Preseason Hockey Ranking Nuts and Bolts

My preseason Class AA Minnesota high school hockey rankings are out. For curious readers out there, here’s some background on how I go about this process.

I start out by taking most possible contenders and making lists of their players and their regular season point totals from last season, crossing out those who are gone, and adding any other useful information we might have on them (grade, position, special notes like making the Elite League). For example, here’s the list for top-ranked Wayzata:

Freytag 32 Jr F EL
Sorensen 24 Sr F EL
Zimmer 23 So F EL
Olson 19 Sr F
Haller 16
Machut 15 Sr F
Wahl 14
Hemenway 12 Sr D
Heising 10 Sr F
Batra 9
Olson 9
Lindstrand 8 Sr D EL
Stevens 6 Jr D EL
Zitzlsperger 6
Ahrens Jr EL

I cut the list off without including every player because, below a certain point, point totals are easily replaced by a fill-in, especially in deeper programs. That cut-off point varies by team based on the schedule they play, and I’m also more lenient in including low-scoring defensemen, for obvious reasons. Sure, a few of those 3-point players might break out and suddenly have huge years, but guessing which ones can be near-impossible. I also only list goalies who have played a substantial number of games.

With Wayzata, this method gives us six returning forwards, three returning defensemen, and one goalie. That’s among the better totals you’ll see for any team at each position:

Top 20 teams with 6+ returning forwards: Burnsville, Hill-Murray, Blaine, Wayzata, Benilde, Elk River, Roseau

Top 20 teams with 3+ returning defensemen: Eastview, Hill-Murray, Blaine, Wayzata, Benilde, Holy Family

Four teams make both cuts: Hill, Blaine, Wayzata, and Benilde. Of those four, two return goalies: Blaine and Wayzata. That’s a simplistic look, of course; I have to look at the individual players who are coming back and make some judgment on how good they are. But based on that alone, I have a decent idea of who’s going to be near the top of the rankings.

From there, I can weigh the strengths of teams against other teams in the same general tier. Hill has more front-end forward talent than Wayzata, but Wayzata’s defense is better and their goalie situation is more settled, while depth is a wash. The Trojans therefore pull ahead of the Pioneers. Blaine, on the other hand, despite being relatively good in every category, doesn’t jump to the top of the list anywhere. That’s why they settle toward the back of the top group.

I trust people can see the shortcomings here: it can overvalue points somewhat, and it’s not much use in figuring out who can fill all the holes in the lineup. For that, I turn to youth program rankings for help. This gives me an idea of how deep each team is, and how much they can expect JV or bantam players as they try to fill their holes. Again, it has that has its disadvantages: it’s useless for private schools (or publics without their own feeders), not all players go to the same high school program, and players develop at different rates. It’s of some use, though, and here are Bantam rankings (among programs feeding AA public high schools) for the sophomore, junior, and senior classes for the 7AA contenders:

Elk River 5-16-4
Duluth East14-15-12
Grand Rapids 43-26-5
Forest Lake 32-X-33
Andover 12-11-26
Cloquet 26-28-X

Teams with Xs were out of the top 45; I didn’t bother going any further than that.

Knowing that, we can then start to add asterisks. Cloquet lost a bunch of players in last season’s exodus, East had some players go to Marshall, and Elk River and Andover have also had players leave early. On the other side of the coin, two big-time players in this section—Grand Rapids’ Avery Peterson and East’s Phil Beaulieu—played varsity as freshmen, and are therefore not included in those numbers. I’ve also been at this long enough now that I can see certain trends. Forest Lake, for example, tends to exceed the expectations you’d have for them, based on those youth teams; Andover, on the other hand, often does not.

One last step I added last year was making a note of incoming players who are probably capable of jumping right in and contributing. I usually find these names off of the High Performance national camp teams (mostly the 15s), along with a handful of others who stand out (say, in the Elite Development League). Going back to Wayzata, that adds three players to our Trojan roster: Paterson (F), Senden (F), and Sorensen (D). Even if these players don’t play right away, that means there’s someone in the program who’s good enough to be taking their place. With three promising young players, Wayzata once again comes out looking good; only Edina, with five, has more.

Including those three players, the Trojans now have 8 forwards and 4 defensemen accounted for; those totals are both the most, or tied for the most, of any team out there. Add in their incredible depth (youth teams ranked in the top two each of the past three years), and they’re a pretty clear preseason #1. They’re not a runaway #1 like, say, Duluth East two years ago, or Edina in 2009: some of their top players are still on the young side, and haven’t put up big numbers in high school yet. Still, they’re a safe bet for now, and using this method, I get a decent look at the preseason top 25.

As I’ve explained in past arguments on the forum, this isn’t a formula, and I don’t ever want it to be. These are subjective rankings, and while that comes with obvious biases that computers don’t have, it also frees me to make certain judgment calls, and factor in less tangible things like coaching and history. I just aim to be as objective as I can, add those subjective tweaks that can correct for some of the head-scratchers that sometimes come up in computer models, and hopefully add some substantive comments that help tell a story for each team. I hope you’ll follow along as those stories unfold.


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