seventh straight year, I'm putting together a list of the top ten candidates for the state of Minnesota's prestigious Mr. Hockey Award, given annually to the top senior high school player in the state.
Last year, I was able to pick 9 out of the 10 eventual finalists, including picking the eventual winner in the preseason for the sixth consecutive year. This year presents a little more of a challenge, however. All of the really obvious choices for the award this year--Jack Glover, Jack Dougherty, Connor Hurley, Tyler Sheehy--have moved on to junior hockey; a trend that seems to grow every year. As a result, there's no real front-runner for the award, making this one of the most wide-open races for the award in recent memory. The award is voted on by NCAA coaches in the state, as well as NHL scouts, so future potential is taken into account somewhat, along with a player's high school season.
With that said, here are the ten favorites to take home the award this year:
1. Avery Peterson, Forward, Grand Rapids High School (Committed to Nebraska-Omaha)
After spending his fall playing for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, Avery Peterson was one of the few top players in the state to decide to come back to Minnesota for his senior season, and enters the year as the favorite to take home the Mr. Hockey Award. Peterson was dominant for the Thunderhawks last season, putting up a scoring line of 27-35-62 in 26 games.
Peterson is a big, physical forward, standing at 6'2" 192 lbs., but also possesses a nice scoring touch. He's not the smoothest skater or puck-handler, but competes hard, and uses his strength to his advantage to be a scoring threat every time he touches the puck. Grand Rapids has an excellent shot at returning to the state tournament this year with Peterson leading the way.
2. Mitch Slattery, Forward, Hill-Murray (Committed to St. Cloud State)
Behind Tyler Sheehy, who recently bolted to play in the USHL, Slattery was the biggest standout during this year's high school Elite League. Slattery is a strong skater that always seems to have the puck on his stick. Since last year, when he scored 25-33-58 in 30 games, Slattery has also improved his one-on-one stickhandling, making him an even more dangerous offensive threat.
If there's one drawback to Slattery's candidacy, it's that his prickly on-ice demeanor will likely rub a lot of people in the ultra-soft world of Minnesota high school hockey the wrong way. Slattery is by no means a dirty player, but if high school hockey were a reality TV show, Slattery would be the guy that's not there to make friends.
His strong Elite League earned him a commitment to St. Cloud State, and likely cemented his status as an NHL Draft pick this upcoming summer.
3. Steve Spinner, Forward, Eden Prairie High School (Committed to Nebraska-Omaha)
Even though Eden Prairie struggled against a difficult schedule last year, Spinner was a break out player for the Eagles, scoring 19-27-46 in 25 games. Spinner improved his stock this fall with a standout Elite League performance. Spinner has great hands and is an excellent passer. He might have to be a little more selfish this year, as Eden Prairie doesn't quite have the offensive firepower surrounding him that they did last year, but Spinner showed an ability to put the puck in the net this fall in the Elite League.
Spinner made a commitment to Nebraska-Omaha last winter. NHL Central Scouting listed him as a 'B' prospect in their preliminary draft rankings for this summer's Draft.
4. Spencer Naas, Forward, Benilde-St. Margaret's (Uncommitted)
Naas was relegated to the second line last year behind Benilde's top line of seniors Dan Labosky, TJ Moore, and Mr. Hockey winner Grant Besse. But that didn't stop Naas from shining last year. He managed to put up a 34-31-65 stat lie in 28 regular season games. Naas is one of the best skaters in the state this year, and as he's matured, he's improved his scoring touch.
He was passed over in the NHL Draft last season, and is unlikely to be picked this year. He doesn't have a college commitment yet either, but it wouldn't be surprising if that changes by the end of the year. Benilde won't quite be the powerhouse they were last year, but they should still be very strong, and Naas will score a lot of points while leading the team this year, which should keep him in the conversation for Mr. Hockey.
5. Luc Snuggerud, Defense, Eden Prairie High School (Committed to Nebraska-Omaha)
Snuggerud is a talented offensive defenseman that is very good at skating the puck up the ice. He's got excellent stick-handling ability for a defenseman, and a big shot that consistently makes him a threat to score on the power play.
Snuggerud made a commitment to play at Nebraska-Omaha last year. He was born about a week too late to be eligible for last year's NHL Draft, but is expected to hear his name called this summer in the NHL Draft. It may be tough for Snuggerud to stand out to voters with his teammate Steve Spinner also drawing so much attention, but as a future NHL draft pick, Snuggerud will have to merit some serious consideration for the award.
6. Nick Wolff, Defense, Eagan High School (Uncommitted)
As a bigger defenseman, the 6'3.5" Wolff has developed a little later than some of his peers as he adjusts to his size. Over the summer, he made the US Select-18 team, and followed up that strong summer performance with a good Elite League season. Wolff project as a stay-at-home defensive defenseman, but should be able to mix in some scoring at the high school level. He can also be a punishing hitter in open ice.
Wolff should make a college commitment sometime this season, and with his size, he's a prime target to be selected somewhere in the middle rounds of this year's NHL Draft.
7. Mitch Reinke, Defense, Stillwater High School (Committed to Michigan Tech)
Reinke is a smaller, puck-moving defenseman with excellent foot work and a great feel for the game. He's really taken his game to the next level in the past year, becoming one of the more reliable defensemen in the state. Reinke only scored 3-11-14 last year on a Stillwater team that really struggled offensively, but don't be fooled by the modest numbers. He's capable of taking over games with his ability to handle the puck.
Reinke made a commitment to Michigan Tech last season. At his size, he's unlikely to get much serious consideration for the NHL Draft.
8. Tyler Nanne, Forward/Defense, Edina High School (Uncommitted)
The Nanne name often brings about strong opinions and charges of nepotism in Minneosta hockey circles, but there's no denying that Tyler Nanne can play. Though he played a good deal of forward last year for Edina, he spent much of the summer on the blue line, and it looks like that is where he best-suited long-term. Nanne isn't the fastest straight-line skater, but his super-quick feet make him extremely agile on the ice.
Playing on an Edina team should be one of the best in the state should help Nanne's visibility for the award, but the argument can be made that Nanne might not even be the best player on his team with the likes of junior Dylan Malmquist and seniors Cullen Munson and Miguel Fidler also likely to earn a lot of attention.
Nanne has yet to commit to a college, but NHL Central Scouting has rated him a 'B' prospect for this summer's upcoming NHL Draft.
9. Travis Brown, Defense, Rogers High School (Committed to Michigan Tech)
Brown is a player that flies under the radar because he plays for a smaller school and committed to a smaller college program at a young age. But Brown provides a little bit of everything on the blue line. He's solidly built at 6'1" 201 lbs. with light feet. He's mostly a defensive defenseman, but can jump into the play and contribute some offense as well.
Brown hasn't garnered a ton of attention for the NHL Draft yet, but should definitely be in the conversation as a potential pick. Realistically, he doesn't have much hope of winning playing on a Rogers team that will struggle to be competitive, but is definitely one of the 10 best seniors in the state.
10. Zach Yon, Forward, Roseau High School (Uncommitted)
Zach Yon is a player that hasn't always performed his best outside of high school hockey, but there's no denying that he is a dominant player in the high school ranks. Last season, he scored 34-28-62 to lead the Rams. This year, with fellow seniors Alex Strand and Cole Bjugson returning, he should have another outstanding year, and should help Roseau take a serious shot at returning to the state high school tournament.
For more high school hockey coverage, check out SBN College Hockey's High School Hockey Section.