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High schoolers growing in draft popularity

by Mike G. Morreale
MONTREAL -- There were a number of high-school standouts in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2009 Entry Draft.

Since the 2003 draft, 113 high school players have been tabbed by NHL teams. In 2008 15 (7.1 percent) of all North Americans drafted were high schoolers. This year, a record 19 were selected (11.1 percent), including Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School defenseman Nick Leddy, the top scholastic skater chosen, who went No. 16 to the Minnesota Wild.

"There's a little pressure (being selected as the hometown guy), but I guess you can always rise to it," Leddy said. "That's the kind of player I am. In pressure games, I always seem to play big."

Leddy, who earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota in the fall, often has been compared to former Minnesota high school stars Jake Gardiner of Minnetonka and Aaron Ness of Roseau. During last year's draft, Gardiner was picked No. 17 by the Anaheim Ducks while Ness, the 2008 Mr. Hockey Award recipient, was chosen 40th by the Islanders.

"We believe Nick Leddy is an excellent prospect who has the potential to be a complete defenseman while generating a lot of offense," Oilers Assistant General Manager Tom Thompson said. "He's an excellent skater and puckhandler and an exciting player to watch."

Leddy will join fellow draftees Chris Kreider and Zach Budish in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp for the 2010 Under-20 World Junior Championship.

Here's a breakdown of the top five scholastic players chosen this weekend at the Bell Centre:

Nick Leddy, D, Eden Prairie (Minn.) -- Minnesota's Mr. Hockey this year as the top scholastic player in the state was drafted with the No. 16 pick by his hometown Wild. In 31 games this season, the University of Minnesota-bound blueliner established career highs on the varsity level with 12 goals and 45 points. He was ranked No. 24 by NHL Central Scouting in its final rankings.

His goal, however, was to lead his high school to a state title -- a mission he accomplished March 14 when Eden Prairie (28-3) won the Class AA title by beating Moorhead 3-0 at the Xcel Energy Center. Leddy had a goal and an assist in the win.

Chris Kreider, C, Phillips Andover Academy (Mass.) -- Kreider has one scholastic season left before he jumps to Boston College for the 2010-11 season. Taken 19th by the New York Rangers, the 6-foot-2, 201-pounder had 33 goals and 56 points in 26 games. Kreider, considered one of the best skaters in the draft and extremely dangerous on the penalty kill, also finished sixth among all Massachusetts high school players with 2.15 points per game.

"He's the fastest kid in the draft, and that's the first thing that stands out about him," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' director of player personnel. "He just dominated with his speed. He gets so many breakaways because he is so bloody fast. He's got that (Alexander) Mogilny-type speed."

Zach Budish, RW, Edina High (Minn.) -- The 6-3, 229-pounder had successful knee surgery Nov. 11, and following a rigorous rehabilitation stint, resumed skating in April. While scouts didn't really get to see him play in the regular season, the Nashville Predators took him in the second round (No. 41).

"Zach Budish is a good, strong physical player," Predators scout David Westby said. "He has good hands, sees the ice well and makes plays. He did sit out this past year with a knee injury he suffered in football, but I saw him skate after the surgery and I was very comfortable that it won't be an issue and that he is on the road to a full recovery. If there is anything he needs to improve it's his foot speed, but we think that will come."

Ben Hanowski, F, Little Falls (Minn.) -- In addition to setting a Minnesota state record with 405 career points, he also broke the state career goal mark with 196. Hanowski, headed to St. Cloud State in the fall, had 73 goals and 135 points in 31 games this season. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound right wing was drafted in the third round (No. 63) by the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I couldn't be any happier than to be drafted by Pittsburgh," Hanowski said. "It's a great sports city and I'll be looking forward to going out there and playing someday."

Pittsburgh Director of Amateur Scouting Jay Heinbuck feels Hanowski has plenty of upside.

"He's such an offensive talent and he processes the game so well mentally," Heinbuck said. "Do we want to see his skating get better? Yes. But again, with those numbers, and if he had been a fabulous skater, he wouldn't have been there at pick No. 63. He's a hard-working kid, and from everything we've heard, his work ethic is really good so he's not going to sell himself short in that regard."

Troy Hesketh, D, Minnetonka (Minn.) -- The fact the 6-2, 180-pound blueliner wasn't ranked by Central Scouting didn't discourage the Edmonton Oilers from drafting him in the third round (No. 71).

The 17-year-old Hesketh has one season left at Minnetonka, then he'll likely play with Fargo of the United States Hockey League in 2010-11, and then at the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 2011.

His blueline partner in 2006-07 at Minnetonka was Gardiner, who is currently starring at Wisconsin after being drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round last year.

The self-proclaimed stay-at-home defenseman, whose recent growth spurt apparently played a huge part in his being drafted so high, was extended scholarships to six schools, including Wisconsin, St. Cloud State and North Dakota.

In 25 games at Minnetonka this past season, Hesketh had 7 goals, 21 points and 42 penalty minutes.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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