Soon enough, Minnesota’s loss will be Nebraska’s gain.
Steven Spinner and Luc Snuggerud are the top two scorers for the Eden Prairie Eagles, a high school team in Minnesota that produced Stanley Cup winner Nick Leddy and plays in one of the most competitive conferences in the state. Both players are nominated for the Mr. Hockey Award, which goes to the top senior in the state, both plan on playing for the United States League’s Omaha Lancers once the high school season finishes and both are committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha after that.
In a year where the vaunted high school circuit does not look to have a top-50 player for the NHL draft and locals are worried that about the talent level due to an exodus of players to the junior ranks before players become seniors, the two Eagles stand out. So why did they stick around?
“I get the question a lot,” Spinner said. “Minnesota high school hockey is so good. Maybe not as good as the USHL, but it’s good to stay home and mature and obviously try to win State.”
Yes, the Minnesota state high school tournament is legend in the hockey world, selling out the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Center for the annual event. Eden Prairie won it all in 2011 thanks to a heart-stopping overtime goal by Kyle Rau, now a Florida Panthers prospect at the University of Minnesota. The chance to get another title for the school is pretty enticing.
“Growing up and going to the state tournament every year as a kid, that’s been the goal since I first put on skates,” Snuggerud said. “The development I need and the areas I need to work on, I can do that at Eden Prairie and I get to play with my friends.”
Snuggerud, whose uncle Dave played for the Sabres, Sharks and Flyers, is an offensive defenseman with quick feet who makes great passes and is confident with the puck. “He’s really good at beating the first forechecker,” said coach Lee Smith. “He’s got the vision of Leddy when he left us for college.”
Scouts see him as a “fourth forward” kind of offensive blueliner and the youngster knows that he can’t rely on skill alone if he’s going to make an impact at the next level.
“I gotta let the game come to me,” Snuggerud said. “Keep the game simple, play defense first.”
Spinner is the ace up front for the Eagles, tallying 17 goals and 38 points through 23 games. Scouts see him as a dynamic, shoot-first scorer with a wicked, accurate shot. And then there’s the speed.
“Steven is probably the fastest skater in the state,” Smith said. “He’s got another gear, that explosive acceleration that you can’t coach.”
While Snuggerud is slated to hit college next season, Spinner will play a full season in the USHL first. He actually played three games for Muskegon before Eden Prairie’s season began, notching three points, but his rights were recently traded to Omaha, a city he’s going to become very familiar with in the near future. Asked why he chose the University of Nebraska-Omaha as his college of choice, Spinner was definitive.
“That was pretty easy,” he said. “When I heard Dean Blais was coaching there, it shifted my decision. There’s a bunch of Minnesota guys heading there, too.”
Indeed, future Mavericks from the Gopher state include not only Spinner and Snuggerud, but also Minnesota Wild draft pick Avery Peterson and leading USHL scorer Jake Randolph.
Early exits to junior have certainly taken a bit of the sheen off the Minnesota high school ranks, but the playoffs and state tournament will still feature some great match-ups. The Eagles will have to beat some great teams just to get out of regionals, as conference rivals Edina and Wayzata both rank top five in the state (Eden Prairie comes in at No. 9). But they’ve got two great draft prospects and a great attitude.
“It’s going to be tough, but that’s why it’s fun,” Snuggerud said. “Every game is a battle.”
Photo courtesy of Steven Spinner.