COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – One day after the NCHC saw its highest-drafted player ever, seven more incoming National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) freshmen were selected during rounds 2-7 of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on Wednesday, which was held virtually. Denver, Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota each heard two newcomers’ names called on day two of the NHL Draft, while St. Cloud State had one rookie taken.
During Tuesday night’s first round, North Dakota freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson was drafted with the fifth overall pick by the Ottawa Senators, becoming the highest-drafted NCHC player in the conference’s seven-year history. UND finished with three freshmen drafted in 2020, while the NCHC saw eight newcomers selected overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. One each were taken in the first three rounds, while four came in round four and the final NCHC rookie chosen went in the sixth round. Of the eight NCHC players drafted, five are blue liners and three are forwards.
North Dakota freshman defenseman Tyler Kleven was the first NCHC player off the board on day two. He was also selected by the Ottawa Senators, like Sanderson, in the second round with pick 44 overall, becoming the fifth UND player drafted by the Senators over the last three years. The Fargo, N.D. native will join Sanderson at the U.S. National Junior Team’s upcoming evaluation camp in Plymouth, Mich. from Oct. 8-13 in preparation for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Kleven has been in Plymouth, Mich. as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program for the last two seasons, as well, along with Sanderson. This past year with the U.S. U-18 Team, the 6-foot-4 left-shot defenseman appeared in 45 games, totaling 12 points on two goals and 10 assists, along with 63 penalty minutes. He was also selected to play in the 2020 BioSteel All-American Game.
The first freshman Bulldog drafted was defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, who went in round 3 to the Chicago Blackhawks with pick 81. The Ham Lake, Minn. native closed out his high school career as captain of the Andover Huskies this past season. The 6-foot blue liner played in 25 games in 2019-20 for the Huskies, ranking fourth on the team with 34 points on nine goals and 25 assists, while compiling 76 points (21g, 55a) in 72 games in his high school career (three seasons). Kaiser also played for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2019-20, suiting up in 11 games and finishing with three assists.
Round four saw a run of four NCHC newcomers drafted, starting with Denver defenseman Mike Benning going 95th overall to the Florida Panthers. The 5-foot-10 blue liner tallied 75 points (12g, 63a) in 54 games for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in 2019-20, leading Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) defensemen in scoring for the second straight season. The St. Albert, Alta. native earned Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) Defenseman of the Year, AJHL Most Outstanding Defenseman and a spot on the AJHL All-Star Team this past season, while wearing an ‘A’ for the Crusaders. Benning finished his two-year AJHL career with 22 goals, 114 assists and 153 penalty minutes in 136 career games.
Only five picks later, Benning’s teammate at Sherwood Park and now Denver, Carter Savoie, went with pick 100 overall to the Edmonton Oilers, as he was the first NCHC forward taken in 2020. Also from St. Alberta, Alta., Savoie compiled 99 points, ranking second in the AJHL, in 54 games last season for Sherwood Park, while leading the AJHL with 53 goals and adding 46 assists. An assistant captain for the Crusaders in 2019-20, Savoie joined Benning on the 2019-20 AJHL All-Star Team, his second straight year landing on the squad, after being named the CJHL’s Top Rookie and AJHL Rookie of the Year in 2018-19 after a 73-point season (31g, 42a). The 5-foot-10 winger totaled 84 goals and 172 points in 112 career games over two AJHL seasons, and also represented Canada at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge.
The second Minnesota Duluth newcomer selected was forward Blake Biondi, who was taken 109th overall in the fourth round by the Montreal Canadiens. The 6-foot center closed out his high school career this past season as captain of the Hermantown Hawks in Minnesota. The Hermantown, Minn. native finished the season with 76 points (second in the state) on 37 goals and 39 assists, en route to a runner-up finish at the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. His 37 goals were good for fifth in Minnesota high school hockey and his 39 assists ranked seventh. Biondi finished his high school career with 175 points (88g, 87a) in 75 games over three seasons. He also played 19 games for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL over two seasons, scoring four goals and dishing out three assists, including three points in 10 games in 2019-20.
The third and final UND freshman drafted in 2020 was Mitchell Miller, who went two picks after Biondi at 111th overall to the Arizona Coyotes. Along with Sanderson and Kleven, the Sylvania, Ohio native will also take part in the U.S. National Junior Team’s upcoming evaluation camp. Miller was a First-Team All-USHL selection last season after totaling 33 points in 44 games on eight goals and 25 assists for the Tri-City Storm. In 2018-19, the 5-foot-9 blue liner appeared in 48 games for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, compiling 16 points (4g, 12a) and helping the RoughRiders make the USHL Playoffs. Miller has twice represented the U.S. Junior Select Team at the World Junior A Challenge, helping Team USA win the title in 2018, while tallying six points in six games at the 2019 tournament when the U.S. took third.
The final NCHC freshman selected in the 2020 NHL Draft was St. Cloud State freshman forward Veeti Miettinen (Espoo, Finland), who went in round six to the Toronto Maple Leafs with the 168th overall pick. This past season, the 5-foot-9 winger played 53 games for the Kiekko-Espoo U-20 team in the Jr. A SM-liiga in Finland. The Finnish forward compiled 73 points on 42 goals and 31 assists in 2019-20 en route to Second All-Star Team honors, while he totaled 158 points (80g, 78a) in 138 games over three seasons in the Jr. A SM-liigaa, averaging 1.14 points per game for his career. Miettinen has represented Finland at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, the 2019 U-18 World Championship and the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Overall, 65 current, incoming and committed college hockey players were selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, including five skaters who have committed to NCHC teams in future years.
|Round||Pick||Name||Pos.||NHL Team||NCHC School||2019-20 Team|
|1||5||Jake Sanderson||D||Ottawa||North Dakota||U.S. NTDP|
|2||44||Tyler Kleven||D||Ottawa||North Dakota||U.S. NTDP|
|3||81||Wyatt Kaiser||D||Chicago||Minnesota Duluth||Andover (MN HS)/Dubuque (USHL)|
|4||95||Mike Benning||D||Florida||Denver||Sherwood Park (AJHL)|
|4||100||Carter Savoie||F||Edmonton||Denver||Sherwood Park (AJHL)|
|4||109||Blake Biondi||F||Montreal||Minnesota Duluth||Hermantown (MN HS)/Sioux City (USHL)|
|4||111||Mitchell Miller||D||Arizona||North Dakota||Tri-City (USHL)|
|6||168||Veeti Miettinen||F||Toronto||St. Cloud State||Kiekko-Espoo U-20 (Jr A SM-ligga)|