It's hard to believe, but this is the eighth straight year I've put together a preseason list of the top ten candidates for Minnesota's Mr. Hockey Award, given annually to the state's top high school senior skater. I went 8 for 10 on the eventual finalists last year, bring me to 17 out of 20 for the last two years.
I'm also a perfect 7-for-7 in picking the eventual winner since I started doing this, so with each year, there's a little more pressure to keep that streak going. It's become more challenging too because of how rare it has become for potential high NHL Draft picks to make it to their senior year of high school hockey. There's no more obvious first round NHL Draft picks like Nick Leddy or Nick Bjugstad which were basically freebies to pad my numbers.
As a result, both last year and this year, I found myself stressing over my pick into mid-October. But two years in a row, a last-minute departure made my choice much easier for me. Last year, it was Tyler Sheehy's decision to head to the USHL after the Elite League season. This year, it was Jared Bethune's decision to play in the WHL that narrowed a two-horse race down to a single clear choice, at least in my eyes.
Here's my pick for this year's Mr. Hockey Award, and nine other players that I feel have the potential to be finalists for the award. It's worth noting that even though this year saw the usual high number of early departures to various junior leagues, all ten players listed already have college commitments secured for what I believe is the first time since I started doing this, and there are some strong NCAA committed players that didn't quite make the cut on this list. It really speaks to the depth Minnesota had in this year's senior class.
1. Dylan Malmquist, Forward, Edina High School(Committed to Notre Dame)
Malmquist was passed over in last year's NHL Draft as a result of questions about his long-term potential, but there's no denying he's one of the most impressive high school hockey players in recent memory. He's won back-to-back state championships at Edina, and the Hornets are favored to become the first school to win three straight championships since Bloomington Jefferson's dynasty in the early '90s. Malmquist also has the opportunity to become the all-time leading scorer in Edina's illustrious hockey history.
Malmquist's best asset is the quick release on his heavy snap shot. He has the ability to make offensive plays in tight spaces. He's a pure scorer that has been one of the best high school players in the state over the past two years, and should have another dominating season this year.
2. Jack McNeely, Defenseman, Lakeville North High School(Committed to Nebraska Omaha)
The big right-handed defenseman will anchor the blue line at Lakeville North, a team that should compete all season with Edina for the #1 ranking. McNeely's size and poise with the puck make him one of the top available NHL Draft prospects among this year's senior class. He's a solid defender and will contribute some offense at the high school level.
3. Jack Sadek, Defenseman, Lakeville North High School(Committed to Minnesota)
Sadek isn't quite as big as McNeely, but he's a little more agile and athletic. Sadek's quickness and puckhandling ability will put him in the conversation to be an NHL Draft pick this coming summer, and it would just be strange to go two straight years without a Minnesota commit as a finalist.
4. Jake Jaremko, Forward, Elk River High School(Committed to Minnesota State)
No player has improved more from last year to this year than Jaremko. He was the best player in the fall Elite League, finishing 11 points better than the next highest scorer in the league. He's added an extra level of strength and explosiveness to go along with his excellent vision and playmaking instincts.
5. Dixon Bowen, Forward, East Grand Forks High School(Committed to North Dakota)
Bowen opted to skip the Elite League this year, instead playing for the Fargo Force of the USHL. But he'll be back playing for the Green Wave this high school season to help them defend their Class A state championship. Bowen is a good skater that plays on both ends of the ice, and though he didn't score much during his stint with Fargo, he'll likely be a big offensive contributor for EGF this year.
6. Seamus Donohue, Defenseman, St. Thomas Academy(Committed to Air Force)
Donohue is one of the most poised, mature defensemen in the state. He's a natural leader and a calming presence on the ice for his team. He had a great fall Elite League where he generated a lot of offense from the blue line. If he continues to play at that level in the high school season, he'll definitely be in consideration to be a finalist for this award.
7. Kobe Roth, Forward, Warroad High School(Committed to Minnesota Duluth)
The departure of his best friend Jared Bethune just about guarantees that Roth will be selected as a finalist. Roth is tiny, but he's one of the most creative offensive players in the state. Roth was the state's leading scorer last year with 85 points and even without Bethune, should have similar numbers this year. Teammate Luke Jaycox, a big defenseman with lots of upside, will draw NHL Draft attention, but Roth's huge scoring numbers will be difficult to ignore.
8. Jacob Olson, Defenseman, Hill-Murray School(Committed to Michigan Tech)
Olson is a big, mean, defensive defenseman with the ability to lay bone-crushing checks. He's improved his foot speed enough over the past two years that he'll considered as a potential NHL Draft pick. He doesn't bring a lot of offensive ability, which might hurt his visibility for the award, but he's one of the best defenders in the state.
9. Will Borgen, Defenseman, Moorhead High School(Committed to St. Cloud State)
Borgen hasn't draw much attention for this summer's NHL Draft, but could be a prospect that draws more attention as the year goes on. He's 6-2, and while he's listed at 190 lbs., it looks like there's still room for him to fill out some. He's a good soccer player, so he's got nice athleticism. He moves the puck well, and plays physical on the defensive end of the ice. He's not flashy, so he doesn't draw a lot of attention, but he's a very solid, dependable hockey player.
10. Christiano Versich, Forward, St. Thomas Academy(Committed to Colorado College)
It was a very difficult choice between Versich, and St. Thomas' other small star forward Odeen Tufto. Both are worthy, though it's hard to imagine St. Thomas Academy earning three of the final ten spots. Versich is tiny, but he has great hands, and can make incredible offensive plays at high speed.
Bonus Brimsek Award
It's an unspectacular class for this year's Brimsek Award for the top senior goalie. Wayzata's Vaughan Ahrens would have won had he chosen to play high school hockey this year. Moorhead's Jacob Dittmer would probably be my pick.