UMD freshman-to-be Samberg moving up the NHL Draft board
DULUTH, Minn. — A little more than a year ago, Dylan Samberg had a simple plan for his senior season at Hermantown High School.
The first step involved winning a second consecutive Class A state hockey title at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The second step was to return to Ridges at Sand Creek for the Class AA state golf meet.
"You only get one senior year, and I always heard it's the best experience," Samberg said a year ago.
Samberg's senior year sure was an experience, even if it didn't go exactly as planned. It was a whirlwind adventure of twists and turns for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound, 18-year-old who will play at Minnesota Duluth this fall. Before that, however, there's the NHL Draft this weekend at United Center in Chicago.
After speaking to 26 teams during the NHL Draft Combine at the end of May in Buffalo, N.Y., Samberg is projected to go in the second or third round Saturday morning, June 24. The first round takes place Friday, June 23.
"I didn't really know what to expect this year. I talked with some people that said, 'If you have a good year, you have a chance to get drafted,' " Samberg said Tuesday at Amsoil Arena after a summer workout with his future Bulldogs teammates. "I just wanted another state title. That's what I was worried about."
Samberg verbally committed to the Bulldogs last June, just before teeing off at the state golf tournament in Jordan. At the time, Samberg planned to spend all of the 2016-17 school year in Hermantown playing hockey and golf. He'd then join Waterloo of the United States Hockey League in 2017-18 and play one or two years of juniors before making the jump to college.
But starting in October, Samberg started popping up on 2017 draft lists, initially as a North American skater to watch in the fourth through sixth rounds by NHL Central Scouting Service, then up to No. 43 among North American skaters in the mid-term rankings before settling at No. 67 in the final CSS rankings.
He scored 11 goals and 23 assists and helped the Hawks win a second state title, scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime of the state championship and punctuating it with a snow angel. He won the Reed Larson Award as the state's best senior defenseman and was nominated for Minnesota Mr. Hockey.
Samberg didn't return to the state golf tournament, however, because he was invited to the draft combine, which was the same week as the Section 7AA meet. He shined before a bevy of NHL scouts, finishing in the top 25 of eight of the 14 fitness categories.
Heading into the draft, Sports Illustrated has Samberg as the 71st best prospect overall. Others are higher on Samberg such as TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, a former NHL executive. He has Samberg at No. 52. Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News has him at No. 48 while Button's TSN colleague, Bob McKenzie, has Samberg at 44th after consulting with scouts from throughout the league.
"I try not to pay too much attention to it," Samberg said of all the rankings. "I don't want to go into the draft with any expectations. If you're not where you think you ought to be, it can turn out bad and you get down on yourself. I'm just going down there to enjoy the experience and have a good time."
Samberg signing a national letter of intent to play for the Bulldogs beginning in 2017-18 also was an unexpected twist. Samberg and Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin expected the young defenseman to play at least one more year in Waterloo before returning to the Northland. But fellow Hermantown native and defenseman Neal Pionk decided to leave UMD after his sophomore year and sign with the New York Rangers.
That opened the door for Samberg to make the jump from high school to college.
"Bringing him in a little bit early wasn't the plan, but we're excited to have him because some of the intangible things that he brings," said Sandelin, who highlighted Samberg's size, mobility and poise with the puck. "We had choices with other guys, but with him, the ability to go down and do well in the USHL at the end of the year was big.
"I got to see him and Mikey (Anderson) play as partners. It was a good preview, maybe. Going down there and doing well through the playoffs, I think gave him some more confidence to come in here."
Samberg said UMD left the decision up to him.
Samberg credited Anderson — also an incoming UMD freshman defenseman — for helping him make a quick adjustment to the USHL. Samberg played in six regular-season games at the end of the Black Hawks' season, then eight playoff games. He totaled two goals and three assists with a plus-5 rating.
"Dylan already has good size on his side," said Waterloo coach P.K O'Handley, a former hockey play at Superior High School. "That's an attribute which will always be notable when considering the draft, because NHL teams are making their picks based on what they expect a player to look like in three, four, or five years. There is less guesswork about that with Dylan who looks fairly imposing on the blue line."