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03/03/2016, 1:30pm CST
By Aaron Paitich

How the Elite League is vaulting top high school talent to the next level

Are you familiar with the Upper Midwest High School Elite League? No? Have you heard of any of these players? Ryan McDonagh, T.J. Oshie, Brock Nelson, Nick Bjugstad, Nick Leddy—these are just a few Elite League alumni currently starring in the NHL. It’s hard to turn on the TV these days to watch college or professional hockey without any Elite League alumni. 

Entering its 16th full season next fall, the Elite League has provided a great service to high school hockey players in Minnesota.



Some of the many Elite League alumni selected in the NHL Entry Draft dating back to 2003.

  •  Zach Parise
  •  Joe Pavelski
  •  David Backes
  •  Matt Carle
  •  Blake Wheeler
  •  Drew Stafford
  •  Alex Stalock
  •  Matt Niskanen
  •  T.J. Oshie
  •  Sidney Crosby
  •  Kyle Okposo
  •  Jonathan Toews
  •  Ryan McDonagh
  •  Derek Stepan
  •  Jake Gardiner
  •  Erik Haula
  •  Anders Lee
  •  Ben Hanowski
  •  Jordan Schroeder
  •  Nick Leddy
  •  Brock Nelson
  •  Emerson Etem
  •  Nick Bjugstad
  •  Derek Forbort
  •  Mike Reilly
  •  Kyle Rau
  •  Mario Lucia
  •  Nick Seeler
  •  Tony Cameranesi
  •  Brady Skjei
  •  Brock Boeser
  •  Teddy Blueger
  •  Dominic Toninato
  •  Jake Bischoff
  •  Grant Besse
  •  Will Borgen
  •  Jake Guentzel
  •  Hudson Fasching
  •  Michael Brodzinski
  •  Jonny Brodzinski
  •  Tucker Poolman

A Carefully Crafted Schedule

The Elite League offers a 21-game regular season and three playoff games from September to early November leading up to the high school season. The games are scheduled on weekends to still allow kids to play other fall sports for their high school.

Eden Prairie junior and Gophers recruit Casey Mittelstadt approves.

“Being in the Elite League makes it possible to keep playing with your teammates at school and be able to be part of Homecoming, go to football games, things like that,” said Mittelstadt. “It’s good to be at home.”


Premium Competition, Maximum Development

Playing with and against the top players in the state is huge for development, but Elite League teams also play against some of the best in the country. USA Hockey has sent the NTDP U-17 team to New Hope Ice Arena for games the past three years. Wisconsin’s top prep team plays in the league, along with many of the best players from the Dakotas.

“Playing in the Elite League last year did a lot to improve my pace. High school hockey is fast, but it’s not at this pace,” said Mittelstadt. “After being in this league, and then going back to high school hockey, I could tell that I was just prepared to make plays faster and move faster.”


Massive Exposure

Gary Harker was an NHL scout for 25 years prior to this season. He covered local college, high school and Elite League players for four different teams. The Elite League is a must for scouts, as it showcases all of that talent in one location.

“The competition is very good and it’s very convenient for us. So instead of us running around all over the state like we used to do, we can find them now in the Elite League in the fall,” said Harker. “And from that point on, we can focus on the top kids that we’re interested in for the rest of the high school season.”

UMD Bulldog and Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Dom Toninato recalls how high profile the Elite League was, along with the many new friends he made.

“Not only does it make you a better player but the exposure you get to scouts is unbelievable,” said Toninato, a former Duluth East Greyhound. “What player anywhere in the country can say they play in front of that many pro, college and junior scouts every game? In the Elite League you get that every game. The league was a great opportunity to meet a bunch of new guys as well. I met quite a few guys that I am still friends with today.”

Tag(s): Home  March 2016