Twenty names to watch when college hockey's recruiting season opens
Players going into their junior years can receive scholarship offers and commit beginning Aug. 1.
GRAND FORKS — A key date for college hockey recruiting is coming up.
Beginning Aug. 1, prospects headed into their junior year of high school can receive scholarship offers and make verbal commitments.
A year ago, UND landed three commitments on opening day — forward Jayden Perron, defenseman Jake Livanavage and defenseman Andrew Strathmann. All three followed up their commitments with excellent seasons in the United States Hockey League.
Now, a new group of players will be fielding offers from top college hockey programs.
Who are some players to know? This is a list of 20 of them. It is not necessarily a breakdown of the 20 best players. The list mixes both the top prospects nationally along with a heavier emphasis on traditional recruiting areas for UND and other National Collegiate Hockey Conference programs.
1. Macklin Celebrini, forward, Vancouver, B.C.: Celebrini, who played at Shattuck-St. Mary's, is widely considered the top-available prospect. He signed a tender to play with the Chicago Steel in the USHL this season and immediately made major impressions at Chicago's summer camp, even though he was one of the youngest players there. He's expected to be one of the first players off the board at the 2024 NHL Draft — if not the first overall. Update: Committed to Boston University.
2. Danny Nelson, forward-defense, Maple Grove, Minn.: Nelson is an interesting prospect on a number of levels. For starters, it's anybody's guess where college teams project playing him. During the prep season, Nelson played defense for Maple Grove and was outstanding, leading the Crimson to the state championship game. After the high school season, he joined with the U.S. Under-17 Team and played center. He was also excellent there and will continue at forward for the U.S. Under-18 Team this season. No matter where he plays at the college level, he will be a game-changer. His older brother, Henry, is a Notre Dame commit.
3. Cole Eiserman, forward, Newburyport, Mass.: Eiserman, who played for Shattuck-St. Mary's last season, is one of the most offensively gifted players in this class. Eiserman will play for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program beginning in the fall.
4. John Whipple, defense, Excelsior, Minn.: Whipple, who will play for the U.S. Under-17 team this season, is emerging as the top defenseman of his class. Whipple played at Shattuck-St. Mary's the last two seasons. Update: Committed to Minnesota.
5. Keith McInnis, defense, Red Deer, Alta.: McInnis is a smooth-skating defenseman who has signed a tender to play with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL. He has some attributes similar to Jake Sanderson in the way he plays at both ends of the rink and skates, he just doesn't have quite Sanderson's offensive punch. McInnis will be developing under coach Matt Smaby the next two years, so he should be able to maximize those abilities.
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6. Sacha Boisvert, forward, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec: It's always notable to see top Canadian talent come to the U.S., and Boisvert fits the bill. He's a first-round draft pick in the QMJHL, but has instead signed a tender to play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Boisvert has spent the last two seasons with Mount St. Charles Academy, the same place that developed UND incoming freshman Owen McLaughlin. Update: Committed to UND.
7. Matthew Frost, forward, Arlington, Va.: Former UND alternate captain Bryn Chyzyk, now the general manager of the Waterloo Black Hawks, made Frost the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Futures Draft this season. It might be a year before Frost joins Waterloo full time. Frost's listed hometown is on the East Coast, but he was born in Moose Jaw, Sask., and spent time in Winnipeg. Update: Committed to Boston College.
8. Max Plante, forward, Hermantown, Minn.: Max's older brother, Zam, is a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick and a Minnesota Duluth commit. His father, Derek, is a former Minnesota Duluth captain and the current Minnesota Duluth associate head coach. All signs point toward Max being a Bulldog and he figures to be a high-end player in college. Max led state champ Hermantown in scoring with 71 points in 31 games. Update: Committed to Minnesota Duluth.
9. Michael Hage, forward, Mississauga, Ont.: Hage is Chicago's other tender signee this year alongside Celebrini. Past Steel tenders have a good track record: Perron, Livanavage, Adam Fantilli, Ryan Ufko and Robert Mastrosimone.
10. Beckett Hendrickson, forward, Minnetonka, Minn.: The son of former Minnesota Wild player and longtime Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, Beckett is one of the few players on the U.S. Under-18 Team who was not eligible to commit last summer because of a late birthday. Update: Committed to Minnesota.
11. Brendan McMorrow, forward, Lakeville, Minn.: As a sophomore, McMorrow was a key player on a Benilde-St. Margaret's team that won 20 of 21 games at one point in the season. He will now head to the U.S. Under-17 Team.
12. E.J. Emery, defense, Surrey, B.C.: The dual American-Canadian citizen is one of just two right-handed shooting blue liners headed to the U.S. Under-17 Team this fall. Emery played last season with Yale Academy, and before that, the Burnaby Winter Club — a Vancouver-area program that produced recent NCAA stars Kent Johnson and Dante Fabbro.
13. Aidan Park, forward, Playa Vista, Calif.: The Green Bay Gamblers nabbed Park, a Californian, with the No. 3 overall pick of the USHL Future's Draft this season. Park has piled up more than 100 points in each of the last two seasons playing for Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U and 16U teams.
14. Hiroki Gojsic, forward, Langley, B.C.: The 6-foot-4, 183-pound forward was a second-round draft pick in the Western Hockey League, but has kept the door open to NCAA options by committing to play for the Penticton Vees in the BCHL this season. Penticton has been a popular recruiting ground for UND — and much of the NCHC for that matter.
15. Will Skahan, defense, Woodbury, Minn.: Skahan, who played for St. Thomas Academy last season, is the son of longtime NHL strength and conditioning coach Sean Skahan. Sean worked at UND for one season as a GA under Dean Blais and assistant coaches Dave Hakstol and Brad Berry before heading to the pros. Will is set to play for the U.S. Under-17 Team this season. Update: Committed to Wisconsin.
16. Mac Swanson, forward, Anchorage: Former UND captain and assistant coach Cary Eades, the general manager of the Fargo Force, chose Swanson with a first-round pick in the Futures Draft this summer. Swanson is the son of Brian Swanson, a superstar at Colorado College in the 1990s who was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and went on to play for the Edmonton Oilers and Atlanta Thrashers.
17. Brodie Ziemer, forward, Carver, Minn.: Ziemer is the younger brother of St. Cloud State defenseman Brady Ziemer, but has carved his own path as a forward. He played at Shattuck-St. Mary's and is headed to the U.S. Under-17 Team this fall.
18. Kristian Epperson, forward, Mequon, Wis.: Epperson, who played at Shattuck-St. Mary's last season, is widely considered the top 2006-born prospect out of Wisconsin. He will join the U.S. Under-17 Team in the fall.
19. Diego Buttazoni, forward, Langley, B.C.: Buttazoni joined the Coquitlam Express for the BCHL playoffs last season and fit right in, tallying three points in seven games as the youngest player on the team. The Express expect him to be a top-six forward this season as a 16-year-old.
20. Reid Varkonyi, forward, Sherwood Park, Alta.: Varkonyi was the No. 2 overall pick in the USHL Futures Draft this year, one spot behind Frost. He was taken by Sioux Falls, whose general manager is now Tony Gasparini. Varkonyi played for Northern Alberta Xtreme Prep — the same program that produced UND commit Bowden Singleton — and will now move on to Salmon Arm in the BCHL.