USHSW Top Prospects for the 2005 Entry Draft

By Eric Vegoe

Minnesota hockey’s 2005 draft class features three talented skaters from state runner-up Moorhead High School. The draft eligible talent will probably not have a pick as high as fifth overall pick in 2004, Blake Wheeler (PHO), but the top six players should all be gone by the end of the fifth round.

1. Brian Lee, D – Moorhead HS – Committed to Univ. North Dakota (NCAA)
Ht: 6’2.5 Wt: 202 lbs. DOB: 1987-03-26 Shoots: R
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 16th among North American skaters

Minnesota’s 2005 Mr. Hockey and Associated Press Player of the Year is likely to be the first Minnesota high school player selected in this year’s draft. Lee had an accomplished senior season, becoming the 13th high school player to make the roster for the U-20 World Junior Hockey Championships, leading Moorhead to the championship game of the state AA high school tournament, and finishing his season playing for Lincoln in the USHL. Lee is a veteran of USA hockey events and was named top defenseman at the U-17 Five Nations Cup in Slovakia. Lee is among the 43 players invited to the 2005 US National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., Aug. 5-14 competing to make the US roster for the World Junior Championship.

The University of North Dakota recruit was an imposing player at the high school level, possessing good size and superb skating skills. He can play in all situations, can easily move the puck up ice, and is adept at joining the rush. Moorhead High School Coach Dave Morinville told Hockey’s Future that Lee is very coachable and compares Lee to another American defenseman.

“He is an extremely great leader in a quiet way,” said Morinville. “He’s a guy I always compare to Brian Leetch, as he’s solid defensively and he’s guy that can bring you some offense without giving up chances.” Morinville added that Lee is a dedicated student to the game, and indicated that Lee put an emphasis on plyometric and sprint work in the off-season, recognizing that first step quickness will play a huge role at the next level. Lee did not see much ice time with the U-20 team, but his resume should push him into the first round.

Moorhead HS
Moorhead HS
2004-05 Lincoln USHL 16268

2. Chris VandeVelde, C – Moorhead HS – Committed to North Dakota (NCAA)
Ht: 6’1.5 Wt: 190 lbs. DOB: 1987-03-15 Shoots: L
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 68th among North American skaters

VandeVelde was a late bloomer for Moorhead, playing just two seasons on the varsity team, but was a major contributor in leading the Spuds to the state AA championship game. The North Dakota recruit led the Spuds in scoring with 67 points, was a Mr. Hockey finalist, and was named to the AP All-State second team. The skillful forward finished his senior year by playing for Lincoln in the USHL and tallied a goal and 6 assists in 11 games.

VandeVelde is strong skater who finds open ice, is very active in both ends of the rink, and is able to put the puck on net. “He’s a power forward who will drive it to the net, and he has a knack for scoring goals,” said Moorhead Coach Dave Morinville. “He’s a guy who is extremely smart and crafty around the net.” Morinville added that VandeVelde is incredibly strong on the puck, recalling that when guys hit him last year, it was almost like he was hitting them back.

VandeVelde is bound for a season in the USHL with Lincoln before heading to Grand Forks, N.D. in 2006-07, but performance in the state tournament could be enough to make him the next Minnesota high school player taken.

Moorhead HS
Moorhead HS
2004-05 Lincoln USHL 11167

3. Matt Niskanen, D – Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl HS – Committed to Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
Ht: 6’.5 Wt: 194 lbs. DOB: 1986-12-06 Shoots: R
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 37th among North American skaters

Niskanen carried Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl into the Class A state tournament and seemed to rarely leave the ice for the Blue Devils. The Minnesota-Duluth recruit was a Mr. Hockey finalist, and was named to the AP All-State first team. Niskanen played on the 2003 US U-18 Select Team and was a standout at the Minnesota Ted Brill Great 8 Festival. Niskanen is not only talented on the ice, but was also a four-time all-conference pitcher and infielder for the baseball team. He is also the first player to double as the Duluth News-Tribune‘s player of the year for hockey and football, where he played quarterback. Niskanen will join the group of 43 players invited to the 2005 US National Junior Evaluation Camp.

The future Bulldog is a very smooth skater who has the foot speed and hand speed to quickly move laterally with the puck. He shoots the puck heavily and is experienced at controlling the flow of the game. He is a very poised player who chooses when to get involved with the play, and is capable in all situations.

Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl
Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl

4. Drew Fisher, C – Moorhead HS – Sioux Falls (USHL)
Ht: 6’2.5 Wt: 188 lbs. DOB: 1987-02-06 Shoots: L
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 101st among North American skaters

Fisher is likely to be the third player from Moorhead’s talented roster to be taken in the draft. Fisher was an honorable mention AP All-State player and scored 20 goals in his junior year and 20 in his senior year. Fisher finished out his season tallying a goal and an assist in nine games for Indiana in the USHL. Sioux Falls acquired the rights to Fisher from Indiana for the 2005-06 season, and the forward is still uncommitted for college.

As with the other two Moorhead players, Fisher is a good skater who is very active on the rink. He finds open space well, protects the puck with his large frame, and has some tremendous puck skills. “He has the best hands that I’ve seen, he’s extremely skilled with the puck,” said Moorhead Coach Dave Morinville on Fisher. “The guy’s a heck of an artist too, and the two seem to go hand in hand.”

Morinville added that Fisher has started to realize the level of effort it will take to get to the next level, and implied that adding strength will be a key component.

Moorhead HS
Moorhead HS
2004-05 Indiana

5. T.J. Oshie, C – Warroad HS – Committed to North Dakota (NCAA)
Ht: 5’10.5 Wt: 170 lbs. DOB: 1986/12/23 Shoots: R
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 109th among North American skaters

Yet another signing for North Dakota’s recruiting class; Oshie helped lead the Warriors to an undefeated season and Class A state title. The forward was the state’s scoring champion with 37 goals and 62 assists, was a Mr. Hockey finalist, and was named to the AP All-State first team. Oshie finished his season playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL, but will play his 2005-06 season in Grand Forks, N.D. Oshie is also among the group of 43 players invited to the 2005 US National Junior Evaluation Camp.

It seems as if Oshie developed his game playing pond hockey. The forward displays great strong skating, creative puck skills, and a flair for goal scoring. The Fighting Sioux recruit defined himself as one of the better one-on-one threats in the state and there will be a lot of eyes on him as he makes the transition into the WCHA.

2004-05 Warroad

6. Robbie Dee, LW/C – Breck HS – Omaha (USHL) – Committed to Maine (NCAA)
Ht: 6’1.5 Wt: 185 lbs. DOB: 1987-04-09 Shoots: L
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 72nd among North American skaters

Dee is a dangerous offensive player who finished his high school career with back-to-back 87-point seasons. The Maine recruit led the state in goals scored with 49, was a Mr. Hockey finalist, and was named to AP All-State first team. Dee also led the fall Elite League in scoring with 23 goals and 10 assists. Dee will play for Omaha in the USHL for the 2005-06 season before enrolling at Maine.

Dee pounces on scoring opportunities, loves to jump into the transition, and thrives on the power play. He accelerates quickly, can really turn the corner during one-on-one situations, and protects the puck well. Dee can be seen as a one-way player, sometimes disappearing when the game doesn’t come to him. He needs to prove that his skills translate to high levels of hockey.

2003-04 Breck
Breck HS

7. Alec Richards, G – Breck HS – Committed to Yale (NCAA)
Ht: 6’4 Wt: 188 lbs. DOB: 1987-06-29 Glove: L
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 28th among North American goaltenders

Richards was given the Frank Brimsek Award this past season by NHL scouts, D-I coaches, and Minnesota media as the state’s top senior goaltender. The 6’4 keeper posted a .931 save percentage in both his junior and senior season, and maintained a GAA under 2.00 both seasons. He was the top goalie statistically in the Minnesota Fall Elite league with a .914 save percentage and 2.46 GAA. Richards finished his senior season playing five games for Indiana in the USHL.

When Richards is playing well, it becomes very difficult to score on him because he rarely allows rebounds that can be put in the net. The future Bulldog plays a butterfly flop style that reminds onlookers of Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Richards possesses quick feet, a good glove, and sound positioning skills that should serve him well in the ECAC. Richards is not very comfortable handling the puck, and does not move well outside of the crease.

2003-04 Breck HS181.97.9315
2004-05 Breck HS201.75.9312
Indiana (USHL)53.80.8470

8. Eric Bigham, F – Benilde-St. Margaret’s HS
Ht: 6’4 Wt: 200 lbs. DOB: 1986-09-22 Shoots: R
Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking: 203th among North American skaters

Bigham is a looming presence who was one of the most improved skaters among those listed by Central Scouting as players to watch. The forward was the second leading scorer for the fifth ranked Class A Red Knights, was an honorable mention AP All-State player, and finished his season playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL

The 6’4 winger has a tendency to get lost on the ice, and has trouble accepting hard passes, but Bigham has a big shot and knows how to get shots on goal. “Size is his most obvious asset, and he has the ability to shoot hard,” said Benilde-St. Margaret Coach Larry Hendrickson. “Eric needs to learn the geometry of the game better, and he will get better as an individual once he learns how to make the players around him better.”

Wild forward Andrew Brunette helped as an assistant for the Red Knights during the lockout, and some of his influence might have spurred Bigham’s growth during the season. Bigham showed solid puck protection skills late in the season, improved his skating significantly, and worked his way into all situations for Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

2004-05 Benilde-St.
Sioux Falls (USHL)

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