It remains to be seen if this year's crops of high school players will have NHL scouts and general managers clamoring for their services when the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is staged at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
At Staples Center in Los Angeles last June, 22 high school players were chosen over seven rounds, the highest total in 16 years.
At the top of the list was Nick Bjugstad of Minnesota's Blaine High School. Busted, who went 19th to the Florida Panthers and is now starring at the University of Minnesota, was a member of the U.S. National Junior Team that won bronze at the 2011 World Junior Championship in January. Joining him in the first round were fellow scholastic standouts Kevin Hayes (No. 24 overall, Chicago Blackhawks) of Noble & Greenough in Massachusetts and Brock Nelson (No. 30 overall, New York Islanders) of Warroad High in Minnesota.
On March 21, NHL.com presented its high school package, featuring a few of the top draft-eligible prospects on the board from the scholastic ranks throughout the nation. Mario Lucia of Wayzata High School in Minnesota might be the primary target. Still, there are several other skaters and a few goalies who could very well hear their name at the Entry Draft.
One high school player who is not on anybody's radar right now, but who might be in June is Burnsville (Minn.) defenseman Eddie Wittchow. At 6-foot-3 1/4, 189 pounds, Wittchow has already received numerous offers from several colleges and will likely join the United States Hockey League next fall. The senior was also named to Minnesota's Third-Team All-Metro team after finishing with 14 goals, 23 points and a plus-11 rating in 25 games for the Blaze (17-4-4).
Some scouts have compared Wittchow to defenseman Rob O'Gara of Milton Academy in Massachusetts. O'Gara, committed to Yale in the fall of 2012, was rated No. 95 on Central Scouting's mid-term report. He had 2 goals and 9 points in 30 games. O'Gara is a good skater with a nice long stride. He is able to protect the puck well with his body and passes and moves well.
Many feel that O'Gara is behind the Czech Republic's Petr Placek (6-3 1/2, 210) of Hotchkiss in Connecticut. Placek, who's committed to the University of Harvard, had an injury-plagued season and, when in the lineup, wasn't 100 percent. Still, he's a strong, powerful skater and very aggressive on the puck. He can control the difficult pass in stride and can drive the net from the off-wing. In 15 games, he had 7 goals, 13 points this season. Placek is rated No. 54 on Central Scouting's list of top scholastic stars and might very well be drafted in the mid- to late rounds.