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Minnesota Represents at USA Prospects -- Again

By Hans Eisenbeis, 09/25/14, 8:15PM CDT


Top Draft Eligibles from Gopher State Make Their Mark

Even though East Coasters Ryan Eichel and Jeremy Bracco were the media darlings of last night's CCM/USA All-American Hockey Prospects game in Buffalo, New York, Minnesota players figured big in the game. St. Louis Park native Alec Baer got the first quality scoring chance and also the first goal of the game at 5:35 of the second period, converting what had been a brilliant goaltending showcase into a skaters' game and setting the stage for what became a nine-goal fist pumper.  

Eichel, Bracco and Baer skated for Team Grier. Meanwhile, Team Olczyk's second line was an All-Minnesota affair, pairing Tommy Novak (OK, River Falls -- but we claim him as a product of St Thomas Academy. the Elite League, and the Minnesota Advancement Program) with Paul Bittner (Crookston) and Brock Boeser (Burnsville).  The Minnesota line scored the second of Team Olczyk's three goals and arguably created the most chances for its side, including two beautiful stretch passes from Novak to Bittner that resulted in breakaways requiring ace goaltending to nullify.
The Prospects game features 40 of the best NHL draft-eligible players in the USA, and while the rosters were dominated by USA Hockey's handpicked skaters from the National Development Team Program, Minnesota was well represented. Lakeville North defenseman Jack McNeely skated on Team Olczyk, and was one of only two high school players on the ice. The rest were either pedigreed NTDP skaters or on temporary leave from their juniors teams. Notably Baer and Bittner took time away from their Canadian major juniors teams, the Vancouver Giants and Portland Winterhawks respectively. Indeed, seven players were on leave from Canadian major junior teams to take part in the showcase. (While the Minnesota State High School League stands firmly on the side of players staying at home, maintaining amateur status and taking the NCAA route, USA Hockey is less idealistic when it comes to picking its best players -- even if they are toiling away as "professionals" in the WHL.)

Hockey fans may recall that in last year's Prospects game, former Minneapolis Storm skater and Breck School bone-crusher Keegan Iverson was named game MVP. He too has been playing "professional" juniors at the WHL's Portland Winterhawks franchise , and was drafted earlier this year by the New York Rangers.  Novak, Bittner and Boeser are all on NHL Central Scouting's watch list and are expected to have their names called in Florida next summer. 

For those keeping score at home, this year's game featured three Minnesota skaters who are NCAA bound (Novak, Boeser, and McNeely) and two who went the major juniors route (Baer and Bittner).  Of all five players, only McNeely will finish out his high school eligibility. All the others, including Iverson, would also have been seniors this year.

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