When center Aaron Huglen pulled off a lacrosse-style goal for Team USA at the summer’s Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, he put his considerable skill set on display in front of the entire hockey world.
And while scouts marvel at the way the 2019 draft prospect can pull off moves like Pavel Datsyuk, the hands are no fluke, according to his coach with the Roseau Rams high school team in Minnesota. “Natural skill? Sure,” said Andy Lundbohm, who is also a math teacher at Roseau. “But he has spent his whole life honing his skills on the North Rink. His work ethic is tremendous, and his ability to create space is tremendous. He finishes, he sees the ice, and he has put this team on his back.”
The North Rink is one of three indoor arenas in Roseau, a town of just 2,700 people. The river that runs through the northern-Minnesota town also gets cleared off for skating in the winter, and plenty of folks have backyard rinks. But the North Rink is unique because it was funded by donations by the townspeople, and it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means a lot of time for the kids to mess around in unorganized games. “Some days I would be there from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Huglen said. “That was the extreme case, obviously, but it’s a lot of fun.”
That grassroots edge may explain why the tiny town has punched well above its weight, producing NHLers such as Dustin Byfuglien, Aaron Ness and the Broten brothers, while the Rams have won seven state titles – the first in 1946, the most recent in 2007.
Huglen, who projects as a late second-round NHL pick, will split this year between Roseau and the USHL’s Fargo Force. He played for Fargo in the fall, since Roseau’s season didn’t begin until late November. The state high-school tournament takes place in early March, so even if the Rams go all the way, Huglen can rejoin the Force for another month before the USHL playoffs. Playing against stronger, older competition has already been good for Huglen. “He came back more aggressive,” Lundbohm said. “He played with an edge and with more confidence.”
It was also an eye-opener for the small-town kid in terms of getting around: Fargo has about 120,000 more citizens than Roseau. “Traffic was a little scary,” he said. “But I’ll get used to it.”
He’ll have to, since he’s committed to the University of Minnesota, and the Gophers call Minneapolis home. But based on his highly skilled game, the kid is definitely ready for the big stage.
THE SKINNY ON MINNY
Huglen isn’t the only Minnesota high-schooler scouts are watching for the 2019 NHL draft.
Ryder Donovan, RW, Duluth East Greyhounds
Big-bodied kid skates well and protects the puck. A pass-first guy with a heavy shot, Donovan tried center but is better on the wing for now. De-committed from North Dakota recently.
Mike Koster, D, Chaska Hawks
Koster, an offensive defenseman committed to the University of Minnesota, sees the ice well and has settled his game down a bit. Nagging injuries have slowed him down, but more strength will solve that.
Grant Docter, D, Minnetonka Skippers
Docter, a Michigan Tech commit, is a great skater with lots of poise. He has the puck on his stick a lot but needs to get bigger. He’s a big reason the Skippers are the state’s top team.
Garrett Pinoniemi, C, Holy Family Catholic Fire
The University of Minnesota recruit plays with a lot of pace and hockey sense. Pinoniemi doesn’t have much size now, but he is starting to take the puck to the net. The next step is to follow up with second efforts.
Rhett Pitlick, RW, Chaska Hawks
The son of former NHLer Lance Pitlick and brother of Nashville pick Rem, Rhett is on a huge upward development curve, with growing smarts, speed and strength. He’s another Gophers commit.