At Staples Center in Los Angeles last June, 22 scholastic stars were chosen over seven rounds, the highest total in 16 years.
At the top of that list was Nick Bjugstad of Minnesota's Blaine High School. Bjugstad, 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, Chicago Blackhawks) of Noble & Greenough in Massachusetts and Brock Nelson (No. 30, New York Islanders) of Warroad High in Minnesota.
Since the 2000 draft, 156 high school players have been plucked from various prep schools throughout the country. Since 2003, 135 players have been tabbed. The record for most high school players chosen was in 1987, when John LeClair (Montreal Canadiens, 33rd pick) of Bellows Free Academy in Vermont was the first of 69 players selected.
The top scholastic prospect on the board this year is left wing Mario Lucia of Wayzata High School, which finished the season 20-6-2 following a 4-3 double-overtime loss to Eden Prairie in the Section 6AA championship at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis on March 2.
After Lucia, who was ranked 30th among North American skaters in NHL's Central Scouting mid-term report, there are several other players worthy of consideration. Here's a look at a few of those players.
Mario Lucia, Wayzata (Minn.): The son of University of Minnesota men's head coach Don Lucia offers an incredible release, smarts and knack for putting the puck in the net. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound left wing is able to protect the puck and, according to Wayzata coach Carl Davis, is a major threat out of the corners. He's expected to be the first scholastic player drafted and will likely join the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League next season.
"He has those things you can't teach as a coach," Wayzata coach Carl Davis told NHL.com. "His instincts for the game are there … his playmaking ability and puck possession will be a huge part of his game as he matures and grows older."
Philippe Hudon, Choate-Rosemary (Conn.): The 6-foot-1/4, 190-pound forward, who will continue his career at Cornell in the fall, is a high-energy performer who plays the body hard in all three zones and possesses a powerful shot. Hudon, who had 10 goals and 20 points this season, produced 27 goals and 60 points in 67 games over three seasons at Choate for head coach Pat Dennehy.
"He has very good hands and quickness and he combines that with body leverage to give him an edge in winning puck battles along the wall and in the corners," Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston told NHL.com. "He's very determined and plays with an edge … he out-wills opponents for the puck."
Joseph Labate, Holy Angels (Minn.): He's committed to Wisconsin after producing 29 goals, 23 assists and a plus-27 rating in 26 games for the Stars. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound center failed to score a point only three times all season.
"He has unbelievable skill, is a great skater and possesses really good hands," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee. "He can shoot the puck and is very unselfish."
Mike Reilly, Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.): Barzee feels there's no reason the 5-foot-10 3/4, 178-pound defenseman couldn't move up in the rankings during Central Scouting's final meeting in April. Reilly, who transferred to Shattuck from Holy Angels, was the 65th best North American skater on Central Scouting's mid-term report. He feels his strongest assets are his skating, vision and passing. He'd like to improve his strength and coverage in the defensive zone, however.
"He's smart, polished and effortless … just a highly skilled kid," Barzee praised. "Mike Reilly is like John-Michael Liles (Colorado Avalanche). He's dynamic and he never beats himself. If he does get beat, it's because the guy made a heck of a play on him. He's like a Timex watch, he just keeps on playing, keeps it simple."
Max Everson, Edina (Minn.): The senior defenseman, who was a candidate for the prestigious Mr. Hockey Award, finished the year with 4 goals, 25 points and a plus-5 rating in 28 games for the Hornets. Everson (6-1/5, 184), who served as team captain, will join his older brother, Marshall, at Harvard next fall.
"He's probably a third- or fourth-round player," Barzee said. "He's a good all-around player. While I don't see him being a power-play guy, I do see him as a top four defenseman at some point. He's got really good wheels, can skate and move the puck. His skill level is high and he'll perform well in college."
Matt Killian, Delbarton (N.J.): The Yale-bound senior scored the tying goal with 2:10 left in the third period of an eventual 3-2 overtime victory over St. Augustine Prep in the Non-Public Schools championship on March 13 at Prudential Center. As team captain, the 6-foot-1, 191-pound defenseman finished the year with 8 goals and 27 points in 29 games.
"He keeps the opponent right in front of him, offers good mobility and lateral quickness and makes good decisions," Eggleston said. "He carries the puck with confidence and can rush up ice. He pinches down from the point to safely keep the play going and has a nice quick low and hard shot from the point."
Kyle Rau, Eden Prairie (Minn.): The 2011 Mr. Hockey Award winner "sees the game like a magic man," according to Barzee. The 5-foot-8, 163-pound center scored the game-winner at 4:43 of the third overtime to give the Eagles the Class 2A championship at Xcel Energy Center on March 12.
The University of Minnesota-bound standout totaled 41 goals, 81 points (2.61 points per game) and a plus-30 rating in 31 games this season. Keep in mind, five of the last six Mr. Hockey winners were taken in the first round of their respective drafts (Nick Bjugstad, 2010; Nick Leddy, 2009; Ryan McDonagh, 2007; David Fischer, 2006; Brian Lee, 2005). Rau's size, however, might be the one thing that keeps him from hearing his name called in the opening round -- other than that, he's a solid hockey player.
"When the puck comes to him, he executes," Barzee said. "When the game is on the line, he scores the big goal -- he's done it over and over again."
Colin Sullivan, Avon Old Farms (Conn.): The senior defenseman not only possesses a solid shot from the point but can tie up opponents in front of his goal cage without taking himself out of the play. Sullivan, who is bound for Yale in the fall, had 3 goals and 15 points in 27 games for the Winged Beavers in 2010-11.
"He's a strong skater with a good stride and carries the puck with confidence," Eggleston said. "He usually beats the forechecking forward to open up options and his passes are strong on the tape. He also has a knack for getting himself established quickly at the blue line in order to give teammates a quick option to kick the puck back out to the point."
|Photo credit: Star-Tribune|
"Mario (Lucia) is the top high school player in the country but Tony Cameranesi is probably one of the best skaters in the entire draft," Barzee said. "In fact, that's the one thing that Cameranesi has on (Mr. Hockey Award winner) Kyle Rau. Tony will get to the same point on the ice as Rau, but only in a different way. He'll blow down the wing and bring everyone to their feet."
Peter McMullen, Delbarton (N.J.): The 6-foot-2, 200-pound center scored twice, including the decisive tally 4:41 into overtime to bring the Morristown, N.J., school a dramatic 3-2 victory over St. Augustine in the Non-Public championship. McMullen, who will attend Boston College in the fall, is the grandson of the late John McMullen -- the man responsible for bringing professional hockey to the Garden State in 1982. He finished the season as the leading scorer for New Jersey's No. 1-ranked team, with career-highs in goals (25) and points (45).
"He works and hustles and sets the tone for the team," Eggleston said. "He plays the game at a high tempo, hits and follows through with his checks regardless of how insignificant the moment. He's very active in all three zones and effective on the penalty-kill. I like the fact he wheels the puck out of the corner very well and likes to drive outside and get in on the off-wing."
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