St. Cloud, MN- For those that attend (or watch) the non-conference series between the St. Cloud State University Huskies and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers this weekend you’ll notice an awful lot of new talent on the ice.
Between the squads, there are 10 first-year players and of that group, six of them are NHL draft choices with five of the six skating for the Gophers. Being an NHL draft choice doesn’t guarantee collegiate success nor does a team overloaded with NHL talent guarantee league or NCAA tournament success. Every year, we see examples of that.
What you will see this weekend are a number of newcomers that will play pivotal roles for their respective teams. Many have already cracked the lineup and most likely will be regulars the rest of the season.
I spoke with University of Minnesota coach Bob Motzko earlier this week and he feels his team is bucking the norm in 2021-22. With the eligibility waiver following last season, there is a temporary spike in fifth-year players and the average age on teams. However, in the first two games, the Gophers have had 4 of their 12 forward slots filled by freshmen. This weekend, you may see a fifth first-year forward in the lineup for the Gophers.
He was pleased with all four of his first-year players that were in the lineup vs Mercyhurst last weekend and despite a quick learning curve needed, felt they were some of his best forwards last weekend. As a group, they posted two goals and four assists including a two-goal series by Matthew Knies in the sweep of the Lakers.
The Huskies, on the other hand, had a light recruiting class with just four first-year players including one late walk-on. However, the quality is there as three of the four have already been in the lineup, and despite only appearing in two of the four games, SCSU freshman, Mason Salquist has a goal and an assist and was named NCHC Rookie of the Week following the season-opening series with the University of St. Thomas.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet of players to keep an eye on this weekend:
University of Minnesota
Tristan Broz – 6’0″ 180, Bloomington, MN (Forward)
Broz was a 2021 2nd round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The left-shooting forward from Bloomington, MN was a two-year regular and teammate of SCSU’s Jack Peart and Mason Salquist. An assistant captain and top scorer for the Force, he posted 34 goals and 56 assists for 90 points in 108 games. A good skater who plays great off the rush and makes nice touch passes saw his game elevate greatly last season and was one of the main reasons for being selected by the Penguins. A consistent scorer, there’s no reason that won’t continue into the college game.
Aaron Huglen – 6’0″ 170, Roseau, MN (Forward)
The right-shooting forward is another alumn of the Fargo Force and a teammate of Broz, Peart and Salquist. Huglen was a fourth-round draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He posted 35 points in 39 games and was particularly effective in the USHL playoffs with three goals and five assists for eight points in nine games. Despite being listed at 170 pounds, Huglen is a player who plays bigger than his size, can play physical and battles hard. With great speed, he tries to use it to his advantage to beat defenders on the outside. He’ll become even more effective as he gets bigger and stronger.
Matthew Knies – 6’3″ 203, Phoenix, Az (Forward)
Your prototypical skilled power forward, Matthew Knies is the brother of four-year Miami player Phil Knies. Just a youngster at age 18, Knies was a second-round draft choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. A two-year player for Tri-City of the USHL he amassed 87 points in 90 games for the Storm. Much like his brother Phil, he’s hard on the forecheck, wins battles, and causes turnovers. He has very good speed for his size. His work ethic, size and skill will probably earn him an NHL contract sooner than later so enjoy him as a college player now.
Chaz Lucius – 6’1″ 185, Grant, MN (Forward)
The 18-year-old who was born in Lawrence, KS is a product of the USA Hockey development program and was a first-round draft choice of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2021 NHL Draft. He’s played on the USA U17 and U18 National teams with 44 goals and 28 assists for 72 points in 65 games. With a deadly wrist shot and good on-ice vision, he can score and make plays. Always a threat to score, he’s had the knock of some inconsistency in effort at times. Motzko was very pleased with what he saw out of Lucius last weekend.
Rhett Pitlick – 5’10” 165, Chaska, MN (Forward)
At age 20, Rhett Pitlick is a veteran of the USHL logging 95 games over three seasons with 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points. Most recently, he was a teammate of the aforementioned Matthew Knies at Tri-City. A legacy player for the Gophers, his father Lance and brother Rem both played for the University of Minnesota. He’s a fifth-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2019 draft. Although not big, Pitlick is effective in front of the net and low in the offensive zone. He has good on-ice vision, makes good passes, and plays the transition game well. As such, he should excel in the type of game Motzko preaches. Pitlick was not in the lineup last weekend due to injury but should see time in the lineup this weekend, possibly Saturday.
St. Cloud State University Huskies
Josh Luedtke – 5’9″ 175, Minnetonka, MN (Defense)
Luedtke is a two-year veteran of the United States Hockey League with the Des Moines Buccaneers. Originally, committed to Denver University, Luedtke changed course and decided to play for the Huskies. Luedtke, a right-shooting defenseman, just turned 21 just prior to the start of the 2021-22 season and brings extensive experience and leadership skills to the Huskies. Luedtke is a former captain of both his Minnetonka High School and Des Moines Buccaneer USHL team. With an ability to generate offense from the blue line, Luedtke 45 points in 102 USHL games. With great edges, Luedtke is an excellent skater and loves to jump into the offense. He has outstanding instincts, makes excellent tape-to-tape outlet passes, and is very mobile. His speed allows him to recover quickly on the backcheck. Unfortunately, for Luedtke, the tremendous depth on the SCSU blueline has only allowed an appearance in one game.
Jack Peart – 5’11” 175, Grand Rapids, MN (Defense)
Only 18 years old, the second round (54th overall pick) by the Minnesota Wild in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft has been impressive thus far for the Huskies being paired with veteran Nick Perbix. After finishing the 2019-20 season skating in five games for the Fargo Force, Peart returned to his Grand Rapids (MN) high school team to lead them to the section championship game while posting 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points in just 18 games. Named as the 2020-21 Minnesota high school “Mr. Hockey” recipient following the season, he returned to the Fargo Force compiling 15 points in 24 games as the Force advanced to the USHL championship series. One of the top college hockey freshmen in 2021-22, the talented Peart has a very high ceiling in his hockey development and is likely a future NHLer. Nearly every aspect of his game is impressive including his skating, puck handling, and on-ice vision. Still growing, Peart will benefit greatly from SCSU’s weight room and strength and conditioning program.
Mason Salquist – 5’8″ 165, Grand Forks, ND (Forward)
The gritty 21-year-old Salquist is a three-year junior hockey veteran who was also a player for the Fargo Force last season. The left-shooting Salquist has shown an ability to put up points posting 24 points in 36 games in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, and 54 points in 101 United States Hockey League contests. During the 2020-21 season, Salquist had to battle through a fractured tibia after 14 games eventually returning to the lineup to play in 29 games including the USHL championship series with the Chicago Steel. Despite the adversity, he still finished with 23 points including 10 goals. Salquist is effective as a result of his pure determination. Despite his size, he is perfectly content to play in those dirty areas and take a beating in the crease. He’s strong on his skates, doesn’t back down, and plays well in traffic. Salquist already has two points in two games and is effective on faceoffs.