The 2017 draft is less than two weeks away and there is still a lot to go over before the first selections are made in Chicago. Every year there are “sleeper picks” that may not familiar names to the casual fan, but end up being significant NHLers in the following seasons. This year, I’m putting out a short series of profiles on the players I believe fit that category for 2017. Here is the final installment…
There was a lot of interest around defenseman Dylan Samberg at the draft combine. The Minnesota high schooler interviewed with 26 different teams and backed up the buzz by performing well in several of the physical tests, ranking top-25 among more than 100 competitors.
But the real fun comes in Samberg’s potential, because scouts believe he is only scratching the surface.
“I love the kid,” said one scout. “He’s a 10-year NHLer for sure. Size, reach and plays with an aggressive mindset. He’s an effective skater, but not a pretty skater. Once he’s in flight, though, he looks like Bret Hedican.”
In Minnesota, the state’s vaunted high school tournament is broken up into two classes. The ‘A’ class is for smaller schools and the ‘AA’ class is for bigger institutions. Smaller schools can jump up to ‘AA’ but bigger schools cannot go down to ‘A.’
For years now, the Hermantown Hawks have been the elite program amongst the smaller ‘A’ schools. But as good as the Duluth-area school was, they couldn’t close the deal. The Hawks agonizingly lost the state final six straight times, from 2010 through 2015.
Thanks to a rising cohort of players including Samberg and Minnesota State commit Ryan Sandelin, however, that all changed. The Hawks have now won back-to-back titles, the second of which came in the most dramatic fashion possible.
Slogging through the bracket and encountering stiffer resistance than expected, the Hawks once again found themselves in a dogfight in the final. Playing Cinderella was Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake, a team that needed three different schools to populate its squad. But the Moose were strong and took the Hawks to double overtime. Even when it appeared that Hermantown had won it, the goal was called off for goalie interference, forcing the Hawks to pick all their gloves and sticks off the ice and get back to work. Then, with less than 20 seconds left in the second OT period, Samberg was the hero on a point shot, clinching the title for real. For a Hermantown lifer, it was pretty sweet.
“I watched almost all the games when they made it and lost,” Samberg said. "I was there. It was obviously heartbreaking they lost so many times. But to be one of the teams that wins it, and wins it back-to-back, was a dream come true.”
But the dreams that become reality are only beginning for Samberg. He’ll head to the University of Minnesota-Duluth next year, fulfilling his childhood Bulldog aspirations.
“It’s a hometown kinda thing,” he said. “I grew up watching them and I know all the coaches there pretty well. All three of the coaches (Scott Sandelin, Brett Larson and Jason Herter) played at a pretty high level as defensemen, so I thought they’d give me that insight on the game.”
Samberg got a taste of the USHL once his championship run with Hermantown ended in March, and getting into some games with Waterloo will surely help him prep over the summer for what is to come.
“I got to watch a few games before I started playing,” he said. “I knew it was going to be physical, I knew the guys were going to be stronger and faster but the transitions were something I had to get used to, along with timing, so overall it was a great experience.”
All the tools are there for Samberg to be a successful hockey player and it’s amazing to think how far he has come already. The kid is already 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, but his dad is even taller and obviously the weight and muscle ratio will increase with a college training regimen. And Samberg isn't planning to slow down anytime soon.
“When I was younger, I was 5-foot-8 after my freshman year and then I shot up,” he said. “I was a twig at that point. I had to put a lot of work and time in, but for sure my ceiling is high. I’ve got a lot of work to do and I can step my game up.”
More NHL prospect profiles in Ryan Kennedy's 'Sleeper Picks' series: