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2023 WHL U.S. Prospects Draft: 15 Minnesotan prospects to know

By Peter Odney , 05/09/23, 4:30PM CDT


15 Minnesotans that could be scooped up by WHL clubs, plus five non-Minnesota natives that could be high selections.

Next group of WHL-eligible draftees wait upon Wednesday and Thursday results

Former White Bear Lake youth player Conrad Fondrk was the No. 18 overall pick in last year's WHL U.S. Priority Draft.

Since what feels like forever, North Vancouver native Connor Bedard has dominated NHL headlines, pegged as the No. 1 overall selection for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft and considered the best draft prospect since Connor McDavid. 

But before Bedard suits up for the lottery-winning Blackhawks, Bedard was the No. 1 overall selection in the WHL Bantam Draft.

Since his selection in 2020, Bedard's time with the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats will go down as one of the most dominant stretches in league history. 

In 141 career games with the Pats, Bedard totaled 144 goals and 291 career points. His totals are made all the more impressive considering he only played 15 WHL games during the 2020-2021 season, which would have been his first full campaign with the Pats after being granted exceptional status by the league in March of 2020. 

With Bedard off to the NHL, the "Dub" is looking for its next crop of talent, and will turn to his year's draft class a a possible avenue to finding that elusive star.

Last year, six Minnesota natives were selected in the draft's two-round U.S. Prospect Draft. Shakopee's Carson Steinhoff, former White Bear Lake standout Conrad Fondrk, and Shattuck-St. Mary's 15O forward and Rochester native Gavin Kor were taken in the first round.

Another Shakopee product, Cooper Simpson was selected in the second round, as were former Chaska forward Sam Spehar and Wayzata's Jacob Kvasnicka.

Medicine Hat made Eagan native Kyle Heger, who spent last season with the 15O team at Shattuck-St. Mary's, the lone Minnesotan picked in the non-U.S. Priority Draft.  

It should be noted that the WHL does not subscribe to a "best player available" mandate the way some league's can afford to. WHL teams draft players based on a multitude of factors, including talent, skill level, willingness to go the WHL route, and general interest in the league itself.

Below is an excerpt from the WHL website on who is eligible to be drafted this week.   

Medicine Hat selected Eagan native Kyle Heger in the seventh round of last year's WHL Bantam Draft.

From the WHL website: 

Players eligible for the 2023 WHL U.S. Priority Draft will be 2008-born players who reside in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Players not selected in the 2023 WHL U.S. Priority Draft will remain eligible to be selected in the 2023 WHL Prospects Draft on Thursday, May 11, 2023, or listed by a WHL Club at any time thereafter.

Five non-minnesotans to keep an eye on this week

Zaide Penner, Fargo Freeze Bantam AA

Brody Gillespie 
Rink Hockey Academy U15

The Portland, Oregon native spent the 2021-2022 season with the Wenatchee Wolverines before moving on to the Kelowna branch of the Rink Hockey Academy, the same umbrella launching pad for current Minnesota Wild defensive prospect Carson Lambs, who attended RHA Winnipeg.

While competing in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League's U15 Division, Gillespie recorded 26 goals and 54 points, adding another four points in five playoff games. His 54 regular-season points were tops in the CSSHL U15 Division among American skaters, and ranked 10th overall among all skaters.

J.P. Hurlbert 
Dallas Stars Elite 14U

Hurlbert could be another sign of things to come from a rising Dallas Stars Elite organization, which also saw 2007-born Cullen Potter earn a spot on next season's National Team Development Program's Under-17 team.

According to Elite Prospects, Hurlbert totaled 112 goals and 195 points this season for the DSE's 14U squad, which also featured additional standouts in Booker Toninato and Landon Amrhein. Hurlbert's five goals and nine points during this spring's USA Hockey 14U National Championships were tied with Shattuck-St. Mary's forward Tynan Lawrence and Logan Stuart of the Los Angeles Jr. Kings.

Zaide Penner 
Fargo Freeze Bantam AA

Penner stands out from the blueline due to the physical nature of his game, making him a nice fit in a league that still puts a premium on separating opponents from pucks.

While not one to make a dozen puck rushes 200 feet during a game, Penner is controlled and poised whether playing below the dots on the defensive zone or manning the point at the top of the power play.

Tyus Sparks 
Los Angeles Jr. Kings 14U

Sparks put on a show at this year's World Selects Invite U15 tournament, racking up 12 goals and 16 points for the U15 Western Selects. His 12 tallies in Nashville ranked second behind overall leader Alex McLean, and Sparks scored those goals in one less game than McLean played.

Sparks finished second in scoring on his LA Jr. Kings team this season with 49 goals and 90 points, behind team leader Noah Davidson. Sparks also scored three goals in four games to help the Jr. Kings to a 3-1 record at this year's 14U National Tournament.

Zane Torre 
Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds, it's hard to miss Torre when he's on the ice, especially using that frame to clear space low in the offensive zone and around the opponent's net.

Torre came achingly close to a 50-50-100 season for Shattuck-St. Mary's this year, scoring 42 goals and adding 49 assists for 91 total points. His 91 points ranked third on a loaded Sabre roster, and his nine points ranked second among Americans during this year's John Reid Memorial Bantam Tournament.

Zane Torre, Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U

Player 2022-2023 Team Position
Mikey Berchild Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U Forward
Cole Bumgarner Benilde-St. Margaret's Forward
Brock Cheslock Rogers Bantam AA Forward
Nate Chorlton Cretin-Derham Hall Forward
Dylan Dean Mount St. Charles 14U Forward
Ryland Demars White Bear Lake Bantam AA Forward
Jimmy Egan Mahtomedi Forward
A.J. Francisco Hermantown Bantam AA Forward/Defense
Tyler McCracken Shattuck-St. Mary’s 14U Defense
Sammy Nelson Osseo-Maple Grove Bantam AA Forward
Nate Pederson Shakopee Forward
Caleb Pittsley Edina Bantam AA Forward
Luke Puchner Waconia Forward
Parker Trottier Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U Forward
Riley Zupfer Hill-Murray Forward

Mikey Berchild
Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U 

The wildly skilled forward moved on from the Minnetonka youth program last season and suited up for the Shattuck-St. Mary’s 14U for the 2022-2023 campaign. Berchild ended up leading the Sabres in scoring with 52 goals and 106 total points, including a pair of goals and three assists in SSM’s 3-1 run during the 14U National Tournament. 

Recently, Bechild tied for third on the ID Selects U15 team at the U15 World Selects Invite Tournament, registering seven points in eight games against top competition. 

Mikey Berchild, Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U

Sammy Nelson
Osseo-Maple Grove Bantam AA 

The 2022 Wiz Wyatt Award winner as Minnesota's most well-rounded Peewee is an intriguing prospect for WHL teams, albeit with two older brothers, Henry and Danny, opting for the traditional NCAA route. 

Nelson’s shooting ability and offensive prowess helped the Osseo-Maple Grove Bantam AA team to a record of 49-9-2 this season, culminating in an appearance in the Bantam AA State Tournament in March. 

Prior to the winter season, Belson finished fourth in total points in Minnesota Hockey High performance 14U Tier I play, scoring 17 goals and adding 14 assists for the league’s Walleye squad. 

Nelson also led the recent 14U World Youth Championships in scoring with 11 goals and 20 points in nine games while competing for champion Select Development Program. 

Sammy Nelson, Osseo-Maple Grove Bantam AA

Nate Pederson

Competing as a freshman for a 16-win Shakopee team this season, Pederson notched eight goals and 22 points in 27 games for the Sabres. His eight goals were fourth on the team, and his 22 points tied for fifth. Pederson was particularly effective on the power play, scoring five times and handing out five assists. Those 10 power-play points ranked second among all Sabre skaters. 

During the 14U MNHP Tier I fall season, Pederson tallied 12 goals and 26 points for the league’s Lakers team. 

In addition to averaging nearly a point per game in his first season of high school action, Pederson’s effort on the ice is impossible to ignore, routinely throwing his body around in a manner that belies his five-foot-eight, 146-pound frame. 

Nate Pederson, Shakopee

Luke Puchner

Pucher led Waconia to 15 wins during the 2022-2023 season, tallying 17 goals and another 17 assists for a team-leading 34 points. The freshman forward was held without a point just six times in 28 games for the Wildcats, who fell to Delano in the semifinals of the Section 2A playoffs. 

Like Nate Pederson mentioned above, Puchner had 12 goals and 26 points for the MNHP 14U Tier I Lakers, including four goals and nine points in North American Prospects Hockey League play.

Luke Puchner, Waconia

Riley Zupfer

The long and lanky Zupfer acquitted himself well in his first season of high school hockey, scoring seven goals and totaling 14 points for one of the state’s perennial powers, Hill-Murray. 

Based on his statistics from the MN Hockey Hub, Zupfer joined the Pioneer varsity in mid-January, therefore missing out on 11 games of possible production that could have pumped his goal and assist totals higher. 

After playing a key role on a Pioneer team that came within a goal of advancing to the semifinals of the Class AA State Tournament, Zupfer should have no shortage of suitors at the next level, wherever that may be.

Riley Zupfer, Hill-Murray

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