Pandemic Rankings: Players of the Past 15 Years

In this week’s pandemic rankings, I come up with a top 15 skaters of the past 15 years. Because this was hard, the honorable mention list also includes 15 players. This list emphasizes high school performance; if a kid was a high-round pick but didn’t have an exceptional high school performance, he probably doesn’t make the list.

[u]15 Honorable Mentions[/u]

Joey Benik, St. Francis (2010)

-Benik scored 65 goals as a senior in 2010 and ranks sixth on the state’s all-time points list and second in goals. He was also a case study in what a great player can do on an otherwise awful team; while the Saints played a thin schedule and were never better than a 6-seed in 7AA, he went on to a strong college career to prove his success was no fluke.

Jake Randolph, Duluth East (2012)

-Flip a coin between Randolph and his linemate Dom Toninato here; Toninato, with his size and two-way play, was the better pro prospect, but I’m going with Randolph here for his great high school productivity, which made him the de facto runner up to Justin Kloos for Mr. Hockey in 2012.

Zach Yon, Roseau (2014)

-Yon delighted when the Rams made the Tourney in 2014, working with linemate Alex Strand to come tantalizingly close to an upset of Lakeville North in the first round. Avery Peterson won Mr. Hockey this year, but Yon made a compelling case in his performance at State.

Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids (2013)

-A star on both ends of the ice, Bischoff teamed with a couple of other skilled players like the aforementioned Peterson and Hunter Shepard to lead Rapids’ rise early in the teens and came ever-so-close in two 7AA finals.

Ryan Poehling, Lakeville North (2016)

-The Poehlings are hard to handle here; they were arguably the greatest line of this era, but it can be hard to pull out their individual accomplishments. (A similar problem plagues the great Grand Rapids line of 2017, whose best two players left early.) Ryan makes the list because he was always the most hyped of the bunch, and had a chance to prove his dominance in his junior/accelerated senior year in 2016, when North was a top 5 team for most of the season but got done in by Farmington in the playoffs.

Tommy Novak, St. Thomas Academy (2013)*

-Not many players on this list left high school early; it’s hard to build up enough credentials without the productivity of a senior season. Novak is an exception to that rule with his flashy two seasons at St. Thomas, where he won it all twice and scored a game-winner with six seconds left against Hermantown in 2013. Bruce Plante is still recovering.

Nick Wolff, Eagan (2014)

-Wolff was a heavyweight who rarely came off the ice and played a key role in guiding Eagan to one of its best ever finishes, a surprise third place run in 2014 that came after a few deeper teams had fallen short.

Riley Tufte, Blaine (2016)

-Just a great, solid power forward who took his team to a Tourney in 2015 but came up short as a senior.

Garrett Worth, Duluth East (2018)

-As with Randolph above, there’s a case here for Worth’s more complete linemate, Ryder Donovan. But I’m going with Worth because of his level of influence and unique skillset. As a pure goal-scorer, the ever-adventurous Worth has maybe only one peer on this list, and he backed that up with a great State Tournament performance in 2018.

Josh Ludtke, Minnetonka (2019)

-The leader of a state championship Skipper team, Ludtke paired with Grant Docter to make for one of the greatest defensive pairs of this era.

Luc Snuggerud, Eden Prairie (2014)

-2014 was a banner year for defensemen, and Snuggerud was one of the most offensively skilled blueliners of this era. He left it all on the ice in his Eagles’ double-overtime loss to Lakeville North in the state semis that year.

Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East (2014)

-The smooth-skating Beaulieu made things look effortless and is largely responsible for extending East’s reign over 7AA in 2013 and 2014. He was rostered on four Tourney teams, all of which won two games while there.

Matt Gleason, Cretin-Derham Hall (2020)

-The most prolific forward of the post-Mittelstadt era, Gleason recorded over 200 points on some Cretin teams that were pretty good, but struggled to break through in challenging sections.

Tyler Nanne, Edina (2014)

-Nanne was probably the most essential member of the Hornets’ back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, and his big hits in the 2014 rout of Lakeville North are my enduring memory of that one. He had a bit of help with that supporting cast, of course, but

Dylan Samberg, Hermantown (2017)

-Samberg was the greatest Hermantown player over this period, and he has a state championship-winning goal to his name to boot. Under his watch, the Hawks finally shook the bridesmaid status that plagued them in the years before and that has returned somewhat since.

[u]The Top 15[/u]

15. Nick Bjugstad, Blaine (2010)

-Bjugstad’s Bengals never quite achieved the Tourney glory of some of the other teams on this list—his final year in high school saw an upset loss to Apple Valley at State—but that takes nothing away from his dominance, which included 181 points despite accelerating his senior year.

14. Sammy Walker, Edina (2018)

-Walker made a name for himself when he was one of the best players on the ice in the 2015 Tournament, and by the end of his time at Edina, he was the leader of one of the most lethal offenses the state has ever produced. The one regret: he never added his name to that list of Hornet state champions, as his seasons ended in two semifinal losses to Duluth East sandwiched around two section final losses (one upsetting, one not) to Wayzata.

13. Hank Sorensen, Wayzata (2016)*

-Few players had high school careers as entertaining as Sorensen, whose physical play led Wayzata to its upset of Eden Prairie in the 2016 championship game. No one hit harder or changed the complexion of a game more by the mere fact of his physical presence, and for that, he makes the list.

12. Ben Hanowski, Little Falls (2009)

-This Little Falls Flyer electrified the state in the late 00s, and he later proved he was no small-school flash in the pan after high school as well. His name litters the record books, including career points (405), career goals (196), and points in a single season (135). He carried his team to four Tourneys; they won their first-round game twice and gave St. Thomas its best test in 2008 despite the unfortunate first round draw. They never could crack through to a final, though, as the undefeated Flyers fell in a clunker to Breck in his senior season.

11. Dylan Malmquist, Edina (2015)

-A two-time state champion and the offensive leader of the Hornets’ dominant run during the middle of the decade. While not as great a pro prospect as his 2015 teammate Sammy Walker, he is the all-time leading scorer in the state’s most decorated program. Could they have won three in a row if he’d been able to go against East in 2015?

10. Pat White, Grand Rapids (2007)

-Few players took the State Tournament by storm as much as Patrick White, who carried a couple of Rapids teams that didn’t have stunning depth to back-to-back runner-up finishes. His teams came out of very deep 7AAs and knocked off arguably the top team in the field both years, beating Hill-Murray in the 2006 semifinals and Edina in the 2007 quarterfinals.

9. Justin Kloos, Lakeville South (2012)

-Kloos’s 238 points across three seasons against pretty good schedules at South put him in select company. His team wasn’t as strong as some of those of his compatriots here, but he was the architect of a great State Tournament upset and got a third-place finish for his efforts. His 103 points as a senior are the most for a AA player in the two-class era, with the asterisk that Dave Spehar had two fewer in three fewer games in 1995.

8. Brock Nelson, Warroad (2010)

-Nelson is the greatest player to come out of a Class A school over the past 15 years, and it really isn’t close. He put up absurd point totals and carried Warroad to three Tourneys, finishing third twice and second once.

7. Anders Lee, St. Thomas Academy/Edina (2009)

-A five-time State Tournament entrant and the best transfer in the history of high school hockey, Lee was one of the state’s greats both during and after his high school days. He won it all as a freshman at St. Thomas in 2006, but couldn’t tip some great Edina classes over the top after that.

6. Nick Leddy, Eden Prairie (2009)

-It was pretty simple: when Leddy was on the ice in 2009, the other team didn’t score. He carried an otherwise sophomore-dominated team to a title that season, scoring a goal in the title game win over Moorhead.

5. Aaron Ness, Roseau (2008)

-As entertaining a defenseman as the state has ever produced, Ness owned both ends of the rink in high school. He took home a state title in 2007, though the dream of a repeat and an undefeated season came up short the next year.

4. Grant Besse, Benilde-St. Margaret’s (2013)

-The state’s greatest goal-scorer of the past 15 years wrote his name into the record books in the 2012 Tourney, when he scored five times in the title game against Hill-Murray. His 163 goals against good AA competition made him a modern-day Dave Spehar.

3. Ryan McDonagh, Cretin-Derham Hall (2007)

-After a run of forwards from #7-#12 on this list, there are a bunch of defensemen near the top here, as a dominant high school defenseman can rack up absurd minutes and completely control a game. I’m putting McDonagh at the head of that list, as he carried his Raiders to a title despite not having an Edina or Eden Prairie-style supporting cast. Like the two players immediately behind him on this list, he won it all as a junior but came up short on an arguably better team as a senior.

2. Kyle Rau, Eden Prairie (2011)

-Rau simply is Minnesota’s Mr. High School Hockey: a two-time state champion, both as a sophomore alongside Leddy in 2009 and with his deep core of senior sidekicks in 2011, where he scored the most famous goal of this stretch on a diving effort in triple overtime. His story is what dreams are made of. He, Leddy, Nanne, and Samberg in Class A are the only four players on this list who won it all as seniors, showing just how hard that dream is even for the best.

1. Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (2017)

-No player was as total in his ability to do insane things than Casey Mittelstadt, whose offensive skillset is unrivaled in this era. He put up 204 points over three seasons of Lake Conference hockey and took his team to three Tourneys, where they were twice the top seed. The one knock, of course: Casey never won it all, while the five players right below him on this list did. Should it be enough to drop him? In my book, no, but it’s an open debate.

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