No. 10 or No. 100? Minnesota Wild or Toronto Maple Leafs? These are some of the questions on young players' minds as they eye this weekend’s 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Come Friday, hundreds of 17- and 18-year-old players will anxiously await to pull on an NHL jersey with their last name on the back.
Two of those players are Blaine’s Riley Tufte and Grand Rapids’ Mitchell Mattson.
“It’s kind of that moment you’ve dreamt of your whole life,” said Tufte, the 2016 Mr. Hockey. “You’ve worked hard to get this chance, so it’s really exciting to get here.”
Tufte (No. 17) and Mattson (No. 61) are among 11 other Minnesotans who ranked in the Top 200 of the Central Scouting North American skaters final rankings. Edina's Kieffer Bellows is the highest-rated Minnesota native, coming in at No. 10 in the rankings.
With 47 goals in 25 games for the Bengals in 2015-16, Tufte is projected to be a late first-round pick – the highest of the five ranked Minnesotans who played high school hockey last season. Mattson, who helped lead his team to the state tournament last year, is the next Minnesotan on the list and is projected to go in the second round.
We caught up with Tufte and Mattson to see just how they are preparing to hear their name called in Buffalo starting on June 24.
Minnesota Hockey Journal: How closely do you pay attention to the draft trackers and various websites predicting where you will go in the draft?
Riley Tufte: I try not to pay too much attention to them. Earlier in the season I didn’t pay attention to them at all, but now I kind of look at some just to see where I’m projected to go. There’s not much that I can do now, now that the [NHL] Combine is done. I guess I just have to wait and see if and when my name gets called on Friday night.
Mitchell Mattson: Personally, I don’t keep that close of an eye on it. I think every person has a different opinion on where a certain person will go, and at the end of the day, it’s not them who decides – it’s the team. I think for me, I’ve done as much as I can. I went to the Combine, which gave me kind of an idea of where I might go, but I still don’t know.
MHJ: How was the NHL Scouting Combine?
Tufte: It was overall pretty good. I was training for about a month and half at Velocity Hockey, so they helped me out a bunch. The testing part went really well for me I think. I say one of the toughest things was the bike test, just because I got so tired. There are a lot of really tiring tests. But the interviews went really good I thought, so that’s good.
Mattson: I think it was a good learning experience. Going in to it, you set a benchmark for yourself and you get to kind of see where you’re at in certain things. I think overall I enjoyed it and I learned a lot. Something I did very well in was the vertical jump, which was kind of surprising, but I ended up doing very well in that. I ended up being third overall in the camp actually. Everything else I think was pretty average, but the whole point of the combine is to give you a benchmark and certain things to work on.
Hometown: Ham Lake, Minn.
High School: Blaine High School
College: University of Minnesota-Duluth
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Minn.
High School: Grand Rapids High School
College: University of North Dakota
MHJ: What else have you been up to so far this summer?
Tufte: It’s definitely been a busy summer just preparing for the combine. I’ve been working out pretty hard for that, so that’s how I started my summer. I graduated, so I’m officially done with high school, so that’s exciting. It’s finally starting to sink in a little bit I think, so that’s been pretty cool. But ultimately it’s really been just preparing myself in hockey so far. After the draft I’ll probably head up to Duluth for a bit and train with those guys for a couple of days and then kind of go back and forth, just to check out the area and get together with some of my future [UMD] teammates.
Mattson: I haven’t had a ton of time for anything too fun yet this summer. I was in juniors for quite awhile [with the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder]. Then when I got back I had two weeks to prepare for the combine so I worked hard for that. Now moving forward I’m actually in Chicago right now, I have my two-day camp from Thursday through Sunday, and then after that it will be the draft. Depending on if I get picked or not will help plan my plans for the rest of the summer. I think part of it will be working out and gaining muscle mass. I’ll try sneak some days on the lake in there when I can though.
MHJ: Who’s going to be with you at the draft?
Tufte: My whole family will be there, even my grandparents and my uncle, so a good group. They’re all pretty excited for this, too.
Mattson: My family and me will be heading out for the draft, both of my parents and my three sisters. I think they’re all pretty excited, I don’t know if my sisters have been to Buffalo yet, so they’re excited about that.
MHJ: You both made the big decision to come back for your senior year of high school instead of heading into juniors. How do you think that impacted your development and your chance to be here right now? How did you make that decision?
Tufte: I did what was right for me. I’ve been playing with a lot of these guys since I was a kid and we all wanted to the chance to compete at the X in the state tournament.
Mattson: It’s definitely a different culture here [in Minnesota] and some people probably don’t understand it. You have a sense of pride in coming back and playing for your hometown and have the chance to win a state championship in front of 20,000 people, so I think it’s a really special thing that not a ton of people are going to understand. For me, that’s what was important and that’s what made me want to come back. I was still able to be on the ice and work on my game with my high school team, and I’m still heading to Buffalo for the draft, so for me, I’m happy with the decision I made to come back.
MHJ: Advice to kids who look forward to being in your spot someday?
Tufte: Work hard and learn from others – your teammates, coaches and parents. And just got out there and play the best hockey you can play.
Mattson: Figure out where you need to improve and figure out how to improve on it. I think there are always parts to anyone’s game – even the most elite players – that can be improved. I think if you want to improve that says a lot about your character and your work ethic and I think that’s in high demand in every level of hockey.