Merchant, Opperman vie for Minny's 'Mr. Hockey'

Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 4:15 PM / 2012 NHL Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Forward Will Merchant of Eagan High School heads an impressive list of candidates nominated for this year's prestigious Mr. Hockey Award in the state of Minnesota.

The 28th Mr. Hockey Awards Banquet will be held March 11 at the Grand Ballroom at RiverCentre in St. Paul, Minn. The award, given to the outstanding senior high school player in the state, is named the day after the final game of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, which will be held March 7-10 at Xcel Energy Center.

The award winner is selected by a panel of NHL scouts, Division I coaches and selected media members from around the state.

Merchant, the top-ranked player on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the 10 skaters nominated, has been praised for his speed and tremendous shot. He describes himself as a power-forward.

The 6-foot-0.5, 172-pound Merchant is No. 155 on Central Scouting's list of the top 2012 draft-eligible North American skaters. The University of Maine-bound wing leads Eagan (20-2-1) with 22 goals in 23 games this season. His 42 points place him in a tie for second on the team with Michael Zajac, who also was nominated for the Mr. Hockey Award. Zajac, who is not related to New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac, has 19 goals and 23 assists.

Also nominated for Mr. Hockey is Grant Opperman of Breck School, No. 162 on Central Scouting's list; Charlie Sampair of Hill-Murray (No. 174) and Dom Toninato of Duluth East High School (No. 198). Other players unranked by Central Scouting but among the top seniors eligible for Mr. Hockey are Justin Kloos of Lakeville South High School, Judd Peterson of Marshall School (Duluth), Jake Randolph of Duluth East High School, Eric Schurhamer of Saint Thomas Academy (Mendota Heights) and Jared Thomas of Hermantown High School.

Opperman, whose brother-in-law is Pittsburgh Penguins President David Morehouse, has 26 goals and 60 points in 22 games. The 6-foot-2.5, 205-pound center possesses a nice scoring touch around the cage, has speed and great hands. The 2012 NHL Draft will be held at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.

Sampair, a 6-foot, 180-pound wing, has 25 goals and 40 points in 23 games. He's regarded as a player with good speed and vision on the ice.

Toninato (6-2, 165) is the godson of Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull. Viewed as a skilled forward with great vision, Toninato has 24 goals and 53 points in 23 games this season.

In addition to the skaters, goalies Michael Bitzer of Moorhead High School and Kyle Koop of Maple Grove High School have been named the finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award as the state's top senior goalkeeper. Bitzer is 17-5-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 22 games this season, while Koop is 19-2-2 with a 2.09 GAA and .917 save percentage in 23 games.