2012 Prospects: Top 10 draft eligible Minnesota High School players

By Blake Benzel
Photo: Patrick Daly was one of 11 players selected out of a Minnesota high school in the 2011 NHL Draft. Early indications are Minnesota could be similarly well represented at the 2012 draft in Pittsburgh.(Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Writing a season preview for high school hockey in Minnesota is something of an effort in futility, probably similar to writing a season preview for high school football is in Texas.

With that in mind, here is a look at the top prospects playing Minnesota High School Hockey according to the NHL’s Central Scouting System this coming season.

Erik Baskin, F, Minnetonka Skippers
Baskin is ranked as a B Skater in the CSS preliminary list after being the Skippers’ only 20 goal scorer last season and he could be one of the players from the Minnesota High School system that comes ready-made with NHL size. He his shot is not hard but fairly accurate. More importantly, he has the size to get to the dirty areas and get the dirty goals. As with most big players, skating is a concern in Baskin’s game, but that’s something that can be worked on and shouldn’t be anything that keeps teams away from kicking the tires on him.

Adam Johnson, F, Hibbing/Chisholm Bluejackets

Anytime a player posts 70 points in 25 games he is special, and Johnson did just that for the Bluejackets last season. He has unbelievable one-on-one skills, he’s fast, a terrific skater, and an elite offensive talent. Of course, he is also 5’10 and 150 pounds soaking wet. What makes Johnson such an intriguing prospect, though, is that he played defense as a freshman. That experience means that he can man the point on the power play and that he also is a strong two-way player to go along with his offensive talent.

Justin Kloos, F, Lakeville South Cougars
Kloos tore up the league as a junior last season, tallying 79 points in just 24 games and, like his Hibbing counterpart in Johnson, is a miniscule player with a ton of solid skating. He has great hands and he showed great initiative, bulking up his frame before last season (he added roughly 15 pounds). He’s such a good skater though, that he tends to get out of control at times and can let the play get away from him, and he certainly needs to add strength before he gets to the next level but that shouldn’t be a problem.

Louie Nanne, F, Edina Hornets

Louie Nanne has hockey in his blood. His grandfather Lou played 635 games for the Minnesota North Stars, along with coaching 29 games for the team and presiding as the team’s general manager for a number of seasons. Louie, though, is a great skater and can thread a needle with marvelous passing. He tallied 23 points in 21 games last season for the Hornets and will play an even larger role on the squad this season though, if he wants to continue his success, he will need to add some bulk and some strength to his slight, 165 pound frame. Nanne is committed to the University of Minnesota.

Zach Stepan, F, Shattuck St. Mary’s

Following in the footsteps of his cousin, Derek, Zach Stepan will attempt to make a splash in the draft this season and will likely be one of the first Minnesotan’s to see his name on the draft board in Pittsburgh. Stepan is a speedy forward who, like his brother, is capable of changing the game with either a timely hit or a timely goal as the situation warrants. Despite his smaller frame (5’11, 170), he plays bigger than he looks and he has the ability to find the open areas on the ice, or create them if need be. Stepan is committed to Ohio State.

John Draeger, D, Shattuck St. Mary’s
The first defenseman on the list, Draeger makes the cut for a number of reasons, least of which is his size (6’1, 180). He has a tremendous amount of potential and plays the game at a pace that is uncommon for a player of his age. He is great at forcing the play to the outside and is growing stronger as he grows bigger, giving him all of the makings of a strong defensive defenseman in the future. He won’t set the world on fire with his offensive skills, but he’s the type of player that every organization loves to have in their wings – a solid, gritty defenseman that knows his role and plays it to perfection. Draeger is committed to Michigan State.

Grant Opperman, F, Breck School Mustangs
Opperman could be one of the sleepers of the draft coming out of the Minnesota High School ranks. After lighting the high school ranks up with Breck last season, Opperman made a big splash in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League (a mouthful, I know), by tallying 29 points in 21 games. The key to Opperman’s game is his strength, as his big frame and soft hands allow him the ability to score the tough goals in traffic. He needs to become a better skater but has shown willingness to work on his game, which is more than most prospects show at this stage in their development. Opperman is committed to Dartmouth.

Grant Besse, F, Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights
Other than Kloos, Besse was the only draft eligible Minnesotan to score more points than Opperman in the UMHSEL this season and he’s going to look to build on his 29 goal, 48 point performance from last season. For all intents and purposes, when you watch Besse play, he doesn’t command your attention like many others on the list but ultimately, he’s usually the one putting the puck in the back of the net. He has a nose for the net and great puck handling skills, which more than make up for his less than stellar shot and skating ability. He needs to put on some size, but if he can do that he could be a very valuable player in his career.

Michael Bitzer, G, Moorhead Spuds
Though he’s the only goalie on the list, that shouldn’t be an indictment of Bitzer’s talent. Moorhead’s star goalie has seen a lot of action over the past two seasons, including racking up a 15-7-2 record last season with a .929 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average. He has solid fundamentals and moves around the crease well. His biggest upside though, is the fact that he’s as strong between his ears as he is between the pipes.

T.J. Roo, F, Totino-Grace Eagles

Roo is the lone player on this list that didn’t make the Central Scouting System’s preliminary rankings for prep players, and a large reason why is because he’s an absolutely elite offensive player. Though he might be a little on the smaller side, he plays bigger than his frame and plays a great two-way game. As with many great scorers, he has the ability to find himself alone in the slot and he excels at finding the soft areas on the ice where he can use his tremendous shot. His skating needs work, but that is something easily improved and Roo could be the surprise player to come out of Minnesota this year.