GRAND FORKS-The most physically imposing player at the North Dakota state boys high school hockey tournament in Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend will be a tall, quiet, slender sophomore from Fargo.
Off the ice, you may not peg Tyler Kleven to be such a feared defender.
But in just his first year of varsity hockey, the Fargo Davies sophomore has already established a reputation as a punishing blue liner with the ability to score from the back end.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound UND hockey commit led Davies to the East Region final last weekend and Kleven will play in his first state tournament beginning today with a 2:30 p.m. matchup against Jamestown.
"He's as physically strong as I've ever seen," said Scott Oliver, who coached Kleven in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League in the fall. "He can absolutely lay the wood to you. He makes hits that make you go, 'Oh my goodness, I don't want to get hit by him.'
"He can skate and he can handle the puck. He has a really hard shot, but I tell you what, you better keep your head up because when he hits you, it can turn into a yard sale out there. You don't see too many players with that type of strength. He loves to be physical. He can also skate and handle the puck. He's going to be really, really good."
The first time Oliver heard about Kleven was from his son, Nick, who is an assistant coach with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League.
"Nick was out at the 15s (festival) and said, 'This guy from Fargo is for sure one of the top six in the nation, have you looked at him?,'" Scott said. "He wasn't someone who was on our radar (for the Elite League team). But I took a look at him. We brought him to tryouts in Bemidji and he was one of our top players."
Kleven opted to play in the Elite League and for Fargo Davies instead of going to Shattuck-St. Mary's. It has been big for the 19-3-2 Eagles, who are the No. 2 seed from the East Region.
While Kleven is still rounding out his game in the defensive zone, he's been able to dominate physically and add an offensive punch. He has nine goals, which is tied for third among East Region defensemen.
"He's going to continue to grow, playing from center ice back, playing from the blue line back," Oliver said. "That will get better and better the more he plays."
There's a chance that this could be Kleven's only state tournament. He's on USA Hockey's radar and will try out for the U.S. Under-17 team in Michigan next month.
USA Hockey's director of player personnel Kevin Reiter traveled to Grand Forks last month to watch Kleven and Grand Forks Red River's Jackson Kunz, both of whom would be eligible to join the National Team Development Program.
Depending on his development, Kleven could come to UND in the fall of 2020 or 2021.
"Pound for pound, he's as strong as I've ever seen," Oliver said. "He's only going to get stronger. He hasn't even filled out yet. Wait until he starts filling out. He's going to be one of the better prospects on the back side."